Saturday, March 31, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 1, 2012

Rental power debacle

The Supreme Court (SC) has struck down all the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) as non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio, and ordered all those responsible to be taken to task according to the law. It may be recalled that the idea of RPPs as an immediate measure for electricity generation and supply was mooted in the last days of the Musharraf government, which otherwise failed to add even a single MW of electricity to the system in almost a decade of Musharraf’s rule. The concept was part of a three-tiered solution to the energy crisis: short, medium and long term. In the immediate or short term the increasing energy deficit was sought to be alleviated if not met by inducting RPPs that could start functioning in a matter of months as opposed to Independent Power Producers (IPPs) that often take years to come on line. The IPPs were considered part of the medium term tier, which included enhancement of hydel electricity through small dams and run-of-the-river projects. In the long term, large dams and an increase in renewable energy for local distribution were considered most feasible, although work on renewable energy could overlap the first two tiers. As it has turned out however, of the 19 RPP projects envisaged, only six were allowed to be set up by a review initiated with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) after the issue generated controversy. None of the RPPs, in the ADB view, were cost-effective, but if the government was determined to go ahead nevertheless, the number should be curtailed. Advances of first seven percent of the cost, later raised to 14 percent, were paid up front. No proper monitoring appears to have taken place after that, resulting in the anomalous situation that the country was getting merely 120 MW from all the RPPs put together, and none from some. Since the case has been in the SC, some money advanced has been recovered, while the court has now advised NAB to pursue the matter to ascertain civil and criminal liability of all those involved in approving and funding the RPPs.
While there is no quibbling with the SC’s judgement that the whole affair stinks of corruption and kickbacks as the explanation why the authorities were so ‘generous’ with the RPPs, there may be a danger that the SC’s verdict ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Conceptually, the three-tier scheme outlined above makes eminent sense. However, the irreducible condition for it to be successful involved a transparent, competitive process of awarding such contracts, on terms mutually beneficial to both parties and not, as in the said instance, one-sided in favour of the RPPs, and proper monitoring to ensure the terms of the contract were being complied with, especially where agreed generation is concerned.
The SC is absolutely right in insisting that pilferage and the circular debt problem that bedevils the power sector be addressed since, on paper at least, installed capacity is sufficient if all the plants run at maximum capacity. In the ordinary course of things, that is seldom the case since breakdowns, maintenance shutdowns, etc, quite apart from the current conundrum of insufficient funds to run at full capacity because of the circular debt mean that installed capacity is seldom fully available on any given day. What is required is a cushion to take account of such shortfalls. Inadvertently, the SC verdict may now make investment in the power sector even more difficult since the cancellation of the RPP contracts will willy nilly send a negative message to potential investors. The verdict appears not only to have shut the door on any RPPs in future (even provided the conditions outlined above are met), it could also make IPPs difficult to set up. Wrongdoers who have played around irresponsibly or in a corrupt manner with public money must be brought to book of course. But the country may now face fresh problems in meeting growing energy demands in the future if the energy mix can no longer rely on fresh IPPs.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 31, 2012

The killing fields of Balochistan

Once again a sectarian attack has killed Shia Hazaras in Quetta. A van carrying members of the Hazara community was riddled with automatic arms fire in the Balochistan capital, killing five people, including a woman, and wounding six others. Riots broke out in the city after the incident, leading to more deaths and destruction. One policeman was killed and two protestors are reported to have been killed in an exchange of fire between protestors and the police while vehicles and buildings were torched. The Hazara Democratic Party and the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party separately called for a shutterdown strike on Friday, a call that was supported by the ANP, JWP, BNP and Anjuman Tajiran Balochistan. The Tahafuz-e-Azadaran Council and the Balochistan Shia Conference have also come out with their response. While the former announced three days of mourning, the latter proposed the formation of a grand jirga comprising the PPP’s alienated Lashkari Raisani and other leaders to stop the systematic killings of the Hazara community. One report says the Taliban’s Jundullah faction has claimed responsibility for the dastardly attack. As if all this was not bad enough, on the very same day two UN workers were killed and one wounded in an ambush on their car near Mastung. Although no one has accepted responsibility, it may be recalled that Mastung was the site of one of the most gruesome Shia massacres when people were taken off a bus and shot in cold blood. Whether the latter attack has a sectarian colour or not is not known at this time, but there is little doubt that the killings of Hazara Shias in Balochistan is beginning to take on a sinister pattern. One reason why this may be so is that the Hazara community is known as one of the most peaceful, law abiding and hard working communities in the province. Perhaps the sectarian terrorists see them as ‘easy pickings’. The latest victims of this dance macabre have been added to the thousands of victims of sectarian killings since Ziaul Haq’s unleashing of Sunni extremist groups in the 1980s. What is surprising in the whole episode is that after the pattern of sectarian attacks against the Hazara community cane to the surface in recent months, why have the law enforcement authorities fallen asleep instead of taking extraordinary measures to protect the vulnerable community?
One explanation for this lapse may be sought in the fact that the law enforcement agencies have their hands full in combating the Baloch nationalist insurgency, which by now has spread to virtually the whole province. While the military authorities and the hated FC seem to be concentrating on trying to eliminate all active nationalists, whether moderate or militant, through their ‘kill and dump’ policy, the disturbed conditions in Balochistan have left space for sectarian terrorists and even criminal gangs to freely indulge in kidnappings for ransom and other crimes without let or hindrance. In the context of the newfound interest by some US Congressmen in Balochistan’s plight, it is advisable that the civilian leadership in the province and the Centre wake up to their responsibilities, take control of the province’s affairs, stop Balochistan turning increasingly into a killing field, and open a channel of talks with the estranged Baloch nationalist leadership and all other stakeholders to bring peace back to the province through political means. If they fail the people of Balochistan in continuing to show their helplessness in the province’s affairs at the hands of the military, history may one day record how Balochistan was steadily driven out of the federation. If such a cataclysmic development were to actually transpire, what would be left of Pakistan?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 30, 2012

Women in Afghanistan

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a report in Kabul called ‘I Had to Run Away’, which documents the plight of women in the deeply traditional society of Afghanistan. The report says hundreds of Afghan women are languishing in prison charged with moral crimes, which include running away from home and being accused of adultery. It goes on to point out that 10 years after the overthrow of the Taliban regime that brutally suppressed women, girls and women are still imprisoned for running away from domestic violence or forced marriage. HRW estimates there are at least 400 women in prison and girls in juvenile detention facilities accused or convicted of offences, including ‘running away’, which is not a crime under the Afghan penal code. The report goes on to bear witness that some women and girls have been convicted of zina – sex outside marriage – after being raped or forced into prostitution. Convictions are often obtained solely on the basis of ‘confessions’ extracted in the absence of lawyers and ‘signed’ without having been read to women who cannot read or write. Conviction routinely attracts long prison sentences, in some cases more than 10 years. In the deeply conservative Afghan society, the 58 women inmates interviewed for the report feared they could be murdered by their families after release for reasons of ‘honour’. Even women who have been raped by relatives or others are ironically happier inside prison where they feel safer for fear they will be killed when they are freed.
The HRW report criticises President Hamid Karzai on at least two counts. One, although the president has regularly pardoned women convicted of ‘moral crimes’, this does not compensate for the injustice in the first place, nor does it change the danger of ‘honour’ killings of these unfortunate women. Second, this month Karzai endorsed an edict by the Ulema Council, the country’s highest Islamic authority, asserting that women are worth less than men. The edict said women should avoid mingling with male strangers in various social activities such as education, in bazaars, offices and other aspects of life, in effect preventing women from getting education or going out to work. Most worryingly, the Council has left the door open for domestic and other abuse by stating that “teasing, harassing and beating women” was prohibited “without a Sharia-compliant reason”. The statement implies that in some circumstances, domestic abuse was not only allowed, but also appropriate. HRW researcher Heather Barr expressed the apprehension that with the west preparing to scale down its presence in Afghanistan (if not withdraw altogether), Karzai was readjusting his stance to neutralise both the Taliban and powerful traditionalist Afghans in order to survive in power.
There is of course no denying that the position of women has improved impressively since the medievalist days of the Taliban, when women were not allowed to go out without a mehram (close male relative), effectively cutting them off physically and socially from education and work. While the post-Taliban Afghan constitution and other laws enshrine the rights of women, these are more often than not practiced in the breach. To add to this continuing sorry state of affairs rooted not just in Taliban ideology but also the backward patriarchal culture of Afghanistan, the women of Afghanistan are fearful that both the Americans and the Afghan government, in their efforts to make peace with the Taliban in a bid to end the war, are opening the door to compromising whatever rights women have achieved on paper or in real life. That would be a real travesty and negation of the human and other costs of this prolonged war for a more enlightened society that would have turned its back on the cruel medievalism of the Taliban. It goes without saying that the HRW report has helped highlight the plight of women accused of ‘moral crimes’ and increasingly apprehensive of the creeping shadows of a return of Taliban attitudes if not practices. Pakistan’s enlightened society, especially the Afghan women’s sisters here, must stand in support of the beleaguered women of Afghanistan, who certainly deserve a better fate and future than male politicians compromising with the Taliban and in any case informed by reactionary patriarchal attitudes are able to offer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 29, 2012

