Monday, January 30, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 31, 2012

Talking season

It seems this is the season of talking as far as Afghanistan is concerned. The US has entered preliminary conversations with the Taliban after the latter were allowed to open a political office in Qatar for the purpose. Pakistan, about whom rumours were rife until recently that it opposed the Qatar process because it was not kept in the loop by the Americans, even if true, appears to have rethought its position. Reports say an Afghan Taliban delegation was facilitated to leave Pakistan for Qatar recently. Afghanistan too was reported as miffed at the Qatar bypass and recalled its ambassador to Qatar in annoyance over Qatar facilitating the talks process without taking Kabul into confidence. The ambassador will only return, Kabul says, once a Qatari delegation has visited to clear the air. Now, Kabul has relented to the extent of a reluctant and halting blessing to the Qatar process. Similarly, Kabul’s earlier demand that if the US was considering transferring some important Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay prison to Qatar, these leaders should instead be handed over to Kabul. Since the US denies it has as yet taken the decision on the transfer, the issue has cooled, and Kabul is not pressing its case too vociferously any more.
Although Islamabad and Kabul are now reluctant fellow travellers with the US on the road to Doha, they are also exploring the possibility of their own talks with the Taliban, either in Saudi Arabia or Turkey. The Saudi Arabia site finds the Taliban’s Quetta Shura amenable. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan may be calculating that Saudi Arabia’s influence over the Taliban would lend strength to the talks. Also, Qatar’s perceived pro-US tilt in the matter may have clouded its credentials in Islamabad and Kabul. And in the view of some observers, the feeling of ‘neglect’ in Washington’s unilateral efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table in Qatar may have persuaded Islamabad and Kabul that the two had interests in common after the US’s bypassing them. Thus Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar travels to Kabul tomorrow to re-engage with the Karzai regime after the hiatus since September last year when Peace Council head Professor Rabbani was assassinated by a Taliban suicide bomber. Kabul accused Pakistani intelligence of being behind the assassination, producing a great deal of frost in relations between the two neighbouring countries. The hope in Islamabad and Kabul may be that together they might stand a better chance of ensuring their interests are looked after in post-withdrawal Afghanistan. That proposition is still to be tested, and if successful, would constitute an unusual success in cooperation between the two often at loggerheads countries.
While the rash of actual or potential talks between the main stakeholders is welcome, the prospects of successful negotiations still face many hiccups. Not the least is the perception that the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, and al Qaeda have splintered and the emerging factions do not always see eye to eye. An example of the difficulties attending the process of talks inherently as well as specifically, is the incident the other day of a relatively lowly member of the Afghan Peace Council, Maulana Shafihullah Shafih being kidnapped in the eastern province of Kunar when he travelled to deliver a message of peace and reconciliation to the Taliban fighters in the area. That area may well be in the control of the Haqqani network, the incident therefore reflecting the often divergent perspectives of discrete factions of the militants. While such rifts could offer opportunities for widening the chinks and perhaps extracting better outcomes while negotiating with the factions separately, there is little doubt that the process will be difficult, protracted, and not without setbacks of the above nature.
Even if the best case scenario of successful negotiations leading to a relatively smooth withdrawal of foreign forces is achieved, suspicions will linger about what will follow. The Taliban, who have proved themselves redoubtable and determined foes (with some help from our military establishment), have yet to convince the world that they have no intention of just playing along with the talks process in order to secure the foreign forces’ withdrawal before once again unsheathing their sword to try and ‘reconquer’ Afghanistan exclusively for themselves.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 29, 2012

