Friday, October 26, 2012
A sombre Eid This Eid-ul-Azha should be an occasion for us to introspect somberly on the state of the Muslim world in general, and Pakistan in particular. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, in his Hajj khutba (sermon) reminded his three million audience from 189 countries physically present at Masjid-i-Namra in the plains of Arafat on Thursday, as well as millions more Muslims throughout the world of the teachings of Islam and the imperative of following these principles. These principles include peace, brotherhood, patience, tolerance and abhorring all types of violence in society. He further underlined that Islam could be implemented by following the Sunnah (practice) of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Admirable as these principles are, the question cannot be brushed under the carpet whether the Muslim world shows any signs or resemblance to the kind of society and community the Grand Mufti sketched. Ironically, the very country of which he is the Grand Mufti is held responsible for spreading an intolerant, literalist, narrow, fanatical and therefore violent deviant of the Islamic message. This Wahabi assertion through funding madrassas that impart such views to young minds, lubricating their transition to jihadi extremists and suicide bombers, is arguably at the heart of the Muslim world’s current paroxysms. Who knows this better than Pakistan, currently reaping the whirlwind of its decades-old project of using jihadi extremism as a tool of power projection in the region and setting the national political agenda at home. Admitted, our own ‘contribution’ to bringing us to this pass, particularly of our military establishment and its intelligence arms, cannot be denied. Nevertheless, the Saudi and Arab (Gulf) connection was, and arguably remains, the financial lynchpin of the whole jihadi project. Not only did the encouragement and support of extremism help military dictators like Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf retain their grip on power for long years, it is responsible for the outbreak and spread of regional conflicts, whether in Afghanistan, against India in Kashmir, or in the Arab world. Little surprise then that the Muslim world portrays an ummah hopelessly divided, rent asunder with intra-regional wars and conflict, sectarian genocide and with increasingly aggressive assertion of their political agenda by extremists from South East Asia, across the expanse of the Muslim world all the way to Africa. What a Frankenstein’s monster has been unleashed by the Wahabi mother hen! Many of those three million performing the Hajj this year belong to countries that have gone through the Arab Spring, whose outcome has been more of a winter of discontent rather than any new beginning hoped for implied in the appellation ‘Spring’. Old established and hitherto repressed Islamist parties have been the main beneficiaries of the ‘Spring’, from Egypt to Tunisia to Libya (with help from the west). The Syrian conflict threatens regional spillover and even war because of the intervention of Muslim neighbours near and far in the civil war, with the west once again ‘leading from behind’ as in the case of the overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya. In Syria, however, the western, increasingly jihadi project for the overthrow of Bashar al Assad and the Baath Party rule has run up against unexpected resistance, causing a rethink in certain quarters that perhaps the Syrian case will not easily lend itself to the Libyan model and a negotiated political compromise may be better for everyone. The spread of Wahabi-inspired extremism emanating from Saudi Arabia first and foremost has over the years reduced some countries in the Muslim world to basket cases. Amongst these ‘shining’ examples of what extremism can do to state and society, with the possible exception of Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that has suffered the most from terrorism, law and order problems, and consequently a tanking economy. The cost of defeating Soviet and Afghan communism therefore has been unaffordably high and lessons should be drawn from gung-ho short term objectives at the price of a debilitating blowback from the extremist genie let out of the bottle. Where the Grand Mufti is correct in stressing the fundamental principles of Islam, practiced more in the breach, Muslims also must revisit their attitudes on blasphemy and respect for the Prophet (PBUH). Laws subject to abuse on blasphemy have taken their toll of Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, and continue to swallow up new victims every other day. They must be either repealed or safeguards provided against false accusation, a recurring curse in Pakistan. As far as the Prophet (PBUH) is concerned, our puny and misguided efforts to defend his respect and dignity and the ‘methods’ we are prone to applying for this purpose is having exactly the opposite effect. While the struggle to persuade western secular societies to avoid unnecessary provocation for mischievous purposes must be continued, we ourselves should look within and realise that the agents provocateurs are having a field day and are encouraged by our violent response. The Prophet (PBUH) and his response to provocation and insult, let alone attacks, should be our (Sunnah) guide: tolerance, patience, logical persuasion. Time to become mature societies, not the ‘wild people’ we are being painted as in western perception.
