Monday, April 30, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 1, 2012

Charter of Democracy: RIP Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has poured cold water over the hopes of those relying on his replacement as PM to write the letter to the Swiss authorities. Thereby they hoped to bring down both the PM and the President. Further, the PM has reiterated his view that only parliament can decide whether he can continue as PM or not. Therefore there was no question of his resigning under pressure from any direction or any other institution. Although this implies a rejection of the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict convicting him of contempt of court, nevertheless the PM in the next breath advised Nawaz Sharif to hold his horses until the detailed judgment of the SC, implying an appeal against the judgment, a process that must be exhausted before the question of starting the process of settling the future of the PM. Gilani’s defence lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan has supported his client’s view that only the Speaker of the National Assembly can disqualify the PM. Meanwhile a familiar (from the past) war of words has broken out between Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik on the one hand and the Sharifs and Chaudhry Nisar on the other. This ‘war’ has been sparked by Rehman Malik’s opening up his guns against the Sharifs’ alleged corruption, bank loan fraud, etc. Malik has appeared on TV to flash documents he says are proof positive of his accusations. In reply to the harsh answers he has received from the Sharifs and Chaudhry Nisar for his pains, Rehamn Malik has challenged them to sue him for libel. Nawaz Sharif is now planning to stump all over the country to contact ‘like-minded’ opposition forces in the hope of forging a grand opposition alliance to launch a protest movement against Gilani continuing in office. However, at this time it is difficult to assess the chances of the success of such a venture, since despite their misgivings about the heightened confrontation between the executive and parliament on the one hand and the judiciary on the other, most people seem willing to wait for the judicial and political process to play itself out before they may be persuaded to pour out into the streets against the sitting PM. To those with living memories of the confrontations between the PPP and PML-N in the 1990s, all this may seem very much like déjà vu. However, while that decade of democracy ended in a military coup, if Chaudhry Shujaat is to be believed, the military is far from keen to take over and is only “observing” the situation from the sidelines. There is little doubt that given the plethora of serious problems confronting the country, it would need either extraordinary courage or foolhardiness to want to be responsible for running the country at present. What the deepening confrontation between the two main parties portends is the end of the period that began with the signing of the Charter of Democracy between the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2007 while both were in exile and out in the political cold. A pragmatic realisation that General Musharraf could not be removed ‘from the outside’ finally persuaded both rival parties to join hands. BB must be given the major credit for that political wisdom. This effort to bring the political class together to settle once and for all the fundamental rules of the political game was informed by its main thrust of taking a principled position against military dictatorship and the vow that neither side would indulge (a la the 1990s) in pulling down or toppling each other’s government’s by approaching and/or collaborating with military adventurers. The present developing scenario may persuade most that it is time for us to say adieu to any such ideas. Whether the confrontation between the two mainstream political camps will end up with the same result as at the end of the 1990s is not clear at this point, and Chaudhry Shujaat’s wisdom on the army’s reluctance to step in may carry a lot of weight. However, one conclusion seems inescapable: the Charter of Democracy, a good idea and one that most observers thought at the time was an idea whose time had finally come, seems dead in the water, with both sides of the political divide having to bear the cross of their responsibility for bringing things to this pass. RIP, Charter of Democracy.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 30, 2012

Lyari battle For at least three days running, the Lyari area of Karachi has been turned into a battlefield. The police moved in in force some days ago after a PPP local leader, Malik Mohammad Khan, was killed while leading a protest against the prime minister’s conviction by the Supreme Court in the contempt case. The People’s Amn Committee (PAC), previously aligned with the PPP but banned in the wake of the Dr Zulfiqar Mirza furore, stands accused of the murder. PPP leader Nabil Gabol was also reportedly targeted by a grenade attack but escaped unhurt. The police seems to have attempted to ‘conquer’ the area from the direction of Cheel Chowk, but has got bogged down because of fierce resistance from alleged gangsters. The resisting elements are now freely using rockets and hand grenades, in which a police APC was hit, killing an SHO and a constable and wounding three other policemen. At the time of writing these lines the death toll in the fighting had climbed to at least 19, with many more wounded. Even media reporters and cameramen covering the fighting were not spared, and at least two were injured by a rocket attack. The ‘siege’ of the area has left residents hostage, with food and other supplies rapidly dwindling and the fear induced by constant firing made worse by uncertainty regarding a resumption of supplies. Those lucky enough to do so have fled the area, but the bulk of residents are still trapped between the law enforcement and opposing forces. The authorities are consistently blaming the trouble on criminal elements, but knowledgeable observers point to political factors complicating what may not be just a simple ‘law and order’ operation. That operation has in fact been continuing almost throughout April, starting with the demand raised by MQM and acceded to by the PPP to conduct a targeted operation against extortionists in Lyari. There are reports in the media that the MQM was incensed when these ‘nouveau’ extortionists began muscling in on areas that hitherto were an exclusive MQM preserve. Thus an ‘extortion war’ started between the old and the new extortionists, with the former finally succeeding in pressurising the PPP to launch the operation that is continuing. The PPP, in an effort to mollify its coalition partner in the Sindh government, chose to conduct the operation exclusively in an area that traditionally has been considered a PPP stronghold. Local residents of Lyari, most of whom are Baloch, resented the PPP’s acceptance of the MQM’s demand at a time when it is hardly a secret that extortionist activity is ongoing in almost all areas of Karachi. Had the PPP-led Sindh government launched simultaneous actions against all extortionists in Karachi without fear or favour, the operation may not have run into the controversy it has amidst accusations by Lyari residents that the PPP had abandoned them just to please the MQM. The PAC was banned after former Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza was sidelined in the context of his campaign against the MQM. Now the police is being resisted, it is said, by both criminal and political elements (including the PAC). What makes the operation even more controversial is the alleged use of some gangs cooperating with the police against others resisting the operation. This is a formula that is likely to harden the divide and exacerbate the ‘gang wars’ in the area. These developments have alienated not just the PAC or similar political elements in Lyari from the PPP, even ordinary residents have blamed the PPP for their woes. It is being conjectured that the PPP has either lost or is in the process of losing its Lyari stronghold, putting the plan to elect Bilawal Zardari Bhutto from a seat in Lyari in the next elections under a shadow of doubt. The current but reportedly on his way out Sindh Home Minister, Mansoor Wasan, refused to be drawn by media questions on the Lyari operation, deflecting all such queries in the direction of Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, who reportedly has taken the portfolio of home minister under his own control. However the Lyari operation eventually turns out, its political fallout seems set to damage the PPP in perhaps its only remaining stronghold in Karachi. The political vacuum created y the retreat of the PPP from the area is likely to be filled by political and perhaps even criminal elements that could cause headaches in future to not only the PPP, but also the law enforcers involved in the operation.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 29, 2012