Belated wisdom

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, currently in Davos for the World Economic Forum, has categorically said in an interview to CNN that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf would definitely be arrested if he returns to Pakistan. The PM reminded his interviewer that Musharraf had grave charges against him, including the 2006 murder of Nawab Akbar Bugti and the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. He went on to say that even the Supreme Court had given a verdict against him. Therefore, the law would take its course if Musharraf decided to land on Pakistani soil. In response to this and other government officials’ reiteration in recent days that a warm ‘welcome’ awaited the former military dictator, Musharraf has announced that he has decided to ‘postpone’ his return until the situation is more favourable on the advice of his party, the All Pakistan Muslim League. Musharraf’s party intends to review the decision in its core committee meeting.
Musharraf has been enjoying the past over three years of ‘self-imposed’ exile because of the western countries’ lecture circuit on which he has been flattered by appearances and in the process reportedly earned a lot of money. Back home, his fortunes have not been so rosy. A newly installed elected government in 2008 found it expedient not to earn the ire of the military and went along with Musharraf being allowed to resign and go into exile abroad without a hair on his head being touched. Three plus years down the road, however, the ‘guarantee’ of safety from the military seems to have worn thin. Reports have indicated that the DG ISI met Musharraf in Dubai to persuade him that the time was not right for his return. These reports have not been denied. The government’s newfound courage to call a spade a spade in Musharraf’s case may be partly due to the perception that Musharraf no longer enjoys automatic immunity for his sins, underwritten by the military. Partly this turn of events may also have something to do with the emerging consensus amongst the political forces regarding the proper ‘treatment’ to be accorded Musharraf. One example of this emerging consensus is the Senate resolution backing Musharraf’s arrest if he sets foot on Pakistani soil.
It is good that the voice in the wilderness of Nawab Bugti’s sons seeking justice for the murder of their father has finally found a response and resonance amongst the political actors. In the matter of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, the tragedy of the loss of arguably our most prominent and illustrious leader was compounded when the person with whom the buck stopped in terms of responsibility for her death was allowed to ‘get out of jail free’. Be that as it may, there is some comfort to be found in the belated but welcome castigation of Musharraf as an alleged murderer who must face the music like any other citizen. What is missing, however, in the developments on this front is any suggestion that Musharraf should be tried under Article 6 for overthrowing an elected government in 1999 and imposing his one-man rule for nine long and tortuous years. Never in Pakistan’s history has a military coup-maker been brought to justice. Ayub escaped with the expedient of handing over to his C-in-C Yahya, who never faced any accountability for his butchery in East Pakistan and its subsequent loss. Zia was ‘removed’ by mysterious and until now unidentified forces, thereby again escaping being held to account for the havoc he wreaked on Pakistani state and society, a legacy that is still alive and kicking and responsible for the many ills afflicting the country. Had any of these adventurers been brought to book, our history would have been different, and the perennial civil-military imbalance may well have been on the way to being corrected. It may sound like the height of optimism, but it is still not too late to make an example of our last military dictator to shut the door once and for all on all such adventurers and ambitious charlatans.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 26, 2012

Mansoor Ijaz balloon punctured

The central character in the so-called Memogate affair, Mansoor Ijaz, has refused to come to Pakistan just one day before he was supposed to appear before the judicial commission investigating the matter. The reasons for his refusal, according to Mr Ijaz and his counsel Akram Sheikh, are that he fears for his safety and life, there is a security threat to both from the authorities in Pakistan, and apprehensions that the body of evidence he claims is in his possession to prove his allegations against ex-ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani and his ‘boss’ may be destroyed if it falls into the ‘wrong’ hands. Mr Sheikh has been at pains to assert that the assurance s extended by the Attorney General (AG) and the instructions of the commission in its hearing on January 9 that Ijaz’s security would be handled by the army have not been adhered to. At one point, in an apoplectic rage, Mr Sheikh went so far as to assert that both the COAS and the AG would be in contempt of court if they did not follow the orders of the commission. Now, however, that Mr Ijaz has decided not to show, it would not be out of place to remind Mr Sheikh that he is on record as having told the commission that if his client did not appear on the date agreed (which the commission was generous enough to extend at least three times), he would not trouble the commission any more. Now, instead, his client wants the commission to travel to London or Zurich and record his statement there. In the first place, the commission’s instructions notwithstanding, security under the law for any citizen or visitor is the responsibility of the interior ministry, which not only appointed a senior officer to take charge of Mr Ijaz’s security in Pakistan, the authorities went so far as to announce that an army officer had been attached to help with the security duties of Mr Ijaz. This too proved insufficient for ‘viceroy’ Ijaz. The authorities’ bending over backwards to accommodate Mansoor Ijaz’s concerns has only yielded the damp squib at the end of the day of a cop-out by monsieur.
In response to this latest twist in the tale, Haqqani’s counsel has moved the commission not to allow the absconding Mansoor Ijaz any further chance to record his statement after he failed to live up to his commitment to appear. The no-show has eroded whatever was left of Mansoor Ijaz’s credibility. The only surprise in this for knowledgeable observers is the amount of time and space devoted to this ‘drama queen’ at the expense (almost) of destabilising the government and arguably democracy per se. Both Ijaz and Sheikh have quoted Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s statements to justify their apprehensions about Ijaz’s fate if he lands on Pakistani soil. These statements have landed Mr Malik with a summons by the parliamentary committee on national security that is also seized of the memo matter to clarify the content and purpose of his remarks that have so spooked Mansoor Ijaz. As if Rehman Malik’s statements were not enough, PPP Punjab leader Raja Riaz wants to be made a party to the commission’s proceedings since he wants to bring up Mansoor Ijaz’s revelation that he was part of efforts to topple Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1989. Raja Riaz wants Article 6 to come into play. Both Mr Malik and Mr Riaz are doing a first class job of scaring the ‘scarecrow’ away. These efforts notwithstanding, Mansoor Ijaz has lived up to his track record of shifting the goal posts whenever things get sticky or uncomfortable. Those seeking to take advantage of the whole affair to score political points, such as the Punjab chief minister, must be ruing the ‘champion’ they picked for the purpose.
It is not clear at the time of writing these lines how the commission will respond to the latest developments. The sensible jurisprudence would appear to be to drop the whole thing and leave it in the lap of the parliamentary committee (where, arguably, it always belonged, the penchant of the Supreme Court to take up any and all matters irrespective of potential embarrassment notwithstanding).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 22, 2012

