Sunday, December 29, 2013
Bilawal House clash Clashes between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and PPP workers before Bilawal House in Karachi were continuing for the second day at the time of writing these lines. Some workers, mostly PTI, were reportedly arrested by the police. The fracas began on Saturday when PTI leader and MNA for the constituency in which Bilawal House lies, Dr Arif Alvi, turned up with his workers and threatened to demolish the security wall around the residence that was erected while Asif Ali Zardari was president. In September this year, a challenge to the wall in the Sindh High Court against denying access to the road to the public was upheld, later endorsed by the Supreme Court. The PTI leaders and workers ‘suddenly’ decided it as their pubic duty to demolish the wall and recover the road for the general public. This inevitably aroused resistance from the PPP workers who vowed to protect their leaders. The clashes that ensued and continued on Sunday, when Dr Arif Alvi had threatened the wall would be demolished, resulted in one half of the road being opened by the police, which claimed the court decision required proper implementation while ensuring security for Bilawal House and its residents. The latter requirement entailed setting up security cameras and other equipment to monitor the road. Whatever the case, the question remains whether it is appropriate for a political party to take upon itself the mantle of vigilante implementer of legal decisions. The courts may have found in favour of public convenience, but even they would be aware of the continuing security threats to Asif Zardari and his family. In the first place, if the PTI felt aggrieved, it should have approached the court for speeding up implementation of the decision to clear the road. On the other hand, while in a democracy peaceful protest is the inherent right of everyone, it does not offer license to parties or individuals to take the law into their own hands. The clash therefore was entirely and predictably because of the PTI’s provocation before Bilalwal House. The conclusion is difficult to resist that the timing of the move was no coincidence. After all, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his speech at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh on the sixth death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto took Imran Khan and the PTI to the cleaners. But whereas Bilalwal employed the weapon of language, the PTI workers in Karachi were only a step removed from employing the language of weapons or force, hardly in conformity with a law abiding, civilised and democratic stance. The penchant of the PTI to resort to taking the law into its own hands (e.g. the NATO supply blockade) owes itself to some serious psychological problems from which the party appears to be suffering. First and foremost, most PTI leaders and workers appear full of righteous indignation, stemming from their exaggerated sense of entitlement to power and running the country, an ambition they had convinced themselves before the 2013 elections was within their grasp, but which was cruelly exposed by the results. The PTI’s inability to come out of that sense of entitlement and disappointment that its dream lay shattered except for the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has pushed the party into a confrontational mode with all and sundry. Thus Imran Khan has been at loggerheads with the judiciary (let off with a mild reprimand, unlike other political worthies who ran foul of the courts during the previous government), the Election Commission of Pakistan, the election tribunals before whom the PTI has challenged the results of four constituencies (which, even if the results are changed, would hardly constitute a tsunami), the PPP, PML-N (both of whom are constantly berated by Imran Khan for being in cahoots with each other for vested interests) and all and sundry manner of critics or people who question the PTI’s holy writ. The merits of removing the wall and clearing the road for public access before Bilawal House should be settled between the administration, courts and security establishment to ensure access to the public does not compromise the security of its residents. Bilawal’s challenge to the terrorists in his Friday speech has pitched him centre-stage against the terrorists, and given the track record, retaliatory actions against him and his family cannot be ruled out. The PTI’s insistence on immediate implementation of the court’s orders smacks less of concern for the public and more of dangerous politicking over an issue that entails security threats to the Bhutto-Zardari family.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Enter Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Bilawal Bhutto Zardari kicked off what appears to be the opening shot of his active entry into the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics through his speech at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh on Friday at the sixth death anniversary of his mother, Benazir Bhutto (BB). Addressing a huge charged crowd of PPP workers and supporters from all over the country who had travelled to commemorate their slain leader’s memory, Bilawal made the bravest departure from the ‘ordinary’ politics that defines Pakistan today by throwing down the gauntlet to the terrorists. Calling them ‘wild animals thirsty for human blood’, Bilawal vowed his party would stand against the terrorists. He reminded his audience of the lack of humanity demonstrated by these enemies of the people by attacking mosques and killing innocent people. Bilawal demanded the Punjab government crack down on the safe havens the terrorist enjoyed in the province. A united campaign by the PML-N and the PPP against terrorism could save the country from these monsters, Bilawal argued. He announced the launch of a jihad against the terrorists because only their elimination could ensure peace in Pakistan. In this context he also emphasized that talks would only be held with terrorist groups who agreed to lay down their arms, pay blood money to their victims and respect minorities, amongst other strict conditions. In true Bhutto style and tradition, he courageously iterated that he knew his path was not without danger, dramatically describing his destiny as martyrdom in the wake of his family’s tragedies and his final resting place Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, which now houses two generations of Bhutto