The debate and Pakistan What came through as an unmistakable message from the final debate between the US presidential hopefuls, incumbent Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, was their convergence of views on Pakistan. Obama underlined his conviction that unlike what Romney had held when he was a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, if he had followed Romney’s advice and asked Pakistan for permission to go in after Osama bin Laden, the latter would likely have escaped. Romney in response could not but endorse the raid, given the level of satisfaction amongst the American electorate on the taking out of the architect of 9/11. Romney not only said he too would have ordered the raid, he also supported Obama’s drones policy. Where he differed from Obama however, was in stating in line with a bipartisan US Congressional opinion that aid to Pakistan should be conditional to Islamabad’s performance against certain benchmarks in the war on terror. In essence though, Romney embraced Obama’s position on Pakistan and did not blame him for the troubled ties with the US’s ostensible ally. Romney went on to express concerns about the safe havens enjoyed by the Haqqani network on Pakistani soil, especially since it is this group Washington holds primarily responsible for some if not all of the spectacular attacks against the US/NATO forces, including the attack in Kabul on the NATO headquarters. He also opined that the ISI was a very powerful institution and the civilian elected government was not calling the shots in Pakistan. When asked if he thought it was time to “divorce” Pakistan, Romney replied in the negative, arguing that a country with around 100 nuclear weapons and building perhaps double that number, with terrorists on its soil, could not be ignored or isolated. On Afghanistan, Romney felt the solution to that country’s woes could not be seen in isolation from Pakistan. What happens in Afghanistan after the troops withdrawal by 2014 was critically dependent on what happened inside Pakistan was his contention. He argued that continued engagement with Pakistan was essential for all these reasons, albeit his strictures on conditional aid may not sit well with a Pakistani audience. Although on the evidence of the final debate before the US presidential elections, little appears to separate the two contenders vis-à-vis their policy towards Pakistan, Romney’s stance is being interpreted by observers as in line with past Republican administrations, whom the track record seems to indicate tended to ‘tilt’ towards Islamabad. However, too much should not be read into campaign pronouncements, let alone televised debates aimed at convincing the American electorate of the credentials of the respective candidates. It is well known that Romney’s Republican Party is chock-a-block with neocons and those agreeing with, or at least influenced by, the fulminations of the Tea Party. What that may translate into if Romney does manage to win the elections, which is far from a settled matter, given the surprising closeness of the race according to public opinion polls, is a far right orientation that will probably be reinforced by his foreign policy and military advisers. It is advisable therefore to refrain from rooting for Romney just yet in Pakistan. The undeniable and irreducible fact remains that US foreign policy often enjoys bipartisan consensus cutting across party lines, particularly given the perception in the US amongst the public and media that Pakistan is not just a difficult ally, it has worked against US interests in Afghanistan while cloaking its dual policy behind a screen of being Washington’s partner in the war on terror. If it has, Pakistan has at best been a ‘selective’ ally of Washington, joining hands with the latter where its own interests were concerned, diverging where US interests did not entirely conform to Islamabad’s. This truth seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future whoever wins in the US in November, despite the cost Pakistan’s policy of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds as far as the Afghan Taliban and al Qaeda are concerned.
Rumbling on Since the Supreme Court (SC) verdict in the Asghar Khan case, the PML-N appears to have been placed on the back foot. In defensive mode, the party and its spokesmen have been literally flailing in the water trying to offer their mea culpa and shift the focus onto alternative ways of following up on the SC verdict as well as throwing red herrings in the path of its implementation. To illustrate, sometimes the PML-N argues that the verdict does not indict the PML-N or the Sharif brothers, only those who violated their oaths of office, at other times they shift the focus of their counter-attack on doubts about the impartiality of the FIA, whom the SC has charged with investigation of the politicians alleged to have received funds from the ISI to manipulate the 1990 elections against the PPP. Demands are flowing thick and fast from a perspiring PML-N leadership that the UN, some international institution or an independent commission should conduct the investigation, i.e. anyone but the FIA. Their reasoning is that the FIA is not independent, is under the control of the PPP, and therefore not an impartial arm of the state. However, what this line of reasoning is ignoring is that the FIA investigation will be conducted under the watchful eye of the SC, the very apex court the PML-N otherwise swears by. The PML-N is also reportedly weighing its legal options, including the possibility of a challenge to the SC verdict through a review petition. They have even thrown the hat of the manipulation of the 2002 elections through illegal use of funds as revealed by General Zamir into the ring. The question remains however, whether the wheels of justice, admittedly long delayed, now that they have begun to grind, will grind ever so fine or not. Can the PML-N, and all those politicians named in the verdict, be able to escape the seemingly inevitable advance of the juggernaut threatening to spoil the best laid plans of (some) mice and men? The PML-N’s critics, especially the PPP, have thrown their weight behind the argument that all these are nothing but delaying tactics by the PML-N, the latter hoping thereby to stretch the process so far as to become lost in the tug and pull of the upcoming elections that are quite capable of overtaking the investigation before it has reached any conclusion. Nevertheless, whether the case achieves closure before the scheduled elections or not, the outcome of the case has certainly damaged the PML-N’s electoral prospects. The SC’s verdict is not only historic therefore in the principles it has enunciated against the interference by powerful individuals or institutions in the democratic process, it is also historic because of the implications for the political lay of the land in and after the upcoming elections. While a former (late) president, former COAS and former head of ISI have squarely been put in the dock by the verdict, some worthies have escaped the attention of the court for being outside the scope of the questions being addressed in the petition. For example, the role of former ISI chief General (retd) Hamid Gul, that champion of jhadi extremism as an instrument of power projection by the Pakistani state and advocate of extremism inside Pakistan, has failed to find mention. Perhaps the can of worms the SC has opened may yield richer ore when the investigation gets going and might well rope in all the ‘peripheral’ (to the case in question only) actors whose contribution to the derailing of the country from the path of genuine democracy begs to be exposed too.