Afghanistan developments

President Nicholas Sarkozy has reacted to the deaths of four French soldiers and the wounding of another 17 by an Afghan soldier in the Taghab valley of eastern Kapisa province by suspending all French training and combat operations in Afghanistan. He threatened to accelerate French troops’ withdrawal if the security situation inside the country did not improve. He has decided to dispatch his defence minister and head of the armed forces to Afghanistan to assess the situation. The incident serves to focus attention on an ongoing problem of western troops being at the receiving end of attacks again and again by Afghan troops ostensibly being trained or supervised by them. This has widened mistrust between the troops of the two sides. President Hamid Karzai’s message of regret and condolences may not salve the situation unless the suspicions on NATO’s side that the Afghan armed forces are infiltrated by or have Taliban sympathisers in their ranks are dealt with squarely.
While this increasing discord between the western and Afghan allies threatens to unravel the orderly transition of security to Afghan forces leading up to the cut-off withdrawal date of 2014, the US is waxing hopeful that its preliminary exploration of talks with the Taliban seem to be making progress. Qatar has agreed to host an office of the Taliban, with a circumscribed sphere of activities focused on the talks with the US and Afghan government side. But reports from within the Karzai administration indicate deep unease and questions being raised by the Afghans regarding the approach of the US and what if any concessions are on offer to the Taliban. One positive the US can point to is their growing confidence that they are finally in touch with credible emissaries of Mullah Omar. The issue of acceding to the Taliban request that some of their prisoners being held in Guantanamo be transferred to Qatar and kept under house arrest has met Afghan hostility on the grounds that such prisoners should be handed over to the Karzai government. Reservations in Washington about the rough and ready Afghan prison system and the effect of such a transfer on the talks are behind its reluctance to accept any such proposal. Meanwhile, Marc Grossman, President Barack Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan was expected in Kabul yesterday for clarificatory talks on this and other issues after Pakistan refused to host him on the plea that it had not yet completed its review of the terms of re-engagement with the US. Ominously for some, Grossman arrives in Kabul after visiting India. Information Minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan announced that a joint session of parliament would be called in the first week of February to discuss the recommendations on the terms of re-engagement framed by the parliamentary committee on national security. From media reports it appears that these recommendations may include hosting American military trainers but no drones. Although bases will be denied to the latter, it is a grey area what Islamabad’s response, if any, will be to the revival of drone attacks in FATA in recent days. There is also a proposal floating about to charge tolls from the NATO logistics and supply convoys to Afghanistan via Torkham and Chaman.
The fraught Pakistan-US relationship is one of a series of troubling factors about the shape of things to come in Afghanistan. Reportedly, the assessments of the US military, intelligence and diplomatic arms about the intentions and seriousness in negotiations of the Taliban appear to differ. The military is cautioning that the wily Taliban may simply be seeking a breathing space to see out the foreign troops while accelerating its insurgent operations. It is also wary of prisoners’ release from Guantanamo. The diplomats, in perhaps a recognition of necessity, see no other way to produce acceptable conditions inside Afghanistan to allow the troop withdrawal to proceed. Who is right only time will tell, but one important development should be noted. Despite our military and ISI’s insistence that they be central to any negotiations with their Taliban proxies, the Qatar talks seem to be heading in the direction of an empty seat at the table where our military and intelligence hoped to be parked.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 18, 2012

