Thursday, November 29, 2012
Anti-terrorism body The federal cabinet has finally given its approval to a Bill seeking to give mandatory legal cover to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to better conduct the struggle against terrorism. The Bill had been due to be tabled earlier to legally strengthen an existing body set up in 2009, which had proved ineffective. It has taken three long years and many deaths and destruction due to terrorism before the Bill has seen the light of day. The body set up in 2009 was in practice reduced to an ineffective cell within the interior ministry, reportedly because other agencies, particularly the military intelligence arms, had reservations about the command structure of the proposed body. Former Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani had set up a three-member cabinet committee to look into the matter and make recommendations. One prominent dissident on the committee was Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP, who candidly expressed the view that the body should be headed by none other than the PM and not by the interior minister. Lengthy and perambulatory discussions on the issue failed to yield positive results until now. Reportedly, NACTA would now be headed by the PM and have as its members the chief ministers of all the provinces and heads of intelligence agencies, both civilian and military. Of course, the Bill now has to be passed by both houses of parliament before it becomes law. How long that process will take, and whether it can be completed before the next elections, is uncertain. Even now, there were reportedly dissenting voices amongst the federal cabinet ministers who argued that the need was to strengthen the existing intelligence and security agencies rather than creating a new supra-body. The point they seem to have missed is that the existing structure has spectacularly failed to combat growing terrorism because precisely of the lack of coordination amongst federal and provincial agencies on the one hand, and military and civilian agencies on the other. The most potent demonstration of the efficacy of such a coordination was provided by the massive mobilization and cooperation amongst all agencies to keep the peace during Muharram 9th and 10th, which arguably minimized terrorist attacks and for which the Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik for a change received appreciation by his cabinet colleagues rather than the usual brickbats. During the media briefing after the cabinet meeting, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira outlined the scope and thrust envisaged for NACTA. It would be a body conducting research, policymaking, coordination amongst all agencies, and develop long-term policies for combating the terrorist mindset. To achieve the last objective, it could look into curricula, drama, films, and introduce modern education in madrassas, this objective having come to grief despite half-hearted efforts during General Musharraf’s regime. While these aspects are long overdue, the government may also look into the treatment terrorists and their ideas receive on the media and set up guidelines to starve the terrorists of the oxygen of publicity, while framing their ideas in the correct perspective and not sympathetically, as often happens consciously or inadvertently in the media at present. The NACTA Bill should also, if it has not already, look into the legal lacunae that allow terrorists of all hues and shades to wriggle free because of the inadequacy of our laws, prosecution regime, and lack of witness protection against threats and intimidation by the terrorists. We have consistently argued in this space for the need to set up a body like NACTA. The lack of coordination, sharing information and data bases on the terrorists amongst federal and provincial agencies and military and civilian ones has given so many gaps for the terrorists to exploit. The nature of the terrorist threat that afflicts the country is that of decentralized small groups operating underground. There is therefore hardly anything resembling a centralized command for the terrorist movement as a whole, which may be more amenable to decapitation. Given the nature of the beast, small victories accumulated by pre-empting and taking out these small groups one by one will eventually translate into a critical mass of degradation of their capacity to wreak havoc. This depends crucially on excellent and in time intelligence. With the PM heading the proposed NACTA, there is room for greater confidence that all agencies and authorities, federal, provincial and military, will finally be on the same page and without rancour or rivalries eroding its effectiveness. Even if NACTA arrives too close to or after the impending elections, the nature of the struggle against terrorism being of a protracted nature, it is an enterprise worth pursuing irrespective of the timeline involved if Pakistan is to be freed of the clutches of debilitating terrorism.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Ardeshir Cowasjee An uncompromising crusader for truth and principles and inveterate foe of corruption, incompetence, nepotism and law breaking, that was Ardeshir Cowasjee. Businessman, sometime head of one or the other government organisation (though never for long, such being the nature of our governments), eventually letter writer and later weekly columnist for Dawn, the venerable Parsi gentleman full of lovable eccentricities passed away at the age of 86. In his long innings, Cowasjee’s journey took him from the family business, of which shipping was his passion, to one of the most widely read (though not always and everywhere admired by everyone, particularly the high and the mighty whom he never spared) columnists in English journalism. Cowasjee seems in retrospect to have belonged to a different generation, if not universe. Today’s Pakistan had broken his heart long ago, when our slide into chaos gathered pace. He has been described in comments after his death by friends as a seeker and speaker of truth (to power, one might add), for him the only religion, a public intellectual wedded inextricably to the public interest, come what may. From environmental issues (particularly, in later years, his railing against the land mafia in his beloved Karachi) to corruption, the idea of fair play runs like a silver thread through all he touched. His entry into journalism was the result of a series of letters to the editor to Dawn, begun in 1988 when post-Zia, the press achieved some modicum of freedom, an effort that eventually saw an invitation from the paper to write a regular weekly column in 1989. Over 22 years, the ‘old man’ took just about every malfeasance to the cleaners. Amongst the illustrious columnists who have graced the Op-ed pages of the venerable paper, Cowasjee shines and will remain in the memories and hearts of his myriad readers. Apart from the concerns listed above, Cowasjee’s enduring passions were an independent judiciary that would uphold the law and constitution no matter what, and M A Jinnah and the Pakistan he wanted. On the first, the ‘independence’ achieved by the present judiciary would have both delighted and perhaps worried him for its sometimes ‘excess’. On Jinnah and Pakistan, after struggling bravely for many years to remind his audience of what Jinnah stood for and what his vision of Pakistan was, Cowasjee it is said died of a broken heart (notwithstanding old age and illness). Today’s journalists, columnists and public activists have much to learn from what Ardeshir Cowasjee stood and struggled for. Our present generation, smart as it is in a brave new interconnected world, could derive a great deal of learning and wisdom from the treasure trove that constitutes his writings. RIP, Ardeshir Cowasjee, they don’t make them like you any more.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Muharram terror fears Given the terror attacks in Karachi and Rawalpindi in the run up to the 9th and 10th of Muharram, the governments, both federal and provincial, took massive security measures on Saturday to ensure the 9th passed peacefully. The routes of Muharram processions were scoured by security personnel to ensure a bomb-free passage, a maximum number of jammers were installed along the routes to prevent explosions, cell phone services were suspended in almost 50 cities, and even the PTCL wireless phone services were closed. In Islamabad traffic restrictions were imposed to keep vehicles out of the high security Red Zone. Control rooms were set up in the federal as well as provincial capitals. Rangers, police personnel, backed by sharpshooters were massively deployed along the procession routes to prevent suicide bombers joining the crowds. The net result of these massive measures was that the day passed peacefully, with the exception of a roadside bomb explosion in D I Khan that killed eight people, five of them children under 15. Ironically, although there are reports that the cell phone service had not been turned off in D I Khan despite instructions, a lapse Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik wants investigated, information from the site of the blast indicates a TV remote may have been used instead of the ‘usual’ cell phone. As a result of the attack, the army has been deployed to bolster the security forces in the area. This is a reflection of the discussion between the president, prime minister and COAS on Friday regarding the law and order and security situation. Although the COAS the other day had turned down any suggestion of deploying the army in Karachi, arguing the Rangers and police were doing a good job, he had also said the army was ready to come to the aid of civil power should the government order it to under Article 245 of the constitution. Rehman Malik’s take on the use of mobile phones and motorcycles being the preferred method of ‘delivering’ terrorist attacks is based on the argument that motorcycles were used in 90 percent of the attacks in the last two years, and the frequent use of mobile phones as triggers or detonators. His use of cell phone suspensions from time to time has earned him a lot of stick from the public and cell phone providers, but if the evidence of Saturday is anything to go by, the blanket suspension may have worked, along with all the other measures adopted. Of course the test is by no means over. Today’s processions will be even bigger and harder to secure. Therein lies the test of the authorities’ ability to stave off the efforts of the fanatics and terrorists. What has been good about the handling of the 9th of Muharram is that all the governments, federal and provincial, were on the same page and cooperating with each other in all too rare display of responsibility and setting aside petty political rivalries. Such massive mobilisations are of course not possible every day. But if they succeed in making Muharram pass peacefully, the lessons to be learnt are obvious. All governments, civilian and military authorities need to come together and cooperate if the menace of terrorism is to be rolled back and eventually defeated. Ideally, a body should be set up to coordinate all actions, intelligence and data on the terrorists so that they can be sent where they belong, into the dustbin of history.