Obama-Gilani meeting

As often happens in international diplomacy, world leaders take advantage of multilateral forums to conduct bilateral business on the sidelines of the main menu. That is what the meeting of US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani on the sidelines of the Seoul Nuclear Summit represents. It goes without saying that any meeting between Pakistani and US officials these days evokes great interest. Even cancelled meetings are cause for comment. How much more importance then does this encounter at the highest level since the Abbottabad raid that killed Osama bi laden acquire does not require explication. In the media interaction after the one-on-one discussion, it was obvious from the words and body language of both leaders that a concerted mutual effort was being made to find a mutually acceptable formulation that would assist both sides to grope their way towards a restoration of their seriously fraught relationship. It is by now well known what were the developments over the last year or so that brought things to this pass. Briefly, the steady downward spiral in relations can be marked from the Raymond Davis affair, through the Abbottabad raid to the Salala check post killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers. Since the Pakistan government decided to review the ties with the US to put them on a more equal footing that recognises and respects Pakistan’s concerns regarding its sovereignty and other issues, and that review is currently before a joint session of parliament, President Obama expressed the hope that the parliamentary review would be balanced and respect the US’s security needs vis-à-vis terrorism. In his remarks Obama also underlined respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty, which has become a real bone of contention since the Abbottabad raid since in the Pakistani perspective, it violated Pakistan’s air and territorial sovereignty. Gilani therefore was appreciative of Obama’s references to Pakistan’s sovereignty. So while much ‘respect’ was on offer from both sides, and the usual ritual formulations about a stable Pakistan and Afghanistan being in everyone’s interests were reiterated, the lingering tension between the two ostensible allies was obvious. At best the meeting can be described as putting a measured (not best) public face on a severely damaged diplomatic relationship.
The White House could not be drawn on whether the contentious issue of drone strikes was discussed. Nevertheless, a report in the media has revealed that Pakistan rejected a US offer of concessions on drone attacks such as advance notice of attacks and limits on the types of targets. The issue has become a hot potato in Pakistani politics, with many political parties and forces agitating against drone strikes, seen by many as again violative of Pakistani sovereignty and counter-productive because of collateral civilian casualties. Whether the report is true or not, it may not be beyond the realm of possibility, given that the drones issue has been inserting itself into the US-Pakistan equation from time to time. It has even found an echo in the debate currently underway in a joint session of parliament in which the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) are being examined. Whereas the report on the drones concessions argues that the actual level and nature of the interaction between Washington and Islamabad is more positive than it appears at first glance, and this may be strengthened by the report that Generals Allen and Kayani have met, the mood of the opposition in Pakistan is anything but sanguine. Their strong resistance during the session has caused delay and their detailed objections to the recommendations have forced the head of the PCNS, Senator Raza Rabbani, to state in the house that in line with the government’s approach of seeking consensus on the 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments, they would not attempt to railroad these recommendations through parliament. He also pointed out that the recommendations were the result of the PCNS’s confabulations in which all parties, and not just the treasury benches, were represented. The recommendations therefore, Senator Rabbani argued, could not be seen as a purely government set of proposals. They represented the broad sense of the PCNS. If US-Pakistani engagement is difficult enough, the debate in parliament offers little prospect of an early conclusion, and quite possibly the end result will not be consensual.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 28, 2012

Seoul Security Summit

At the two-day international Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has been making his pitch for Pakistan to be given access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes on a non-discriminatory basis. He argued that nuclear technology was required to meet Pakistan’s growing energy needs. The National Command Authority, Gilani revealed, had approved a Nuclear Power Programme for 2050 to increase energy production from nuclear sources. Pakistan, he went on, had taken effective measures to enhance nuclear security. Underlining the importance of the second Nuclear Security Summit being held in Seoul, the prime minister expressed the hope that the Summit will lead to breaking new ground on the evolving global nuclear security architecture, the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and protection of nuclear materials and radioactive sources. He pointed to the IAEA’s approval of the safeguards agreements of the two civil nuclear power plants (supplied by China) as reflective of the world’s continued confidence in the safety and security standards of the country. The agenda the Summit has set itself is reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism through curbing trafficking and improving the security of nuclear installations.
Pakistan is vying to be accepted internationally as a responsible nuclear state, one deserving membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). This is not an easy task, given the bad track record of the country vis-à-vis nuclear proliferation. It may be recalled that Pakistan stands accused of passing on nuclear know-how to North Korea, Iran, and Libya under Gaddafi. After Musharraf persuaded Dr A Q Khan to fall on his own sword and accept responsibility solely, Pakistan has been trying to regain its lost reputation in this regard. Some water has flowed down the rivers since that ignominious episode, but the world will still need persistent persuading that Pakistan has turned a corner and should no longer be looked at with suspicion or reservations. Gilani even offered to train nuclear experts in Pakistan, another effort to indicate that Pakistan had nothing to hide (unlike in the past). Pakistan’s track record and its recent coming closer to Iran on the gas pipeline, purchase of electricity from Iran and enhanced trade and economic cooperation could negatively impact its diplomatic efforts on the civilian nuclear use issue. It should not be forgotten that the most powerful country in the world, the US, frowns upon Pakistan’s closeness with its neighbour, accused as Tehran is of pursuing nuclear weapons. The US has refused to commit on whether it will treat Pakistan’s request for nuclear technology sympathetically or not if and when Islamabad applies for it.
Nuclear power has of late become even more controversial after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Many states, including developed ones, are backing away from or not as vigorously pursuing nuclear power. Safety standards may have improved in the nuclear industry, but the immensely powerful elemental forces of nature mankind is trying to tame have the potential at any given moment to cause immense damage and loss of life. Then the problem of disposal of nuclear waste (an inevitable by-product of the nuclear fuel cycle) has yet to find satisfactory resolution, given that such waste decays over thousands of years. There is no doubt that Pakistan is facing a critical energy crisis that is causing immense losses to the economy. Pakistan cannot therefore put all its eggs in one basket. With the caveats outlined above regarding safety, if Pakistan pursues its nuclear power goals, it must not shut its eyes to the need for a diverse energy mix to overcome the country’s energy deficit. We tend to resent India’s success in getting a civilian nuclear deal from Bush. But we must pursue friendly countries like Turkey to help us in the conventional energy field while continuing to engage the world on nuclear energy issues.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 27, 2012

Dushanbe summit

Quadrilateral talks between the presidents of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and host Tajikistan took place in Dushanbe on the occasion of Nauroz, which reiterated the regional countries’ desire to promote mutual trade, economic cooperation, coordinate the struggle against terrorism, militancy and drug-trafficking for what was described as a “win-win situation”. In the context of regional energy cooperation, President Asif Ali Zardari once again expressed Pakistan’s commitment to the Iran-Pakistan (IP) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline projects. On Afghanistan, President Zardari said non-state actors wanted to destabilise that country but Pakistan was committed to peace in the region. He went on to assert that a stable Afghanistan is in the interests of Pakistan. Further, he underlined the greater significance of closer cooperation amongst the four countries in all fields, particularly defence, security and intelligence sharing. The message all four presidents put out at the end of their summit was that terrorism and militancy posed a serious threat to peace, security and socio-economic development of the region and needed to be tackled jointly through a regional approach and solutions. Stronger bonds needed to be created amongst them through trade, communications, transportation, energy and infrastructure. The presidents agreed that the joyous occasion of Nauroz on which they were meeting represents peace, tolerance and friendship among all civilisations of the world. Afghan President Karzai and Iranian President Ahmedinejad called for unity and solidarity among the regional countries. Similar sentiments were voiced by the host, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.
The context in which this regional summit should be seen is the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the impending withdrawal of US/NATO forces from that country, and the fraught relationship at present between Pakistan and the US. On the sidelines of the summit, President Zardari met the US Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, in which Zardari stressed the need for greater transparency in the relationship with the US. Both sides said they respected and would wait for the parliamentary review of ties that has started in a joint session of parliament in Islamabad. President Zardari explained that the energy crunch Pakistan faces necessitates the construction of the IP gas pipeline. Unfortunately, whatever diplomatic fence-mending was attempted in this meeting was washed away by the release of the US military’s second report on the NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala check post on the Afghan-Pakistan border on November 26, 2011. The report exonerates the US military of responsibility for the deaths of these soldiers, arguing they fired back in self-defence after coming under attack from two check posts in the area. This whitewash is likely to make the task of putting US-Pakistan relations on an even keel even more difficult. The central issue of that relationship at present is whether or not to reopen the US/NATO supply route for their forces in Afghanistan, which Pakistan shut down after the Salala incident. While the US military’s report will work against the desire for reopening the supply route, to add to the kerfuffle, the Pakistani Taliban have threatened to target MPs who support the reopening.
These differences and contradictions between ostensible allies Pakistan and the US point once again to the gulf between regional powers and a distant, powerful, but increasingly seen as arrogant and bullying imperial power. However this conundrum pans out, there is no denying the enormous advantages geography and history have blessed Pakistan with. Its potential as a trade and energy corridor for the region is by now accepted wisdom. But for that potential to translate into reality, Pakistan and the region need to be at peace so that development can proceed apace and without obstruction. Peace cannot be established without the defeat of the Taliban and other such jihadi forces throughout the region, which feels threatened as a whole by the medieval ideology espoused by the extremists and terrorists. As the moment for the western powers to withdraw from Afghanistan approaches, the signs of a realisation among and shift to regional countries taking responsibility for the welfare and future of the area is by now unmistakeable. This should have happened earlier, but better late than never.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 25, 2012