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Asghar Khan case fallout The Supreme Court’s (SC’s) long delayed verdict in the Asghar Khan case has put the cat among the pigeons in terms of its fallout for the politics of the country, now and in the future. The former COAS General (retd) Aslam Beg, former head of ISI Lieutenant-General (retd) Asad Durrani, some prominent politicians alleged to have received funds from the Rs 60 million out of the Rs 140 million given by former Habib Bank and Mehran Bank head Younis Habib, have all been put in the dock by the verdict. Although the detailed judgement is to follow, the short order of the SC has directed the government to take action against the generals and the politicians, as also Younis Habib for manipulating the 1990 elections through the formation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) with the help of these secretly distributed funds, which were also aimed at helping anti-PPP politicians and parties to win the 1990 elections. Late president Ghulam Ishaq Khan has been found to be the main culprit in this shoddy business. An election cell operating within his presidency ordered the COAS and ISI chief to distribute these funds, facilitate the formation of the anti-PPP IJI and ensure the mandate of the electorate did not go in favour of the PPP, then led by Benazir Bhutto. Certain questions have arisen in the wake of the court judgement, a judgement that cannot be considered anything but historic, given the history of manipulated elections in the country, and arguably a game-changer, provided the investigations ordered by the court are conducted thoroughly and no one, no matter how prominent, spared the long arm of the law. As far as the errant generals are concerned, the question of what law or legal regime to try them under remains unresolved. One view is that they should be court martialled. Recently, in a case of embezzlement of funds, retired generals have been ‘reinstated’ in order to be court martialled. Although that has set a new precedent, it is not clear whether the present military leadership would be wiling to extend this precedent to two such prominent past generals. The other view is that the two have attracted the provisions of Article 6 of the constitution, dealing with treason and violations of the constitution. That would be an explosive departure, given the continuing dominance of the military in national affairs and the high profile of the two accused generals. This could prove a ticklish matter for both the army high command as well as the government. As far as the politicians named as beneficiaries of the ‘largesse’ of the ISI/military establishment in General Durrani’s affidavit in the SC are concerned, the court has ordered the FIA to investigate the charges and take legal action against all those found guilty of accepting these ‘gifts’. How long such an investigation might take is another concern. The FIA thinks it can complete it within two months, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira thinks it can be done fairly quickly and before the caretaker setup takes over to conduct the general elections after the PPP-led government’s tenure expires on March 18, 2013. It certainly looks, despite these confident assertions, that this might be a race against time. If the investigation is not completed before the present government departs, it would remain a matter of conjecture what might transpire in the tenure of the caretaker government: continuation without break of the investigation, or its getting lost in a cloud of uncertainty amidst the political changes taking place then. Another cloud of uncertainty kicked up by the verdict are the strictures in the verdict against the president’s office transcending its constitutional role to intervene in politics, that too in a malign manner. The SC has ordered all election cells in the presidency and the intelligence agencies abolished, and reiterated the politically neutral role of the presidency according to the constitutional construct. That inevitably has implications for the present incumbent, who is both president and co-chairperson of the ruling PPP. Mr Qaira has manfully risen to the defence of the president’s political role, arguing that the president’s office is inherently political, part of parliament, and therefore inherently allowed to conduct politics, albeit in a neutral manner. This is a questionable line of argument, if measured against the conventions of parliamentary democracy in mature democracies. The head of state in a parliamentary democracy is by convention supposed to abjure involvement in politics, except at moments when after elections governments are to be formed, and then too, he or she is supposed to exercise their minds by reference to guidance from the party claiming a majority in parliament. Only if no party enjoys a clear majority does the president ask the party enjoying a plurality or the next largest party in parliament whether it is in a position to form the government in coalition with other parties. Other than that, parliamentary conventions enjoin the president to refrain from intervention in politics. Pakistan’s peculiar history of dictatorial or autocratic regimes, with intermittent and weak bouts of ‘democracy’ has meant that such well established parliamentary democratic norms and conventions have not taken root. An added complication is the co-chairpersonship of President Zardari. How these two roles are to be reconciled in the light of the SC verdict (and the case in the Lahore High Court on this very issue) will test the political acumen of the ruling party in days to come. Those politicians named as beneficiaries of the illegal funds in the SC’s verdict, particularly the leaders of the PML-N, are trying to kick up as much dust as possible to obfuscate the implications of the judgement. If a transparent and thorough investigation is undertaken by the FIA on a war footing, time being short, no amount of ‘dust storms’ can obscure the fact that past misdemeanours have to be accounted for (including the generals) and a clean break made with this sordid past, that continued up to and including the rigged 2002 elections under Musharraf. This is a test of political will, one that will determine for years to come the shape and character of the democratic system and help roll back the malign influence of any person or institution interfering in the genuine exercise of the people’s will to elect the representatives they want, not GHQ, ISI, or an overbearing president, as happened in the past all too often. This could be a genuine turning point in the political history of the country, provided the thrust of the SC judgement is implemented in its true sprit and without shrinking in the face of the admitted difficulties in its path.