Looming confrontation? In the National Assembly (NA) the other day, Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani threw down the gauntlet to the opposition to move a no-confidence motion against him if they were adamant that he was no longer the PM after the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) contempt conviction. On the occasion, neither the Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar nor his PML-N colleagues were present in the house, the former having absented himself despite his blood-curdling threat to prevent (physically?) the PM’s entry into the NA, the latter for having walked out when the PM entered. Not that that prevented Chaudhry Nisar from repeating his unparliamentary threat in Nawaz Sharif’s press conference. This language, tone and message is hardly befitting of the Leader of the Opposition, considered a PM-in-waiting in parliamentary democracies. His leader, Nawaz Sharif, did not tarry far behind his lieutenant. He demanded the PM step down immediately “otherwise he will face unexpected results”. There is an implied threat in the sub-text of this message too. Both PML-N leaders need to be reminded that such language and messages would shame even a criminal denizen of Bhaati Gate in Lahore, let alone two major opposition figures. In the meantime, reports suggest the PML-N is reaching out to all the opposition parties and even the government’s coalition allies to try and create a front against the PM to stage protests throughout the country. So far, however, the latter are standing firm with the PM, while the latter present a picture of differing perspectives, not all of which may serve the PML-N’s purpose. For example, the other opposition parties in the NA did not follow the PML-N out of the NA but instead chose to listen to the PM’s speech. Outside parliament, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) presents the PML-N with a dilemma. Convergence of interests against the PPP-led coalition government notwithstanding, the two parties are at daggers drawn because each views the other as its real rival, especially in Punjab, the PML-N’s traditional stronghold. How to square this with the need to come together against the PM is the conundrum for both sides. The US State Department spokesperson meanwhile has stated that Washington recognises and will continue to work with the PM. There are reports that in the light of the SC verdict, the PPP is mulling over the possibility of moving a resolution in the NA reiterating presidential immunity. The PML-N is not the only party contemplating street mobilisation in its cause. The PPP workers have already been out in anger at the SC verdict. Sporadic such protests continue. If the PML-N succeeds in mobilising its own and other opposition forces’ cadres on the streets, there is every likelihood that the PPP will not take this lying down. If it were in turn to mobilise or even turn a blind eye to the spontaneous mobilisation of its workers, a looming confrontation cannot be ruled out. Such a confrontation could throw the country into new uncertainty and chaos to add to the crises that already afflict us. It is interesting to note that on the very day the SC delivered its verdict against the PM, the PPP won a by-election in Multan on a seat it regained after decades. Does this presage a divide between politics and the judiciary? And yet the Sindh High Court saw fit to dismiss a petition praying for stopping the PM from working. The immediate fallout of the SC verdict is scary enough. But what may be exercising thoughtful minds even more is the danger that the possible looming confrontation may derail the entire effort to ensure a smooth democratic transition from this government to the next through the ballot box, a transition not very frequent in our unfortunate history, but critical if the democratic system is to be consolidated. The PML-N willy-nilly has a vested interest in such a transition. Wiser and more moderate heads in the PML-N are cautioning the leadership not to abandon its policy of restraint over the last four years, which has earned it the jibe of being a ‘friendly opposition’, a description not ordinarily considered disparaging in long established democracies. The restraint was dictated by our sorry history of praetorian forces waiting in the wings to take advantage of any seeds of confrontation between the two sides of the civilian political divide. If the effort for a democratic transition were to be derailed, the only beneficiary would be parties outside parliament like the PTI. Hence the discomfort of the PML-N on the horns of its dilemma.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 28, 2012

PPP fight back One day after being convicted and symbolically sentenced for contempt till the rising of the seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC), Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani appeared in confident, fighting mood in his appearance in the National Assembly (NA). In a hard-hitting defence from the floor of the house of his stance on the conviction and a host of other issues highlighted by the verdict, the PM raised some pertinent points. He took the Leader of the Opposition, Chaudhry Nisar, to task for challenging the treasury benches to bring the PM to the house. The PM’s advice to Chaudhry Nisar and others of his ilk was to avoid trying to play God. He argued that, as the PML-N chief has stated, even if you do not recognise me as the PM, I am still a member of the house and cannot be prevented by threats from attending the sessions of the NA. The PM questioned why the judiciary had never in our history put military coup makers and dictators in the dock. He pointed to the infamous doctrine of necessity formulated by the judiciary, which led to the condoning and justification of all coups in the country’s history. He said he had only defended the constitution as a member of a party that had not only formulated the 1973 constitution but also restored it (considerably) through the 18th Amendment. He further asserted that all the constitutions of the country, the 1956, 1962 and 1973 constitutions promulgated immunity for the president of the country. Therefore, by implication, the demand of the judiciary that he write a letter to the Swiss authorities to reopen the alleged corruption cases against the president would be in violation of the laid down immunity for the president while in office, an immunity that exists for all heads of state internationally. Had the immunity not been laid down in all the constitutions in the country’s history, the PM argued, the demand to ignore the clear provisions of Article 248 might have had some weight and value. As things stood, his view and the view of the government’s legal experts was that this was not possible under the long standing and consistent immunity available to heads of state while in office. The PM reiterated his view that parliament is supreme as it expresses the will of the people and all other institutions of state receive their legitimacy and standing from parliament. The contempt verdict has split legal, political and all other circles right down the middle. The division in the political field corresponds to the PPP and its allies in one corner, while the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary opposition stands on the opposite side of the ring. This was also visible in the NA on Thursday when the house descended into scenes reminiscent of a fish market, much to the discomfiture of the Speaker and all those who fear such scenes erode the sanctity of parliament and thereby depreciate democracy itself. Demands have been raised by Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan and others, both with a presence in parliament and outside it, for the PM to resign immediately. The first named has gone so far as to say that the government must immediately appoint a non-controversial caretaker PM to conduct the coming elections, who should also write the SC’s desired letter to the Swiss authorities. Ironically, forgetting to even glance at his own past track record, Nawaz Sharif attempted to take the high moral ground by accusing the PM of ridiculing the judiciary. Politics does require thick skins, but this must rank as close to taking the cake. No wonder after the SC verdict against him, the PM in a lighter mood remarked that politics is like watching a “horror movie”. The government, its allies and the PPP seem to be in no mood to roll over and die after the contempt conviction. Apart from filing an appeal against the verdict and allowing the process after that appeal is exhausted to take its course, the PPP-led government, given its strength in both houses of parliament, still retains the ultimate weapon, as hinted at by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan: legislation to nullify the effects of the SC verdict and bring an assertive judiciary within the fold of restraint required by all institutions of state in their relationship and working with, not against, each other.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 27, 2012

Prime Minister’s conviction In another first, a seven-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing the contempt of court case against Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has found the PM guilty of contempt and sentenced him symbolically for 30 seconds until the rising of the court. That symbolic sentence may have disappointed all those baying for the PM to be transported from the courtroom straight to jail. Nevertheless, the court’s decision, not unexpectedly, immediately ran into controversy amongst the legal community and the public at large. The short order of the bench, according to defence counsel Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, added the charge of the PM scandalising, ridiculing or defaming the judiciary, which never found mention in the original indictment and on which no proceedings during the hearings were conducted. The perception is difficult to deny that the court appeared throughout the case to be pre-disposed to the final conclusion it has now delivered. Its manifest impatience with, and refusal to allow the defence counsel to present his arguments in full during the hearings, and even after the conviction and sentencing, when Aitzaz Ahsan wanted to raise certain issues/questions regarding the short order, certainly strengthens this perception. In a press conference after the hearing, Aitzaz, amongst other things, read out a list of such questions. The main thrust of the list was on the issues Aitzaz had raised during the hearings, but which the court, at least during the proceedings and now in its short order, seems to have brushed aside. Of course, in all fairness we have to wait for the detailed judgement of the bench before coming to any final conclusions. At this point, it is only prima facie that tentative conclusions can be drawn. Aitzaz had pointed to Article 10-A, introduced under the 18th Amendment, which reinforces the right of every citizen to a fair and free trial under due process. On this basis, Aitzaz had argued that the bench as constituted was assuming the role of judge, jury and executioner in its own cause, a position that sits uncomfortably with the provisions of Article 10-A. Since the bench had itself initiated the contempt of court case, Aitzaz argued, it was not within its purview to hear the case. That argument too was brushed aside by the bench. Further, Aitzaz criticised the addition of an indictment of the PM for scandalising, ridiculing and defaming the SC, a charge that did not form part of the original indictment and on which neither proceedings were held, evidence presented, or the right of defence offered. Again, under the provisions of Article 10-A, this falls foul of the definition of due process. The defence argument that President Asif Ali Zardari, so long as he held the office of head of state, enjoyed unqualified immunity in domestic and international law was never pronounced on by the court, except for repeated remarks that if someone wanted immunity, they must approach the court for it, a strange formulation in the light of the clear wording of Article 248. Be all that as it may, the fallout, implications, and further process in the affair require some explication in the aftermath of this unprecedented verdict against the chief executive of the country. As far as the lobby wishing to see the back of the PM, not to mention the PPP-led coalition government, is concerned, they may still have some teeth gnashing ahead. The disqualification of a sitting PM is not a simple matter of a court, even the apex court, so pronouncing. The law lays down that any sentence of less than two years does not automatically disqualify a sitting member of the National Assembly, and therefore the PM. The Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 limits sentencing to six months, and in any case the Ordinance per se was challenged by the Attorney General as having lapsed without being passed by parliament. His argument therefore was that at present there is no law of contempt holding the field. That argument too was given short shrift by the SC bench. Even if, for the sake of argument, it is accepted that the conviction disqualifies the PM from continuing in office, the procedure for de-seating the PM involves a reference being sent to the Speaker of the National Assembly to take a decision on the matter within 30 days, failing which, it is deemed that the reference has been sent to the Election Commission to decide the matter within 90 days. But even before that, since appeal lies against the verdict of the bench, which can only be filed after the detailed judgement is available, as long as the appeal process is not exhausted, the contempt case remains alive and in process. Legal and procedural processes aside, there are other worrying aspects of the fallout of the verdict that deserve mention. The verdict has naturally been received badly by the committed workers of the PPP, with protests breaking out throughout the country. It remains to be seen whether the leadership of the PPP will enjoin upon its angry workers the same restraint it has shown in the face of the adverse verdict. If it does not, or cannot contain this brewing anger on the basis of a long held view by the PPP that it has seldom received justice at the hands of the judiciary in the past or now, more agitation may follow in the streets. That is bound to make the judiciary controversial. In this space we have been arguing consistently that the respect and dignity of the judiciary, which is its due in any civilised society, imposes the time-tested principle of judicial restraint on it, which rests in its own hands, lest the judiciary become the subject of controversy. Instead, ever since the restoration of the judiciary in 2009, the latter’s assertion of ‘independence’ and ‘judicial activism’ has more often than not led it into controversy, a divisive factor in legal and public circles. However the present case of the contempt conviction of the PM turns out, perhaps the verdict has opened the floodgates of making the judiciary more controversial than ever in our history and diluting the universal respect that should be its due.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 22, 2012