Battlefield Lyari

The fourth day of protests and clashes with the police and other law enforcement agencies in Lyari, Karachi, on Friday virtually turned the area into a battlefield. Shops and businesses were closed, and the clashes turned more and more violent, with gunshots punctuating the atmosphere and petrol bombs fast becoming the weapon of choice for the protestors. The operation to arrest gangsters and criminals accused of extortionist activity amongst other crimes launched by the police on Thursday evoked a violent reaction from local residents, led by the banned People’s Amn Committee (PAC). The PAC’s grouse centres round the claim that innocent people are being targeted in the operation, with some of their leaders being unnecessarily involved in the killing of a local leader, Abdul Rasheed Kutchi of the Kutchi Rabita Committee in Kalri locality of Karachi on Sunday night. Police have arrested about 12-20 protestors and shifted them to an unknown location, presumably for interrogation, which could raise concerns about their treatment in custody.
The interesting aspect of the Lyari operation is that it was launched almost immediately after the MQM’s agitation against ‘extortionists’ in Karachi. MQM, the party that gave Karachi’s lexicon the word ‘bhatta’ (extortion) seemed peeved at the entry of ‘new’ extortionists in the field, perhaps causing disruption in the smooth operations of the MQM. In their usual style, when MQM put pressure on the PPP, President Asif Ali Zardari despatched Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik to mollify the MQM and take steps that would satisfy their ardour against extortion (new). The choice of Lyari to begin the operation raised complaints by local residents of the area that while they were not against the operation against criminals, extortionist and other criminal activity was going on all over the city, and a comprehensive operation should have been launched instead of singling out Lyari.
While MQM may be pleased with the choice of Lyari as the first target of the operation since it was from Lyari that, with the support of the PAC, former Sindh Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza had launched his diatribe against MQM. Mirza may have gone into hibernation after his party leadership decided his violent outbursts and theatrics were not conducive to maintaining the coalition with the MQM in Sindh (and thereby in the Centre), but to say that anti-MQM sentiment does not persist in the ranks of the PPP, especially its members from Lyari, is to simply shut one’s eyes to the truth and ground realities. Nabil Gabol, one of the longstanding and prominent leaders of the PPP from Lyari, is perceived to be also distant from the PPP leadership because of his anti-MQM stance. His take on the situation in Lyari throws an interesting sidelight on exactly what is going on there. He says the PPP is very concerned it may lose its traditional support base in Lyari if the criminal gangs that seem to dominate the area are not taken out. In the run up to the general elections later this year or early next, PPP can hardly afford to miss out in its strongest and oldest constituency in Karachi, from which the party desires its young Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to stand for a seat in the next elections. However, while the operation may bring smiles of satisfaction to the MQM, there is a risk that if the operation is badly handled, the apprehension of loss of support in the area may become a self-fulfilling prophecy for the PPP. Crime must of course be uprooted, but there should ne no deviation from offering all those arrested due process under the laws of the land so that no innocents suffer (the very claim leading to the protests led by the PAC). Also, to mollify the angry people of Lyari, the operation against criminals must be extended to the whole city, without fear or discrimination. That may help to calm the anger at perceived singling out of the people of Lyari.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 23, 2012

Pakistan Day reflections

On this day, March 23rd, 72 years ago, an extraordinary public meeting took place in Lahore. In what was then called Minto Park and where today the Minar-i-Pakistan towers over the landscape, the All India Muslim League met to weigh the options for the subcontinent’s Muslims in the run up to independence from the British. The Lahore Resolution adopted in 1940, later dubbed the Pakistan Resolution despite the fact that the word Pakistan is not mentioned in it, asserted the right of united India’s Muslim community to seek states grouped according to majority in the northwest and northeast of the country. The question of independent states at that point was still left open. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, brilliant practitioner of the art of politics that he was, accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in a last ditch effort to keep India united, with constitutional guarantees for the Muslim minority that felt threatened by revanchist Hindu revivalism and the mainstream Congress’ arrogant unwillingness to understand or allay the anxieties of a considerable Muslim minority. As it turned out, Congress (Nehru and Patel in particular) sabotaged the Cabinet Mission Plan by refusing to commit to the constitutional guarantees for Muslims for 10 years that were the cornerstone of the Plan. From then on, partition became inevitable. It did transpire, but accompanied by the most ferocious blood letting and the greatest mass migration in history.
The wounds of partition have not healed completely on either side, but with the passage of time and new generations coming to the fore in both countries, the idea that geography and neighbours cannot be chosen and that if India and Pakistan cannot do better, at the very least they should learn to live with each other in a civilised manner has taken root. Recent developments indicate hopeful signs that this wisdom is sinking in on both sides of the border. Of course much water has flown down the Indus since independence, and through the twists and turns of relations and even wars between Pakistan and India, arguably the two nuclear-armed neighbours can no longer contemplate going to war. If peace is then the only option, it follows logically that engagement and confidence building are the order of the day. Of course regional developments over the last four decades have also fed into the changed scenario. The Afghanistan imbroglio threatens not only peace and stability in Pakistan at the hands of fanatics and terrorists, India cannot rest sanguine either that it is safe from the spillover of these tendencies.
While the historical legacy of differences, difficult as the gulf has proved to bridge, particularly over Kashmir, seems to be on a tentative retreat, it is a token of how far the Pakistan envisaged by the founding fathers is from present-day Pakistan that is cause for introspection and even sorrow. Contrary to what many religious and right wing elements would have us believe, the historic exercise of the right of self-determination by a large section (not all, it must be admitted) of the Muslim community of united India to create a new state called Pakistan was not, if the Quaid’s thoughts are properly understood, to turn it into a theocratic state run by clerics, but a modern, progressive, welfare state in which the apprehensions of the Muslims in united India that they would be disadvantaged and marginalised would become a mere historical curiosity when Pakistanis enjoyed the fruits of independence and development. Looked at today, it must be recorded that Jinnah’s Pakistan died in 1971 when Bangladesh broke away, and the ‘New Pakistan’ that remained is today arguably on the cusp of existential disaster. The miseries of the people, their lack of rights or say in the country’s destiny, their consequent alienation and apathy are not what Mr Jinnah had foreseen for his people. Given this unsavoury reality, we can only apologise to the Quaid today for the mess we have made of his vision, and vow once more to combat the forces of darkness that he in his lifetime had little time for and we his successors must combat before they engulf what little remains of the original élan of the new state.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 22, 2012

PCNS recommendations

The much-awaited recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) have finally been presented to the special joint session of parliament to debate the new terms of engagement with the US. Briefly, the PCNS outlined the following parameters: cessation of drone attacks; lighter footprint of the US in Pakistan; no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory; foreign private security contractors’ activities in Pakistan must be transparent and subject to Pakistani laws; unconditional apology from the US for the Salala attack; no bases or airspace use by the US without parliamentary approval; reopening NATO supply routes for Afghanistan contingent on agreed terms and conditions, subject to taxes and other transit charges; no more verbal agreements regarding national security; prior permission and transparency on presence of foreign intelligence operatives; active pursuit of the Iran gas pipeline, and last but not least, seeking a civilian nuclear treaty with the US along the lines of the one with India. Whether this is considered a laundry or wish list, the fact remains that there are certain provisions that appear doable, especially given the difficulties being faced by the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan since the closure of their supply routes, some difficult if not impossible, still others falling into a grey area.
The lighter US footprint and no hot pursuit or boots on Pakistani territory, including new rules on regulating foreign private contractors and flights near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border seem possible, although the suspicion cannot be avoided that while paying lip service to these, the US may find even more clandestine means to pursue its objectives in the region. No bases or use of our airspace without parliamentary approval would probably enjoy a consensus across the political divide. Charging for NATO supplies and routing at least 50 percent of these supplies through the railways also seems feasible, as does the stipulation that there would be no more verbal agreements impinging on national security between the US and Pakistani governments or their various arms. Drone attacks cessation may or may not fly, and could provide embarrassment for parliament if the US either refuses or continues the strikes clandestinely. The unconditional apology for the Salala attack may at some point become possible for the Obama administration, depending on the political climate in an election year in the US. Now the grey or most difficult parts of the recommendations. Expecting states to reveal transparently the numbers and personnel of their spy agencies appears unrealistic. That is the nature of modern spycraft. An exposed spy is dead in the water. The US's views on the Iran gas pipeline are well known. Pakistan’s dire energy crisis necessitates pursuit of energy from any and all sources, irrespective of any other considerations. The pipeline should be built, but we should brace for US anger and perhaps more because of it. The civilian use nuclear agreement with India that Bush signed appears the least likely of the recommendations to find favour in Washington. There is no harm in dreaming, but realistically, this seems a long shot.
The PCNS’s recommendations indict and attempt to reverse some of the non-transparent and even verbal agreements with the US made by Musharraf after 9/11. These were neither known at the time, nor subsequently discussed anywhere openly. The negative sides of these concessions only revealed themselves with time, especially after democracy was restored in 2008. Now in a first, parliament is taking the lead in formulating an independent foreign policy. The significance of this development, despite all the caveats and roadblocks, would not be lost on those familiar with the sorry history of our kow-towing to Washington through most of our existence as a country. Whereas other post-colonial states too suffered the same pressures, cajoling and persuasion through ‘aid’, Pakistan went a step further early in its existence by yoking its wagon to the US horse. Cento and Seato followed, we became the front line state in the cold war long before the phrase became familiar in the Afghan wars context, and despite ups and downs in Pakistan-US relations over the years, were seen by the world and a considerable body of opinion within the country as a client state. If the page is about to be, or at least attempted to be turned now, all who have the interests of the country at heart can only welcome it. As for the military establishment that has held centre-stage in the making of foreign policy throughout our history, at best it must confine itself to professional input and surrender this self-proclaimed role into the hands of parliament.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Daily Times Editorial March 21, 2012