Facing contempt charge

A seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), obviously irritated by the lack of response from the government regarding its December 16, 2009 and January 10, 2012 orders in the National Reconciliation Ordinance case, has issued a show cause notice to Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani to explain why contempt of court proceedings should not be instituted against him for failing to implement the SC’s orders. The PM was ordered to appear in person before the bench on January 19. During the proceedings, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa clarified that media reporting of the January 10 order was misplaced and that he had not dubbed the PM dishonest or corrupt. He went on to iterate the court’s respect for the office of the PM while pointing out that the order stated that prima facie the PM may not be honest to the oath of his office. While the clarification spares the PM further personal blushes, it nevertheless can be read as an indictment of the behaviour of the PM in the instant case. The context of this exchange of course lies in the insistence of the SC that the government write to the Swiss authorities to reopen the case against President Asif Ali Zardari, something the government has been reluctant to do on the grounds that the president enjoys immunity while in office. That has been countered by the SC’s insistence that immunity has to be applied for from the court. The PM has said he will appear on the 19th as a mark of respect for the SC, but the question of the Swiss letter still hangs fire. This despite the perception of even PPP legal luminaries that no harm will come from writing the letter since it is unlikely the Swiss judicial authorities will accept the request to reopen the case on two grounds: that Swiss law does not allow reopening a case without new substantive evidence and that a sitting president enjoys immunity under international law. It is now to be seen what position the PM adopts before the bench on the 19th regarding this ticklish matter.
The contempt notice also found resonance in the National Assembly (NA) during the session called to pass a pro-democracy resolution. The resolution did go through, but by a majority rather than consensus after the opposition’s two out of three amendments were rejected despite two hours of negotiations between the treasury and the PML-N, triggering an opposition walkout. True to character, the JUI-F voted for the resolution at the last minute despite being in talks with the PML-N for an opposition grand alliance. The coalition allies and FATA parliamentarians voted for the resolution unanimously. Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar’s parting remark that they would definitely bring a no-confidence motion as soon as they had the required strength did not sound very convincing to objective observers, given the arithmetic of the NA.
With the backing of the core committee of the PPP, the PM’s speech in the NA oozed both defiance and confidence. He argued that neither the judiciary nor the army were interested in derailing the system. In this context, the reported efforts at the presidency to mend fences with the military appear to be making headway. At the present conjuncture, when the government is under pressure from various directions and on the two burning issues before the SC (the NRO and Memo cases), this is to be welcomed. However, it cannot be denied that the PPP may be suffering from some heartburn that its going out of its way to support the military on the Osama bin Laden raid and the Mehran base attack has not been reciprocated in the same spirit. In fact, it is arguable that the ‘reconciliation’ policy of the PPP has often strayed into ‘appeasement’ instead, without any return on such investment. Of late the government’s tone, particularly that of the PM, has taken on a harder edge, but this could well be a case of too little too late. Given the deeply entrenched civil-military imbalance in Pakistan, the tactics of keeping the military on board may have backfired in the shape of the perceived weakness (amidst increasing public criticism of performance in office) of the PPP-led government. What its critics should take note of are the cautionary words of the PM in the NA when he argued that those keen on seeing the back of this government at the earliest by any means possible should not ignore the possibility that such a departure may well envelop the political class as a whole.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 11, 2012

