Friday, August 31, 2012
One-man commission The Supreme Court (SC) two-member bench hearing the Arsalan Iftikhar versus Malik Riaz Hussain case has come up with a most surprising judgement regarding the investigation into the alleged Rs 342 million business deal between the two parties. It may be recalled that when these allegations against the son of Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry surfaced some months ago, and the SC, taking suo motu notice, constituted a three-member bench headed by none other than the CJ himself to hear the case, this caused considerable consternation amongst legal circles and the public regarding the appropriateness of the CJ heading a bench in a case involving his own son. Wisdom mercifully quickly set in when adverse opinion was voiced against this decision, and the CJ wisely, albeit belatedly, decided to recuse himself from said bench. On June 14 the residual two-member bench had announced a reserved judgement referring the matter to the Attorney General (AG) to set the state machinery in motion for an investigation into the matter. The AG then wrote to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to initiate the investigation. NAB constituted a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) for the purpose. Prima facie this seems perfectly reasonable, legal, and within the rules. The SC however, in its latest judgement on August 30 has found grave flaws in the procedure adopted by the AG. He has been put on notice by the bench to explain his handling of the matter, which in the court’s opinion went far beyond the scope of its June 14 order. The SC has also castigated the AG for not revealing before the bench that he had at some point represented Malik Riaz Hussain in his professional capacity as a lawyer. It should also be recalled that the SC had stopped the JIT from proceeding in the case on the grounds that the senior police officers who had been inducted into the JIT, SP Faisal Bashir Memon and DSP Tahir Malik, stood accused by the court of in one case providing undue ‘protocol’ to Malik Riaz Hussain on the occasion of his appearance before the SC, and generally of submitting false, dishonest or deliberately misleading statements during the proceedings or inquiries ordered by the court. On this basis, the SC wants disciplinary action taken against these officers. Not only that, the SC labels NAB ‘biased’, therefore unable to conduct the probe free of the perception of partiality or lack of competence. The case investigation has therefore, including all the record in NAB’s possession, been transferred by the SC to a one-man commission comprising Dr Shoaib Suddle. Now issue can be taken with this judgement at a number of levels and on a number of contentious decisions contained therein. First and foremost, the SC seems to have taken recourse to speculative opinion about NAB’s bias or competence before the fact has been established in any reasonable manner. The AG’s representing one party professionally is hardly conclusive proof of bias. The judgement’s castigation of the police officers in question seems to be based purely on behaviour or ‘body language’ evident in video evidence placed before the court by Arsalan’s lawyers taken from the SC’s CCTV cameras. The placing of this video evidence by a party to the case aroused a great deal of concern even then as to how one party could get hold of internal SC footage not normally available to any member of the public. Second, did the footage establish beyond reasonable doubt or at least contention that the police officers betrayed bias or sympathy towards the other party, Malik Riaz Hussain? Could it not be argued, for example, that they were simply showing courtesy to one of the litigants or even ensuring their safety? On the other hand, the setting up of another (one-man this time) commission to investigate will again become controversial just as the setting up of the Memo Commission by the SC troubled many legal minds. Fingers may now be pointed that this is another case of the SC assuming to itself the powers of an investigation agency, which it is not mandated to do, and which is the exclusive preserve of the executive. Such commissions of inquiry are normally set up by the government under the Commissions of Inquiry Act. This new ‘jurisprudence' by the apex court is bound to arouse controversy, possibly face legal challenges, and reinforce the opinion that holds that the SC is either unable, or seen to be unable, to do impartial justice in a case involving the CJ’s son. For this negative perception, the SC has no one to blame but itself.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
NAM Summit preparations Iran’s preparations for the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit that opens today in Tehran for two days of discussions on a host of issues saw a Ministerial Meeting on its eve, addressed amongst others by Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Ms Khar stressed that the growing confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme threatens further instability in the broader region. She emphasised that only diplomacy and dialogue should be used to resolve such contentious issues, words of wisdom likely to fall on deaf ears in western capitals demonising Iran, as well as in Israel, leading demands to bomb and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities to pre-empt the development of nuclear weapons. Tehran has consistently refuted such allegations, stressing that its programme is for purely peaceful purposes. That cuts no ice with Iran’s accusers, flying in the face of the facts and wiser counsel on the peaceful course to follow to resolve this conundrum. At the heart of the current phase of the controversy is the Parchim nuclear facility, allegedly used for explosives experiments thought to be preparations for nuclear explosions. The International Atomic Energy agency (IAEA) has been denied access to the facility because Iran wants the IAEA to first share with it the documentary evidence on the basis of which the suspicions about Parchim have been doing the rounds. The IAEA has declined to share this documentary evidence on the plea that it has received this from foreign intelligence agencies on the promise of confidentiality. In other words, the ‘evidence’ on which Iran is charged with seeking to develop nuclear weapons is denied to it. Not even in common jurisprudence would this be considered acceptable, let alone at the level of international issues and diplomacy. The unnamed foreign intelligence agencies need no flight of