A tragedy foretold? The crash on Friday of a Bhoja Air flight from Karachi to Islamabad when it was on its approach for landing has shaken the entire country. All 127 people on board, including six crewmembers, were killed. That tragedy refreshed memories of the July 2010 crash of an Air Blue flight that crashed into the Margalla Hills, killing all 152 people on board. As in the Margalla crash, the only small mercy was that the Bhoja Air flight fell in relatively open ground, inflicting damage on houses but without any loss of life on the ground. The rescue operation swung into action fairly promptly, but was hampered by a traffic jam restricting access to the site. Also, the rescue teams seemed poorly equipped and far from coordinated in their efforts. Not that they had much to do except collect charred bodies and scattered body parts to be transported to a cold storage hired quickly for the purpose of keeping the remains, since the mortuaries at PIMS and other hospitals were likely to be overwhelmed. That at least was a lesson learnt from the Margalla crash almost two years ago, although not much else seems to have changed in the intervening period as far as the readiness of emergency rescue services is concerned. Tearful relatives of the victims thronged the airports in Karachi and Islamabad, but according to reports, despite the fact that the aviation authorities had set up information rooms in both airports, Bhoja Air’s counter at Karachi airport remained shut, much to the irritation of distraught people seeking news of their loved ones. PIA has offered free passage for one family member of each victim from Karachi to Islamabad on a special flight. The president, prime minister have expressed grief and ordered every conceivable effort for the comfort of the stricken families, while ordering a thorough probe into the crash. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too sent a message of sorrow and condolences. Speculations are rife as to the cause/s of the crash, with rumours ranging from a lightning strike to bad weather to unknown technical problems. Perhaps a rush to judgment should be avoided until the results of the inquiry are in. Fortunately the black box has been recovered and its data may yield clues to what exactly happened in the final moments before the plane went down. Bhoja Air has a chequered history. It was closed down in 2000 by the Civil Aviation Authority because of financial difficulties. It announced the revival of its operations just last month. The ill-fated flight was its inaugural flight to Islamabad. Questions are being raised in the aftermath of the tragedy about the viability, technical and financial solidity and credibility of Bhoja Air. Some sections of the media have gone so far as to assert that political pressure or favouritism was at play in allowing Bhoja Air to resurrect itself when it did not have an adequate fleet (the crashed Boeing 737-200 was reportedly 27 years old) and proper technical, maintenance and safety checks according to international procedure and standards were not carried out. These are aspects of the tragedy that need to be probed thoroughly. As this example and the plethora of stories lately about the national flag carrier PIA show, there is something rotten in the state of our aviation regulatory and maintenance systems. Every other day there are reports about flight cancellations, delays, near disasters that are slowly but steadily eroding the idea, at least in Pakistan, that flying is still the safest way to travel. PIA has suffered strictures abroad for failing maintenance and safety standards. What a fall for our once proud national carrier. With the opening up of the skies to private airlines, what was needed was a strengthened regime of regulation and monitoring to ensure safe and trouble-free operations. Instead, like much else in the country, it seems that this area of national life too has suffered a grievous decline. The inquiry into the crash will be eagerly awaited, not the least because the Air Blue Margalla crash inquiry fizzled out without any clear-cut conclusions or lessons learnt. But in addition to adducing the circumstances that led to the Bhoja Air crash, the entire machinery of civil aviation needs a thorough overhaul, especially standards of regulation, maintenance and monitoring of all airlines.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 20, 2012

COAS’s wisdom

On a visit to Siachen to inspect the rescue work being carried out to find the trapped soldiers and civilians at Gayari, COAS General Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani received president Asif Ali Zardari, who was also there for the same purpose. While talking to media, the COAS delivered a surprisingly refreshing view of Pakistan-India relations. The common perception about the military is that it regards India as a perpetual enemy and therefore cannot contemplate any improvement of relations with our eastern neighbour. This ‘single track’ view of the military may well have underestimated the capacity of the military for course correction where national interests demand it, at least if what the COAS said can be relied upon as an authoritative statement of the military’s wisdom. General Kayani spoke about the need for a peaceful resolution of the Himalayan glacier dispute with India, and went on to stress that Pakistan should spend less on defence and more on development. “Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people,” General Kayani pronounced. He went on to explain that national security should be a comprehensive concept, implying that spending more and more on armaments and defence preparedness while the people were unhappy would eventually affect national security in very negative ways.
The cost to Pakistan of cross-border tension or conflict and the blowback of supporting jihadi extremism has been extremely high. The economy has tanked because capital is either shy or flying to more salubrious destinations. Large numbers of our people are on the verge of starvation, which has thrown the whole question of sustainability of such a grievously inequitable system in doubt. What we are witnessing is a rethink in the perceived military fixation with India as permanent enemy. Realism, pragmatism, growing understanding of the way forward, the obvious advantages of peace in the region may finally be coming to sway GHQ’s thinking.
While General Kayani’s remarks are very welcome in the context of renewed openings to the east, a border that may soon see peace and quiet and mutually beneficial exchange, so long as our western border is hot (with its concomitant effect on stoking internal strife), the anomaly or contradiction at the heart of our policy is glaringly obvious. If regional peace is what our situation demands, it is time to revisit our Afghanistan policy, especially its component of relying on extremist jihad, which soon transmogrifies into terrorism against us. In the context of the endgame in Afghanistan, the wish to control or dominate that country (dubbed ‘strategic depth’) has turned into a nightmare. We do not want to come out of the Afghanistan wars after the US/NATO forces leave that country by 2014 to be seen as the stokers of a pro-Taliban civil war that may break out post-withdrawal. That would isolate us regionally and internationally, a denouement that cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered in our best interest. The contradiction at the heart of our policy in this regard is supporting the Afghan Taliban while fighting against the Pakistani Taliban. In essence the two are one, united in eventual purpose even if not in tactical considerations.
On Siachen, Nawaz Sharif has gone further than most in demanding Pakistan take the lead in withdrawing troops from the glacier, a move he thinks will make no difference militarily. Certainly the ceasefire in place on the glacier since 2003 would suggest that an absurd confrontation has been reduced to insanity if all the troops of both sides are doing up there is battling the elements, not each other. Of course it is a reflection of the intractability of conflict between Pakistan and India that even the rational cannot be conceded by either one side or the other (in turn) for fear of showing weakness. Settling irrational conflict requires strength. It cannot therefore e be construed as weakness. Time to descend from the icy heights, gentlemen.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 17, 2012