Prime Minister’s ‘No’

In response to the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) order of March 8, 2012, Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has in his written reply refused point blank to write the letter desired by the SC to the Swiss authorities to reopen the alleged corruption and money laundering cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. The grounds of the PM’s refusal make interesting reading. The arguments and facts marshalled by the PM in his defence indicate in conclusion and between the lines that he has expressed no confidence in the bench hearing the contempt of court case. The basic reasoning presented in the PM’s reply pertaining to the bench is that since these judges have initiated the prosecution by issuing a contempt notice to him, in fairness they should not hear the case since this would be tantamount to being a judge in their own case, a principle of law that needs to be adhered to. The PM referred to Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani having recused himself from the case because of close personal relations with the PM to indirectly bolster his argument regarding the appropriateness of the bench becoming both prosecutor and judge in his case.
The thrust of the PM’s defence against the contempt charge is that he neither intended, nor committed any contempt or wilfully refused to obey the directions of the court. He merely followed the Rules of Business and was guided in his decision by the advice and summaries received from the Law Ministry and concerned officials. This was corroborated in the testimony of Ms Nargis Sethi before the court. Further, the PM argued that of the six options outlined by the court itself, it chose the most coercive (first) option. It would have been better in his view to have opted for the sixth, i.e. leaving the fate of Yousaf Raza Gilani in the court of the people. If, however, the court insisted that the letter be written regardless of all considerations, the PM suggested that the matter be sent to parliament to take a decision based on the collective wisdom of the elected representatives of the people. Mr Gilani defended stoutly the immunity enjoyed by a sitting head of state so long as he held office. He was open to the suggestion that the letter to the Swiss authorities desired by the court could be written after Mr Zardari left office. This would avoid throwing the president of a sovereign country before a foreign magistrate, a development that would gravely injure the self-respect of the country. The orders of the bench of January 10, 2012 and March 8, 2012, in the PM’s view, revealed that the judges had already made up their mind on the very matter to be heard and defended by the accused. The March 8 order was issued ex-parte, when even his counsel was not present in the court. This smacked of pre-emption, and of justice not being seen to be done when his counsel had not yet had the opportunity to explicate his arguments. In other words, the PM felt he had been condemned unheard. Gilani also raised an eyebrow at the anomaly that the Attorney General, who till yesterday was representing the federal government before the SC, should have been appointed the prosecutor in the contempt case. This led to the strange situation where in the NRO case he was still the federation’s counsel, while in the contempt case he was the prosecutor.
The underlying premise of the prime minister’s arguments (which are too lengthy to be done justice to in this space) seems to reflect his view that perhaps in its frustration at the delays in implementing the SC’s order in the NRO case, and in its zeal to assert the authority of the apex court, the bench had been peremptory and unjust. Of course it is for the honourable bench to take cognizance of the prime minister’s contentions and apply its mind to the defence and the anomalies he has pointed out. But the robust defence of his position indicates that the PM will not comply with the direction to write the letter based on his and the government’s understanding of the provisions of the constitution, particularly Article 248 that clearly states that the president has immunity from prosecution so long as he holds office. We must await the court’s view now, but no one can deny the high drama lurking in the wings of what some have continued to dub a crippling crisis or confrontation between the executive and the judiciary of unprecedented proportions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 20, 2012

Intelligence agencies’ controversial role

On Sunday, the intelligence agencies’ controversial role in the country’s affairs received attention from diverse sources. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, while interacting with journalists in Lahore, in answer to a question said the ISI was an important national institution but should not be controversial. About the possible closure of the political wing of the ISI, considered the part of the agency most involved with interference in the politics of the country, the prime minister said he had not yet had time to speak to the new DG ISI on the matter. We would urge the prime minister to do just that at the first opportunity, since it is obvious that the powerful agency needs to be taken on board if the objective of regulating its activities is to be achieved. Meanwhile, as a consequence of the Mehrangate case, Altaf Hussain, leader of the MQM, reasserted from London that he had refused to accept money offered by the ISI. If true, it means that Altaf Hussain’s suspected links with the intelligence agencies of the country when he first embarked on his political career have since been overtaken by time and developments. In any case, politicians have to realise that such links have not helped them or the democratic system to find its desired level. Also in London, Nawaz Sharif expressed the hope that COAS General Kayani will ensure that the new DG ISI, Lt General Zaheerul Islam would refrain from meddling in the country’s affairs to ‘engineer’ the political course. Nawaz Sharif accused the PPP-led government of currying favour with the establishment for the sake of clinging to power and said his party would never become part of the conspiracies hatched by the intelligence agencies to ‘manage’ politics. He went on to add that the role of the spy agencies should not be to take over the offices of political parties and indulge in horse-trading as they did during Musharraf’s rule to help the PML-Q. The reference here is to the forcible takeover of Muslim League House in Lahore and the creation of the PML-Q from the bulk of the PML-N in the aftermath of Musharraf’s coup in 1999. Here too, if Nawaz Sharif, as he claims, has realised the mistakes he made in the past and has learnt his lesson, another protégé of the establishment has seemingly broken ranks with the intelligence agencies-driven manipulation of politics. Nawaz believes the reason why his party is considered anti-establishment is because he has steadfastly refused (since returning from forced exile) to be party to the games the establishment and its intelligence arms constantly play.
A credible addition to the concerns expressed by these diverse political leaders across the political divide was the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP’s) statement at the end of its annual general meeting that it was time to improve vigilance against any form of extra-democratic intervention in the forthcoming general elections by the military, extremists or any special judicial process. Stress was laid during the proceedings on the issue of forced disappearances and the government’s lack of action in this regard, expressing the HRCP’s indignation that nearly a decade after the menace of forced disappearances raised its ugly head, not a single person has been held to account for involvement in this travesty of human rights and the law. HRCP called for the government’s acknowledgement of all such illegal detentions, release of the detainees and to put in place means to ensure that disappearances become a thing of the past. Compensation must be offered to the victims and due process ensured for the considerable number of people known to be in military detention after the military’s operations. Last but not least, the HRCP asked for respect for the consensus that there is a need to regulate the working of the intelligence agencies through legislation.
While the need for legislation and setting out of the rules governing the role of the intelligence agencies is undeniable, perhaps some institutional arrangements are also the need of the hour. In developed democracies, the intelligence agencies are controlled through parliamentary oversight. Something similar needs to be created here to ensure the dreaded ‘deep state’ is reined in from violating its appropriate purview.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 19, 2012

The President’s address

It is a measure of Pakistan’s dark past vis-à-vis anti-democratic dispensations that President Asif Ali Zardari’s fifth annual address to a joint sitting of the National Assembly and Senate is considered cause for celebration. As the president expressed it, this indicates the march of democracy and the creation of a new history. As is expected of presidential addresses at the beginning of the parliamentary year, and especially in the run up to general elections in 2013, his speech recounted the legacy inherited by the government when it came to power in 2008 and the government’s efforts to meet these challenges. First and foremost, the president promised fair and free elections next year, for which the 20th Amendment has created an independent election commission. Congratulating the newly elected Senators and MNAs, the president particularly welcomed the four minorities members entering the Senate for the first time after these seats were created under the 18th Amendment. The president thanked the leadership of all the political parties for supporting the democratic process and passing “historic” laws. He complimented Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for his leadership in parliament. He also thanked the opposition for their role. He reiterated the PPP’s policy of reconciliation and taking everyone along, which, it must be conceded, has made possible the survival of the PPP-led coalition government against the expectations of many of its critics.
Dilating on the legacy inherited by the government four years ago, the president listed: a country at war; a divided nation; terrorism and militancy; a fragile federation; unclear role and mandate of state institutions; a distorted constitution; disillusionment in the smaller provinces and vulnerable groups; an energy crisis because of past neglect; a serious economic and balance of payments crisis; on the way, the damage and suffering because of the 2010 and 2011 floods, and last but not least, the sharp rise in the prices of imported oil. Whether one agrees with the president’s claims of having tackled or attempted to tackle all these challenges or not, there is little doubt that the list reads like a formidable series of obstacles to managing politics, the economy and society. Objectively speaking, the government may not have overcome all these challenges, but the president argued that a good beginning had been made in most areas. Much more needed to be done though, he admitted.
One of the most serious crises, which affects every citizen but particularly the less well off, the handling of the economy, may be described as slow, halting stabilisation, but with an enormous overhang from the past. Growth has not recovered sufficiently, despite the projected growth of four percent reflecting an improvement on previous years. Given the problems of terrorism, Pakistan is hard put to it to attract investment. The bad law and order and energy situation has persuaded many businesses to relocate abroad, with the concomitant flight of capital. No one can deny the critical impact of the policy of supporting a proxy war in Afghanistan on the economic prospects of the country. Long after the US/NATO forces depart from Afghanistan, Pakistan would still have its component of the local Taliban to deal with. It goes without saying that until the dust of extremism settles, Pakistan cannot fulfil its economic potential, which remains considerable despite the problems of recent years, compounded as these have been by the global recession. This government’s clear shift of incomes to the rural sector through the managed prices of agricultural products regime has produced prosperity and purchasing power in the rural communities, impacting positively in turn on boosting demand for the products of industry and commerce. Nevertheless, the challenges remain formidable in the near term. This topic cannot be closed without reference to the energy crunch, without resolving which the actually existing economy is beset with enormous problems, with certain energy-dependent sectors virtually grinding to a halt.
Externally, the president repeated the recently acquired mantra of the foreign office to have bilateral relations on the basis of mutual respect, equality, inviolability of sovereignty. It goes without saying that the US is centre-stage in our international diplomacy. The president said he awaited parliament’s recommendations on re-engagement with the US. The opening up of trade with India found mention in the address, but to defuse criticism from some quarters, the president made the ritual reference to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. He went on to reiterate Pakistan’s position since the US began a peace process with the Afghan Taliban in Qatar that both Islamabad and Kabul feel left out of that Pakistan supports an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. This acquires more resonance given the precarious situation of the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan after the Quran burning and massacre of civilians incidents.
On Balochistan the president reminded parliamentarians of his apology to the Baloch people for past repression, but skipped over the present state of repression in the province. His reference to the Aaghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package and employment provided to Baloch youth by the federal government and the military once again reflects the government’s misplaced emphasis on development without tackling the repression that has produced a horrendous crop of tortured, mutilated dead bodies dumped all over the killing fields of Balochistan. The only way the president’s desire to reach out to the estranged Baloch leadership can be fulfilled is if the ‘kill and dump’ policy is abandoned by withdrawing the hated FC and handling dissent within the parameters of the country’s laws. Then perhaps development efforts may appear more credible, not without.
What cannot be denied this government is its better record on empowering women, reforms in the tribal areas, surrender of objectionable presidential powers inherited from past dictatorial and autocratic dispensations to parliament through the 18th Amendment, and setting a good precedent of appointing the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly as head of the Public Accounts Committee. It is another matter that that worthy has resigned from that post and is engaged, along with his PML-N colleagues, in frothing at the mouth at the president and government without being able to produce any cogent arguments that may have appeal to the electorate. The opposition’s behaviour in parliament during the presidential address was deplorable, violative of parliamentary norms, which include respect from parliament to the office of the president, and disrespecting the dignity of the house. Hopefully these are the rough edges of our young democracy that will be smoothed out with time and maturity.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 18, 2012