Saturday, October 13, 2012
End of the road for Raisani? Two developments indicate that the chickens are coming home to roost for the Aslam Raisani-led Balochistan government. First, the Supreme Court (SC) three-member bench hearing the law and order case regarding the province has issued an interim order that points the finger of accusation for the situation on the provincial government, while also castigating the federal government for its inaction. The order says in so many words that the Balochistan government has failed to maintain law and order in the province while the federal government too, except for deploying the Frontier Corps (FC), has not taken any effective measures to improve things. On the FC the SC has again reiterated its finding that there is evidence of its involvement (along with secret agencies such as ISI and MI) in enforced disappearances, many of which end up with tortured dead bodies being dumped all over the province. On the one hand the SC shows its displeasure at the police’s investigations into such cases, arguing that the writ of the police is conspicuous by its absence, while on the other hand, despairing of any meaningful response from other agencies, the court has ordered investigation of all cases of enforced disappearances and killings to be handled by the CID. There was a discussion in court during the hearing whether the CID was authorised to operate in both A and B areas of the province. Balochistan’s policing and law and order functions are exercised by the police and normal judicial system in the A areas, comprising cities and relatively settled regions, and by the locally recruited Levies in the B areas. There have been accusations that the Levies are undisciplined and under the influence of the local tribal chiefs, but this objection misses the point. The Levies were set up precisely by the British as a tribal law enforcement agency in areas where the British, in recognition of necessity, had conceded autonomy to the tribal regions. Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, himself a resident of Quetta, explained that modernising and disciplining the Levies was a long term task, implying that for the foreseeable future, there was no other option in the B areas except to rely on the Levies. The court underlined the need to run the affairs of the province according to the constitution and ensuring the safety and lives of citizens from “criminal aggression” by the FC and secret agencies. While the court’s frustration at the non-implementation of its repeated orders to improve law and order in the province was floating on the surface, the bench’s order acknowledged that despite the authorities and intelligence agencies not denying deterioration in the situation, it appeared that the law enforcement agencies were helpless (in the face of things being run by the military, its paramilitary arm the FC, and the ISI and MI). The court held that the federal government could not be oblivious of the situation but had failed to discharge its duty under Article 148(3) of the constitution. The court was of the view that the situation was worsening despite a democratically elected government being in place, which had forfeited the right to continue in office. Meantime the National Assembly (NA) passed an opposition resolution demanding the setting up of (another!) all-parties commission to bring the estranged and exiled Baloch leadership into the mainstream. This may have raised the spirits of the MNAs, sunk in gloom over the Malala incident, but what another, even all-parties, commission can do remains open to question. The elephant in the room that both the SC order and the NA resolution fail to explicitly recognise is the actual ground situation in Balochistan. Castigating the provincial or federal governments for not discharging their constitutional duties is valid up to a point, but it must not be forgotten that both are helpless in the face of the army running things in the province. So long as that issue is not addressed, even the possible dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly and the demise of the Raisani (non-) government will make little difference.