Bannu jailbreak

In one of the biggest jailbreaks in the country’s history, between 100 and 200 heavily armed Taliban attacked the Bannu jail early morning on Sunday to free Adnan Rashid, an ex-Air Force employee condemned to death by a military court for the 2003 assassination attempt on ex-president General (retd) Musharraf. In the process, they also freed 384 of the 944 prisoners in the jail, of whom a handful returned voluntarily and still fewer were rearrested. Smashing the main gate of the prison open, the terrorists came with a well-coordinated plan that included attacking from all sides of the prison while blocking all the approach roads to cut off reinforcements. While the attack was a classic manoeuvre, the guards inside the prison hardly put up even a token resistance and obeyed the orders of the attackers to stand aside. The Taliban’s intelligence seemed to know exactly where Adnan Rashid was being held. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility. The attackers operated at will for about two hours inside the prison, with nary any sign of reinforcements, although the prison authorities later claimed news of the attack had been relayed almost immediately. The police reinforcements arrived after the attackers had withdrawn, making even their precautionary blockade of routes leading to the prison unnecessary. As is usual in such matters, an inquiry has been ordered to investigate the lack of response or resistance by the staff and guards of the prison, why the movement of such large numbers of armed terrorists riding vehicles went undetected, whether the attackers had inside support (given their accurate intelligence), and last but not least, a probing of the massive intelligence and security failure.
As in many instances over the years since the TTP and affiliated groups took up arms against the state, it is by now obvious that no place in the country is adequately protected or safe, from north to south (to jog the memory, the attack on the Mehran base in Karachi will suffice). In their usual fashion, the authorities have now set up check posts on all routes leading out of Bannu, particularly towards the tribal areas. This is a classic case of bolting the stable gate after the horse has long fled. Alarmingly, there are reports in the media that Adnan Rashid, whose appeals against his death sentence have been rejected by the High and Supreme Courts, enjoyed the ‘facility’ of a cell phone in all the prisons he was kept in, and even had access to social networks on the internet, on which he regularly posted messages. The cell phones, taken away at times but soon restored, allowed Adnan Rashid to keep in touch with various journalists. None of these champions of the media thought it their duty to report the fact to the authorities, no doubt in the hope of exclusive information/stories from Adnan Rashid.
There are many serious problems with the manner in which we are conducting the campaign against terrorists of various hues and shapes. Our judicial system is not equipped, either in law or prosecution capacity, to meet the challenge of putting terrorists away. The recently concluded International Judicial Conference in Islamabad admitted as much when no less than the Chief Justice of Pakistan remarked that Pakistan’s laws needed to be brought into conformity with international legal provisions against terrorism. Our intelligence and security services and the police are woefully inadequately equipped, conceptually or in practice, to combat the most serious existential threat the state has faced in its entire history. The Bannu jailbreak is only the latest demonstration of this fact. Everything is ‘business as usual’, notwithstanding occasional reactive steps whenever an incident like Bannu occurs. Unfortunately, inertia sets in all too soon and this return to the usual laxity is what the terrorists rely on and wait for before taking action. What Pakistan needs is an overarching anti-terrorism agency able to coordinate federal and provincial law enforcement authorities, provide the requisite training to anti-terrorism outfits, and raise if necessary specialised units and experts dedicated to wiping out this scourge. Relying on our normal intelligence, security and law enforcement machinery is unlikely to prove equal to the task.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 16, 2012

Hazara community’s sorrows

With eight more Hazara community members killed in Quetta on Saturday, the litany of the sorrows of the community seems unrelenting. In one incident, assailants ambushed a taxi on Brewery Road, killing the six occupants, in an eerie repeat of an earlier such ambush on a vehicle carrying Hazara community members. Minutes after the first incident, the assassins killed another two members of the community in a rickshaw in the same area. Virtual riots broke out in the city in reaction, with arson and violence on display against the police and authorities. The sky was punctuated by aerial firing, which wounded a student. The authorities responded by deploying the police as usual and calling in 10 more Frontier Corps (FC) platoons to beef up the security presence. That may have helped defuse the immediate violent reaction, but whether this post-facto response is the answer to what is by now clearly a pattern of attacks on the Hazara community is shrouded in doubt. Quetta in particular has become the theatre of this sectarian genocide. It must be stopped before the peaceful Hazara community loses patience and decides to protect and defend itself against the sectarian terrorists by force of arms, given that the Balochistan government and the FC have signally failed to do their duty. The ‘absent’ Chief Minister Aslam Raisani made the ritual announcement of doing all within the government’s power to bring the sectarian mayhem to an end. Balochistan Home Secretary Nasibullah Bazai offered a mealy-mouthed response, saying the government could not provide complete security to citizens. Let alone “complete” security, what security has the provincial government provided to any citizen? He goes on to assert that a comprehensive security plan has been devised that would be implemented after approval by the higher authorities. Nobody takes these ‘declarations’ seriously any more. Amidst the announcement of days of mourning, the Shia community in Quetta has called for the inept Balochistan government’s resignation. Governor Balochistan Zulfikar Magsi, a frequent critic of the provincial government’s (lack of) performance, warned the other day that if the provincial authorities could not handle the situation, the army may have to be called out. What would remain of the tattered credibility of the provincial government if this were to come to pass?
The Shia community is under attack in the country from Khurram Agency to Gilgit-Baltistan to Balochistan. The sectarian terrorists aligned with the Taliban and al Qaeda are seeking to sow the seeds of sectarian strife to such an extent throughout the country, from north to south, that a sectarian civil war breaks out to destabilise the country as a whole. While the Shia tribes in Khurram Agency are under the pressure of the Taliban and their mentors the intelligence agencies to allow safe passage to the Taliban for attacks in Afghanistan on pain of death, the Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan are being massacred without let or hindrance. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s proposal of a judicial commission on the sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan is a non sequitur. It does not take a judicial commission to know the facts on the ground when Shias are picked off en masse every other day. Protests of solidarity with the Hazara community in Balochistan and Shias throughout the country were held on Saturday in Islamabad and even Washington. The purpose of the sectarian terrorists should leave no one in any doubt. Pakistan is to be reduced to rubble through a sectarian civil war that could destroy democracy and the country itself. They must not be allowed to succeed in their nefarious designs by pussyfooting authorities or inept law enforcement. It is in the interests of the system and all governments, federal and provincial, to rise to the challenge and conduct an effective campaign of suppression against these mad fanatics.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 14, 2012