Friday, November 23, 2012
D8 Summit Islamabad can take comfort in the fact that the D8 Summit of eight major Muslim countries could be held at all. Given Pakistan’s security situation, especially in Muharram, which happened to coincide with the dates of the summit, its holding per se could be considered an achievement. The summit was attended by six heads of state and government, with Prime Minister Hasina Wajid of Bangladesh and President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt absent and represented by their number twos, although for different reasons. While the Bangladeshi prime minister stayed away because of her insistence on a formal apology by Pakistan for the atrocities in East Pakistan in 1971, the Egyptian president had his hands full with the monitoring of the Gaza ceasefire he had helped broker. Nevertheless, the grouping of these eight significant Muslim countries promised much, particularly in the areas of economic cooperation, about which this summit’s emphasis was on the energy requirements of the bloc. The summit adopted the 35-point Islamabad Declaration and the Charter of D8, along with a document titled Global Vision 2012-2030. The underlying thrust of all these documents is to make the 15-year-old D8 platform a dynamic bloc for economic cooperation, which it has so far failed to emerge as. All the declarations and adopted policy documents of the summit therefore leave the lingering suspicion that as usual they are long on rhetoric and short on decisions and steps to get to the lofty goals therein. The most critical area in which the D8 countries vowed to cooperate was in the development of traditional and new forms of energy, the latter including nuclear power and renewable sources. The nuclear sector is fraught with all kinds of problems and questions, if the track record of Pakistan’s successful quest for nuclear weapons and Iran’s suspected efforts are considered. However, on the other two sources of energy, there could hardly be any disagreement. Pakistan and Turkey recently have not had a happy experience regarding the ship-borne Rental Power Plant docked in Karachi and awaiting a settlement so it can leave without having generated even one megawatt. The affair only serves to underline the difficulties in overcoming obstacles to the desired cooperation, and certainly does not mean that such mutual help is not possible. President Asif Zardari took over the chairpersonship of the D8 from Nigeria at this summit for the next two years. Using the occasion, in his address to the summit the president underlined what afflicts Pakistan grievously at present but has the potential (and in some cases actuality) of threatening all these countries: the hijacking of Islam by jihadi extremism and terrorism, which the president vowed to combat. In his speech the president also pointed to long standing problems in the Muslim world that still await resolution, foremost amongst these being Palestine (in the recent bloody context of Israel’s’ aggression in Gaza) and Kashmir. Unfortunately it must be admitted that on both these issues, as well as many others, the Muslim world does not speak with one voice, a point underlined by President Ahmedinejad of Iran. The crucial question still hovers in the air despite the high sounding rhetoric emanating from the summit about solidarity and cooperation. What after all has the D8 achieved in concrete terms during its 15-year existence? Summits and conferences are not to be decried, but unless they lead to the materialisation of the intended cooperative efforts, they run the risk of remaining empty of real significance. In a time of global economic crisis, the role of economic blocs such as the EU, ASEAN and many others in safeguarding their members’ interests has assumed even more importance. However, not all such efforts in the past have borne fruit, the case of SAARC providing a negative example. Although the summit expressed its intent to boost the bloc’s trade from the present $ 130 billion to $ 507 billion by 2018, the declarations of the summit remained confined to generalised pledges and commitments, without any concrete decisions being taken (at least visibly) to translate these expressions of intent into reality. Multilateral forums such as D8 are often accused of focusing on symbolism rather than substance, a tendency that militates against the realisation of the promise they hold. Under Pakistan’s chairmanship, the real test will be whether the next two years put new energy into the evolution of D8 and realise some, if not all, of its desired goals.
Thursday, November 22, 2012
Sectarian terror rampage In terrorist attacks on an imambargah in Karachi and a Muharram procession in Rawalpindi on Wednesday, 20 people were killed and dozens injured. At the imambargah in Karachi, despite the ban on riding or parking motorcycles within half a kilometre of all imambargahs, a rider tried to ram his explosives-packed motorcycle into the imambargah, but smashed into a rickshaw instead and exploded, killing three and injuring 20 people. While bomb disposal, police, rescue personnel and citizens were trying to sift through the debris and remove the injured, another explosion of a planted device close by injured another 13 people. Meanwhile in Rawalpindi, a suicide bomber joined a Muharram procession and blew himself up, killing 17 people and injuring several others. There are contradictory reports of the incident, with the authorities claiming the suicide bomber overcame the barbed wire and other security impediments in his path in an effort to get to the procession and, when challenged by security personnel, blew himself up. Eyewitness accounts, however, say the bomber joined the procession unchallenged. Knowing as we do that the Shia community is already under attack from fanatical terrorists throughout the country from Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this Muharram was expected to be bloodier than usual. The authorities had been making tall claims about massive security in and around imambargahs and processions to safeguard against any attacks, but Wednesday’s events in Karachi and Rawalpindi indicate that, as usual, the security arrangements left much to be desired. How, for example, was the motorcycle rider able to get within close proximity of the imambargah in Karachi, given the ban on motorcycles within half a kilometre? Additionally, it seems that no lessons have been learnt from such attacks in the past. One explosion is often followed by another when security personnel and volunteers throng a bomb blast site for rescue, etc. That is exactly how the second bomb, planted close to a wall of the imambargah, was able to cripple even more innocents. As far as the Rawalpindi incident is concerned, City Police Officer Azhar Hamid Khokhar made the laughable statement after the incident that security would be further beefed up, when eyewitness accounts relate that only six policemen were on protection duty with the procession. Difficult as the task of preventing such attacks is inherently, especially on occasions like Muharram when gatherings and processions of the faithful are the very essence of the commemoration, it seems that there is still a wide gulf between even the best-laid plans of the authorities and their implementation in practice. Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to link the Rawalpindi attack with the ongoing D-8 summit in Islamabad, as an attempt to sabotage Pakistan’s efforts to invite investment into the country. The incident may well end up having that effect, but the link is tenuous, especially if the Karachi attack is taken into account. The real fear on the eve of the 9th and 10th of Muharram, when the commemorations reach a climax with huge processions, is what may happen next. On the evidence so far, the ability of the authorities to pre-empt, prevent or stave off such sectarian attacks has been shown to be compromised. If this be the case, one shudders how much more blood and gore of the innocent citizens of this country, of whatever denomination, must be sacrificed to the madmen before Pakistan turns the corner towards sanity. In a war, which is indubitably what we are engaged in against the fanatics and terrorists, casualties are unavoidable, including the collateral damage of innocent citizens. These sacrifices could be borne if it could be demonstrated that the struggle against the fanatics is yielding fruit and that the dark tide of terrorism is being steadily and incrementally turned back. Such optimism today would be considered close to foolishness. We have been arguing in this space for ever so long that an overarching strategy against terrorism of all hues and shades, conducted by an overarching body able to call on all the intelligence, data and resources of all state agencies, civilian and military, is the critical need of the hour if this bloody struggle for the heart and soul of Pakistan is to be won. We hope the authorities are listening.