MQM’s contortions

The MQM has a penchant for keeping itself politically alive and in the news by raising one controversy after another every so often. But its ruckus this time really takes the cake. The irony will not be lost on anyone familiar with the MQM’s history that the originator of the criminal activity called bhatta-khori (extortion) in Karachi has suddenly woken up to the plight of traders and businessmen agitating against the constant demands made on them by protection money racketeers. To raise high the banner of their troubled trader brethren, the MQM misbehaved in the Sindh Assembly on Friday by constant shouting and slogan mongering, tearing up the order of the day and bringing the proceedings of the Assembly to a grinding halt. Eventually, the inevitable prorogation had to be resorted to. Admittedly, there is a point of view critical of the PPP for not allowing the agitating MQM members to speak in the house, a move that would have defused the situation and given the PPP members an opportunity to in turn argue against the MQM’s assertion (hinted at) that the PPP government was providing support and protection to the extortionists. No one from the MQM felt the need to identify who these ‘extortionists’ are. But the issue needs to be dilated upon in the context of the MQM’s long held desire to dominate Karachi completely in all aspects of the city’s life and affairs.
The MQM’s furore over extortionism reflects the fact that elements ‘other’ than the original extortionists have got into the act. The MQM of course would like to point the finger of accusation first and foremost at its bête noir, the ANP, with which, despite being part of the same ruling coalition, it has been at daggers drawn for a considerable time. Second, the MQM would like to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by implicating the PPP as the godfather of the ‘unwanted’ extortionists who have muscled into traditional MQM turf. There can be little doubt that criminal elements must have seen the ‘benefits’ of extortion and gone into business on their own. The breakdown of the MQM’s ‘monopoly’ over the politics of Karachi with the rise of a significant Pashtun community owing allegiance to the ANP rankles with 90 (the MQM headquarters). On the other hand, the ‘new’ extortionists are probably affecting the profitability of the original extortionists. This can, drolly, be described as a business dispute.
The MQM after the Sindh Assembly fracas threatened first a boycott of the president’s annual address to parliament, then thundered that it would disrupt the president’s address. All this froth, however, disappeared with President Asif Ali Zardari’s intervention. The president spoke to Altaf Hussain in London and despatched his MQM trouble-shooter Rehman Malik to Karachi to smooth the ruffled feathers of the MQM. The move seems to have borne fruit, as witnessed by the MQM’s not only being in attendance at the president’s address, but also refraining from joining the slogan mongering and eventual walkout by the opposition led by the PML-N. However, Saturday saw an almost province-wide strike by the bazaar throughout Sindh.
The PPP’s approach to its troublesome coalition ally is informed by the traditional wisdom: keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Like a spoilt child in the habit of throwing tantrums every now and then over the most trivial and irrelevant matters, the MQM has to be puch-puched every now and then to help it recover its balance and continue as though nothing had happened. That underlines just how serious are the MQM’s complaints and the issues from which these emanate. The only problem is, the MQM has now to grow up and realise that the days of exclusivist hegemony in Karachi and other cities of Sindh may be drawing to a close. It is in the interests of the party and its followers to wake up to the reality that Sindh is the common home of diverse ethnic groups. The MQM must therefore stop dreaming of exclusive hegemony in the province and learn to live in peace and harmony with all its fellow Sindhis.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 17, 2012

A downward spiral

The US’s plans for Afghanistan suffered a twin blow the other day when the Afghan Taliban broke off the tentative talks with the US in Qatar and Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded the US and NATO forces leave the rural areas of the country, handing over security duties to the Afghan military and police. The Taliban complain that the US is adopting contradictory positions in the talks, breaking its earlier promises, and seems subject to either confusion or dissembling. Karzai is responding to the horrible incident the other day when a rogue American soldier ran amok and killed 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children.
The Taliban may or may not have legitimate grievances against their purported peace talks ‘partner’, but an additional factor could be the tense anti-foreign forces anger that has gripped Afghanistan since the burning of the Qurans and the civilians’ massacre. Their ostensible ‘breaking off’ the talks (which had barely begun in any case) may reflect a hardening position in the light of the US/NATO forces’ new difficulties in retaining some semblance of respect and acceptance of their presence on their soil by the Afghan people. Karzai’s call for re-deploying the US/NATO forces out of the villages and into their bases comes on the heels of the civilian massacre, but is the latest episode in a long series of demands by Karzai for the foreign forces to avoid night raids and violating local cultural norms by storming into people’s homes.
The US State Department, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and NATO are all treading furiously in the water to put a brave face on things. The State Department appears to be indulging in wishful thinking when it speculates out loud whether the withdrawal from talks applies to all factions of the Taliban or are there some elements opposed to the withdrawal. Panetta, on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, still hopes a strategic agreement for US troops to retain a presence in the country after the 2014 withdrawal date is possible, if not probable. NATO has responded to the latest developments by reiterating its aim to hand over security duties to the Afghan force as soon as it is possible or practicable. None of this smacks of a confident stance on a ‘mission’ fast spiralling downwards towards ignominy. While Karzai’s demand could leave the civilian contractors working in the Afghan countryside on development projects vulnerable and at risk, a wholesale pulling out by these contractors would damage not just Afghanistan’s future, it could trigger a string of law suits against the US government by these contractors for breach of contract (which presumably guaranteed security). Any US/NATO withdrawal from the countryside would hand a golden opportunity on a platter to the Taliban to stage their own ‘surge’. Meantime Islamabad seems to be crowing after the Taliban withdrawal from talks: ‘I told you so’. The US’s attempt to bypass both Pakistan and Afghanistan in the talks channel in Qatar brought the latter two countries closer together and although the talks may have stalled for their own reasons, the sense of triumph at least in Islamabad is unmistakable.
When historians look back on the wars launched by George Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq, they will inevitable draw comparisons between the two. Some observers feel Afghanistan, which Obama though was a war worth fighting in the US’s security interests, unlike Iraq, for which he had little enthusiasm, is increasingly looking like the last days of the US presence in Iraq. The invasion of Iraq, overthrow and hanging of Saddam Hussein has left the country unstable, struggling to put together a credible and inclusive political system, and staring into an uncertain future. These characteristics, with minor differences, can also be detected in Afghanistan. Obama’s wars may therefore receive as unkind treatment by historians as Bush’s adventurism.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 16, 2012