Parliament and foreign policy

After a hectic three-week joint session of parliament, the amended recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) were finally unanimously adopted. For a while it seemed that consensus would elude the government, and it might have to rely on a majority opinion. Of course that would have deprived the government of the wholesale backing of parliament, which the government wanted before entering into negotiations with the US on the basis of the new terms of engagement. It cannot be gainsaid that parliament’s discussion of, let alone formulation, of foreign policy is a historic first. Having said that, the adopted recommendations provide a picture of the concerns and issues surrounding our relationship with the US. Pakistani sovereignty assumes centre-stage, not surprising considering the events of the last year that brought the issue squarely into the limelight. A mere mention of Raymond Davis, the Abbottabad raid and the Salala incident are enough to underline the point.
What the adopted recommendations say in essence is that the US footprint in Pakistan must be reviewed. There must be an immediate cessation of drone attacks, although this demand has not been linked, as some opposition lawmakers wanted, to restoration of the NATO supply line to Afghanistan. Further, no infiltration into Pakistani territory should be allowed, including hot pursuit. The NATO supplies can only include non-lethal goods; no weapons or ammunition may be transported through Pakistani airspace or territory. For those like Chaudhry Nisar of the PML-N and Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI-F, who were heard proclaiming loud and clear that the NATO supplies would not be restored, this appears the compromise they finally accepted, albeit not without Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s persuasion of Nawaz Sharif and President Asif Ali Zardari’s of the Maulana. Pakistan’s nuclear programme and assets must be safeguarded, and the civilian nuclear deal received by India must also be given to Pakistan. While the nuclear assets have been mentioned in the context of all the speculations abroad about their safety, it may be difficult to extract the civilian nuclear deal because of our proliferation track record. An unconditional apology is demanded from the US for the Salala incident in which 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed. New flying rules must be framed along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to avoid a repetition of such incidents. No verbal agreements on national security will be possible in future, and those of the past are null and void. In future all such agreements will go through a vetting process by the concerned ministries and the PCNS before being endorsed by the cabinet. This will be a far cry from the past sorry record of military dictators making one-man decisions behind closed doors and never even sharing them with the country. No private security contractors or intelligence operatives will be allowed in Pakistan. This may be practicable as far as contractors of the like of Raymond Davis are concerned, but the clandestine nature of intelligence work would probably make this recommendation difficult to implement, or, the US and other countries may find new ways and means to get around this roadblock. Perhaps the most interesting recommendation is that Pakistani territory would not be provided for any foreign bases, nor used for attacks on other countries and all foreign fighters, if found, would be expelled from our soil. This raises the interesting question whether the latter half applies to the Afghan Taliban on our soil. If we wish to find them, perhaps Aabpara should be contacted. The recommendations also include the demand for greater access to US, NATO countries and global markets in the light of the damage Pakistan’s economy has suffered on account of the war on terror. While Pakistan stands committed to combating and eliminating terrorism and extremism, the stabilisation of Afghanistan through an Afghan-led and -owned reconciliation process is the only way forward. Relations with India, China, Russia, and the Muslim world should be strengthened. The Iranian gas pipeline should be pursued.
The prime minister vowed in parliament to implement all the recommendations in letter and spirit. That may be well intentioned but it must be recognised that some recommendations are not entirely in our control to achieve. Meanwhile the US reaction has been cautious so far, while recognising the “seriousness” of the proposals. The Defence of Pakistan Council, however, has not let caution stand in its way and declared that it would not even allow non-lethal supplies to go through for NATO in Afghanistan. In the days ahead, all this will be on the table, a veritable moveable feast, if ever there was one.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 13, 2012

Prime Minister’s defence

Facing the embarrassment of his son, Ali Musa Gilani, being named in the Rs 7 billion Ephedrine quota case, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has mounted a robust defence of his son and his family, alleging that a media campaign is being conducted against the Gilanis. The prime minister has taken the cabinet into confidence on the whole affair. According to media reports, the prime minister told the cabinet that various inquiries into the matter, including one by the Senate standing committee on interior, made no mention of Ali Musa in their findings. The committee had been set up under the directions of the standing committee, which included the federal drugs inspector, an FIA deputy director, and the chairman of Quality Control Islamabad. No evidence of Musa’s involvement was discovered. The standing committee chairman constituted another committee consisting of a joint team of experts, the FIA, Quality Control chairman and federal inspector drugs. This inquiry also could not link Musa with the scandal. Similarly, a joint investigation committee set up by the former minister of health also returned similar findings. The prime minister pointed to an earlier attempt to implicate his elder son, Abdul Qadir Gilani, in the Hajj scandal. Not only was Abdul Qadir Gilani exonerated of any involvement in that case, the Chief Justice of Pakistan had ordered a case to be registered against the MNA who had levelled allegations against Abdul Qadir Gilani on mere hearsay. The cabinet responded by closing ranks with the prime minister and his family against the perceived campaign of “character assassination” against the Gilani family and expressed its resolve to prevent such “victimisation”.
Reports say the prime minister has asked his son Ali Musa to return to the country by cutting short his foreign trip. Given the robust defence the prime minister and the cabinet have mounted of Ali Musa and the prime minister’s family as a whole, this seems the most appropriate step, especially since sections of the media are painting the trip as an attempt to flee accountability in the case. It may be recalled that Ali Musa has recently been elected an MNA from Multan in a by-election. Both as a member of parliament and the son of the incumbent prime minister, the younger Gilani must be aware that the campaign is actually aimed against his father. There are inimical forces in politics, the media and society that would like nothing better than to see the back of this government. Since all such efforts of the past four years and the almost daily predictions of the imminent fall of the government have proved ineffective, perhaps there are motivated forces adopting the ‘strategy of indirect approach’, i.e. hit the government in an embarrassing manner in its ‘soft underbelly’. It is the easiest thing in the world to toss allegations and accusations around, whether substantiated by the facts or not. Unfortunately, some sections of the media have thrown all sense of responsibility to the winds and either deliberately or inadvertently are lending their shoulders to the wheel of this ‘juggernaut’.
If what the prime minister has shared with the cabinet is correct, and the reports cited suggest that may well be so, the next and most efficacious strategy is for Ali Musa to mount an equally robust defence before the Supreme Court hearing the case, with all possible proofs of past inquiries, etc. It is not for us to suggest what course the honourable court should adopt. However, the impartiality of the court is reflected in the remarks of the Chief Justice of Pakistan the other day during the proceedings that both Ali Musa Gilani and the prime minister’s Principal Secretary Khushnood Lashari must be given a fair hearing whenever they appear before the court in response to its notices. Let the law take its course and the ends of truth and justice be served without indulging in a ‘witch-hunt’ with ulterior political motives.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 12, 2012

PM’s son on notice

The whiff of scandal has never been far from the surface since this government came to power four years ago. Even if one discounts the ravings of motivated vested interests only concerned with bringing this government down by hook or by crook, the fact remains that the speculative hearsay about scandals bubbling just below the surface has by now acquired the status of urban legend. In the obtaining circumstances, most of these issues seem sooner or later to find their way to the Supreme Court (SC). Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s remarks the other day seemed to reflect this growing trend when he said that that the SC should not be asked to pronounce on each and every thing, particularly issues that properly belong in the political sphere and should therefore be dealt with within the realm of politics. The problem of course is that the system of governance is by now so corroded that the SC as the final destination and arbiter on most issues has become all but inevitable.
Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Musa Gilani has been dragged into the case before the SC concerning the Rs 7 billion Ephedrine scam. The drug is used for making medicines, but unfortunately also finds use by drug addicts. That is why there is an international regime to control the import and utilisation of Ephedrine through quotas, etc. The case involves the allowance of an above quota allocation of Ephedrine imports to two drug companies, allegedly at the behest of Ali Musa Gilani, whose name cropped up because a gentleman called Tauqeer Ahmed Khan, who passes himself off as the junior Gilani’s private secretary, is alleged to have been instrumental in getting these firms the undue quotas, which they allegedly misused to sell the drug illegally in the local market. To add to the conundrum, the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) high ups investigating the affair are said to have been ‘leaned’ on allegedly by the prime minister’s Principal Secretary Khushnood Lashari, to go easy and get Ali Musa Gilani off the hook. That is the thrust of the affidavit filed in the SC by the ANF investigating officer, who claims he and his superiors, not to mention his investigation team key members, were transferred when he refused to bow before the ‘request’. Those transfers have been rescinded by the SC. Of course there is no room for rushing to judgement, especially since the matter is sub judice, but the allegations and accusations certainly represent a troubling development.
The issue was apparently raised in the National Assembly in January this year, and the then health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin had set up a fact-finding committee to investigate. Unfortunately, the findings of that committee have yet to be placed on the record of the house. The three-member SC bench headed by the Chief Justice hearing the case has exercised due prudence and restraint in issuing notices to all concerned parties, including Ali Musa Gilani, and its order enjoins a fair hearing to both Gilani junior and Lashari should they choose to depose before the court. While the court is proceeding in a judicious manner, the case has become the cause of banner headlines and much airtime on the media. There is a considerable body of opinion in the country that is pre-disposed to believing the worst about this government and its leaders. That may be preconceived bias or prejudice dictated by political likes and dislikes. But that pre-disposition to believe the worst about any and everything involving the government is not the way justice can be done or dispensed. If the court’s proceedings find any truth in the allegations (including the serious accusations by the ANF), the law must of course take its course, irrespective of the individuals involved, no matter how high and mighty. On the other hand, due process requires that they receive full opportunity to defend themselves and clear their name. Unfortunately, perceptions are likely to be even more skewed after the revelation that the ANF was too late in asking for the names of Ali Musa Gilani and Lashari to be placed on the Exit Control List, and Ali Musa has left the country, for a pre-planned tour according to his staff. That may be happenstance, but the prime minister should ensure tat his son appears duly before the court after his return. Family members’ scandals have been known to bring down many a ruler. It is therefore in the interests of the government and all those accused of involvement to cooperate with the investigation and court proceedings.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 11, 2012