imagination to be identified. The western countries, led by the US, and Israel would fall into the fold of the usual suspects. These very intelligence agencies were behind the manipulation of the IAEA and the alleged nuclear weapons (or weapons of mass destruction, including gas) Iraq under Saddam Hussein was supposed to be stockpiling before it was invaded the second time, with an illegal toppling of the regime and the eventual hanging of Saddam Hussein by a kangaroo court. How then can objective observers place any credence on the ‘confidential’ intelligence gathered by the IAEA vis-à-vis Iran? This would be a bit like repeating in the case of the current conflict in Syria the mistaken concession to the west to intervene in Libya in support of anti-Gaddafi forces in the name of the ‘Right to Protect’ and ending up with the overthrow of the regime and Gaddafi's brutal murder. Objective reports say Iran has achieved 20 percent enrichment, still a long way from the 95 percent required for weapons grade uranium. The whole hullaballoo about Iran’s nuclear programme is a thin fig leaf for the desire on the part of a motley alliance of the US-led west and Israel, along with, ironically, reactionary Arab regimes stoking ant-Iran, anti-Shia strife in the region. The very act of holding the NAM Summit by Tehran, expected to gather over a hundred countries and attended by the UN Secretary General, is a slap in the face of all those seeking to isolate Iran and demonising it for the purpose of overthrowing the regime. Like it or not, the principles of peaceful co-existence and non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states are the only way to prevent a conflict in the region, which could all too easily descend into sectarian strife. NAM may have weakened over time, especially after its raison d’être, the cold war became history, but it can still exercise a positive influence in a world increasingly driven into conflict because of the ambitions of the triumphal victors of the cold war to reshape the world according to their desires and hegemony. The NAM countries and the rest of the world not in thrall to the unholy alliance of the west, Israel and reactionary Arab regimes against Iran must stay the trend towards intervention in sovereign countries to bring in regimes of choice. That way lies greater conflict and war, something the world could do without in the middle of other, more pressing issues for the future such as the present economic woes and the task of development for the prosperity and well being of humankind.
Friday, August 24, 2012
Post-alliance future In the absence of an ambassador after Cameron Munter resigned and went home, a senior US diplomat had to visit the foreign office to receive a demarche regarding the drone strikes over Eid. The diplomatic protest reiterated Pakistan’s position that the drone strikes were a violation of international law and Pakistan’s sovereignty. Of course, Washington as usual turned a deaf ear. Estimates of militants and innocents killed in the strikes vary so widely that it is not possible to come to definitive conclusions about the strikes and their efficacy in degrading extremist organisations such as al Qaeda and others. One estimate by the New America Foundation, for example, holds that there have been 30 drone attacks this year so far in which 207 people have been killed. Long War Journal says none of these were innocent civilians. It goes on to assert that there have been 30-40 civilian casualties a year in previous years, but says improved targeting techniques have reduced collateral damage. On the other hand, 2,370 Taliban and al Qaeda leaders and operatives have been killed since the start of the drone war in 2004, while a total of 138 civilians were reportedly victims of these attacks. If the issue of drone attacks reflects the cracks in the US-Pakistan alliance, the two countries have received some ‘insider’ advice from former ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani. Speaking in Washington, he has likened the relationship to a bad marriage and advised both sides to seek instead of the present dysfunctional so-called alliance, a more realistic interaction without illusions or unreal expectations. His logic seems to rest on the divergence of interests of Washington and Islamabad, and hence the logical solution of lowering mutual expectations to a level that accords better with reality. It may be recalled that on one of her visits to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heard from a questioner that the US, as far as Pakistanis were concerned, acted like a bad mother-in-law. To Ms Clinton’s credit, she enjoyed the lighthearted comment immensely. But it must be admitted, the descriptions by Husain Haqqani and Ms Clinton’s interlocutor were not so wide of the mark. The underlying reason is the divergence of interests between the two ostensible allies, an inherent condition that was glossed over after 9/11. According to Husain Haqqani, Pakistanis should not harbour unattainable desires to have the US back them against India, and the US should not think it can wean Pakistan away from supporting jihadi groups seen as unconventional force multipliers in Islamabad’s strategic calculations. Then Mr Haqqani reminds his audience that strategic policy in Pakistan is still in the hands of the generals, not the civilian rulers. He ends by calling for a clear explanation of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad, who knew of it, and what this means. Meanwhile another think tank seminar in Washington on the same day heard on the issue of drones that the US had to contend with three specific groups: enemies in common with Pakistan, allies of Pakistan who are enemies of the US, and militant enemies of Pakistan that are of little strategic interest to the US. As a result, Pakistan will cooperate with the US on some (convenient) targets, while undermining joint efforts on others. With this kind of broth underlying the ‘alliance’, even ‘bad marriage’ is inadequate as a description. Both sides seem wary and weary of trying to persuade the other, especially since the 2014 withdrawal date looms. The strategic dialogue between the two seems nowhere in sight so far. The US/ISAF will go from Afghanistan, but it would be a mistake for Pakistan to indulge in premature triumphalism at having reduced one more superpower to its knees in that battlefield. Pakistan’s abiding national interests in an increasingly connected and post-cold war non-aligned world (with the possible exception of NATO) lie in keeping all options open, befriending all countries of the world, especially the region, and taking full advantage of its strategic location to realise its potential as the region and the world’s trade and energy corridor linking the Asian interior landmass to the rest of the globe. To achieve this, Islamabad needs as many friends as possible, everywhere. Let that be Pakistan’s 21st century vision and goal for stability, development, prosperity.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