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Leaders of Tomorrow The president and co-chairperson as well as the chairperson of the PPP delivered significant addresses at the Pakistan Leaders of Tomorrow conference in the presidency on Tuesday, organized by the ministry of information on the special initiative of the president. President Asif Zardari said that parliament had decided the role of the president’s office. Of late, especially after the Asghar Khan case verdict, the controversy over the role of the president in a parliamentary democracy has found a fresh lease of life. Although the observations of the Supreme Court regarding this issue as part of the judgement in the case has been challenged by the government through a review petition, this has not stopped the controversy from raging in the public space. In a parliamentary democracy, the office of president is largely ceremonial, fulfilling the duties of head of state according to the advice of the government. In our circumstances, since the president is also co-chairperson of the PPP, a clearly political role, the discrepancy between the two roles has revived a ‘debate’. The president reiterated that he had voluntarily surrendered the powers of the president inherited from the past to parliament, including control of the nuclear programme. He stressed the need for the country to fight the extremist mindset that is responsible for incidents such as the attack on Malala Yousafzai, urging his youthful audience to come forward and shoulder this task in the interests of the future of the country. The president went on to explicate his policy thrust since taking office, which included empowering the people and the provinces to strengthen the federation and beat back attempts from any quarter to break up the country. The policy of reconciliation adopted by the PPP-led government, the president emphasised, was not only for domestic purposes but also for peace in the region, including improved relations with India. The president repeated his mantra that the country needed trade not aid in order to improve the economy, whose major crisis was energy. In all these spheres touched on in the president’s address, the appeal was to the youth to assume a leading role for their own and the country’s future. Chairperson of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari on the other hand focused on the struggle against terrorism, appealing to all the political parties to unite and cooperate on this issue when Pakistan was under attack. All political forces, he said, should stand shoulder to shoulder in this struggle to overcome the blight of terrorism. In an interesting formulation, Bilawal reminded his audience that the PML-N, and particularly its leader Nawaz Sharif, are genuinely allies in supporting democracy despite the fact that they were no longer in a coalition with the PPP and had differences on various issues. He also welcomed Imran Khan’s decision to participate in the coming elections, seeing it as a positive development for the political culture of the country. While the initiative of the president to mobilize the youth can only be lauded, it must be stated with the greatest respect that the concept of empowering the people, the federating units and the modernizing forces in society still largely remains rhetorical and there are still many steps required to change the ground realities. Nevertheless, ideas often presage real change and in this regard too, if the democratic system is consolidated, there is every possibility that these lofty aims too will come to pass with time. Every generation has to prepare to pass on the mantle to the next generation. While our political parties are still largely dynastic (a South Asian political culture), and the grooming of the next generation of sons and daughters of the leading political families of the country is well underway, in politics as much as other aspects of social life, the next generation must be provided with opportunities to come forward and safeguard their own and the country’s future. Given Pakistan’s demographic, a young country’s future lies inevitably in the hands of the youth. The sooner they are enabled, and take on, this onerous responsibility, the better for Pakistan’s future.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
President’s office’s status As predicted in this space when the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) detailed judgement in the Asghar Khan case was released, the observations of the court regarding the status of the president’s office have been challenged by the government in a review petition. What was strange about the declaration by the SC that the president’s office is one in the “service of Pakistan” is that this question was not before the court or even germane to the Asghar Khan case. While castigating the role of then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan in manipulating the 1990 elections to deny Benazir Bhutto’s PPP victory, the court went far beyond the issues before it by declaring the president’s office as one in the service of Pakistan, implying that the restrictions on, for example, taking part in politics until two years after leaving office would apply to the office. It is an interesting piece of jurisprudence for the court to have begun from and based itself on Ghulam Ishaq Khan’s misdemeanours to take a sideswipe at the present incumbent by denying the real character of the president’s office. This is the very issue the review petition takes up, arguing that the president’s office is political, not one in the service of the state. The petition requests the court not to make observations that weaken other institutions. The petition has been filed under Article 188 of the constitution read with the relevant SC rules for a review of the October 19 order in this regard. The government’s contention is that the conduct of the present incumbent of the president’s office was never an issue in the Asghar Khan case, nor was it relevant for a decision in the matter. The petition regards the court’s observations regarding the president’s office as academic or hypothetical, which runs counter to sound juridical precedents. Also, that the alleged activities of the then president Ghulam Ishaq Khan were conducted in his individual capacity and not on behalf of the presidency as an institution. Similar findings in the same case regarding the individual capacity in which Generals Aslam Beg and Asad Durrani conducted their hanky panky and did not imply any involvement of the army or ISI as institutions apply and strengthen the argument of the petitioners. While it is not our place to advise the SC how to approach the review petition, it is within the purview of fair comment on the October 19 order to examine the implications of the court’s observations regarding the president’s office. Redefining an office that is part of parliament, elected by an electoral college of the Senate, National Assembly and provincial assemblies, and always the choice of a political party or parties, as one in the service of the state went beyond the case before the court as well as beyond any known jurisprudential precedent, political philosophy, and parliamentary democratic norms. Such an out of the way observation can only bear comparison with an earlier observation of the court that the theory of parliament’s supremacy was out of date. Overturning the philosophic, jurisprudential and parliamentary democratic principles evolved over hundreds of years cannot do any good to the credibility, respect and dignity of the court nor to the political system. With the greatest respect, a tendency on the part of the restored judiciary to stray beyond its established purview into areas that are either the turf of other institutions of the state under the separation of powers doctrine, or into ‘speculative’ realms that have no solid jurisprudential bases is a disquieting development. In this space we have consistently argued for the time honoured principle of judicial restraint precisely because the honour, respect and dignity of the judiciary is dear to us, as it should be to any citizen of a modern, civilised state based on the rule of law. By straying into areas not strictly and uncontrovertibly within its legitimate purview, the judiciary continues to run the risk of being rendered controversial, a development no one can view with sanguinity, given our judiciary’s chequered past and newfound respect.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Blaming parliament Interior Minister Rehman Malik had a bad hair day on Friday. First, his order banning motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular phone services in Karachi and Quetta ran into heavy criticism by the public. Then the Sindh High Court (SHC) overturned the ban on motorcycle riding on the grounds that this would have inconvenienced millions of commuters. The cellular phone suspension in the two cities lasted about 10 hours and was then gradually lifted. Appearing in both houses of parliament on the day, the interior minister showed his frustration by lashing out at parliament for having failed to bring in legislation to help the counter-terrorism effort. An amendment bill to the Anti-Terrorism Act, the minister argued, had been lying in parliament for three years but nothing had come out of it. Rehman Malik said his decision was taken after intelligence reports indicated the threat of terrorist actions on Friday, the first day of Muharram. He said he had consulted all the stakeholders, including the Sindh government and the prime minister before imposing the restrictions. He went on to point out that 96 blasts in Karachi and 438 throughout the country during this year had used motorcycles as bombs, apart from the use of mobile phones as detonators. According to the SHC’s order, the ban on motorcycle riding per se was unconstitutional, but the court upheld the ban on pillion riding. The minister faced dissent from his own party’s Senators Babar Awan and Raza Rabbani in the upper house. The gist of their objections was legal and constitutional, but Raza Rabbani’s criticism also included the argument that no viable counter-terrorism strategy had been framed to date. The minister on the other hand referred to the lacunae in the laws that allowed terrorists caught and presented before the courts to walk free or on bail to carry on their nefarious activities. He vowed to go in appeal to the Supreme Court against the SHC’s order. There were claims from