Friday, October 12, 2012
A turning point? While courageous Malala Yousafzai struggles for her life in the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology in Rawalpindi, where she was shifted from Peshawar to take advantage of better post-operative facilities, the whole country has been up in arms against the dastardly act of shooting the 14-year-old schoolgirl and activist for education for girls and peace. Her two schoolgirl friends shot with her are also still under treatment. The latest medical bulletin on Malala says she is better, albeit unconscious and on a ventilator, but the next two days are said to be critical. The whole country and the world are praying for her full recovery. While the grief, sorrow and outrage at the brutal act of the Taliban are fresh, the response in terms of prayers, condemnation and solidarity, although widespread, still portrays the picture of a fragmented response. The positive side of this response, even if it is not cohesive in practical, organisational terms, is that the apologists for the Taliban, first and foremost most of our clerics, are having a hard time justifying the continuing existence let alone activities of the Taliban fanatics, or the argument that this is the consequence of the US-led war on terror in the region. The response of the mainstream political parties too presents an interesting, mixed picture. The PML-N, despite its leaders’ condemnation and offers of medical treatment for Malala inside the country or abroad, has been shrinking from naming the Taliban as the perpetrators. Critics are inclined to ascribe this pusillanimous approach to the alleged soft corner the party has for the extremists. Imran Khan is still droning on about the drones although arguably his big drive has fizzled out, not the least because of the Malala development. The government has offered a $ 100,000 reward for information on the perpetrators, picked up around a hundred people in a dragnet operation, and vowed to bring the barbarians to justice. The National Assembly and Senate have condemned the attack and pressed for action against the Taliban. Significantly, the military has held high-level discussions on the security situation, and COAS General Kayani has carried that discussion to the president. With the support of across the board public opinion behind it, the military seems to be poised for decisive action against the Taliban terrorists. Admittedly, this effort would be focused against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), self-confessed authors of the attack on Malala, and may not be extended to the Afghan Taliban, particularly the Haqqani network, operating from Pakistani soil. Nevertheless, the possibility that decisive action against the TTP will willy nilly bring the military into collision with their comrades amongst the Afghan Taliban, again especially the Haqqani network, cannot be ruled out. The military’s reluctance in the past, especially regarding an offensive in North Waziristan, considered a hotbed of the Haqqani network as well as various jihadi groups from, amongst other places, Arab countries, Uzbekistan, Chechnya, Xinjiang, the west, etc, was ostensibly because of the military being stretched in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations. But the suspicion could never be fully laid to rest that it was also because the military wanted to retain the proxy option vis-à-vis Afghanistan, particularly in the run up to the 2014 withdrawal of western forces. If the barbaric attack on Malala has finally persuaded the military to ignore the risk of annoying or coming into conflict with the Afghan Taliban backers of the TTP, all that needs to be said is, about time, better late than never. However, while only the military can provide the ‘teeth’ to take on the fanatics, the responsibility of political and civil society is to come together in support of that decisive action against the terrorists on a one-point national agenda: eliminating the terrorists from our soil and abandoning reliance on them, whether in the context of Afghanistan, or the various games the intelligence community has been playing with us for far too long in our homeland itself.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
End of the endless? The three-year seemingly endless saga of the letter to be written to the Swiss judicial authorities appears finally to have come to an ‘end’. Federal Law Minister Farooq Naek’s fourth, ‘improved’ draft of the letter finally won the approval of the Supreme Court bench hearing the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf regarding implementation of the NRO judgement. The Supreme Court bench’s order after the acceptance reflected that better sense had prevailed. The order acknowledges that the draft letter meets the requirements of paragraph 178 of the NRO judgement while also addressing the considerations of the government. The accepted draft basically withdraws the withdrawal of Pakistan’s interest in the case by the former Attorney General Justice (retd) Malik Mohammad Qayyum while reiterating the legal immunity from prosecution available to heads of state while in office. Does this imply the sword of Damocles dangling above the prime minister’s neck has vanished? It appears not. The Supreme Court bench dismissed the review petition against its September 18 order when Farooq Naek indicated in court that he no longer wished to pursue it. But the court kept its powder dry by refusing Naek’s request to withdraw the show-cause notice issued to the prime minister. On the face of it, observers feel the review petition was a warning shot across the court’s bows by the government to indicate that if the court was not more forthcoming on the draft letter produced by the government, it would dig in its heels and fight out the case once again. Whether true or not, and whether this was a factor in the outcome is difficult to ascertain at this point, but the fact remains that the court showed an inclination to accept the government’s oft-repeated reservations about subjecting the sitting head of state to prosecution in a foreign court. Another explanation for non-discharge of the show-cause notice to the prime minister may be related to the court’s insistence that all documentation and the receipt showing the letter had been received by the Swiss judicial authorities be produced in court at the next hearing. Farooq Naek explained that the letter would have to be delivered by the Pakistani Ambassador or his representative in Switzerland and the process would take about four weeks. On this, having dictated its ‘accepting’ order, the court postponed the hearing till November 14. The legal fraternity has by and large welcomed the resolution of the dragged out affair. One can almost hear an audible sigh of national relief. Aitzaz Ahsan’s view is that the court finally accepted the president’s immunity and that the letter would not lead to the reopening of cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. That is precisely what we have been arguing in this space for as long as one can remember. Nevertheless, relief that the court’s, government’s, and the country’s inordinate time, effort and focus wasted on this non-issue may finally be coming to an end is universal. For a country on the verge of economic meltdown, assailed by terrorism and a deteriorating law and order situation, the misplaced priorities of the judicial system are glaring. Some may be inclined to say all’s well that ends well. Others may be more critical of the whole fiasco and rely on a choice Punjabi saying: Khodiya pahaar tey nikliya chooha (dug up the whole mountain and what emerged was only a mouse).