General Kayani’s ‘hedging’ Ever since ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to Washington, the western press and US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta have been saying that COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani has committed to ISAF Commander General John Allen that the Pakistan army would launch joint operations with the US in North Waziristan. General Kayani, through an ISPR statement after meeting CENTCOM Commander General James N Mattis in Islamabad, has clarified that no such commitment has been made. General Kayani was at pains to underline that if and when the Pakistan army would conduct an operation in North Waziristan, it would be in the light of Pakistan’s and its military’s own considerations. The decision, its timing, etc, would be a Pakistani one, not under any external pressure, whether from the US or anywhere else. The statement went on to make a clear distinction between “coordinated actions” and “joint operations”, the former implying separate actions on each side of the border by either side, the latter joint operations on either side of the border. As far as the Afghanistan side of the border is concerned, it is understandable that the Pakistan army would not like to get embroiled, not the least because it apprehends the reaction from the Afghan Taliban, primarily the Haqqani network, which arguably has yet to be jettisoned by the Pakistan army as a proxy or ally despite its providing safe havens on Afghan soil to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), at war with the Pakistani state. On the other hand, joint operations on the Pakistani side of the border would imply American boots on the ground, something the Pakistan army has clearly spelt out after the Abbottabad raid is a red line it would not allow to be crossed again. General Kayani also said a joint operation, with all the above attendant meanings, would not be acceptable to the people or army in Pakistan. In this context it is pertinent to recall the reservations voiced by PML-N Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar the other day on any North Waziristan operation per se. Also, reports speak of uneasiness amongst some of General Kayani’s own aides, apprehensive of the fallout in terms of increased terrorism within Pakistan in the event of stepping into the militant hotbed. While all this is not entirely unknown and even to some extent understandable, there are problems with the formulation of the COAS. ‘Public’ sensitivities and ‘strategic assets’ considerations aside, ‘coordinated actions’ would fail to do some things crucial to success. First and foremost, such actions would fail to stop cross-border attacks both ways, the Haqqanis being at freedom to attack in Afghanistan from FATA, and the TTP at liberty, as it has been doing of late, to attack Pakistani security forces from Afghan soil since neither would be pressed by the respective allied forces on either side. Two, such actions would fail to seal the border to prevent the Haqqani network fighters and the TTP from fleeing across the border whenever under military pressure. A parallel may be drawn with the long-drawn-out operations the Pakistani military has been conducting for years in FATA. Piecemeal, Agency-specific operations have failed to seal the escape routes of the militants to other Agencies. When under pressure, they simply move to other Agencies and live to fight another day. Similarly, if there are no ‘joint operations’, at least to the extent of having an anvil on one side to the hammer of the respective military force pressing ‘its’ enemy, the porous border will continue to offer the mother of all escape routes both ways. The conundrum we have to revisit is the contradiction at the heart of the military’s policy in FATA in general and North Waziristan in particular: you cannot hunt with the Haqqanis and against the TTP when the two are collaborating with each other. And that brings us to the heart of the matter: if you persist with proxies to project foreign and security policy interests, the terrorist bug in your own home can never be crushed.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Transparency and accountability Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, while briefing the media after a cabinet meeting, revealed that a proposal that all public servants should declare their assets was under discussion. The proposal dates from 2011 but has only now been taken up by the cabinet. It is argued that if politicians have to declare their assets, so should generals, judges of the superior judiciary and senior bureaucrats. So far, as part of the discourse on accountability in public life, this has been an idea mooted often, but relying as it does on just moral incentives for individuals holding high state office, has failed to elicit anything resembling an adequate response. This indicates that moral imperatives alone will not do, and that legislation will be required, which reportedly is under consideration in the cabinet. However, before the proposal can be take up as part of the legislative process, the cabinet has asked the Establishment Division to submit a report to it on the issue. Only after that report is received will the cabinet, after perusing it and conducting due deliberations, decide whether to proceed on the (necessary) legislative path. The only concern is whether an excellent idea such as this one will see the light of day as a bill or even Act before the gathering clouds of the coming general elections are upon us. There is no gainsaying the fact that tales of corruption have been part of our life and history. The finger of suspicion and/or accusation has been pointed at just about everyone, ranging from military dictators and their cohorts, powerful bureaucrats who know the rules and laws inside out and have proved adept at manipulating these to their advantage, and members of the superior judiciary who have stood accused in the past of misusing the perks and privileges allowed to them under the rules, especially when it comes to plots of land. This is not to miss out the even