the Sindh police that Karachi was peaceful because of the ban on motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular services, but this is not conclusive, and does not negate the inconvenience to citizens and the losses suffered (once again) by the cellular service providers. The minister’s obvious frustration and irritation aside, one can sympathise with the arduous task he has on his plate. Decades of encouragement of jihadi extremists, initially for projection of power in the neighbourhood, has backfired spectacularly in recent years by subjecting the mentor state to the unwanted (violent) attentions of the jihadi extremist groups of all shades and hues. Not only do some if not all these groups enjoy support from the insurgents waging guerrilla warfare in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by now they have a network spread throughout the length and breath of the country, especially the big cities. Combating this malign presence is never going to be easy. The lacunae in the laws pointed out by Rehman Malik and the lack of witness protection programmes undermine the counter-terrorism effort, as does the lack of an overarching intelligence/counter-terrorism body that can pool all the information and data scattered over many agencies, military and civilian, and coordinate actions against a shadowy and elusive enemy. But there is also weight in the PPP and other legislators’ objections to blunt tools such as blanket bans on this or that means of transport and/or communications. Whatever temporary results this kind of action may bring, and that too is open to dispute, it should not be forgotten that the terrorists by now have many more means of delivering death and destruction than just motorcycles and cell phones. Blunt instruments have to be replaced by far more focused and targeted intelligence-based pre-emptive actions against the terrorists. A case in point is the arrest, with weapons and explosives, of two sectarian terrorists in Gujrat on Friday. This is the kind of intelligence-based action that may go much further in combating terrorism than blanket bans that are at best temporary palliatives and of course a source of great nuisance to the public.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Release of Taliban prisoners Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (HPC) delegation led by chairman Salahuddin Rabbani has returned to Kabul with a partial success in getting some middle level Taliban prisoners released from Pakistan’s custody. Differences on the list of prisoners were reported during the HPC’s sojourn in Islamabad. The HPC was desirous of more senior Taliban prisoners being handed over, considering this a necessary condition for pushing the potential peace process with the Taliban forward. Of particular interest to the Afghans was the release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Mulla Omar’s one time second-in-command, and Mullah Toorabi and two other insurgent commanders. However, despite Islamabad not acceding to this request, the door has been left open for their later release should the initial process yield positive results. The responses to the development have been fairly predictable. The Afghan government has welcomed it, while the Taliban have dismissed it out of hand, saying the released prisoners are no longer part of the Taliban and therefore their release will make no difference. Besides, the Taliban spokesman reiterated, they still stand by their position that the Karzai government is a puppet and they will only negotiate with the US. Deputy Chief of the US Mission in Pakistan Richard Hoagland too has welcomed the release while carefully distancing Washington from any hint of a role in the outcome. Hoagland was at pains to stress that this was a bilateral mater between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but expressed the hope that it may open the door to meaningful negotiations. It may be recalled that the US efforts in the past to open a channel of communication to the Taliban foundered because, in the case of Mullah Baradar, our ISI did not deem it fit to allow unfettered access to the Americans and reportedly sat in on the meeting, while the Qatar initiative for talks proved abortive when the US dragged its feet on the release of five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. The 12-point joint statement at the end of the HPC’s visit, while it failed to reveal the names of the released prisoners, emphasised the long standing demand of the Afghan government that the Taliban sever links with al Qaeda and other international terror networks. The proposal has been mooted that in order to facilitate the process of contacts, the Taliban negotiators’ names could be removed from the UN sanctions list, which inhibits their ability to travel. As the Qatar initiative’s failure demonstrated, it is not clear what the Obama administration’s policy on this issue is. Mulla Omar’s still being on the wanted list of the US is considered one obstacle, while the recent designation of the Haqqani network, a group closely allied to the Taliban, as a terrorist organisation by both the US and the UN could prove another stumbling block. There is little doubt that all parties to the conflict have their eye on the looming withdrawal of ISAF forces from Afghanistan by 2014, with any residual US military presence in the country still far from a settled matter. Clearly, the apprehension that Afghanistan might well spiral downwards into more chaos and conflict after 2014 has all regional and international players worried. If the partial acceptance of the HPC’s request for prisoner releases by Islamabad is any guide, it may be that these apprehensions are finding expression in the willingness of the Pakistani military establishment to explore the possibility of a different, negotiated course rather than continued reliance on proxy actors to ensure an outcome favourable to Pakistan’s interests. The proxies strategy is by now clearly yielding diminishing returns in the shape of the home grown Taliban movement in Pakistan, with a nexus and support from at least the Haqqani network. When the openly declared enemies of the Pakistani state are being helped and supported by the one time protégés of the military establishment (the Haqqanis), there could not be a more cogent argument for a rethink in the interests of peace and stability in Afghanistan, which cannot but help something similar emerging in Pakistan too.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
President Zardari’s promise In his address at an ‘Eid Milan Party’ the other day, President Asif Ali Zardari ranged over a wide exposition on the present state of democracy and politics. The main points elucidated by the president included an assurance that there would be no delay in the elections since steps had already been taken, including updated voters’ lists, to hold fair, free and transparent elections on the scheduled date. This appeared to be the president’s answer to some conspiracy theory reports in the media that the government may be contemplating postponing the elections on one pretext or the other. The president underlined the PPP’s perception that democracy was the only way forward. He offered an olive branch to the estranged PML-N by arguing that although the two mainstream parties had parted ways, this did not mean that they were enemies. Differences should not be stretched too far, he argued, and tolerance and accommodation should be the operative watchwords. Zardari admitted our nascent democracy still had many shortcomings, but said he would welcome inputs from all the political forces to overcome these and frame a 25-year or even 50-year plan as traditional five-year plans could not steer the country out of the current situation. Political parties needed to be strengthened to consolidate democracy. The PPP, he asserted, was working to turn Pakistan into a state that can meet the challenges of the 21st century. In a reiteration of his presidency’s achievements, he reminded his audience that he had delegated his inherited powers to parliament, before which now every power was bowing (although some would argue to the contrary!). The Asghar Khan case verdict had vindicated the late Benazir Bhutto’s accusation at the time that the 1990 election was snatched from her. Today, the president asserted, conspiracies against democracy would not succeed. He celebrated the fact that for the first time since the 1970s, parliament was about to complete its five-year term. Turning to Karachi, the president refuted the argument that the state had failed in the city, countering by pointing to the elements under attack in the war on terror, who were attempting to destabilise Karachi to distract the government’s attention from the ongoing campaign against them. Last but not least, President Zardari positioned himself squarely as carrying forward the ideology of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) and the mission of Benazir Bhutto. While there is much that is of value and unassailable in the president’s remarks, some areas of concern remain. It is heartening to note, despite our litany of discontent at the shortcomings of the democratic system ushered in in 2008, that despite political rivalries and differences, there are hardly any takers in the country for authoritarian or dictatorial dispensations. In this regard, the main opposition leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has shown a maturity that is all too rare in our polity and refused to go along with any scheme to upset the democratic system through any extra-constitutional intervention. Despite his complaints and critique of the PPP, this statesmanlike attitude has lent stability and longevity