National Energy Conference

After a series of complaints by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in recent days that the province was being discriminated against in the load shedding schedule, the National Energy Conference in Lahore the other day has addressed this complaint by deciding that the load shedding schedule would apply equitably to all the provinces. The idea sounds good, but it is at least questionable whether the fluctuating demand-supply position of power will easily lend itself to such sharing of shortages. Sharing of the shortages is all the conference could come up with, since increase in power generation still has many difficulties and roadblocks in its path. Shahbaz Sharif pointed to this when he underlined the failure to implement the recommendations of the national energy conference two years ago, amongst which the issue of circular debt deserved pride of place. That circular debt has now reached Rs 400 billion, and is arguably the main constraint in bringing power generation up to installed capacity.
Amongst the other measures announced by the high powered participants in a press conference after the conference, amongst whom could be counted the prime minister and other ministers and concerned officials, it has been decided that government offices will have two days off, which could lead to a saving of 700 MW. The provinces are to ensure markets close at 8:00 pm except on weekends. The market bodies have already rejected the suggestion, posing a challenge to the authorities to implement the decision. The strangest part of the recommendations speaks of legislation against power theft. It is argued that notice of theft will be swift and effective. That is a question of implementation of the already existing laws. What, if anything, can new legislation add to what is already listed as a crime? Unless the new legislation enhances the existing punishment for power theft, it baffles one why this has been mooted. In addition, the provinces will be encouraged to generate power, an idea otherwise unexceptionable, but which will probably take some time to come to fruition and therefore will not affect the immediate or medium term power deficit. Daylight saving was rejected on the basis of the past experience of changing the country’s time forward or back by one hour, depending on the season, since not much saving accrued thereby. Instead, the conference wisely chose different timings in winter and summer, which may prove more efficacious. Power to billboards is to be cut and conventional bulbs replaced by energy savers, the latter an idea that has been around for some time but whose practical implementation has proceeded at too tardy a apace to make much impact. Prepaid meters will be installed in all government offices with the hope that this will help cut down energy use and may also help avoid the piling up of dues to the power companies from their client government departments. A reflection of wishful thinking was the proposal to provide additional gas to power companies to permit them to generate more electricity relatively cheaply. Since by now it is obvious that gas too faces a deficit (witness the current supply troubles of the CNG and fertilizer sectors), where is this ‘additional’ supply going to be conjured out of? Some element of relief is on offer to lifeline consumers by raising the limit of free electricity from 50 to 100 units. One hopes though that this is not the harbinger of greater power tariff increases for the rest of the consumers, about which reports and speculations are rife.
Disappointingly, the National Energy Conference has only been able to come up with palliatives for the serious energy crisis rather than anything remotely resembling solutions. This is not to gainsay the need for energy conservation and saving steps. Only that the overall impact may not in itself be the answer to the supply-demand gap. It is the circular debt issue the government/s must come up with a solution to if a real dent in the energy deficit is desired.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 9, 2012

A spiritual journey

On a private one day visit to India to pay his respects at the Ajmer Sharif shrine, President Asif Ali Zardari and his hosts have taken advantage of the occasion to set up a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The one-to-one meeting lasted about 40 minutes. From Dr Manmohan Singh’s side, the issue of Hafiz Saeed, as expected, was raised with the request for progress in this regard. From the president’s side, the issues of water, Siachin, Sir Creek and Kashmir were, again not unexpectedly, discussed. As was on the cards, this ‘informal’ diplomacy was hardly likely to yield more than a discussion and at best a reiteration of the positions of both sides on these issues. What then explains the extraordinary media hype in both India and Pakistan prior to the visit, and the sense of deflation after the meeting? In India, the anticipation focused around Hafiz Saeed in the context of the recent $ 10 million bounty on his head declared by the US. The accusations against Hafiz Saeed include masterminding the Mumbai attacks, which he denies and the Pakistan government rejects in the absence of concrete proof. President Zardari on the eve of his departure had clarified that his position on the issue was no different from the government’s. Since the joint investigations of the incident have not made much progress, the visit to India of a delegation from Pakistan to gather evidence about the attack notwithstanding, New Delhi would dearly like to see some forward movement on the issue. However, from the reaction of Islamabad to the bounty announcement, that appears still difficult, if not unlikely.
President Zardari naturally raised some issues of recent concern and some of long standing. Water has of late become a point of friction between the two countries, with sections of opinion in Pakistan accusing India of building storages on, or diverting the waters of, the three western rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Indus Water Treaty, thereby depriving the lower riparian of its due share of water. India has assiduously denied this, and while the officials of the two countries are engaged in discussions (and verging on arbitration in one or two instances), the usual cast of suspects is hard at work to use the points of discord to fan the flames of anti-India hatred in Pakistan. What is needed is an objective appraisal of the water issue under the terms of the Treaty, without emotion and based on the facts. If after such an appraisal (and this is by no means a settled view even amongst Pakistani officials, spin aside), India is found to be in breach of the provisions of the Treaty, redress lies in using the resolution mechanisms laid down in the Treaty, including international arbitration, to sort out the matter. Sir Creek has defied resolution for far too long. The problem is a relatively simple one of demarcating the boundary between the two countries in the area according to international law. Although such disputes are known to have led to wars in other places (the Shatt-el-Arab between Iraq and Iran readily comes to mind), it is about time the mistrust that has dogged Pakistan-India relations is put behind us and the problem resolved to mutual satisfaction.
Kashmir remains a bone of contention between the two neighbouring countries even after all these years. Conventional wars on the issue have yielded the conclusion that neither side can prevail against the other. At best inconclusive wars on the dispute have led afterwards to reversing and making adjustments to the minor changes in the Line of Control (LoC). Nuclear weaponisation of both countries since 1998 has made all-out war unthinkable, with Kargil, despite being an aberration, proving that international and local pressures would stop the conflict crossing the dangerous nuclear threshold. The issue can therefore only be settled through negotiations, implying a historic compromise that satisfies all three parties, Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir. The sine qua non for this outcome is an internal political settlement between the Indian government and the estranged Kashmiri forces. This could open the door to a settlement between Pakistan and India, including revisiting some of the proposals during Musharraf’s tenure to make the LoC porous to trade and people-to-people exchanges. One of the spinoffs of the Kashmir dispute has been the irrational standoff over Siachin. On the highest battlefield of the world, more men have been lost on both sides to the elements than to warfare. The landslide disaster that has buried 124 Pakistani soldiers the other day is a case in point. The glacier needs to be de-militarised and reopened to international mountaineering pursuits for the mutual benefit of both Pakistan and India.
Hopefully, the president’s visit, albeit a private spiritual journey, and the invitation (graciously accepted) to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan would yield more opportunities for interaction and the improvement of bilateral relations between the two countries.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 8, 2012