martyrs. Difficult as the fight against terrorism is, he was confident that the army would eventually win against the bloodthirsty terrorists. Bilawal asserted that the ‘Punjabi establishment’ was responsible for the PPP’s defeat in the last elections. Although there may be some truth in this claim, Bilawal may be forgiven for ratcheting up the rhetoric likely to appeal to his audience, without necessarily endorsing his view, since the record in office of the previous PPP government left much to be desired. Bilawal also announced the entry of his two sisters into active politics and appealed to the audience to take care of him as they had his mother. He said the PPP had not changed, as some critics assert, because the real essence of the party was ‘passion’ for democracy, rights, and an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. Turning to Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal vowed he and his party would stand with him in defence of democracy should any threat to the system emanate from any direction. However, he reiterated the PPP’s opposition to ‘personalisation’ in the name of privatization of state entities. He was particularly harsh on Imran Khan, calling him Buzdil (Coward) Khan and accusing him of mounting the blockade of NATO supply routes because of his love for the late Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud. Terrorism began long before drone strikes, he emphasized, and would continue long after such strikes ended, thereby rubbishing Imran Khan’s attempted linkage between the two. The young Bilawal’s speech at this sixth death anniversary of BB was a startling improvement on his previous forays into public rally speaking. His language, diction, wit and body language impressed, bringing back memories of his grandfather and mother. Politics is not expected to be transmuted as an inheritance, but in Bilawal’s case, it felt as though the genes in his body had found expression. The rally at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh was the biggest, but the entire country held remembrances in various forms for the late BB, including prayers, candlelit vigils and other manifestations. Shorn of power except in its stronghold Sindh, the PPP and its jiyalas (committed workers) seem to have once again come into their own in opposition. Bilawal’s critique of the PML-N and PTI leaders evoked a ‘smarting’ response from PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari and PML-N Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. Social media activists seemed enthused by Bilawal’s take on terrorism and the content and delivery of his address, silencing those who in the past considered him too ‘foreign’ an import. While public speaking skills are a necessary tool in the armoury of any political leader in Pakistan, and Bilawal seems well on the way to acquiring them, the real hard work lies ahead. First and foremost, the young Patron-in-chief of the PPP has to restore the links with the jiyalas that appear worn, put balm on their wounded pride and commitment because of allegedly being ignored by the PPP leadership since BB’s passing, and enthuse them to take the field in anticipation of the 2018 round of testing the party’s popularity with the people throughout the country.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary Benazir Bhutto’s sixth death anniversary yesterday reminds us of the loss of a charismatic and courageous leader who stood for a democratic and progressive Pakistan. Her struggles against military dictatorship, beginning with the fight against the Ziaul Haq regime that hanged her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and ending with her struggle to move the country beyond General Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power remind us of the abiding memory and legacy of the youngest and first woman to be elected prime minister of a Muslim country in 1988: her amazing courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. After the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government by General Zia’s military coup in 1977, Benazir had to suffer incarceration in horrendous conditions for years. When the regime finally relented because of her ill health brought about by the prison conditions, she was allowed to go into exile, only to return triumphantly in 1986 after martial law had given way to the Zia-engineered civilian government. A perusal of her political track record may convince some critics that BB’s record in opposition and struggle was far better than her accomplishments in office. But that critique is mitigated by the caveat that while she was in office twice, the powers that be hampered and hindered her ability to wring the changes in state and society she desired fully, while preventing her enjoying a full tenure in both her stints. Along the way, the Bhutto family had added two brothers to the toll the struggle had taken. In the second, Murtaza’s case, the brother was killed and the sister thrown out of office in a sinister conspiracy in 1996. The hounding through the courts that followed finally persuaded BB to opt for self-imposed exile for eight years. Being abroad did not mean BB was out in the cold. She continued to manoeuvre intelligently by persuading Nawaz Sharif, also in exile albeit forced, that the democratic forces needed to stand together if military rule was to be overcome now and in the future. This compact was enshrined in the Charter of Democracy, one of the finest documents in support of a democratic order produced in Pakistan’s chequered history. BB’s return in 2007 was accompanied by real and perceived threats to her life, a threat that was demonstrated in bloody fashion on October 18, 2007, the day of her return, in Karachi when her entourage was bombed, killing almost 200 of the PPP’s workers and supporters. Shocking as the incident was, in which BB escaped harm fortuitously, neither she nor her committed workers and supporters abandoned reaching out to the public for the sake of a democratic transition so sorely needed after Musharraf’s eight years of despotic rule. The fact that she did not live to see those hopes translated into reality is perhaps the biggest tragedy in the history of our benighted land. The BB who returned from her second exile had matured into a leader capable of much more than her admittedly considerable accomplishments before. Hence, the greater the loss to the country and its polity. It must be admitted with regret that those who took up the mantle of