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Chief Justice’s warning The Supreme Court’s (SC’s) pursuit of the missing persons and the volatile law and order situation in Balochistan has become a never-ending tale. At the Quetta Registry of the SC, a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on Monday had much cause for frustration and umbrage. The CJP in his remarks castigated the government for lack of seriousness in tackling the problem despite repeated orders by the court. Apart from the continuing issue of missing persons, a disturbing trend has been in evidence since the SC took up the case. Persons no longer go missing; instead, their dead bodies keep turning up. Whoever is behind it seems to have decided that since the apex court is seized of the issue of missing persons, and has pointed the finger at the Frontier Corps (FC) in no uncertain terms as being involved on the basis of evidence in every second or third incident of the disappeared, it is better to rid this earth of the person/s in question to avoid any further embarrassing questions or disclosures in court. The CJP went on to question what the police and law enforcement agencies were doing when sessions judges, police officers and advocates were now being targeted and killed but not a single perpetrator had been arrested. The 30 police officers ordered by the court to be deployed in the troubled areas of the province have yet to be appointed DPOs, despite the court’s earlier and current orders. The crackdown against unregistered (Kabuli in the local usage) vehicles, arms and death squads ordered by the court has also not been implemented, the CJP observed. The FC was ordered yet again to recover and present the missing persons (some reports say within three days). The Deputy Attorney General and the authorities tried to portray the situation in Dera Bugti and the rest of the province as improving in terms of law and order, but were snubbed by the court with the observation that this was hardly a credible statement given that people were being killed virtually every day and the displaced persons and Nawab Bugti’s family could still not return to their homes. Justice Khilji Arif Hussain wanted a report on whether things had improved after the delegation of police powers to the FC. Finally, after listening to the usual evasions and excuses of the officials appearing in court, the CJP’s patience ran out. He said the court wanted democracy to continue and was therefore exercising restraint, but its duty lay in ensuring the constitution was adhered to, no matter what. If the situation was not seriously addressed by the government, the CJP was compelled to say, not only the provincial government but other governments too would have to go on the grounds that the affairs of state were not being run in accordance with the constitution. The CJP paused there to reiterate that the court should not be forced to pass an order that would represent the end of the line for the incumbents. The SC’s tilting against powerful sections of the deep state, cocooned in a culture of immunity for as long as one can remember, and unmindful even of the apex court’s strictures, is showing just how deeply entrenched the lawbreaking habits of the security agencies really are. They have no fear of accountability or retribution, not even at the hands of the SC. It goes without saying that the CJP’s warning is not to be taken lightly. However, the tragedy is that the axe, if it falls at all, will fall on the necks of the helpless and hapless civilian elected governments whereas the deep state will still get away scot-free. This is the crux of the dilemma. Even were erring governments to be dismissed, what guarantee is there that the security agencies would not carry on merrily on their destructive path? If even the SC cannot prevail on them to see sense, what hope is there from any other quarter?