Human beings and animals

A ray of hope became visible to the families of missing persons in Balochistan as a result of the Chief Justice’s (CJ’s) hearings at the Quetta Registry of the Supreme Court these days. On Saturday, the CJ felt constrained to remark during the proceedings that there was no difference between human beings and animals in Balochistan where mutilated bodies were found on a daily basis. The CJ thought he should stay in Quetta for a month to address the situation. On the three-member bench’s insistence, four out of seven persons ordered to be produced before the court were miraculously ‘recovered’ out of thin air. As is the pattern in the province, the seven had been missing since being picked up in a raid in Quetta. The police had been lying through their teeth before the court that they had no information about the missing persons. The CJ ordered the suspension of the concerned SHO and his arrest for trying to mislead the court. Since the police seemed to have responded to the court’s threat to act against even the highest police officers, there is reasonable optimism that the other three missing persons too will be produced on Monday in accordance with the court’s strict instructions. While the SC deserves praise for its unflinching determination to do justice in a clear case of the authorities dissembling, lying and covering up their excesses against citizens, the court too seems to have realised what an uphill task it is confronted with when it comes to accounting for the thousands still missing, a mission harder than extracting blood from a stone.
If the police, civil administration and other authorities have been sufficiently cowed down by the SC’s assertion to follow the court’s orders, none of this appears to have had any effect on the Frontier Corps’s (FC’s) IG, Major General Ubaidullah Khan. He once again, as he has been doing from time to time, denied any involvement of his force in the rash of abductions, kidnappings and dumping of mutilated and bullet-riddled bodies throughout the province. Even though a PPP MPA, Sadiq Umrani had stated on the floor of the provincial assembly that he and two provincial ministers were witness to two persons being held blindfolded and subjected to torture near Kalat and Mastung, and the dead bodies of these two persons were later found dumped, the FC IG dug his heels in and denied any wrongdoing, hiding behind the lame excuse that the FC had refuted the report immediately after it surfaced. This did not satisfy the court, and the FC IG was reminded that a false statement from the floor of the house could get ministers and MPAs suspended. The bench ordered the recalcitrant IG FC to appear at the next hearing with a complete report. As though to underline the continuing problem, on the very day this hearing was being conducted, two more bullet-riddled bodies of persons missing for some days were found dumped in Mastung. A spurious organisation called the Tehreek-i-Nifaz-i-Amn (most likely an FC/ISI sponsored front for conducting such ‘black’ operations to try and maintain deniability) claimed responsibility. A JUI-F cleric was also shot dead in a targeted killing in Quetta on the very same day. Another shutter down strike was called for today, but the efficacy of these strikes in response to such incidents too is declining. The CJ was also displeased with the lack of progress in the Domki family murder case in Karachi, especially when it was revealed in court that the investigating officer of the Sindh police had gone off on some training course abroad.
The SC is of course right to come down hard on the police, administration and authorities for their obvious dereliction of duty, falsehood and providing succour to the perpetrators of these crimes. But with due respect, the court must be aware of the identity of these perpetrators. If the FC, with the military and its intelligence agencies behind it, is too powerful to be touched, it will bring only partial relief if the court continues to tilt against the civilian authorities only. The real culprits thereby may be left untouched. The SC must be aware that if it tilts in the wrong direction, it may succeed in getting the odd missing person recovered, but this is still a very long way away from addressing the cases of the thousands of missing persons in Balochistan. That is a task only possible to accomplish if the smokescreen erected by the forces that really are responsible for the policy of ‘kill and dump’ is cleared and they are brought to book under the laws of the land.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Daily Times editorial April 5, 2012

Bhutto’s legacy

Yesterday was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB’s) 33rd death anniversary. While the PPP was paying its respects and rallying in Garhi Khuda Bux, what was the rest of the country thinking? One thing is clear. Love him or hate him, it is impossible to ignore ZAB. In our culture it is considered bad form to speak ill of the dead. But given the circumstances of his death we have tended over the years to lapse into merely laudatory elegies to the dear departed, particularly from leaders and workers of his party. We are not a people given to deep introspection by and large. Part of the reason for this failing is perhaps the cowardice of our intelligentsia to have the courage of its convictions in order to engage in the public space in objective analyses without shrinking from pointing out weaknesses or flaws in our leaders. Had ZAB’s own party and followers engaged in a summing up of ZAB’s legacy, warts and all, perhaps valuable lessons could have been drawn from his turbulent rise and fall for posterity. So, what is ZAB’s legacy?
The facts of ZAB’s political career are fairly well known. However, for the benefit of jogging the memories of those familiar, and also informing those not so familiar with the main nodal points of ZAB’s career, a brief recapitulation may be in order. ZAB began his politics under the patronage of a military dictator, Ayub Khan, but fell out with him in the aftermath of the 1965 war over the Tashkent Declaration signed under Soviet tutelage by Pakistan and India, which ZAB condemned as a sell-out of the Kashmir cause. This earned him the ire of his former mentor and resulted in his departure from that government. A year later, ZAB bounced back by forming the PPP with the help of some leftist intellectuals. The PPP’s manifesto was left leaning, but stopped short in practice of following through on the logic of its Islamic Socialism proclamation. The 1968-69 movement against Ayub’s government brought ZAB into prominence once again. With the unfortunate episode of the separation of East Pakistan a reality, an episode in which, although General Yahya Khan must bear the main brunt of responsibility for the breakup of the country, ZAB’s role has not been free of controversy to this day. The broken Pakistan was now handed over to ZAB as the most popular leader of what was West Pakistan, with his party having garnered a majority of the seats in this wing in the 1970 elections. The ‘New Pakistan’ ZAB now sought to construct from the ashes of defeat initially attracted all political forces, including the opposition NAP and JUI because ZAB sought to pick up the broken pieces by accommodating the opposition and allowing them to form the provincial governments in what was then NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Balochistan. However, this ‘accommodative’ phase soon unravelled, culminating in the dismissal of Sardar Ataullah Mengal’s ministry in Balochistan on February 15, 1973, and the subsequent launching of a military operation in that province. Mufti Mahmud’s government in NWFP resigned in protest and that province too became embroiled in resistance activities. Meanwhile the left leaning stance of the PPP was compromised vis-à-vis the working class when ZAB ordered the police to take back the factories the workers had taken over in SITE, Karachi, under the illusion that the PPP’s agitational and election slogan of ‘the factories to the workers’ and ‘land to the tiller’ could be literally translated into facts on the ground. The police shot the occupying workers in SITE, took back the factories, but in the process marked the end of the ‘socialist’ honeymoon of the PPP. Land reform yielded some redistribution of holdings, particularly in Punjab, but that too fell into reverse once the doors of the PPP were opened to the landowners from 1975 onwards. These landowners connived with the local administration and police in recovering, often by force, the redistributed lands. It is no accident therefore that by 1977, the draconian treatment of the opposition and even dissidents inside the PPP had left ZAB with the appearance of power, which actually had been hollowed out by opportunists occupying the top leadership positions of the party and government. These elements failed to come to ZAB’s rescue, either through the PNA agitation against rigging in the 1977 elections or the subsequent incarceration, murder trial and eventual execution of ZAB through a manipulated judicial process that resembled due process only in the breach.
Post-ZAB the PPP veered toward accepting the fashionable neo-liberal paradigm under his daughter Benazir Bhutto, a ‘philosophy’ it still adheres to. In the process, the demoralisation of the jialas (militant workers) of the PPP has left it able to garner pluralities through parliamentary elections (implying coalition governments) but unable to arouse the enthusiasm of its faithful workers and supporters because of the abandonment of its original leftist élan or worldview. What the future holds for ZAB’s legacy may be too premature to pronounce on, but without serious critical introspection, the fortunes of the PPP, already on the decline, may suffer a precipitous collapse. The leadership of the PPP needs to wake up and smell the coffee.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 4, 2012