to the democratic system and is a reminder of the continuing influence of the ideas enshrined in the Charter of Democracy. A country that is a stranger to peaceful transfer of power through the ballot stands poised on the brink of the first such transition in our history. Surely the import of this turn cannot escape anyone familiar with the chequered history of Pakistan. While the president and co-chairperson of the PPP has adhered to the reconciliation philosophy Benazir Bhutto left behind as a legacy, it must also be admitted that he has not always lived up to the promise of carrying all political forces along. Nevertheless, this being often an intrinsic part of political rivalry, we should be grateful for the not so small mercies of the record of the last five years: no political prisoners, freedoms across the board that have allowed virtually every group in society to peacefully agitate its demands, and haltingly but surely, a political culture groping its way towards civilised conduct in public life. This is not to say all is hunky dory, only to mark whatever progress is visible. President Zardari spoke in the same breath of the ideology of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his own desire to see a just society in which the child of a poor person would be on an equal footing with a child of the rich and powerful. With the greatest respect, the PPP is widely seen now as detached from its early socialist moorings and merely paying lip service to the founding ideas of the party. This is not just the president’s doing. It is something he has inherited from the trajectory of the party after ZAB’s hanging. The PPP retreated after that tragedy into a mode resembling nothing more than appeasing the powerful state and non-state forces inherently hostile to the party because precisely of its earlier élan. Whether that has worked as a strategy or brought the party closer to the goal of a more just society must be left open as a question and await the verdict of history.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
A dangerous emerging sentiment The situation in Karachi has become so bad in recent days and shown no signs of relenting that it is perhaps not surprising that sentiments are being expressed in desperation for something ‘surgical’. Tuesday’s sessions of the Senate and National Assembly produced much noise and fury on the issue, but it is still open to question whether it amounted to anything. The interesting aspect of this conundrum is that it is the PPP-led coalition government’s partners in Sindh who have raised the greatest Cain. Amidst much hand wringing, calls were heard in the Senate for the army to take over Karachi. This was obviously a reflection of the failure of the Sindh government to improve matters. Of the allies of the Sindh government, the ANP unequivocally called for a military operation in the city. MQM, on the other hand, demanded the imposition of an emergency before walkouts from the Senate and the National Assembly in protest, threatening a permanent boycott of parliament if the government (meaning the PPP) did not respond meaningfully immediately. The Senators were insistent that the time for briefings from the interior minister on the issue was over and it was time for action. The opposition PML-N, however, had a different take, despite conceding that a military operation had become inescapable. It argued that in the presence of the present government, even a military operation would not achieve the desired results. It therefore demanded that fresh elections be held throughout the country as a solution to the conundrum in Karachi. Despite all the expression of angst in parliament, there was little or no relief for the citizens of Karachi on the ground. The confusion created by contradictory statements and claims regarding pinning the responsibility for the violence on, by turn, the Taliban, a ‘third force’, invisible forces and extortionists has not helped. The fact is that isolating any one factor can only produce a partial picture. All these elements may well be, and probably are, at work in the metropolis. That naturally complicates the law enforcement forces’ task, apart from the repeated accusations that any manner of gun-toting killers have the political protection of parties sitting in the Sindh government. The building frustration with the inability of the Sindh government and the law enforcement forces under its command to improve the situation in Karachi is beginning to find expression in ‘radical’ ideas such as handing the city over to the army to clean up the Augean stables of a Karachi brought to its knees by elements who are not just rivals, but virtually at war with each other. However, before we embrace what appears to be an attractive if not inescapable resort to induction of the army, it may be salutary to recall the experience of the 1992 military operation in Karachi. That decision was prompted by the MQM’s terrorism, in which torture cells and all manner of inhuman practices were eventually revealed. The thrust of the operation was logically against the MQM. As a consequence of the operation, the MQM bunkered down and took many years to make its peace with the establishment whose creature it once was. This rehabilitation allowed the MQM to reinvent itself as a mainstream party wedded to the norms of a democratic culture. Nevertheless, suspicion has continued to lurk that the MQM's muscle was subsequently used to eliminate police officers who had been in the forefront of the operation, as well as to create a lucrative channel of finance through extortion (bhatta). Since then, other parties representing the changing demographic of the city, as well as criminal elements, began to challenge the ‘monopoly’ of control of Karachi by the MQM. This is where Karachi stands today. The blunt instrument of the military failed to leave a permanent mark on the affairs of the city, which reverted to the situation described above within a relatively short period of time. Can anyone guarantee that the bigger military operation that may be required now will not suffer the same fate eventually? Impatience is neither a virtue nor will it produce the desired results. Even if an election is held tomorrow, the ground situation in Karachi will still require strengthening the civilian law enforcement capacity and freeing it of political influence, undoing the culture of political patronage of violent gunmen, and accountability across the board of all who have been or continue to be patrons of violence for vested interests. A military intervention in Karachi risks a bigger military intervention in the country as a whole, putting paid to the democratic experiment once again, and isolating Pakistan in the world community to an extent that could lead to economic, political and social meltdown. A forbidding prospect indeed.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
The killing fields of Karachi The fears that the approach of Muharram may trigger sectarian killings have come true with a vengeance in Karachi, and peripherally in Quetta so far. In Karachi on Saturday, 20 people were killed, including six students of a Deobandi madrassa. These killings came after the authorities had imposed a ban on pillion riding, which does not seem to have deterred all kinds of gunmen on motorcycles from going about their deadly business. As though Saturday’s Karachi toll were not enough, Sunday saw a clash between two groups in Sohrab Goth, which soon reduced the area to a battlefield, with police and rangers attempting to restore calm at the time of writing these lines. While the killings in Karachi can be traced to a range of reasons and perpetrators, including tit-for-tat sectarian killings, targeted political assassinations and plain criminal gangs fighting each other, the Hazara community in Quetta continues to be targeted with impunity almost every other day. In neither city can the efforts of the law enforcing agencies be seen to be having much effect. The troubles in Karachi are of course of longer standing, but Quetta has now joined the killing fields of Karachi as a slaughterhouse frequented by sectarian killers. The Saturday events ironically took place when the prime minister and key members of the federal cabinet were in the Sindh capital, an occasion where the expectation of enhanced security and control was viciously shredded by the fanatics. Terrorism, sectarian conflict, crime and violence have become a way of life in the country, particularly in the big cities. The writ of the state is thereby exposed in all its weakness and ineffectuality. Arguably, these are the fruits of past (and continuing) flirtation with jihadi extremism for foreign policy goals, a venture that has not only affected Pakistan by the blowback from terrorist groups that have fallen out with the state and are challenging it to come to power and impose their narrow brand of religion, but also given space and deadly effectiveness to sectarian groups aligned with the Wahabi/Salafi school of thought. Crime, and violent crime in particular, is owed to the precarious state of the economy, with unemployment and inflation soaring and weapons being easily and relatively cheaply available. If the pattern of sectarian murders in Karachi are any guide, the motorcycle riding killers have graduated from the spread of the Kalashnikov culture in our past because of our interference in Afghanistan to now the automatic pistol, or TT culture. This is the weapon of choice for these latter day assassins because it is easily concealable and deadly at close range. In contrast, the police and law enforcing agencies are fighting violent groups and crime with one hand tied behind their backs because the killers and criminals enjoy