greater weight of accusation against politicians, only to point out that hardly any institution of power players/stakeholders has escaped the taint. What this does in the case of politicians is that people’s hopes and expectations from them get transmogrified into disillusionment with democracy per se, although poor democracy may not be so much to blame for this perception as elected politicians themselves. Nevertheless, politicians have many layers of accountability hanging over their heads, not the least of which is the necessity of returning to the electorate again and again on their track record of performance in office. Not only this, politician are now required by law to declare their assets annually, failing which they are denied entry into the electoral race. Arguments have regularly been produced by powerful institutions like the military and judiciary that they have their own internal systems of accountability. Since these are ‘in-house’ systems, they lack the advantage of transparency. The recent fracas between parliament’s Public Accounts Committee and the Registrar of the Supreme Court, in which the latter has refused to submit the accounts of the Supreme Court or appear before the Committee has caused much anguish to those who cherish the supremacy of parliament over all other institutions. What a law requiring all public office holders to declare their assets would do would be to enhance the credibility of honest incumbents and expose the shady or grey areas of those not fully coming up to the highest and most desirable standards. Real accountability could then be possible and credible. Some elements viscerally opposed to the present government may want to paint this proposed law as motivated by a desire of upmanship in the current state of conflict between the government and the judiciary. Bu that would be too narrow and partisan a view. If the wider scope of asset declaration, encompassing powerful and hitherto immune to accountability let alone transparency institutions are brought into the net of the proposed measure, it can only be to the good of a clean, accountable, transparent state and society. It would set a precedent that may well begin to change the ‘slippery’ slope down which honesty and integrity have slid over the years.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Political dialogue Addressing an Independence Day flag raising ceremony in Islamabad on August 14, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf extended an olive branch to all political forces, particularly the opposition. The prime minister invited all political forces to enter into a dialogue regarding the coming general elections and a consensus caretaker setup. The prime minister said the government wanted to take the opposition into confidence for holding impartial and transparent general elections. He pointed to the consensus appointment of a chief election commissioner, Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim, implying the same sort of consensual approach should attend the government’s efforts to bring all the political forces on board, ensuing their participation in the elections to play their role in the continuity of the democratic system. He generously (given our political culture and practice of many years) acknowledged the role of the opposition in this enterprise and advised the opposition not to just focus on criticising the government but instead come up with positive suggestions with a constructive approach so that the challenges of development could be met. He underlined the importance of a dialogue with the opposition on all issues of national importance. The prime minister was at pains to deny any intent to have a confrontation between the pillars of the state, including the judiciary, and reiterated that the government was following Benazir Bhutto’s legacy of a policy of reconciliation. He said the government wanted a transfer of power in a democratic manner, which would go a long way towards consolidating the democratic order. He pointed to the patience with which the government has been and still accepts criticism. The objective of this patient approach he said is to ensure an environment of understanding and harmony, something our divided and fractured society badly needs. It must go to the credit of the PPP-led coalition government in power since 2008, through two prime ministers, that it has consistently upheld the philosophy bequeathed by the late Benazir Bhutto that what Pakistani state and society critically needed was reconciliation between differing points of view rather than open confrontation that had in the past (particularly the democratic interregnum of 1988-99) provided opportunities for the ‘third force’ to intervene. President Asif Ali Zardari, since coming to office, has been at the receiving end of more criticism and muck thrown at him than any president in Pakistan’s or any other country’s history. Yet he has, occasional outbursts at public rallies notwithstanding, exercised superhuman patience and avoided retaliation. This has had the salutary effect of tiring out his critics, who of late seem to have run out of breath, or be seeking alternative means to somehow rock the boat and see the back of the government and president entire. However, where these ‘soldiers of fortune’ in the media and the polity have fallen short is in their understanding of the real political change that has taken place, and is continuing. This represents nothing less than a tectonic shift in the political culture of the country towards a realisation that given our chequered and tragic history, there is no other way to ensure the stabilisation and progress of Pakistan except through continuity in the democratic political process. If that process throws up governments not to the liking of some, they have had perforce to learn to be patient despite their best and often vitriolic efforts and let the democratic political process run its course. There is no gainsaying the increasingly evident and accepted in larger circles fact that the convergence amongst the political parties on the way forward for the country resting on democracy is becoming the new verity. Unlike the 1990s, there have been no attempts by the opposition to run to GHQ to topple the incumbents and, except for a brief and unproductive interlude in the memo case, a reluctance to drag the judiciary into a role for which it is neither fit nor is justified by any constitutional or democratic principle. This points to the system groping its way, albeit haltingly, towards a maturity and settling down long overdue.