Reining in the agencies

In recent days, the Mehrangate case has helped to focus minds on the role of the intelligence agencies. Nothing sums up this role better than Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s remark during the proceedings that all the (intelligence) agencies were operating beyond their mandate. This truth has been the stuff of urban legend for as long as memory serves. However, there comes a time when tyranny must meet its comeuppance. Whatever is coming out during the case is only the tip of the iceberg. While Naseerullah Babar and Asad Durrani’s statements in-camera before the Supreme Court (SC) may be revealed after the Attorney General said he had no objection to the same, the inquiry reports into the Habib Bank and Mehran Bank scandals will only be presented after the interior secretary returns to the country. Younis Habib, the main actor in the drama, has filed counter-affidavits to those of General (retd) Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani, praying for a commission of inquiry into the whole affair. That makes little sense when the SC is seized of the matter and making efforts to get to the bottom of things. The court rightly forbade Younis Habib from giving TV interviews during the pendency of the case. The PML-N, meantime, according to Shahbaz Sharif, will sue Younis Habib for defamation for deposing in the court that Shahbaz and Nawaz Sharif were among the beneficiaries of the funds doled out in the affair. The moral indignation against the PPP’s alleged corruption by the Punjab chief minister however, smacks of an effort to divert attention from these embarrassing revelations and is questionable on the grounds that there are very few politicians clean enough to enjoy the high moral ground in this regard. Meanwhile the sensational revelation that the PPP withdrew Rs 270 million from the Intelligence Bureau’s secret funds to influence the loyalties of PML-N MPAs during the brief governor’s rule in 2009 bears investigation. To add to the general picture of skulduggery, further revelations have been made about the use of Mehran Bank funds to topple Sabir Shah’s PML-N government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the PPP in the past.
Both the Senate and the National Assembly have lately been agitating the need to set up parliamentary committees to probe the issue of missing persons and the role of the agencies in the matter. While the intent of the parliamentarians cannot be decried, the reaction of missing persons’ campaigner Amna Janjua expresses scepticism whether parliamentary resolutions and committees can do much to change the situation on the ground. Naturally the litmus test is whether parliamentary oversight can rein in the penchant of the agencies to operate outside the parameters of any law, and virtually as a law unto themselves, without fear of accountability and the confidence of longstanding impunity. When the matter of the number of missing persons is yet to be settled, with estimates ranging from 49 (Rehman Malik) to 6,000 (Balochistan Liberation Army), how can effective redress according to the law be achieved? The missing persons commission too has been unable to resolve this conundrum so far. Partly the vastly differing estimates may be because many of the families of missing persons are reluctant to approach the authorities out of a mixture of fear and lack of confidence in the possibility of receiving justice. But there may also be an effort on the part of the authorities to underestimate the numbers to depreciate the seriousness of the problem. It would seem to be in the fitness of things and in the interests of justice for the missing persons commission to get to the truth about the number of missing persons with an authoritative listing, before the authorities and the intelligence community can be pressurised to produce these unfortunate souls and move on to providing them and their families due process.
Whether it is manipulation and distortion of the political process through bribing politicians of easy virtue or making people disappear, it is certain that the intelligence agencies are a wild bronco unrestrained by any considerations of the law or humanity. The sooner they are reined in to operate within their mandate, which should be elucidated through legislation and rules, the quicker the wounds of their ‘endeavours’ may be healed, not the least within Balochistan. Normal democratic political processes and due process are the only way Pakistan can put this nightmare behind it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 15, 2012

State-owned enterprises’ looting

A number of cases are before the Supreme Court (SC) regarding corruption and mismanagement in state-owned enterprises. Of note amongst these are the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and the Railways. In the PSM case, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was presented a forensic audit report for the year 2008-09 by the PSM’s counsel, who pleaded with the court to send the PSM cases to NAB as no progress was made for financial recovery despite the registration of 10 FIRs. Of the Rs 26.5 billion loss in that year, business losses were Rs 4.68 billion, losses due to corruption Rs. 9.99 billion, and mismanagement Rs 11.84 billion. The court found all three components interlinked and leading to corrupt practices. To the court’s surprise, it could not be known so far exactly what were the cumulative losses of the PSM. The ex-chairman PSM, Moin Aftab Sheikh was mainly responsible for corruption of Rs 3.9 billion through allocation of products, purchase of iron ore and zinc, and production of cast and rolled billets. The 10 FIRs referred to were lodged against 51 traders, consumers, contractors and 10 officers and employees of PSM. All the others, except the ex-chairman, are on interim bail. After the forensic audit report, five additional complaints have been registered with the FIA. It is noteworthy that the forensic report has been with the PSM for six months. In answer to the court’s query why no action had been taken on the report, the Industries Secretary gave the lame excuse that PSM was ‘contemplating’ referring the matter to NAB. The court asserted that responsibility for this continuing state of affairs rested with the minister and chairman, but they were not being held to account. ‘Honourable’ mention of the virtual ruin of PIA formed part of the court’s justified ire.
It is hardly necessary to dilate on the present state of the Railways, which have literally ground to a halt. Trains stand suspended or cancelled, there are not enough locomotives, the roiling stock is in a dilapidated state, and corruption and mismanagement are floating on the surface. Railway lands have been victims of mismanagement in leasing to other government departments, the armed forces, Rangers, etc. Slums have been allowed to proliferate on Railways land in all the cities of Pakistan. The SC’s anger at the transfer of the Railways Board secretary was spot on since the court said he was assisting the court to identify the corruption and wrong practices in the Railways. A promise of rescinding the transfer was wrung, but the transfer itself smacks of mala fide intentions.
The SC has often, since the restoration of the judiciary, been accused of intervening in things outside its purview. There may be weight in that criticism in some instances, but the fact remains that it is the failure of the government to rectify the faults in the state-owned enterprises that has both encouraged corruption and the ruin of what were once financially healthy units. The court has therefore felt compelled to take notice where none is being taken by the executive. State-owned enterprises, as the above examples show, and as is general public knowledge, suffer from the same venal, corrupt corporate culture as the rest of government and the bureaucracy. That is what brings grist to the mills of those who advocate wholesale privatisation of all such units in order to bring in the efficiency and accountability that private enterprise is theoretically based on. Unfortunately, the negative experience of privatisation has blown a few large holes in that received wisdom. The faults of state-owned or privatised enterprises is not who the owners are, but who manage them and how. The challenge is to examine whether short of privatisation (no magic wand in our experience), professional management, corporate responsibility and accountability can be inducted into the state-owned enterprise to save them from going to rack and ruin and relieve the budget of the drain they represent on public finances.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 14, 2012

Triumph and challenges

The oath taking of the newly elected 54 Senators yielded a fair bit of celebration by the PPP in particular, and some members from other parties too. In the event, despite raising slogans in the house being against the rules, the enthusiastic jialas (emotional workers) of the PPP were not about to be contained. PML-N’s Senator Zafar Ali Shah thought it fit to stage a protest walkout when his appeals for maintaining the decorum of the house fell on deaf ears. The high spirits of the PPP supporters, while understandable in the context of the party having attained the position of the biggest segment in the Senate with 41 seats and a two-thirds majority of 70 plus with the support of its allies, nevertheless militated against the restraint and maturity expected in parliament, especially the upper house. Having said that, the fact that the PPP could bag the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman slots for its candidates uncontested is cause for satisfaction and celebration, but perhaps also reflects the agreement amongst all parties to give the chairman and deputy chairman’s election a bye. The next stage in the Senate is filling the slots of leader of the house and the opposition. As far as the former position is concerned, newly elected Senate Chairman Nayyar Bokhari’s successor could come from a raft of PPP stalwarts. The received wisdom though is that President Asif Ali Zardari would prefer a solid loyalist for leader of the house. That would seem to diminish the chances of prominent PPP leaders Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan. The speculation is that the front runner is Islamuddin Sheikh, the chief whip of the PPP in the upper chamber. For leader of the opposition, the JUI-F’s Maulana Ghafoor Haidri is likely to have to concede to the new arithmetic of the Senate, in which the largest opposition party is the PML-N. And it has Ishaq Dar to field for the slot. Once the leader of the house and opposition are decided, the new look Senate will be ready to get down to business.
Heady triumphalism aside, the PPP-led ruling coalition faces many serious challenges, not the least of which is the expected general elections later this year or early next. For reasons of principle, good governance and the advantage to be gained in the run up to the general elections, the PPP-led coalition needs to address some issues immediately, some later, and some it has to start thinking about, even if not much can be done about them until perhaps after the general elections. Immediately, as some Senators pointed out, the government needs to address the miseries of the people inflicted by high inflation, unemployment and insecurity of life and limb. The coming budget in May may not be able to offer much in the way of relief to the masses because of financial constraints. Inflation is a hard nut to crack, particularly when factors such as the energy crisis and its impact on the economy are taken into account. Nevertheless, the economic managers of the government will have to come up with some innovative measures if the ruling coalition is not to suffer the adverse effects of incumbency. Unless the energy crunch is effectively addressed, struggling industry and commerce will continue to spiral downwards and generate more unemployment, potentially a political bomb that could explode in the government’s face in the approach to the elections. Security for the citizen is becoming a critical issue all over the country, but particularly in the troubled areas north and south. Balochistan was the subject of many senators’ advice that the Baloch people must be relieved of the unwanted attentions of the FC and intelligence agencies if reconciliation is to become even a remote possibility.
Last but not least, without taking anything away from the considerable achievement the 18th amendment represents, the deliberations that led to the framing of this historic amendment revealed that consensus could not be achieved to eliminate completely the distortions in the 1973 constitution imposed by dictator Ziaul Haq. Both in the constitution and laws, his malign legacy continues to play havoc with state and society. To illustrate by way of example, all discriminatory provisions, whether against women, minorities or the desire for a tolerant, modern, civilised society, must be expunged once and for all. The havoc wreaked by the blasphemy law, against whose injustices Governor Salmaan Taseer laid down his life, must attract the political will required to turn the corner from Zia’s dark days and into the light of a forward looking Pakistan where citizens can breathe the air of freedom and rights without discrimination.