the political protection and patronage of the parties in power in the province. Even if an accused is presented before the courts, the inadequacies of our prosecution regime, legal lacunae that fail to address the crisis emanating from terrorists and fanatics running loose, witnesses and judges’ intimidation, all combine to make the chances of conviction slim. The courts blame the police’s inefficient prosecution, the police blame the politicians, the latter blame each other, and so on, the bloody merry-go-round continues. Hopes that better sense would eventually prevail and the coalition partners in the Sindh government would come together in their own interests to tackle these problems and arrive at a modus vivendi to return the city of lights to its former glory have all been belied. If the Supreme Court (controversially, it must be admitted) has declared that the provincial government in Balochistan has lost its right to rule since it is unable to protect the lives of citizens, some may be tempted to draw a parallel with the situation in Karachi in particular and Sindh in general, which is now witnessing the conflict spilling over to the interior and cities within it such as Hyderabad. It is not enough for the government/s to keep reminding us that elections are around the corner. In and of themselves, the elections will not change the situation a jot. Only the authorities, armed with the requisite political will, can make a difference. Having said that, optimism withers.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Asghar Khan case detailed judgement The Supreme Court (SC) has issued its detailed judgement in the Asghar Khan case. Such a major pronouncement with implications not only for the past misdemeanours identified in the course of the proceedings but also for the future cannot be done justice to in this space in one go. However, the main findings of the judgement offer food for thought. The court has found that former president Ghulam Ishaq Khan, former COAS General Aslam Beg, and former ISI chief General Asad Durrani had rigged the 1990 elections against the PPP. All three were held to have violated the constitution. This pronouncement by the SC does not automatically or in and by itself imply that the three top officials named have been found ‘guilty’ in the sense of being punishable under the law. The conclusion is more in the nature of an indicative instruction to the government to proceed to try these individuals to determine their guilt through due process and beyond a shadow of doubt, with appropriate punishment to follow. That constitutes a severe test of will and political judgement for the incumbent government. One of the protagonists is no longer in this world (Ghulam Ishaq Khan) and the other two have been high military officials. For the late president, a trial in the ordinary meaning of the word is not possible, but were the other two to be put in the dock, it would perhaps result in strictures against the ex-president that would mar his legacy and repute. The trial of the two generals could bring Article 6 into play, with the reaction or response of the military establishment a matter of conjecture at this stage. Even more interesting, the SC has declared that an illegal order cannot be obeyed nor made a justification for patently illegal acts. It is ironic that about six decades after the Nuremberg trials that declared the plea of Nazis accused of atrocities that they were simply obeying orders unacceptable as a defence, our jurisprudence has found the opportunity to reiterate this by now well established principle of law. The detailed judgement underlines the finding of the SC’s short order of October 19 that the president’s office must be above, and refrain from, politics. The judgement also makes a surprising declaration that the office of president is in the service of Pakistan, implying that anyone occupying such office would have to wait two years after leaving office before they could stand for elective office. Strange that an office that is itself elected should be placed in this category while elected officials such as Speakers, ministers and sundry others are excluded from this rule. It is entirely possible that this declaration will face a legal challenge. Any political cell in the presidency has been declared illegal. The list of alleged recipients of funds from the ISI includes many past and current political heavyweights. The SC has recommended that proceedings be initiated against them and the banker Yunus Habib, and the money received, if proved, be recovered along with interest. The matter of the alleged Rs 270 million doled out from IB funds to topple the Punjab government in 2008-09 has been delinked from the main body of the Asghar Khan case and notices issued separately to media and the Attorney General among others for two weeks from now. A more detailed assessment of the judgement and its implications and fallout will have to wait for a more careful reading of the text of the judgement. But in passing it is noteworthy that in an unprecedented move, the Registrar of the SC briefed the media on the detailed judgement, which has raised eyebrows. The justification presented for this ‘new’ role for the Registrar is that it was meant to avoid ambiguity or misunderstandings regarding the judgement. Fine, but is it the Registrar’s job to ensure a SC judgement is properly understood by all and sundry? Care should be taken not to set precedents that could give rise to unexpected embarrassments in future.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
The Swiss letter, finally After almost three years of wrangling between the PPP government and the Supreme Court (SC), the by now infamous letter to the Swiss judicial authorities has finally been dispatched. Federal Law Minister Farooq Naek has confirmed that the letter was sent by the foreign office to the Swiss Attorney General (AG) through the Pakistan Ambassador in Switzerland. The text of the letter, which became a further bone of contention with the court and resulted in three previous drafts being rejected, follows faithfully the draft approved by the SC. The court had given the government 30 days to dispatch the letter. At the next hearing of the case on November 14, the government will either present the receipt showing the letter has been received by the Swiss authorities, or explain the status of the letter’s journey. This journey of course is nothing compared to the protracted saga full of twists and turns the issue acquired since the SC struck down the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) promulgated by General Pervez Musharraf as part of a political deal with the PPP when he found himself politically cornered circa 2007. The SC’s 2009 judgement, in its paragraph 178, had required the government to withdraw the withdrawal of the request for judicial assistance from the Swiss authorities authored by then AG Justice (retd) Malik Abdul Qayyum. The letter sent now says the then AG’s withdrawal letter should be treated as withdrawn as though it had never been written. Theoretically, what this means is that the 8,000 plus beneficiaries of the NRO, who included bureaucrats and others and only a handful of politicians, could have their cases reopened, if they have not already been. Despite the wide scope of the list of beneficiaries of the NRO, the real conflict with the SC arose because President Asif Ali Zardari’s name was included in the list. Charges of graft against him emanate from the 1990s, when the late Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister (PM). The PPP government under former PM Yousaf Raza Gilani took the position that the president enjoyed immunity while in office under the law and constitution of Pakistan (Article 248) and international law, and in any case reopening the issue would be tantamount to a trial of the grave of Benazir Bhutto. Arguments on this issue before the court during the protracted process of hearings failed to settle the issue conclusively. Gilani stuck to this stance and it cost him the premiership. Under his successor, Raja Pervez Ashraf, the PPP government relented as did the court, and the letter was finally mutually agreed and written to say in general terms that the president’s legal rights and protections under domestic and international law would not be prejudiced by the sending of the letter, a compromise found acceptable by the court finally. Is this the end of the matter? After almost three years of the country’s time, money, resources and attention being wasted on what in the end turns out to have been a futile exercise revolving around finding the appropriate language to satisfy both the judiciary and the government, this question acquires piquancy. The ball now is in the court of the Swiss judicial authorities. Earlier, some legal eagles argued that a closed case under Swiss law could not be reopened in the absence of fresh substantive evidence. Others have since joined the fray to say Swiss law in this regard has changed and the cases can in fact be reopened. How much of this is partisan politics and how much informed opinion is unclear. Should the former interpretation prove correct, that could indeed be the end of a matter unnecessarily stretched out. On the other hand, should the latter legal opinion be more up to date, and the Swiss authorities were to proceed to reopen the cases, including the one against President Zardari, it remains to be seen whether the trail, if ever there was indeed one, has turned so cold as to be a dead end. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s polarized polity yields rarely to good sense, balance, wisdom. The case in question is a good illustration of our penchant for flogging dead horses.