Monday, August 13, 2012
Backlash against the judiciary Ousted Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has delivered a strongly worded message to our overactive judiciary. He says if another PM is ousted in similar fashion, the PPP will not take it lying down and will resist, since it considers the repetition of such a move would be tantamount to destabilising, dividing, and arguably disintegrating the country. He went on to sarcastically remark that if the judiciary wants to take all the decisions, we should dissolve parliament, send all the elected representatives home, and let the judiciary take charge of the government. He said he had appeared before the judiciary as a mark of respect, but this was not reciprocated. He accepted the court’s decision for the sake of democracy and the country, he added. He left the question of appearance before the Supreme Court on its summons to his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf’s judgement. It was time, Gilani argued, for the judiciary to correct past mistakes such as the ‘doctrine of necessity’, which contributed to the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971. The judiciary was not a political party, he continued, and therefore should not have (or be seen to have) any political agenda. The judiciary’s activism could trigger an intervention by a ‘third force’, he warned. The contempt law was only being used against politicians who respected the verdicts of the judiciary, and not against those elements or forces that didn’t give two hoots for its orders. He said further that he would suggest to the PPP a train march from Lahore to Karachi in support of the supremacy of parliament, and implied that if even that did not work, the party would resort to street protests and take the matter to the people. The MQM chief Altaf Hussain has added his voice to those troubled by the present scenario of confrontation between the government and the judiciary. Addressing a rally of his party in Karachi, Altaf Hussain appealed to both sides to ‘accept’ each other and reconcile for the sake of democracy and the country. And in an interesting aside, the country that gave the contempt of court law to the world, dating from the 14th century, the UK, is contemplating repealing it and modifying it to match modern day requirements. Unlike Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s contention that the concept of the supremacy of parliament inherited from Britain was ‘out of date’, the country that is considered the mother of all parliaments finds the ancient contempt law actually out of date. The reasoning behind the proposal is both conceptual as well as based on the experience gained from practice. The contempt law as it stands in the UK has not been used since the 1930s. And yet the judiciary in the UK is held in the highest esteem. That is because the prudence and restraint within the parameters of the law practiced by it has helped over time to accord it the respect and dignity it deserves. Our judiciary too could take a leaf or two out of the book of the British judiciary. Unfortunately, as former PM Gilani also pointed out, our judiciary has a great deal to rectify on the basis of its track record. Endorsing military coups and justifying usurpers of power, taking oaths under PCOs and allowing military dictators to amend the constitution at their whim and will are all wrongs that need to be relegated to a closed chapter. The defiance of the will of a military dictator by Chief Justice Chaudhry galvanised the country in a movement that finally led to the ushering in of democracy (albeit with the tragic loss of Benazir Bhutto along the way) and the exit of General Musharraf. The restored and increasingly independent judiciary has high hopes of the people riding on it. This is a great responsibility, but it must and can only be fulfilled by adhering not only to the letter of the law, but also its spirit and élan. Unfortunately, the perception is growing of partisanship by the present restored judiciary. This is not only bad for the incumbents, it could cause permanent damage to the respect and dignity of the judicial institution. The best course under the circumstances, before the growing backlash against the judiciary assumes critical mass, would be to exercise judicial restraint and try to find solutions to the impasse with the government that best suits the interests of the country and the fraught circumstances in which it finds itself at present.
A misplaced effort The cabinet committee charged with investigating the situation in Balochistan and submitting recommendations for a solution to the strife-torn province’s problems has made its first visit to Quetta. Headed by Federal Defence Minister Naveed Qamar, the committee attempted to consult all stakeholders amongst the political forces in Balochistan. However, the response to its invitation for talks was, to put it politely, mixed, and more bluntly, without meaningful results. Part of the problem is that the committee kicked off its visit with the message from one of its members, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, at the airport on landing that slogans being raised for the independence of the province “would not be tolerated”. Kaira’s argument was that the autonomy issue of the province has been resolved. He said the federal government was serious about addressing the grievances of Balochistan as was evident from the apology for past excesses extended by President Asif Ali Zardari in his inaugural address to parliament after taking office, despite the fact that he was not personally responsible for those excesses. Kaira reiterated the steps the federal government had taken to eradicate the sense of deprivation of the people of the province by pointing to the NFC Award, the Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package, giving jobs to youth, etc. These statements, however, were unlikely to win over the estranged Baloch, even those who were willing, with all their reservations, to actually meet the committee. The meetings with the JUI-F, BNP-Awami, PKMAP and JI yielded little, if anything. The National Party did not turn up. It stated later that there was no purchase in meeting toothless committees. The BNP-M had not been invited. In any case this party has stated that it will not meet with the federal authorities unless and until international guarantors are involved, a reflection of the state of mistrust. The JUI-F stated after its meeting that it had little hope of a solution. In his press conference after the committee’s round of meetings and deliberations, Naveed Qamar at least conceded that all the steps taken so far may not be enough. The fact is that the sense of alienation in Balochistan is so complete that even talking to those nationalist parties willing to engage is unlikely to make much difference. And attempts to depreciate the standing of those