Daily Times editorial March 13, 2012

Disaster in the making

A rogue US soldier has been arrested near Kandahar for shooting dead 16 innocent Afghan civilians, including nine children and three women. Initial reports spoke of a group of drunken US soldiers being responsible, but later reports only spoke of one soldier being detained. As though things were not difficult enough after the Quran burning incident, which led to shootings of US and NATO troops, this episode, which Afghan President Hamid Karzai called an “assassination”, is going to make things a whole lot worse. There are demands from Afghans for a public trial of the rogue soldier. That demand may run up against longstanding US policy of requiring its troops to be accorded immunity from prosecution on any account. A similar demand in the Iraq war finally sabotaged the US desire for a residual military presence in the country after US troops withdrew. The strategic partnership with Afghanistan that Washington desires post-withdrawal in 2014 looks even more difficult to achieve now, given that it is precisely the immunity demand and Karzai’s oft repeated anger and demands for night raids and other similar operations by US/NATO forces to be stopped since collateral civilian deaths fuel anger amongst the Afghan people that have remained a roadblock in the path of an agreement.
It is not possible to say at this point whether the US soldier acted as a ‘lone wolf’ or was accompanied by other soldiers as initially reported. Nor is it possible to speculate on the motives of this soldier running amok. One possibility is that he was reacting to the shootings of US/NATO soldiers in the aftermath of the Quran burning incident. Whatever the motivation or number of the perpetrators, it goes without saying that such acts deserve the severest condemnation, both on principle as well as because of the impact they are likely to have on an already difficult and fraught situation. The incident cannot be treated in isolation from the tendency for military discipline to break down in the field when conventional armies confront guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare. The inherent frustrations of soldiers chasing an elusive enemy employing ‘hit and run’ tactics is well documented in all counter-insurgency, colonial and imperialist wars. Further anger is likely to be fuelled amongst Afghans because of this massacre, with the US Embassy in Kabul warning that more anti-US reprisals are possible.
The effect on the US/NATO withdrawal plans could be devastating. The hopes for an orderly withdrawal, leaving security incrementally in the hands of the Afghan military and police raised by the US and its allies over the last 11 years must now appear highly uncertain. The killings are a gift for the Taliban, who can and probably will even more firmly don the mantle of Afghan patriots resisting the foreign occupiers (a sentiment highly effective and deadly in all of Afghanistan’s wars throughout its history against foreign occupation). And to sprinkle salt on the wounds, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has labelled Afghanistan an “undoable” mission that unnecessarily puts US troops’ lives at risk. This may be partisan politicking in an election year in the US, but it is likely to find resonance in a wider swathe of public opinion in the US, whose people are weary of foreign wars in the middle of recessionary woes. The combination of increasing difficulties on the ground in Afghanistan, not the least of which are increasingly strained relations between the Afghan and foreign allies, and war-weariness back home in the US, may resurrect memories of how the US lost another war, Vietnam.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 11, 2012

Change of command

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has finally put to rest the speculations doing the rounds that the ISI chief, Lt General Ahmed Shuja Pasha may be given another extension by announcing that Lt General Zaheerul Islam, Karachi corps commander, would replace him. Pasha is due to retire on March 18. The new incumbent is no stranger to the ISI, having served as its Deputy Director General. Given the controversies surrounding the premier spy agency in recent years, it is hoped that the incoming commander would return the ISI to its real professional duties, i.e. compiling intelligence for defence, and reverse the trend since long years of the ISI’s involvement in the politics of the country from behind the scenes. As far as the outgoing commander is concerned, his tenure (extended) produced many a controversy, some of which are still ongoing.
The biggest and most controversial event of General Pasha’s tenure was the discovery and elimination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, within a stone’s throw from the Pakistan Military Academy. The ISI was accused of incompetence or collusion for not exposing the al Qaeda leader’s whereabouts in the garrison city for over five years and its failure to detect the unilateral US raid. After the American SEALs raid had killed Osama bin Laden, an unprecedented session of parliament to look into the whole affair saw Pasha offering to step down, but the parliamentarians never took him up on his offer. Instead, the government set up a commission of inquiry into the episode, which is still in process. No heads rolled after the Abbottabad debacle. The second controversial episode of Pasha’s tenure was the so-called memogate affair, in which Mansoor Ijaz was privileged by Pasha’s surreptitious visit to him in London, following which the ISI and military chief, General Kayani, deposed before the Supreme Court that Ijaz’s allegations had substance. Subsequent developments in the memogate case, particularly the proceedings of the memogate commission, which allowed Ijaz to depose by video link, have so far failed to produce solid evidence substantiating the charges against ex-ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani or indeed, President Asif Ali Zardari. Incidentally, as a sign of Ijaz’s unreliable character, he had written that Pasha had toured some Arab capitals to seek support for a military coup against the democratically elected government.
When the question of extensions to Generals Pasha and Kayani was first mooted, we took the position that changing horses in midstream when the war against terrorism was at its peak was not a good idea. With hindsight, it is possible to argue that the higher purpose of continuity of command in the middle of a war failed to take account of later developments. The two top commanders who received extensions became controversial after the two events outlined above. Military command extensions have a chequered history in Pakistan. Mostly, these were the result of military dictators self-anointing themselves when in power (Ayub, Zia, Musharraf). What such extensions tend to produce is heartburn within the ranks of those with a legitimate expectancy to succeed the incumbents, and a breakdown of institutional continuity and consolidation of professional mores. These thoughts and an assessment of the events of last year may have weighed against the proposal for another extension for General Pasha. The opposition PML-N’s strong rejection of any such notion, as expressed by Chaudhry Nisar in a press conference the other day, may also have tilted the scales against General Pasha.
While normal retirement and change in command should now become the norm in the armed forces, it is far from certain that the ISI change in command will in any substantial way alter the present policy, framed by GHQ, to continue to support the Afghan Taliban against the US/NATO forces and the Afghan government, ostensibly while still posing as a strategic ally of the US. Most likely, it is going to be more of the same brew, particularly in the light of the anticipated withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan by 2014.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 10, 2012

Writing the letter

A seven member larger bench of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing the contempt of court case against Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has rejected the defence plea that the PM never intended any contempt and had only refrained from writing the letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen money laundering corruption cases because of the advice he had received from the Law Ministry. The ‘advice’ plea having been rejected, the SC put it as bluntly as possible: write the letter irrespective of any advice received. The bench insisted on this as necessary in order to implement the NRO judgement of the court, especially paragraph 178. This paragraph states that the withdrawal of the requests for legal assistance from the Swiss authorities authored by then Attorney General Justice (retd) Malik Muhammad Qayyum are non est in law since the NRO per se was struck down in the judgment. That implies that the requests stand restored and the government must do all necessary to seek revival of the requests. Further, the court clarified that although it was asking the PM to write the letter, the contempt proceedings would not be affected whether the letter is written or not. That means irrespective of what the PM decides to do, he can still suffer punishment for contempt of court.
This bind does not on the face of it offer the PM any incentive to follow the court’s directive. It smacks of a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Now the ball is in the PM’s court, who has been asked to file a written statement in his defence by March 19 or appear in person on March 21. If ANP’s Federal Railways Minister Haji Ghulam Muhammad Bilour’s statement is anything to go by, it looks as if the PPP has no intention of writing the letter against its co-chairperson and sitting president, who the PPP and its advisers are convinced enjoys immunity under Article 248 of the constitution. Article 248, inter alia, states in its Clause (2): “No criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the President or a Governor in any Court during his term of office.” This is the elephant in the room, which the SC has invited the defendant to invoke and let the court decide the issue of presidential immunity. This course the defence is reluctant to adopt for fear if the court strikes down presidential immunity, it may well open the floodgates to more complications. It must also be recognised of course that the Swiss judicial authorities, irrespective of the withdrawal of the withdrawal request, seem not the least bit interested in reopening the cases since they argue these are a closed and past transaction, cannot be reopened without substantive new evidence (none was reportedly found during the magisterial investigation earlier), and are in any case impossible to resurrect given that a sitting president enjoys immunity under Pakistani, Swiss and international law. However, none of this has cut any ice with the SC.
Now going forward there seem to be only two courses open to the PM. Either he can write the letter and let the chips fall as they may, perhaps relying on the Swiss judicial authorities’ reluctance and even hoping that the statute of limitations under Swiss law could put paid to the whole enterprise anyway. Or the PM could put political loyalty above his own risks and continue to defy the SC, refusing to write the letter. In that case, the SC could well be constrained to convict the PM for contempt, sentence him to a greater or lesser jail term, and render the continuance of the PM in office an impossibility. Of course there is still a lengthy process involved in removing an incumbent PM convicted of contempt of court. The Speaker of the National Assembly has to write to the Election Commission to disqualify the PM from being eligible to be a member of parliament, which automatically renders him unfit for the office of chief executive. The Election Commission then has to disqualify the prime minister and denotify his status as a member of parliament. All this still seems a long and winding way to go.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 9, 2012