Memo conundrum

The crisis over the memo case is deepening and intensifying. Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has, in one more flip-flop, stated in an interview with the People’s Daily of China that the affidavits submitted to the Supreme Court (SC) by COAS General Kayani and DG ISI Lt General Pasha in the memo case were “unconstitutional and illegal” because they had not sought prior approval of the competent authority under the rules of business. These affidavits, the PM argued, therefore carried no legal import. The PM was relying for this stance on an observation by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry that any action by the armed forces without the federal government’s direction would be unconstitutional, illegal, void ab initio and of no legal effect. However, legal luminaries are of the view that the PM is now trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted, and that this position should have been submitted in the SC. It may be added that the country witnessed the PM declaring in parliament on December 22 that he would not permit a “state within a state”, only to backtrack a few days later to say he was referring to the secretary defence, who had deposed before the SC that the defence ministry had no operational control over the military and ISI, and only dealt with their administrative issues. These contradictory statements indicate a level of tension between the government and the military that some observers interpret as the ‘endgame’ for this government.
While the PM is treading furiously in the water in the face of a widely held perception that the military, judiciary and the opposition (PML-N) have joined hands to put pressure on the government through various means to finally persuade it that its time is up, there is also a perception that the PPP has decided not to go down without a fight, if it comes to that. That would position the party on an advantageous perch to return to the electorate by playing the ‘victim’ card. One indication of the shape of things to come is the proceedings of the commission set up by the SC to probe the memo affair. Former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani has appeared before the commission, but refused to surrender his privacy rights regarding the messages, etc, on his Blackberry. At the same time, he has also challenged the December 30 short order of the SC that disallowed him to leave the country without the court’s prior approval. In his review petition, he has prayed that the proceedings of the memo commission be stayed until his review petition is decided. He has also questioned the authority of the SC to set up a commission composed of three high court chief justices, since the high courts are not under the jurisdiction of the SC.
The memo commission in the meantime has ordered the government to grant Mansoor Ijaz, the initiator of the whole memo brouhaha, a visa and provide him security within Pakistan. Although the authorities responded positively to this direction, the question lingers in the mind whether the commission has the power to give such direction to the government, given that its mandate is to investigate the affair and report back to the SC. The commission has rejected the DG ISI’s request for an in-camera briefing, asking him to forward any sensitive material he may have in a sealed envelope. The commission also wants all parties except Haqqani, Mansoor Ijaz and the army top brass to send it a list of all evidence by January 13, in preparation for its next hearing on January 16.
Nawaz Sharif is at pains these days to defend his going to the SC, while asserting his no-confidence in parliament and its committee on national security, charged by the PM to probe the memo affair. No doubt, this defence is in response to the criticism he is facing these days on betraying an anti-democratic frame of mind vis-vis parliament. In the US, scholars and the administration are seized of the memo conundrum, hoping it does not end up destabilising the democratic system and thereby the country. How all this will play out only time will tell. These developments have, however, focused minds once again on the separation of powers issue, as well as the civil-military imbalance.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 10, 2012