engaged in insurgency in the mountains or leading the movement from abroad will certainly not help a solution either. If the committee was making partially conciliatory noises in Quetta, the irrepressible Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik in Islamabad on the same day was still droning on about the ‘foreign hand’ in Balochistan’s troubles. If Pakistan’s history is anything to go by, attempts to lay everything at the door of foreign hands, thereby turning a blind eye to our own responsibility and culpability for trouble, has never worked in the past and is unlikely to now. If anything, such red herrings only make matters worse and widen the gulf between the two sides. The elephant in the room that the government does not wish to recognise, and certainly not mention, is the role of the military, intelligence agencies and paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) in the province. The issue of missing persons has been laid at the door of the FC by none other than the Supreme Court. Without reigning in the security forces from pursuing their repressive policies, including the notorious kill and dump practices in the province, no progress may be possible. Second, without finding a credible channel to the guerillas in the mountains and the leadership abroad, such exercises as the one in Quetta will come to naught. The real steps required to win back the alienated Baloch people are: withdraw the FC, account for the missing persons, identify and prosecute those responsible for the dumping of tortured bodies all over the province, provide due compensation to the families of those tortured and/or killed, and start a serious dialogue with those Kaira finds “intolerable”. The government may not like their separatist stance, but without finding ways to bring these forces to the negotiating table, nothing will change and the situation could conceivably produce a disaster for the country.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
Coordinated operations ISI chief Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s visit to Washington seems to be bearing fruit. In a briefing to the Corps Commanders conference chaired by COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, General Islam reported on his discussions with the CIA chief and other top American officials. The issue that took up the most time in the conference was the problem of increasing cross-border attacks by Pakistani Taliban elements that have found safe havens in Afghanistan after they were routed from Swat and South Waziristan. In a general climate of improving Pakistan-US relations after a year or more of acrimony, reflected also in the foreign office spokesman’s regular briefing to the media, coordination in counter-terrorism efforts seems to be on the agenda. On the political/diplomatic front, preparations are afoot for Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit to Washington, a trip expected to pave the way for a late September meeting between President Asif Ali Zardari and US President Barack Obama when the former is in New York on a three-day sojourn to attend the UN General Assembly. The reopening of NATO’s supply lines is credited with the improved atmospherics between Islamabad and Washington. The long-pressed demand by the US for military operations against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan has been resisted so far by the Pakistani military on two counts: one, Pakistani troops are too stretched for a major offensive; two, any operation in North Waziristan will be mounted by and at the will of the Pakistani military and not under any pressure from the US. The latter contention has once again been reiterated in ISPR’s press release on the Corps Commanders’ deliberations. Nevertheless, reports state that the military command is contemplating a nuanced operation in North Waziristan after Eid. Drawing on the experience (most of its bad) of previous operations in FATA, the military command envisages scaled-up and targeted operations in North Waziristan with additional troops from other formations and areas. In order to avoid the risk of a wider tribal uprising, the military is planning a two-phase low intensity targeted campaign with ground penetration engaging and securing militants launching direct attacks on the security forces and threatening the ground presence of troops. The success of the operation depends crucially on air operations coordinated with moves on the ground as well as intelligence and border coordination with ISAF forces across the divide. Being a notoriously porous line, the border needs sealing or at the very least forces of the two allies on either side to prevent militants under attack from fleeing across the border. General Islam pressed his US counterparts in Washington to take action against the Pakistani Taliban in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan. So far, so good. However, what has not found mention in any of the reports is the quid pro quo demanded of (or received) by the US. Since the Haqqani network has proved the bête noir of the US/ISAF, the silence on what will happen to them is both intriguing and perhaps ominous. If the Pakistani military is receiving cooperation from across the border against the militants attacking it, has it offered the counter-cooperation demanded against the Haqqanis? Only time will tell. GHQ seems to have take cognizance of the Haqqanis' treachery in giving the Pakistani Taliban safe havens in eastern Afghanistan in areas controlled by them. Whether this is a sufficient condition for ditching these erstwhile proxies is still, however, an open question.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Finding a middle way The air of confrontation between the government and the judiciary refuses to go away. The Supreme Court’s (SC’s) notice to Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf to appear on Augusta 27 to show cause why he should not be proceeded against for contempt of court like his predecessor Yousaf Raza Gilani has once again put the cat among the pigeons. The government’s response is yet to be clearly known, despite a statement in some sections of the press by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira that a decision whether the PM should present himself before the court or not will only be taken after consultations. At the last hearing of the NRO implementation case on Wednesday, August 8, the hope that the court too now sought some ‘middle way’ to end the standoff between the executive and the judiciary, as expressed in Justice Asif Saeed Khosa’s advice to the Attorney General (AG) Irfan Qadir to play a mediatory role, dissipated amidst the court’s declaration that it cannot move an inch from its December 19, 2009 NRO judgement. Two reasons for this reversal to a more rigid position have been enumerated by the court. One, a five-member bench hearing the NRO implementation