The women question

International Women’s Day was celebrated worldwide, including Pakistan, yesterday. Celebrations on the day encompassed many kinds of activity, including conferences, marches, cultural events, etc. As can be expected, women brought their own unique colour and joy to these festivities. The general view that emerged from the day was that women in Pakistan have reason to celebrate the progress they have made so far, but there is still a long way to go. The undeniably bleak prospects for millions of women in our country, particularly in the rural areas, are hardly a secret. First the traditional attitudes and forms of women’s oppression: these include perceiving and treating women as chattel, to be dealt with accordingly and not as human beings. Patriarchy still rules in Pakistan, and despite the undoubtedly better situation of urban women, traditional and hidebound attitudes still have a considerable hold on society and particularly men’s minds. Physical intimidation and subjugation lies at the heart of phenomena such as rape, domestic violence, acid attacks, etc. They all have in common the ability and penchant of the so-called stronger sex to physically abuse women. Unfortunately, for a host of reasons, including lack of education, awareness of rights and the shame associated in our society with bringing domestic issues into the public domain, most abused women stay shy of accosting their torturers. The law enforcement and judicial regime in our country suffers from male domination and its accompanying patriarchal grip. The list of women’s woes is far too long for this space, but dishonourable mention must be made of practices such as ‘honour’ killings, trafficking, vani, sawara, early or forced marriages and the imposition of jirga decisions on women’s fate.
This government can take satisfaction from the fact that it has legislated for women’s rights during the last four years. It is perfectly understandable that the PPP, associated in terms of political culture with ideas such as women’s equality, should have focused more than ever on women’s issues after the assassination of its leader, Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. To bring these bills into the light of day and finally get them passed through the somewhat labyrinthine legislative process in parliament was the collective effort of women parliamentarians and civil society activists cutting across all parties and schools of thought. This women’s solidarity across party or other lines has yielded a body of pro-women legislation, for which all these parliamentarians and civil society activists desrve congratulations and our thanks. However, both in the legislative field as well as on the ground, much more is required, not the least in terms of implementation of the protections and rights extended to women through such legislation.
Lest some people think that the only problems concerning women lie in the rural areas, a cautionary note is in order. In the ‘modernising’ urban environment too, all is not hunky dory as far as women are concerned. The hangovers of patriarchal attitudes and values lie skin deep beneath the liberal veneer most urban men like to sport. It is when this liberalism is tested in crises or crunch situations that the demons of patriarchy once again raise their heads. Education and the widening of horizons and values it brings is in itself no guarantee against lingering antediluvian ideas. We live in a world in which capitalism is increasingly seen as the ‘natural’ order. In the first place this assertion is questionable on the touchstone of philosophy, history, politics, economics and sociology. In the second place, the capitalist system brings in its wake a new form of women’s subjugation, one infinitely more subtle and difficult to comprehend: the commodification of women. This is reflected in phenomena like using women and their bodies to sell products and even create the desire for certain products, advertised as quintessential for a desirable, glamorous lifestyle. So while modern capitalist society, towards which we are all tending, eliminates the most brutal and crude forms of patriarchy found in feudal and tribal societies, at the same time it reduces women to vehicles for the purveying of a range of commodities, while also placing enough temptation in their path to become consumer digits. While women in Pakistan have a mammoth struggle still to wage against feudal and tribal social practices, they need to reflect on the limits imposed on equality by a capitalist system that is inherently unequal itself.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 8, 2012

The al Qaeda franchise

After the loss of its base in Afghanistan and the death of its leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, optimists may have thought that the terrorist organisation was on its last legs. Not if the al Qaeda ‘franchise’ is any indication, however. The attack by the Yemen branch of al Qaeda, one of the most active ‘franchisees’, on a military base in Kud, just south of the main city of Zinjibar in the insurgent-infested province of Abyan yielded a devastating worst ever defeat for the Yemen army in its 10-month old campaign against al Qaeda in the area. The death toll from the attack has risen to 185 soldiers, with many of the bodies mutilated and some headless. Apparently the terrorists were able to achieve complete surprise when attacking the sleeping camp from the rear, where there was zero surveillance. They not only overran the base, they then turned the army’s captured armoured vehicles and artillery against the soldiers. The defeat comes as a serious blow to newly installed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi’s declared resolve the other day to fight al Qaeda in the province. In fact, some observers are inclined to see the attack as a direct response to the president’s challenge. Not surprisingly, the surprise attack and the mutilations have left government troops fearful and with low morale. Another 55 soldiers were captured and paraded through a nearby town by the terrorists, who lost 32 fighters in the assault. The opposition to and lengthy year long protests against longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh, who only handed over power to Hadi last month, left the Yemeni state weaker in its campaign against the terrorists. Reports say the soldiers in the overrun base were poorly equipped and better trained and armed anti-terrorist units needed to be brought to the front. Hadi has reiterated his resolve to continue the struggle against al Qaeda, but it seems he has a long way to go before such claims can be taken seriously.
After 9/11, US President George Bush decided to go after al Qaeda in the manner of killing a fly with a sledgehammer, invading and occupying al Qaeda’s host country Afghanistan, ruled then by the Taliban. In the process, the splattered pieces of the al Qaeda elements escaping from Afghanistan to Pakistan spread fairly rapidly to other countries, either in the shape of some al Qaeda members returning to the countries of their origin to carry on their terrorist activities there, or local groups springing up throughout the Middle East and even as far as Indonesia. The struggle against this new widespread threat has had a mixed bag of results. Indonesia seems to have managed to put the lid on terrorism after the terrible bombings in Bali. In Somalia, the al Shabaab group is wrestling the government for power. Invaded Iraq also gave a fillip to al Qaeda in that country. With the withdrawal of US forces from that war, a noticeable resurgence of terrorism has been evident in recent days. Europe too has seen its share of terrorism by elements inspired by al Qaeda’s malign message.
In Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite being reportedly based in FATA, especially North Waziristan, al Qaeda has maintained a reasonably low profile, the occasional leaked messages from Osama bin Laden and after his death, his successor Ayman al Zawahri, notwithstanding. Here the task has been ‘contracted’ out to local Taliban groups across the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is arguable on the evidence therefore that al Qaeda may be down, but by no means out. Apprehensions of al Qaeda finding a revived base in Afghanistan if the Taliban return to power are not without foundation. Unfortunately, the heavy handed tactics of the US and NATO have failed to contain, let alone scotch, the phenomenon. The world’s response has been confused, lacking coordination, and therefore ineffective in wiping out the terrorist organisation. Of course the dual policy of the Pakistani military establishment vis-à-vis jihadi groups has not helped. The hope is that US/NATO withdrawal from the Afghan theatre notwithstanding, the world will revisit and formulate a more intelligent strategy to contain and eliminate the menace that threatens many countries in the region and further abroad.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Daily Times editorial March 7, 2012

Post-Senate elections scenario

In its first meeting after success in the Senate elections, the PPP’s core committee first had in-house discussions on a host of political issues, but its main concentration was on the candidates for Chairman and Deputy Chairman Senate. The PPP leadership then had consultations with its allies. The media carried a report yesterday that PPP Senator and Leader of the House Nayyar Bokhari had been named as Chairman Senate to replace Farooq Naik. The latter will, as part of an anticipated cabinet reshuffle, probably be reappointed Law Minister. The Deputy Chairman slot will likely go to one of the PPP’s coalition partners. It has been a tradition that the Deputy Chairman is usually taken from Balochistan, but after outgoing Deputy Chairman Jan Jamali opted to return to his home base, possibly in anticipation of running for a seat in the general elections, it remains to be seen whether the tradition will remain intact. The negotiations and consultations over the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman and a possible reshuffle of the cabinet that might see changes in faces as well as portfolios reflect an attempt to take account of the changes that have occurred after the recent by-polls and the Senate elections, in both of which the PPP and its allies feel electorally vindicated. The air of uncertainty that had dogged the footsteps of this government since it came to power four years ago seems to have dissipated and this boost is reflected in the reports yesterday that President Asif Ali Zardari has suggested to the PPP and its coalition allies that the general elections should be scheduled for March 2013. The coalition allies did not seem to have any objection and reiterated their solidarity with the PPP. The move makes sense from the ruling coalition’s point of view since it ensures that their five year tenure is completed and garners for them the advantages (and some might argue disadvantages) of incumbency.
The fact that the present dispensation has managed the second Senate elections since it came to power goes to the credit of the government and is an indicator that however haltingly and contradictorily, the democratic system restored in 2008 is consolidating itself. The wisdom seems to have sunk in generally, but most importantly in the minds of our security establishment, that the advantages of democracy far outweigh its blemishes and certainly trump any extra-constitutional praetorian dispensation. Our history is witness to that. Every military regime in our chequered history has proved a disaster waiting to happen, a disaster that subsequent elected governments then have to deal with as a legacy. The fifth presidential address to parliament is now also on the cards after the Senate is reconstituted by March 12.
The only remaining anomalies in an otherwise smooth Senate electoral process are the loss of what was considered a sure shot seat by the PPP in Punjab and the controversy over the Balochistan Senate elections. The party has set up a committee headed by Faryal Talpur to investigate the Punjab seat loss issue and report back within a day or two. As far as the Balochistan Senate elections are concerned, the suspended result that emanated from complaints about the procedural aspects of the election has yet to find resolution. The result of the election was withheld by the Balochistan election commission pending a recount in Islamabad. The provincial election commission announced the upholding of the original results, according to it after a recount. However, this is disputed by the aggrieved party, the PML-N, whose case is that a wrong tick on one of the ballot papers by one of its members was rejected while a similar mistake by a PPP member was accepted. They have vowed to appeal the decision to the Election Commissioner first and if they do not find satisfaction there, the Supreme Court. These anomalies do need to be sorted out in the interests of fairness and justice, but they will not have any material effect on the shape and configuration of the new upper house.