Musharraf’s return

Addressing a rally in Karachi of his All Pakistan Muslim League via video link from Dubai, former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf announced that he would be returning to Pakistan between January 27 and 30 despite threats and court cases. He said he would face the cases against him and stand for election from Chitral. He indirectly, without naming him, blamed his bĂȘte noir Nawaz Sharif for joining hands with extremists in Balochistan to hatch conspiracies against him. He then went on to list the achievements of his period in power, including better economic management and raising the prestige of Pakistanis internationally.
The fly in the ointment for the aspiring politician Musharraf is that the federal interior minister Rehman Malik thinks he could be arrested on arrival, while the Sindh government has categorically announced he would be arrested the moment he sets foot on Pakistani soil. Those seeking his arrest are, from within the PPP government, those who (belatedly) accuse him of involvement in Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and from Balochistan, the heirs of Nawab Akbar Bugti, who seek his arraignment on charges of murdering the Nawab. What is interesting in the change of fortunes of the former military ruler is the fact that under a military-guaranteed deal, he was allowed to leave office and Pakistan without a hair on his head being touched. Times change, and for none more than former military dictators out of power. However, the original ‘guarantor’s’ attitude to these ominous portents as far as Musharraf is concerned is still unknown, although it could easily feed into the already strained civil-military relationship because of the memo case.
So long as he was master of all he surveyed, Musharraf may have had detractors, but today his attempt to make a foray into the swamp of Pakistani politics may invite more than gentle criticism. A quick survey of Musharraf’s policies and performance in power may be salutary. On coming to power through a military coup in 1999, the General was privileged by the Supreme Court with not just validation of his takeover, but gratuitously with the power to amend the constitution, both patently illegal and unconstitutional favours. In 2001, he arranged manipulated local bodies elections in military rulers’ traditional penchant in our history to thereby create a grassroots base of support for himself. The 2002 rigged general elections and presidential referendum followed to sprinkle salt on the wounds of the country. Between 2001 and his eventual departure in 2008, his ‘tight buddy’ President George Bush showered his regime with largesse that defied logic or accountability, thereby allowing the military dictator to boast even now of the ‘successes’ of his regime’s economic management. That economic ‘prosperity’ was eventually exposed for the bubble it was. Many of the country’s problems inherited from Musharraf’s years continue, and arguably have been worsened by the incumbent government’s inept handling, the example of the energy crunch being sufficient to make the point. Musharraf ‘repaid’ Bush’s largesse by framing the dual policy of moving against al Qaeda and supporting the Afghan Taliban, a duality that persists to date. The foundations for the current standoff with the Americans was therefore laid in Musharraf’s years by, on the one hand, making too many secret concessions to the US to operate in Pakistan, and on the other, double dealing Washington. The chickens of this foundation have by now come home to roost and threaten Pakistan with increasing international isolation. Musharraf ‘repaid’ his debt to the superior judiciary that had legitimised his illegal rule by emasculating the institution in an unprecedented ‘decapitation’. This however, proved the last straw for even those who had (mistakenly) supported him initially and the lawyers’ movement proved the last nail in his political coffin.
The serious charges of extra-judicial assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti and involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Benazir Bhutto could do more than political damage to Musharraf’s ambitions. They could land him in serious trouble. Wiser counsel would be for him to forget about returning, let alone plunging into Pakistan’s political vortex and instead continuing to bask abroad in the lifestyle he has been enjoying since leaving power. But knowing the General’s high opinion of himself, this is unlikely to happen. End January could turn out more interesting than even the most hardened observer may have imagined.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 9, 2012

Early elections clamour

Of late, a chorus of voices is clamouring for early general elections. The ruling PPP had not seen fit to respond to this clamour until recently, except to endlessly repeat its mantra that the government would complete its tenure, i.e. that the elections would be held in February 2013. However, responding to the rising crescendo of demands for early elections, and perhaps seeing that the post-March 2012 Senate elections scenario would give it political advantage, the PPP has recently discussed the issue in its core committee and indicated through hints and suggestions that it was contemplating elections in October 2012. That would be only a few months before its scheduled end of tenure and could be informed by the perception that incumbency in the face of continuing serious problems afflicting the country may not be conducive to its interests beyond that.
Given this change of view, it is surprising to note that Nawaz Sharif in Quetta the other day came out with one more of his ‘either/or’ ultimatums. This one makes even less sense than some of the other choice ones the PML-N chief has delivered in the past. Nawaz says he cannot wait till October and wants the elections ‘now’. He goes on to assert that October 2012 would be too late, but fails to explain too late for what? Further, if he is taken at his word that he cannot wait till October, what does he intend to do between now and then if the PPP sticks to its view? Statements by prominent political leaders and prime-ministers-in-waiting should be better considered and weighed than this. As to the rumoured attempt by Chief Minister Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani to arrange a meeting between Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Zardari, the PML-N chief says he knows nothing about it. So much for that. To add fuel to the fire, his younger sibling, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif delivered himself of the wisdom on his return from Turkey that he was ruling out any talks with Mr Zardari. In a democratic system, doors are never shut on discussion, even with political rivals. The younger Sharif should therefore stop spewing such vitriol, which can only exacerbate tension in the polity at a time when cooler approaches are required.
In contrast to the Punjab chief Minister’s ‘can’t play, won’t play’ attitude, the PPP has initiated discussions with all political parties to forge a consensus around the elections date. Although this is not required by any constitutional or even democratic political norms, it speaks well of the PPP’s continuing efforts to take the polity along on such fundamental decisions. The PPP would obviously like a consensus around holding the elections after the Senate elections, preferably in October 2012. The PML-N and Jamaat-i-Islami are pressing for an earlier date, if not immediate polls. The PTI of Imran Khan seems inclined towards September/October 2012, but only after updating the electoral rolls and eliminating the 35 million invalid votes identified, along with the registration of new entrants, amongst whom it counts on the youth. PTI is also tilting against elections under President Zardari, although this does not sit squarely with its demand for a credible, independent Election Commission (EC). If this demand gets fulfilled, what does it matter who is the president, who then will have little say in the electoral process? ANP and the PML-Q still adhere to the original position that the government should complete its tenure. The PPP’s view is that the MQM will go with the tide, its only core interest being maintaining its hold on Karachi. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI sets three conditions for early elections: an independent EC, agreement on the caretaker setup to conduct the elections, and updating and correcting the electoral rolls.
A mere iteration of these respective positions of the biggest players in the field indicates the need and wisdom in conducting consultations amongst all stakeholders to agree a mutually acceptable date. Nothing stops the incumbent government from taking this decision unilaterally, but its approach is clearly intended to avoid ruction over the decision. All parties should therefore welcome any such initiative and come to the table to sort out the elections date.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 5, 2012