case cannot revisit, let alone revise, the 17-member bench original NRO decision of 2009. Two, the court’s perception was that PM Raja Pervez Ashraf is resorting to delaying tactics in trying to avoid implementation of the court’s verdict on the letter to the Swiss authorities. The latter perception informs the court’s seemingly harsh act of issuing another contempt of court notice to another PM. Reports also state that Law Minister Farooq Naek’s August 7 television interview, in which he had said that the government was contemplating moving review petitions against the NRO judgement as well as the striking down of the Contempt Act, became a further basis for the court’s relatively harsh tone. Those two review petitions have now been moved. Despite this setback to attempts to find a middle way to resolve the standoff, the court still found it convenient to ask the AG to continue his efforts for finding a compromise solution, failing which, the court would proceed further. The AG tried to argue that the court should exercise restraint, but the bench was having none of it, arguing that it has shown restraint but its hand had been forced by non-compliance with its verdicts. What the honourable bench could have gone into is why this ‘non-compliance’ has emerged in the first place. The SC has neither taken account of presidential immunity under Article 248, nor, except in passing remarks about those seeking immunity having to apply to the court for it, attempted an interpretation of this Article. The government side has seemingly been reluctant to be drawn into an argument over Article 248, probably because it is its perception that it will not receive a sympathetic hearing from the SC, rather the reverse. The court’s insistence has begun to invite criticism of its approach, not the least from former Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Ms Asma Jahangir, whose words reflect the mounting anger against the judiciary in some legal circles. She has squarely accused the judiciary of delivering political rather than judicial verdicts. Her statement is lent at least partial support by the present SCBA president Yasin Azad, who has suggested to the court that perhaps the best solution to the conundrum is for the court to set up a commission to write the by now infamous letter. He has also pointed to the political and economic instability being caused by the air of uncertainty this standoff is producing in and around the country. Perhaps the middle way is not only the best, but also the only way out of this impasse.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Joint US-Pakistan campaign A Wall Street Journal report reveals that Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam’s first visit to Washington since taking over as ISI chief may have yielded unprecedentedly hopeful beginnings. After more than a year of acrimonious relations, it was not until the US finally found a way to apologise for the deaths of Pakistani soldiers in the Salala attack that General Islam agreed to make the trip, having postponed it once in June. In his interactions with the head of the CIA, General Petraeus and other high officials of the Obama administration, the General seems to have conveyed two messages, one startlingly new, one old. The new message in essence recognizes that the Haqqani network, once the ISI’s proxies, have gone rogue. Their nexus with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been transformed into an alliance in which the Haqqanis attack the US/NATO forces in Afghanistan, while allowing the TTP to use safe havens in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan in the Haqqanis' control to attack Pakistani troops across the border. It follows logically from this development that Pakistan and the US have a mutual interest in cooperating against what may increasingly become a common threat to both. The ‘division of labour’ between the Haqqanis and the TTP may not hold, particularly if Pakistan and the US have agreed to conduct a joint campaign against the Haqqanis and TTP. Naturally the operational details of this campaign have not been revealed, but they do pose ticklish questions. For example, if Pakistan has agreed to an operation against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan, how would this be conducted and by whom? If Pakistani forces launch the military offensive in North Waziristan, and the US/NATO move against the TTP in the border areas, this would require an unprecedented level of cooperation between Pakistan and the US. In some respects, this would be the resurrection of the old (but hardly tried) ‘hammer and anvil’ strategy, in which militants fleeing military offensives are prevented from fleeing across the border to safety. Although the Wall Street Journal expresses scepticism whether this level of cooperation between Pakistan and the US will be possible, given past differences, it also says the level of trust is higher as a result of General Islam’s meetings. The old message concerned Pakistan’s demand for a stoppage of drone attacks on Pakistani soil, a demand not so far conceded by Washington. Islamabad’s argument is that the drone attacks are not only a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, they are producing the unintended consequence of strengthening the extremists’ recruitment. That may well be because of the effect of collateral casualties, but the problem is that so far at least, the Pakistani demand provided no alternative to taking out prominent militants through drones in the absence of any Pakistani military action against the Haqqanis. Now, if the new scenario becomes a reality, the Pakistani demand could gather pace and even acceptance. Operation Tight Screw, as the North Waziristan campaign has been dubbed, could provide the opening for the US to reconsider the drone campaign in favour of other arrangements to build Pakistani capacity for the purpose. Both sides are discussing a refurbished counter-insurgency approach that does not exclusively focus on killing militants, but puts in place the structures of governance that would help prevent a resurgence of the extremists after the first flush of the military offensive is over. In other words, the ‘clearing’ operation must be followed by an efficacious ‘holding’ operation. This wisdom is obviously based on the experience of the Swat and South Waziristan campaigns of recent times. After initial military success, the problems of preventing the militants from once again infiltrating back into cleared areas and restarting their activities can only be combated by empowering the local people with the political, economic, and if need be military means to prevent a militant resurgence. Scepticism notwithstanding, if a turn has been taken towards recognising the Haqqani network as enemies of Pakistan for helping those waging war against the state (the TTP), this could be a historic positive.