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Obama’s win After a closely contested presidential election that at one stage seemed too uncertain to call according to all the pollsters and analysts, in the end the incumbent President Barack Obama romped home by a wide margin in the electoral college of 303 to Romney’s 206 but a far narrower one of 50 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 48 percent. In the US presidential electoral system, the states are given electoral college votes on the basis of population. However, one peculiarity of the system is that the winner in any state gets credited with the entire electoral college votes of that state. Political analysts do measure that success or failure against the proportion of the popular vote the winner and loser receive. Interestingly, the ‘swing’ states that were considered to be poised uncertainly, in the end were won by the Obama camp. Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, probably lost because he fell between the two stools of the far right opinion inside the party, typified by the Tea Party faction, and the belated attempt, especially in the candidates’ debates towards the close of the campaigning, to appeal to the centre through more moderate stances. Arguably, Romney failed to appeal to the far right for being too moderate, and to the centre for not being moderate enough soon enough in the campaign. The results of the election indicate the deep divide in American society at this juncture of economic difficulties and the contrasting approaches of the Democrats and Republicans on how best to tackle the stubborn global economic crisis gripping the whole world. The economy and social issues such as healthcare, immigration, etc, are likely to be the main domestic focus of the four more years Obama has won. Whether he can heal the divisions and become a president for all the American people, rhetoric to this effect in his victory speech notwithstanding, will be key to the legacy his presidency leaves for posterity. A crucial factor in getting things done and tackling the very serious issues of budget deficits, ballooning debt and the creation of jobs is the control of the House by the Republicans, even if the Democrats still control the Senate. The implications of this ‘divided’ Congress are that Obama will very skillfully have to negotiate bipartisan support from his opponents if he is to have any hope of success. In contrast with the hype and excitement that the first black president’s 2008 victory engendered within the US and the world at large, a heightened expectation that proved disappointing in the light of what Obama managed in practice after taking office, there is likely to be a soberer mood underlying the immediate celebrations in the Democratic camp. The debate in the US and other parts of the world on whether the way out of the global economic crisis is through austerity (implying the greater burden to be carried by the ordinary citizen) or stimuli that can engender growth (recall the rescue of big banks considered ‘too big to fail’ through public funds and the rehabilitation of top managers’ perks and privileges) remains inconclusive so far, particularly in Europe. A predominantly financialised capitalism collapsed spectacularly when imprudent investment and debt mountains took their toll, taking the ‘real’ economy down with it. Unlike the Great Crash of the 1920s and 30s, the 21st century context has no Keynesian solution of public spending to stimulate purchasing power and demand to pull the sagging economies out of the hole they have fallen into. A much more cautious approach, and therefore slow recovery is the best case scenario for the foreseeable future, whether in the US or the rest of the world. Arguably, an unprecedentedly interconnected global economy is likely to sink or swim together. The economic interdependence of the present world means that foreign governments are likely to welcome continuing to do business with the ‘devil they know’. The plethora of congratulatory messages from all over the world to Obama is not just the ritual formalities that are usual on such occasions. The economy aside, many countries and regions have expressed disappointment that the early promise of a new beginning that Obama indicated in 2008, markers for which include his Cairo speech promising to reach out to the Muslim world, proved in practice to be less than satisfactory. US and NATO involvement in Libya and Syria, to take just two examples, have aroused a great deal of concern in other powers such as Russia and China as well as parts of the Muslim and broader world. While the defence, security and foreign policy establishment managed to limit the idealism of Obama, the Israeli lobby managed to paralyse in Israel’s favour the conflict with the Palestinians. The Arab Spring has produced Islamist regimes with which Washington is attempting to find a modus operandi, but these are arguably far from the kind of democratic denouement the Spring initially promised. In our part of the world, it is unlikely the next four years of Obama will bring anything radically different in terms of policy. Withdrawal from Afghanistan (following Iraq) looms and it is far from certain at this stage to what extent the lessons of the US and west’s turning away from the region in 1989 have been learnt and to what extent continued engagement with the region, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, can realistically be expected. There is no gainsaying the fact though that Islamabad will have to cut its cloth according to what largesse or otherwise flows from Washington from now on. The US has been trying through carrot and stick methods to get Pakistan to abandon the use of proxies for jihadi extremism, but this is far from an accomplished fact, despite the enormous costs of continuing with that outdated policy for Pakistan itself in the shape of the terrorist blowback. Despite the US’s economic difficulties, no country can afford to ignore Washington, or at least only do so at its own potential peril. Pakistan will have to revisit and re-examine its relations with what may well be a far more confident Obama administration that may get tougher with Pakistan regarding Afghanistan and terrorism. The days ahead therefore promise ‘interesting times’.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
> Now another institutional clash? Speeches the other day by COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry had much in common and much to commend them. However, they did also contain some things implicitly that have aroused concern. On the face of it, the COAS in his speech to officers at GHQ seemed to be responding to recent criticism of some retired Generals charged with interfering in the political process (the Asghar Khan case, in which a former COAS and former head of the ISI have been squarely put in the dock), and corruption (in the NLC and now Fauji Fertilizers cases). The COAS’ take on this was that individuals’ mistakes in the past should be left to the judicial (due) process and guilt or innocence should not be presumed before that. Additionally, and perhaps more ominously, the COAS hinted at judicial berating and a media trial of the institution itself, which the COAS believes was undermining the public’s confidence in the military, creating rifts amongst the high command (perhaps mere speculation) and between the high command and the rank and file of the military. Obviously, any such development that impacts on the internal cohesiveness and discipline of the military is bound to arouse the concern of the top commanders. At the hands of the judiciary too, apart from the Asghar Khan case, the missing persons and law and order cases in Balochistan have seen the judiciary criticising the policies and actions of the military and its intelligence arms in unprecedented fashion. It has been a rough two years for the hitherto unassailable and immune reputation of the armed forces, starting with the Abbottabad raid and winding its way through other embarrassing revelations and open criticism. This has naturally rattled an institution and its top command, accustomed as they are to a culture of unquestioning impunity inherited from our past of being a security state. The CJP hit the nail on the head when he said in his speech to civil servants that national security is no longer measured in terms of military hardware, but rather whether a state is answering to the needs of its citizens. Were that not the case, a superpower such as the Soviet Union would not have been banished into oblivion. But where there is room for concern is the reiteration by the CJP of the “ultimate jurisdiction” of the Supreme Court (SC) in matters constitutional and legal. The letter of the law certainly conforms to the CJP’s formulation. However, in its zeal to correct “past wrongs” and set ‘everything’ right, the SC stands accused of intervening in matters beyond its turf. This activism, arguably unfettered by the time honoured juridical principle of restraint, has caused the court to become increasingly controversial, having brought it into conflict incrementally with the executive, parliament, and now potentially the military. Rights and wrongs embedded in the system inherited from a chequered past cannot be transformed to the ideal overnight with the wave of a magical judicial wand. Without in any way disrespecting the good intentions of the court, it must be reiterated, as we have consistently done in this space, that the respect and dignity of the judicial institution is too precious to allow even the shadow of doubt or accusation to fall upon it. In this regard, where there is much to commend in the SC’s judgements over the past almost three years, there are also rising concerns about conflict and clashes between state institutions, which is neither the intent of the court, nor welcome, yet seem to be the inevitable and logical outcome of the court’s well intentioned but arguably overzealous interventions in matters of great and even small import. It is not without interest to examine the process of evolution of the democratic system in the last five years. State institutions seem to be jockeying for turf and space, a process known to have been part of the evolution of mature democracies. President Zardari the other day characterised this process as the “dying kicks of the old order”, implying the certainties of the past on which state institutions may have rested so far, were yielding to new realities in which each institution had to re-examine its powers, boundaries and limitations. It is no surprise therefore that every time a powerful head of one or the other state institution speaks publicly, the common point of reference tends to be a recognition of, and respect for, the legitimate purview of each institution, and appeals for restraint as far as straying into the turf of other institutions is concerned. May this democratic evolution finally arrive at an agreed delineation of these matters that proves mutually acceptable to all institutions. There lies hope and confidence of a better future.