RPPs follow up

Following the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict of March 30 declaring all the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) unlawful and ordering action against all government functionaries during whose tenure the RPPs were approved/set up, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has swung into action. The names of 19 officials were recommended by NAB to be put on the Exit Control List (ECL) and the district coordination officers asked to take action if the owners of 12 RPPs tried to transfer the property of these companies. The ministry of interior is believed to have responded positively to the NAB recommendation and it can now be assumed that the 19 names already are or soon will be on the ECL. The ECL list of former officials held responsible includes four ministers, four secretaries, two NEPRA chairmen, one GENCO CEO, three Private Power Infrastructure Board (PPIB) MDs, two PEPCO MDs and three PEPCO CEOs: a veritable who’s who of the top political and bureaucratic echelons in the period in question, 2006-08. The ministers are Raja Pervez Ashraf, Liaquat Jatoi, Tariq Hamid (all held the water and power portfolio) and Shaukat Tarin (finance). The secretaries named are three water and power secretaries, Shahid Rafi, Muhammad Ismail Qureshi and Ishfaq Mehmood, and one finance secretary, Salman Siddique. The NEPRA chairmen are Khalid Saeed and Lt. General (retd) Saeeduz Zafar, while the GENCO CEO is Yousaf Ali, the PPIB MDs are Khalid Irfan Rahman, Fayyaz Elahi and Yousaf Memon, and the PEPCO MDS are Tahir Basharat Cheema and Munawar Baseer Ahmad. Last but not least, the PEPCO CEOs listed are Muhammad Arif Saleem, Fazal Ahmad Khan and Chaudhry Muhammad Anwar.
What the list indicates is that the whole RPPs episode overlaps the tenures of two successive governments, that of Musharraf and the current PPP-led coalition. The RPPs were conceived in Musharraf’s tenure as a short term emergency solution to the growing energy deficit, but continued with after the PPP-led coalition came to power. On the basis of the hype surrounding their induction, Raja Pervez Ashraf boasted that load shedding would end within months. When it did not, he had to eat his words and in the opinion of some observers, the debacle cost him his portfolio. The SC has also pointed the finger of accusation at those in power at the time (which includes then finance minister Shaukat Tarin) of having awarded the contracts in a non-transparent manner, and raised the advance payments to the RPPs from the initial seven percent to 14 percent, a development the SC said was suspicious and because of which corrupt practices could not be ruled out. NAB was ordered by the SC to proceed against all those considered responsible for the fiasco according to the law. To the extent that NAB has taken the initiative, its steps are within the letter of the law. One of the first moves by NAB is meant to ensure both the personnel involved and the properties of the companies under a cloud of suspicion are secured.
Lest we jump the gun, however, this does not in itself establish the guilt of anyone. Each of the 19 officials and the 12 RPPs must be presumed innocent until and unless proved guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That is according to the letter and spirit of the law. In a sense, the opprobrium that has attached itself to the persons and companies named is punishment already, in terms of a sullying of reputation. However, painful as that may be, it is in the interests of justice that they are provided full opportunity and due process to defend themselves and if possible, clear their name. Of course those found guilty of corruption must be dealt with to the full extent of the law. But a fair investigation must establish, if there is any, the distinction between mala fide purpose and bad judgement. The latter should not be confused with the former.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 3, 2012

Anticipated reaction

As expected, the government’s decision to raise POL prices massively has provoked an equally massive reaction from traders, industrialists, citizens and political parties (see the Editorial “April Fool’s gift”, Daily Times, April 2, 2012). The business community, including the Chambers, has threatened civil disobedience and the closure of industries if the increases are not withdrawn within three days. Transporters are threatening a raise in fares as a result of the hike in POL prices within 24 hours. Without waiting for a notification allowing a raise in fares by the Punjab Regional Transport Authority (RTA) Secretary, transport owners in various cities including Lahore, Faisalabad and Multan have already raised their fares by 10-15 percent. If past experience is anything to go by, once raised, these fares never come down. The opposition PML-N has decided to stay away from the deliberations of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS) to protest the increase in fuel prices. Even the government’s own coalition allies, the MQM and ANP have protested the price hike, with the latter complaining that it is never consulted by the PPP when such decisions are taken. In turn, the All Pakistan CNG Association is questioning the rationale for raising the CNG price to a level unaffordable by many, at a time when CNG load shedding two to three days a week and low gas pressure on most days is causing so much inconvenience and aggravation to consumers and the possible demise of the sector. Everybody and his uncle is crying ‘Uncle!’ at the prospect of the inflationary tsunami that is bound to follow in the wake of this ill-considered decision.
The prospect of mass unrest, strikes, closures and civil disobedience has finally woken up the Lotus eaters in the government. While these lines were being written there were reports that the government is reconsidering the decision and may even reduce or withdraw the price hike altogether. Let us hope that wisdom prevails in the ranks of the government and they see the necessity of unburdening the people of this new baggage of inflation on their backs. Even so, what will the government look like after it reverses its insensitive decision? Like incumbents so beholden to the gnomes of the finance ministry that they first indulge in the adventurism of an ill thought through massive price hike and then are forced to swallow their gall in the face of threatened countrywide mass unrest and are forced into an ignominious retreat. It would have been far better for the image and credibility of the government if it had properly weighed the implications of the hardship that would visit people once the effects of the price hike hit. The technocrats and bureaucrats who advise the government with the cry: ‘There is no alternative!’ should be carried in front of the raging mobs and asked to convince a seething citizenry of their point of view. Nine chances out of ten, they would not be able to walk away from such an ‘encounter’ unscathed. The advice of the experienced political heads in the government should receive much more weightage in the inner deliberations of the government and no decisions should be dictated by the bureaucracy’s gnomes. If the government is suffering a political backlash because of this decision, it is of its own making. Time now to review not only the original price hike decision, but also the decision making procedures of the incumbent coalition.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 2, 2012

April Fool’s gift

The government has ‘gifted’ a massive price rise in POL products on April Fool’s Day. But this is not the light-hearted fun and games associated with the occasion. The price rises are across the board and have hiked up almost all items above the Rs 100 per litre mark. HOBC has been increased by Rs 8.94 from Rs 126.87 to Rs 135.81; petrol by Rs 8.02 from Rs 97.66 to Rs 105.68; High Speed Diesel (HSD) by Rs 4.70 from Rs 103.46 to Rs 108.16; light diesel by Rs 5.45 from Rs 93.29 to Rs 98.74 and kerosene by Rs 5.29 from Rs 96.40 to Rs 101.69. CNG has been increased by Rs 9.93 for Region I and Rs 11.58 for Region II. This will increase the parity of CNG to petrol to 55 percent from the previous 53 percent. The increases have gone against the recommendations of OGRA to keep the prices intact and adjust the increase in import prices against the petroleum levy and also to limit price reviews to a quarterly basis. It also overrides the decision of the prime minister’s committee on petroleum prices to keep the price of HSD at the same level till June 2012. This latest massive increase follows the January and February price increases. Naturally, the massive hike is bound to unleash high inflation at a time when the people are already groaning under the burden of high prices for all goods, including the necessities of life. It is interesting to note that whereas the CNG increase is meant to discourage its use in vehicles, the 2005 recommendation of the Petroleum Ministry to ban new CNG stations was ignored. The anomaly of allowing a whole sector to flourish and then strangling it shows that the government’s left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing. OGRA’s helplessness reduces the regulator’s role to a farce.
The Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) will now earn Rs 7 billion from the petroleum levy in April and Rs 18 billion from GST on petroleum. OGRA’s recommendations were premised on the fact that the cost of foregoing revenue would not have been more than Rs 3.25 billion. Clearly, the syndrome of treating petroleum products as a 'cash cow' is alive and well and kicking the people in the teeth. It seems the government is only interested in revenue, not the sufferings of the people and the economy. Easy, expedient solutions in favour of higher revenues indicate the mindset of the government.
What is not entering the government’s calculations are the prospects of unrest when petroleum products-induced inflation hits pockets, and that too in an election year. There are forces waiting in the wings amongst the opposition to take advantage of any outbreak of general unrest. One report says the people’s purchasing power parity has declined by 65 percent over the last four years of the government’s tenure because of insensitive, solely revenue-oriented policies. Pauperisation is on the rise, with poor people struggling to get three square meals a day for themselves and their families. The middle class is being driven economically into the proletariat. What impact this will have on the political fortunes of the government come the elections remains a point of focus. Between now and the expected date of the elections in March 2013, the gamut of economic pain being borne by the people may well translate into a reaction against and resistance to the incumbents, a prospect that could throw political stability before and after the elections into question.