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Contempt law struck down In a 21-page short order, the Supreme Court (SC), expectedly, has struck down the Contempt of Court Act 2012 (COCA 12). Expectedly because reservations had been expressed about the law even before it came up for hearing as a result of 27 petitions filed against it. The best legal brains of the PPP, Senators Aitzaz Ahsan and Raza Rabbani had expressed their view in the house that the law as it stood was flawed. The SC has focused on those flaws, and found them so fundamental that instead of asking parliament to revise the law and excise or redraft the offending provisions, has decided to get rid of it altogether. The short order declares the law unconstitutional, and therefore void from the date it was promulgated, July 12. It describes the legislation as an attempt to curtail the powers of the courts. As a result of the order, the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 stands revived. The court argues that the Ordinance, despite not being promulgated as an Act of parliament, enjoys the protection of Article 270AA(3) of the constitution, inserted by Musharraf. The striking down of COCA 12 has ‘cleared’ the way for action by the court against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf at the next hearing of the NRO implementation case on August 8. The order reiterates that the judiciary has never claimed supremacy over other institutions of the state, but has a duty to interpret the law and constitution. Pending the detailed judgement to follow, what the short order offers in terms of the grounds for the striking down of COCA 12 are that it sets up a special class of top political office holders who were declared as enjoying immunity from contempt of court for acts committed or actions taken in the discharge of their duties. This has been declared discriminatory and violative of the provisions of the constitution that declare all persons equal before the law. The court also took issue with the provisions of the Act that suggested the actual proceedings of contempt cases could be controlled or tampered with by the executive, a privilege hitherto exclusively the chief justice’s. The legislature, the short order says, cannot give itself this right, which would be deleterious for the independence, respect and dignity of the judiciary. The verdict has produced a flurry of activity at the top of the PPP hierarchy, with one meeting being held in the presidency after the verdict was announced, and another planned for today to deliberate on the implications of the ruling and the best way forward. On the day of the next hearing of the NRO case, August 8, the parliamentary party of the PPP has been summoned to meet. Some analysts have interpreted this toing and froing as signs that the ruling PPP may be contemplating its various options, including sacrificing another prime minister to follow in the footsteps of Yousaf Raza Gilani, bringing another contempt law before August 8, or even deciding to go for general elections. Of course the last course would be a decision taken on political considerations, and not without settling the issue of the caretaker government after consultations with the opposition. Perhaps the last word on the SC’s efforts to safeguard the respect, dignity and power to punish contemnors of the courts has not yet been said. The political temperature in the country has risen a notch or two after the verdict. All political forces must be shuffling their feet in anticipation of a possible general election before the scheduled date of February 2013. The court, however, having delivered its verdict, should reflect on where the question of its respect and dignity stands at the present conjuncture. These are categories that cannot be summoned at will or through the coercive power to punish. They are earned over time through the judgements of the courts, and only if such judgements pass the test of scrutiny of being impartial, fair, and in the interests of justice, without any shade of controversy or accusations of overstepping the jurisdiction of the court. On this last count, it must be said with the greatest respect to Their Lordships, the jury is still out.
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
NATO supply deal, finally In a display of exquisite timing, Pakistan and the US signed the long delayed agreement on the restoration of NATO supplies for Afghanistan just one day before the new ISI chief, Lieutenant General Zaheerul Islam, began a maiden three-day visit to Washington for talks with the head of the CIA. The agreement, according to press reports, runs till 2015, one year after the US/NATO forces are scheduled to depart. It is renewable for one-year intervals beyond that date. The agreement will pave the way for the release by the US of the Coalition Support Funds owed to Pakistan and held up for two years, worth $ 1.18 billion. The agreement prohibits arms and ammunition being transported through Pakistan for NATO/ISAF, but permits shipments of lethal cargo for the Afghan armed forces. Although the containers will be scanned at the port of entry (Karachi) and the exit points at Chaman and Torkham, and also be tracked with special radio chips, it is not clear how the Pakistani authorities will distinguish between shipments of weapons for the Afghan armed forces and NATO/ISAF. There is a clause in the agreement that allows Pakistan to refuse any shipment that falls outside agreed parameters, and even a quit clause if relations hit a bump in the road again. After the interminably delayed apology by the US for the Salala incident, Pakistan dropped its demand for an increase in container fees. No taxes or duties will be imposed on the cargo but commercial carriers will have to pay a fee. New fees can be introduced for quick transfer of cargo. No warehousing or storage facilities will be provided by Pakistan, and no new NOCs will be required, but Pakistan will ensure security. Containers for Afghanistan will have to return via Pakistan, and could conceivably carry US/NATO weapons and equipment being withdrawn. The agreement as revealed is not very different from existing practice, but it does have the benefit of being written down to avoid ambiguity and differences. One important issue that had dogged the long drawn negotiations to arrive at the agreement seems either to have been missed or may be discussed separately: the issue of damage to Pakistan's highways under the enormous load of these convoys. In another development, US ambassador-designate to Pakistan Richard Olson, who brings to his new job considerable experience as the deputy head of mission in Kabul until his new assignment, in testimony to his confirmation hearings in the US Congress has expressed his intent to build on the opportunity provided by the restoration of NATO supplies and the better atmospherics between Washington and Islamabad. Of course, the contentious issues that have divided the two ostensible allies in recent years will remain, including the issues of the Haqqani network and the drone attacks. No doubt these will be on the table in the talks in Washington between the ISI and CIA chiefs. Recent reports suggest that the Pakistani military is less enthusiastic about the Haqqani network since it offered the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan safe havens across the border in its areas of influence in order to mount cross-border attacks on Pakistani security forces. Other reports, including Pakistani ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman’s remarks to a conference in Aspen, Colorado, suggest that the military is reassessing, if it has not abandoned, the notion of strategic depth in Afghanistan that provided so much of the underpinning for hedging Pakistan’s bets in post-withdrawal Afghanistan through its jihadi proxies. If this proves true, it not only reflects a recognition by the military that the dynamics of the situation have changed, not the least of which is perhaps a divergence between it and its erstwhile proxies, but that a Taliban push for exclusive power in Kabul after 2014 would only ignite fresh conflict from which Pakistan may not escape unscathed. That recognition could perhaps open the door for Pakistan to be part of the endgame in a positive way, rather than at odds with its ostensible western allies. This may prove the better outcome, both for Afghanistan as well as Pakistan, not to mention the region and the world.