The issue of new provinces

The National Assembly (NA) was subjected to such uproar the other day that the session had to be temporarily suspended to allow heated tempers to cool. The issue that agitated the legislators from two parties, the MQM and the ANP, was regarding the former’s attempt to have a resolution for the creation of a Hazara province in the Hindko-speaking areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa discussed in the house. Although the discussion was eventually postponed, the amount of heat it generated added little to the understanding of a complicated but critical issue. The Prime Minister (PM) too whaled into the fray by advocating the creation of a Saraiki province in southern Punjab. Gilani said the creation of new provinces was the need of the hour and if a Saraiki province was not created during the tenure of a Saraiki-speaking prime minister, when would it happen, if ever? The PM therefore charged federal minister Khursheed Shah with the task of discussing the issue of new provinces with the government’s allies to forge a consensus before moving a resolution in the NA.
It is interesting to note that the desire for new provinces is rooted in the belated devolution under the 18th Amendment. The exercise has sparked off, on the one hand, demands for a Saraiki and Hazara province, and on the other, opposition from the parties ruling in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the latter case in particular, the ANP’s umbrage at the suggestion from the MQM is at odds with its earlier stated position that if the people of Hazara clearly expressed a wish for a new province, the ANP could contemplate it. In other words, from a stance that spoke of a democratic solution to the issue, the ANP has veered towards a ‘defence’ of the not so long ago renamed entity now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The PML-N is known to be averse to the idea of carving out a Saraiki (or Bahawalpur province) in southern Punjab, because it would truncate its ‘fiefdom’. Similar sentiments seem to underlie the ANP’s latest position on the Hazara province.
The whole exchange generated more heat and noise than light. The issue of creating new provinces is too important to be reduced to a ‘political football’ or mere tit-for-tat point scoring. Pakistan’s history is witness to the fact that for long years, the country was an overcentralised state, a structure inherited from colonial days and continued after independence at the behest of powerful vested interests that were not prepared to concede democracy, let alone a democratic federal structure. East Pakistan’s fate may well have been different if this suicidal blinkered vision had not dominated for so long.
The other question is what should be the criteria for determining whether new provinces should be created or not? Conservative views insist this should only be done for administrative convenience. The party that clearly adheres to this view, the PML-N, is on the other hand reluctant to follow through on the logic of devolution under the 18th Amendment to restore (in better, improved form than the gerrymandered Musharraf local bodies) local governments to provide precisely the administrative convenience to citizens so otherwise beloved of the PML-N. The other view, rooted in a historical understanding of identities, argues for new provinces, or even perhaps a redrawing of the existing provincial boundaries on linguistic/ethnic bases. Although this notion is correct in principle, in the concrete situation of Pakistan, it is bedevilled by many complications. If accepted, the principle could possibly give rise to demands for separate provinces not only for southern Punjab and Hazara, but also a Pakhtun province to be carved out of northern Balochistan, an Urdu-speaking province in Sindh, claims on the ethnically Baloch areas of south western Punjab, and perhaps more that do not readily come to mind. How then to arrive at a universal principle that could satisfy cravings for new or redrawn provinces and yet be acceptable to all through a consensus? Whether on administrative or linguistic/ethnic lines, first and foremost, the will of the people of a particular province as a whole, and then the area under consideration for a new province has to be determined transparently and democratically. Referenda could be one method of ascertaining the opinion of the province and the area in question, as is the case in many democratic countries. In Pakistan’s specific instance, irrespective of such exercises of ascertaining the popular will, the constitution’s Article 239 (4) lays down that no bill to amend the constitution that would have the effect of altering the limits of a province can be presented to the president for assent unless it has been passed by the provincial assembly of that province by a two-thirds majority. It then also requires a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament in order to pass muster. The conceptual and ground complications of creating or redrawing provinces are forbidding enough. The legislative route could be even more tricky and difficult. That is why, perhaps, desire notwithstanding, it is not as easy as it may seem.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Daily Times editorial Jan 2, 2012