Sunday, October 7, 2012
The ‘Waziristan’ March Imran Khan (IK) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) Waziristan March against drone strikes and for peace set off with a bang, but ended in anti-climax with a whimper. For days, if not weeks before the start of the march, IK and the PTI had raised the pitch of expectations from the march to unprecedented heights. If these statements were to be taken at face value, it seemed as though the resurrected ‘tsunami’ of the PTI would overcome all obstacles in its path and sweep all before it on the way to establishing peace in Waziristan. However, a reality check was, and is, in order. First and foremost, the PTI’s extremely ambitious and risky initial plan to march into North Waziristan (NW) was soon abandoned in the face of the very real dangers in that Agency, well known as it is for being the hotbed of jihadi extremists. Better sense having prevailed, the PTI then turned its guns towards South Waziristan (SW), which is comparatively secure after the military operation had forced the extremists to abandon their bases there and move to NW and other areas in the face of overwhelmingly superior military force. However, even before the march roared off, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government and the Political Agent of SW had stated in categorical terms that the marchers would not be allowed into SW, especially since there were foreigners in the ranks who, under the existing rules, could not be allowed into FATA without prior permission (unlikely to be available even if it had been applied for). The march was eventually halted before the SW boundary, and turned back to Tank, where IK addressed a consolation rally. So much for all the hype about not allowing anything to stand in the way. For the federal and KP governments, the affair had potentially embarrassing implications. IK, on the eve of the march, had declared that if anything happened to the marchers, he would hold President Asif Ali Zardari responsible. This rhetoric hardly made any sense. That notwithstanding, reports indicated that the Taliban had dispatched nine suicide bombers to attack the march. This may not have deterred the PTI, but it did pose potentially embarrassing management risks for the authorities, particularly because of the presence of foreigners in the ranks of the marchers, which could have resulted in a diplomatic incident. As things turned out however, none of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) threats transpired. The TTP in any case had been vacillating since the original threat to harm IK and the marchers if they attempted to enter SW. Be all that as it may, it is a matter of relief that no untoward incident occurred and the march remained peaceful. Before we turn to an assessment of the gains and losses for the PTI from this march, an interesting sidelight is the timing of the Amn (Peace) March in Karachi called by the MQM for exactly the same day and virtually the same time as the PTI march up north. Whether coincidence or deliberate, it certainly resulted in distracting the minute-by-minute coverage by the electronic media of the PTI march towards the MQM protest in Karachi. To sum up the results of the PTI march, despite the fact that the vehicular procession was unable to reach its final destination, the publicity dividend the call and the march itself garnered for the PTI has certainly helped the flagging fortunes of the declining PTI ‘tsunami’, which of late seemed to be sputtering out, largely because of the PTI’s inherent and recent problems. IK’s foray into politics since 1996 has seen mixed fortunes. The inherent problems of the PTI revolved around one, the lack of electable candidates with the exception of IK himself, and two, the lack of a countrywide party machine that could deliver in any elections. The first bottleneck was sought to be overcome by inducting prominent dissidents from other parties. Their placement centre-stage in the party caused much angst and heartburn amongst the older cadre who had consistently worked for the PTI for 16 long and largely fruitless years. The idea of holding internal party elections to set a new example has also run into heavy weather because of internal dissidence and factionalism. The party machine issue still hangs fire. Having said all this, it is to IK’s credit that he has skillfully employed his considerable personal charisma to mobilize the young. But to translate this into electoral gains, the PTI still has a mountain to climb.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
One paragraph away The long running saga of the NRO implementation case is tantalisingly close to a resolution, and yet still frustratingly far. Federal Law Minister Farooq Naeq, appearing on behalf of the government on October 5, submitted a draft of the letter to be written to the Swiss judicial authorities in compliance with the orders of the Supreme Court (SC) at the last hearing. The court reportedly accepted the first two paragraphs of the draft letter, but expressed reservations on the third paragraph as not being in line with paragraph 178 of the NRO judgement. After discussions in chamber with Farooq Naeq and the government’s counsel in the case, Waseem Sajjad, to which the bench reluctantly agreed on the plea that sensitivities were involved that would not be appropriate to discuss in open court, the SC bench allowed Mr Naeq to hold consultations with Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf regarding the court’s reservations. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, heading the bench, remarked that the government and the court were within “inches” of agreement, and the court would not like to see the efforts so far wasted. The court then allowed Mr Naeq five days (till October 10) to consult with the prime minister again. However, both in court and later while talking to the media, Farooq Naek remained non-committal regarding what if any ‘improvements’ the government may be inclined to make in order to satisfy the court fully. He did say in his submissions before the court that the government (and the judiciary) wanted the system to continue, and the government would remain flexible in seeking a resolution of the long running conundrum. On Naeq’s request, the draft letter has not been made public. One is in the dark therefore what exactly it says, in what wording. However, media reports say the portions acceptable to the court seem to focus on the withdrawal of former Attorney General Justice (retd) Malik Abdul Qayyum’s letter of the Pakistan government’s withdrawal from the case and taking back its claim to the alleged secret funds secreted away in Swiss bank accounts. Most commentators are speculating that the sticking point is the immunity issue. It would seem reasonable to assume that the government is insisting that the letter contain a clear exposition by the government of the immunity from prosecution in Pakistan and internationally under Article 248 of our constitution and international law respectively, enjoyed by the president so long as he holds office. The court’s attitude on this