Monday, November 5, 2012
SAARC Speakers’ conference In his address to the conference of the Association of SAARC Speakers and Parliaments in Islamabad the other day, President Asif Ali Zardari urged the regional countries to unite to fight the menace of terrorism and extremism. He underlined Pakistan’s suffering at the hands of the fanatics, enumerating the loss of 40,000 lives and Rs 80 billion in economic losses. The president said a collective approach was required to face the challenges confronting the region and to benefit from close cooperation in all fields. The parliaments of the region should play a leading role in solving complex issues by protecting political liberties, human freedoms and the rule of law, the president went on. Zardari said parliament in Pakistan had been empowered and a democratically elected government was nearing completion of its term (these may seem commonplace achievements in older and more established democracies, but given Pakistan’s chequered history, are counted amongst major achievements of the democratic order ushered in in 2008). Pakistan is poised, the president underlined, to achieve the first peaceful democratic transition through the ballot box. All this promises Pakistan is well on its way to realising democracy’s dividends, the president added. Interestingly, he argued that some people might feel parliament was still under assault from some quarters, but these were merely the teething problems of a genuine democratic transition. They represented the dying kicks of the old order, he underlined. The president’s address also dealt with the problems of drug trafficking and food security, the former providing a major source of finance for militancy, while the latter remained a serious challenge. SAARC enjoyed the advantage of cultural affinity amongst the people of the region, the president emphasised, but it must be said that these advantages have yet to be translated into a realisation of potential. People to people contact, interaction amongst parliamentarians and other such confidence building measures could certainly go a long way towards achieving the peace dividend in the region. It may be useful to recall that in the last decades of the last century as well as the first two decades of the 21st, the well known pattern of the growth of drugs trafficking in regions torn by wars has retained its virulence. In the Indo-China wars of the 1960s and 70s, for example, the area began to be characterized as the ‘Golden Triangle’ (of the drugs trade). Today, the ‘Triangle’ in South East Asia has been transformed into the ‘Golden Arc’ of the Af-Pak region. Interestingly, the president characterized heroin as a weapon of war developed by the ‘international community’ (read west) against the rival ideology (read communism), which still remained to be dismantled long after it has passed out of the hands of covert efforts to fund irregular combatants fighting the ‘enemy’ and transformed, along with kidnapping for ransom, into the main source of terrorist financing. For all our foaming at the mouth against the terrorists, not enough attention has been paid to starving the terrorists financially by interdicting drugs, stopping money laundering, and tackling the menace of kidnapping for ransom. This is doubly crucial now that the past sources of funding from certain Gulf Arab countries has dwindled to a trickle after the ‘sponsors’ of jihad themselves found they were increasingly becoming targets of those sections of yesterday's proxies that had slipped the leash. What unites, actually or potentially, the region of South Asia are the common challenges of terrorism, poverty, underdevelopment and finding SAARC’s place in the sun in the world community. Taking a leaf from the book of successful regional blocs such as the EU and ASEAN, it is obvious that the gateway to ‘heaven’ lies in economic cooperation and trade. If SAARC can move towards this goal, and recent moves bettering India-Pakistan relations offer the best hope for a long time, it can improve the lives of all its peoples while becoming a formidable trading bloc with the rest of the world. When the advantages are so obvious, all that is needed is the political will to implement these ideas.
Friday, November 2, 2012
Raisani in trouble A state of suspended animation and constitutional deadlock has gripped Balochistan’s government. At the centre of the storm is Chief Minister (CM) Nawab Aslam Raisani. The ‘suspended animation’ flows from the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) October 12, 2012 interim order, in which the SC held that the Raisani-led Balochistan government had failed to run the province according to the constitution. Whereas a defiant Raisani told a press conference in Islamabad that he would appear before the SC and defend the record of his government, the hearing on Friday failed to move the impasse out of the dead end it has landed in. The hearing was postponed amidst reports that Raisani had decided to move a review petition against the SC’s October 12 order. Be that as it may, while still reeling from the apex court’s pronouncement, Raisani has now been assailed from an unexpected source. His own party, the PPP in Balochistan, has found a voice of dissent in the provincial chief Sadiq Umrani, who has suspended the party membership of the CM for three months. In addition, the speaker of the Balochistan Assembly, Aslam Bhootani, has refused to call a session of the assembly in Gwadar on November 9-10, as requested by the CM. The Speaker is of the view that after the SC’s order, summoning a session of the assembly on the CM’s request would be tantamount to contempt of court. He has asked the Governor to ascertain from the SC the legal/constitutional status of the Raisani government. This stance of the Speaker has given rise to a constitutional deadlock in the province. Raisani has tried hard to refute his critics and defend his government’s record, but the sceptics outweigh by miles those who may still be inclined to support the ‘absent’ CM, who has spent most of the last five years in Islamabad rather than in his troubled province. Sadiq Umrani has accused the CM of all sorts of violations of party policies. Despite he says, notices being sent to Raisani, he had failed to mend his ways. Umrani even went so far as to accuse Raisani of being involved in doctors’ kidnappings for ransom in Balochistan. Currently, the whole public health sector in the province has shut down after the doctors’ community went on strike in protest against the latest incident of the kidnapping of a senior doctor who has yet to be recovered. Umrani has asked the party’s high command to dismiss the Raisani government, given that the CM is damaging the image of the PPP in the province and in the country. To add to his woes, Raisani’s boast in his press conference that his coalition allies would accompany him to the SC had cold water poured over it when the ANP indicated its minister would not accompany the CM to the apex court hearing. Clearly, with this distancing from the embattled CM by the ANP, the ‘coalition’ shows signs of crumbling from within. (It needs saying that this coalition had all but one opposition member of the assembly, who has just been arrested on the orders of the SC, as either ministers or advisers or parliamentary committee heads, i.e. in positions to make hay while the sun shines without a care for the situation of the province.) Reports say the PPP is contemplating either an in-house change or the imposition of governor’s rule in the province. The former option is preferred, given that it may only be a few months until the general elections. However, whatever change of face is implemented through either an in-house manoeuvre or governor’s rule, it will make little or no difference to the ground situation in the insurgency-wracked province. The reason, which has been reiterated constantly in this space, is that the provincial government installed in 2008 has never been more than a government in name only. The real ‘rulers’ in Balochistan are the military, its intelligence arms, and the paramilitary Frontier Corps. Since this reality is unlikely to yield to either the SC’s repeated strictures in the missing persons and law and order cases of the province, or any hidden desire (so far conspicuous by its absence) on the part of the federal government or PPP high command to seriously tackle the problem of Balochistan, Raisani’s seemingly inevitable removal will not change things in the province one jot.