Memo affair

The nine-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing the memogate case has unanimously ruled the other day that the petitions are maintainable and has set up a three-member judicial commission to investigate the affair and report back in a month. The commission will be headed by the Chief Justice (CJ) of the Balochistan High Court Qazi Faez Isa and include the CJs of the Islamabad and Sindh High Courts. The SC bench has also reiterated its order of December 1 directing former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani not to leave the country without the court’s permission. It may be recalled that the counsel for Mr Haqqani, Asma Jahangir, had argued before the SC that the petitions were not maintainable on grounds of the issue being a political one, and had cited case law from foreign and Pakistani jurisprudence in support of her arguments, apart from questioning the appropriateness of the issue being agitated at a judicial forum when parliament was already seized of the matter. She had also questioned the order of December 1 against her client, stressing that he had been ‘condemned’ unheard and this was a violation of Mr Haqqani’s fundamental rights. That order has been questioned also on the grounds of being tantamount to giving relief to the petitioner/s that they had not even asked for. No wonder then that the latest ruling visibly upset Asma Jahangir, who criticized the ruling as being ‘establishment-minded’, having put the civilian government under the military’s command and prioritized national security above fundamental rights. She was of the view that the order was not in accordance with the rule of law. She characterized the occasion as a dark day for the judiciary, questioning whether the judiciary restored through the lawyers’ movement was a judiciary of the people or the establishment. Reluctantly accepting the ruling, as is expected of a senior lawyer, she nevertheless reserved the right to file a review petition against the ruling once the detailed order was available. She also cautioned the petitioners, particularly the PML-N, that the court’s order would come back to haunt them in future.
As validation of Ms Jahangir’s contention, the parliamentary committee on national security has decided to summon Husain Haqqani, DG ISI General Pasha and the main character in the whole brouhaha, Mansoor Ijaz, to appear before it. We are in therefore for an embarrassing scenario where two of the highest forums of the state, parliament and the judiciary, would be dealing with the same matter at the same time. On this count, many senior jurists, including Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood, have added their voices to the criticism of the SC in admitting the petitions for hearing at such a juncture. A possible, bruising outcome could be that the judiciary and parliament rule contradictorily on the issue, sparking a division and perhaps a clash between the two highest state institutions.
The independence of the judiciary has been proclaimed repeatedly since its restoration. That is of course a desirable outcome, given the sorry history of supine judgements of the superior judiciary in our past, especially where validation of military coups has consistently been in evidence. Although CJ Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has repeatedly said there is no question of repeating that bad track record, the doctrine of necessity on which such past validations were based having been buried, the present case does arouse concerns that the court may be giving more weightage to the views of COAS General Kayani and General Pasha, whose affidavits before the SC seem to be at odds with their nominal ‘bosses’, the federal government. In cases of such political and constitutional import, the SC in its own interests must ensure that justice is not only done, but is seen to have been done, without giving critics the slightest opportunity to accuse it of bias, since this would be deleterious for the respect and dignity of the judiciary.