question has fluctuated over time and successive hearings between accepting the argument of immunity to holding that such immunity must be applied for to the court. This the government, given the state of relations between it and the SC, has been reluctant to venture into, perhaps fearing an adverse interpretation by the court of the provisions of Article 248. Now it appears the court has expressed reservations over the reported inclusion of such an argument in the draft letter. It is not clear at this point in time what the response of the government is likely to be. If it insists on its version of the draft, the bench has said it would be compelled to restart contempt of court proceedings against the prime minister for not implementing the NRO judgement. That would be a replay of the Yousaf Raza Gilani episode, whose unseating by the SC left a lot of disquiet in its wake. The government seemed after that bruising (to one side) encounter with the SC to have opted to continue with a non-confrontational and cooperative approach in the hope that the SC would also cut it some slack and agree on a mutually acceptable draft. That tantalising possibility is still some distance away it seems. The amount of time, energy and attention the issue has consumed over the last few years, arguably making it even more difficult for the government to function normally and tackle the enormous challenges the country faces, certainly has not helped. The threat of destabilisation of the democratic system has loomed more than once during these hearings. The best solution of course would be, as Justice Khosa put it, an agreement between the government and the court on the content and wording of the letter that leads to a closure of this debilitating ‘confrontation’ between the executive and the judiciary. That, however, still seems more hope than reality at this point.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Political football over Balochistan Politics in Pakistan having veered increasingly towards confrontationist postures and away from the ruling PPP’s oft-repeated mantra of ‘reconciliation’, it should not come as a surprise that any and all criticism, including the mildest and most apologetic, invites fierce verbal retaliation. This has increasingly been in evidence from the PPP government at the highest level, a seeming loss of patience with its numerous and increasingly vocal critics. Take for example the statement of PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif after his meetings with Akhtar Mengal and Talal Bugti. Nawaz expressed his sympathy, solidarity and support for the suffering people of Balochistan, adding that if the Baloch leaders think that the presence of the army and Frontier Corps (FC) would impede the holding of free and fair elections, they should be withdrawn. In the same breath, Nawaz said he was not inclined to criticise the PPP government needlessly, but only pointing out the critical need to address the issue of Balochistan. Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, instead of approaching the issue in the serious mien he says it deserves, chose to indulge in political point scoring by sarcastically inviting Nawaz to guarantee peace in Balochistan and the government would withdraw the army and FC. The suggestion of course is absurd. Nawaz Sharif or the PML-N are not in power either at the Centre or in Balochistan. How then can they be asked to take this responsibility? Mr Kaira went on to accept the situation in Balochistan was sensitive and serious and required urgent solution, but at the same time hid behind the formula that ‘forces’ behind the complex situation in the province want to endanger national unity. If the reference is to the separatist sentiment in Balochistan, this is hardly a secret. On the other hand, the worthy minister should also focus on the ‘forces’ right in front of our eyes who, arguably, through their repressive policies, are ensuring that national unity is threatened in no uncertain terms. Mr Kaira reiterated the government’s ‘resolve’ to resolve the issue, but in the same breath made some startling revelations. He said the secret agencies were working under the government and had answered all the accusations against them in the Supreme Court (SC). Now this is stretching credibility to breaking point. Everyone knows by now, including the SC, that the secret agencies and the FC are involved in enforced disappearances, torture and dumping dead bodies all over the province. If Mr Kaira’s claim is taken at face value, it would imply the government is complicit in this ‘kill and dump’ policy, a claim it is certain the minister would balk at on reflection. If we leave the penchant of our political culture to indulge in point scoring and making serious issues a political football, it would be in the fitness of things to remind ourselves once again of the ground realities in Balochistan. Long simmering resentments and grievances of the people of the province first found expression in a return of young militants to the mountains in 2002 to wage the only form of resistance they concluded would make any difference to their plight, having been utterly frustrated in their efforts to ‘engage’ with the system for 25 years between the end of the last resistance in 1977 and the start of the current fifth one. The situation was exacerbated and polarised even further when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed by the Musharraf regime in 2006. Since then, a new and formerly unknown factor has entered the scenario. There are reports that in order to maintain plausible deniability and carry out actions to defame the Baloch nationalist resistance, the intelligence agencies have nurtured local mercenary proxies who not only carry out abductions and killings of dissidents, they also carry out orders (in return for money of course) to kill settlers and other innocents to defame the nationalist resistance and solidify opinion elsewhere against the just demands of the Baloch. If any of the nationalists were at any point indulging in such misguided tactics, it appears better sense has prevailed in their ranks. Evidence of this is the reduced instances of settler targeting over the last two years. Perhaps the residual incidents are now authored by the proxies mentioned above for totally mercenary reasons. If there is any truth to these assertions, it is a very dangerous game in an already very dangerous situation. Given the incrementally growing worry over the largest in area province of the country with great geo-strategic importance and development potential, it is heartening to note that on the eve of his departure for Russia, COAS General Kayani has stated that the military will support any political settlement in Balochistan within the confines of the constitution. Since it is the military that is accused of running the show in the province (with the chief minister a top candidate for being included in the list of ‘missing persons’), this statement may represent a chink of light in the darkness that has overtaken Balochistan, towards a political solution of an essentially political problem.