BB’s political legacy after her departure from this world failed to perform in a manner worthy of their great late leader. Cronyism, nepotism, allegations of massive corruption and sheer demonstrated incompetence characterised the PPP government from 2008 to 2013. It was no surprise therefore that the electorate punished the party by reducing the country’s largest federal party with a presence throughout the country to a rump entity with a government in its traditional stronghold of Sindh, but with its credibility and appeal considerably dented. The party has been led since BB’s demise by former president Asif Ali Zardari. While an ostensible generational transition is in progress to Asif and BB’s children, particularly the heir-apparent Bilawal, it remains to be seen how far the next generation can transform the fortunes of the party by freeing themselves from the recent poor past and appealing to the youth bulge in our society. With regret it must also be recorded that despite being in power for five years, and four international and domestic investigations, the PPP was unable to complete the task of bringing BB’s murderers to justice. History may record this as the greatest failure of the party of all. Musharraf and some others finally stand indicted in the assassination case, but closure still seems a long way away.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Government’s drift Even the well wishers of the PML-N government are having an increasingly hard time defending its performance in office during the last six months. Given Pakistan’s dire situation as far as terrorism, law and order and the economy are concerned, the incoming government initially enjoyed a great deal of goodwill based on the perception that a ‘business-friendly’ government may prove more adept at turning the economy round at the very least. However, six months down the road, that hope appears to be dwindling. It should not come as a surprise then that opposition leaders are starting to speak out on the handling of the economy in particular, and the country’s affairs in general. Leader of the Opposition and a PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah felt compelled to warn the government on Wednesday that they had better get a grip and allay the sense of drift that seems to permeate the affairs of the government. Khursheed was nevertheless constrained, perhaps in recognition of the serious difficulties the country is in, to offer another three months to the government to put its house in order, otherwise the opposition would be compelled, he said, to devise a new strategy. Without referring to the ‘old’ strategy of the opposition, it can be surmised that the warning of a ‘new’ one emanates from two factors. One, the government’s failure to reduce inflation (despite the claims of the Punjab PML-N government regarding foodstuffs), eliminate load shedding (which has returned with a vengeance because of the diversion of gas from the power sector to textiles to take full advantage of the recently granted GSP Plus access to EU markets), or uplift the economy. Fortunately, the Leader of the Opposition, as behoves a senior and responsible parliamentarian, rejected taking these issues to the street (a la Imran Khan) and argued for parliament as the proper forum to resolve these problems. However, while criticizing Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s ‘performance’ in parliament, particularly the festering sore of the use of the word ‘tamasha’ (drama) to describe the opposition’s stance on verifying votes in four constituencies, he said half the ministers do not come to the National Assembly (following no doubt their prime minister’s example) and the minister was talking about the TA/DA allowances parliamentarians get for attendance. He went on to take a dig at the prime minister by arguing that he had kept so many crucial ministries to himself that he had no time to come to parliament. Another voice that has been added to the concerns about the government’s performance is that of PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He is so alarmed that he has come out with the ‘original’ suggestion of an All Parties Conference (APC) on the economy, just as was held over national security. The example he gave runs against Chaudhry Shujaat’s wishes as the APC on the approach towards terrorism produced nothing but more confusion and paralysis. Going by that track record, the suggestion of an APC on the economy fails to inspire confidence. Whether one agrees wholly or partly with Khursheed and Shujaat or not, the fact remains that they have put their finger on a critical aspect of the government’s manner of tackling things. The inescapable sense of policy drift has left even government supporters frustrated. Inflation is a direct consequence of supply and demand factors, implying only a boost to production can restore some balance between the two. Production increases require investment (not to be had for love or money at present), energy (increasingly in short supply again) and an enabling environment for entrepreneurship (the Youth Loan scheme has run into trouble at the very outset and the bureaucracy still wields extraordinary power to frustrate businessmen). While Khursheed lauded the reversal of the decline of the rupee vis-à-vis the dollar and hoped for further improvement in this regard, the currency’s value is tied in inextricable bonds with business confidence (the state of which is reflected in the flight of capital from the country) and the state of the country’s external obligations. Whether domestic or external factors are considered, one irreducible truth is undeniable: without tackling terrorism (and its concomitant bad law and order), there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell the economy can recover, let alone flourish. If there is one key to the whole mess the country is in, it is this. But unfortunately, this is an area where confusion and drift reign supreme, refurbished by the confusion the APC produced on peace with the terrorists through talks. Now we neither have ‘talks’, nor concerted action to root out terrorism. In this policy impasse, how can the economy or any other national matter be expected to yield improvement? The government must go back to the drawing board in its own interest and at least be seen to be tackling the country’s problems, otherwise the present perception of drift could hurt it badly in the eyes of the electorate.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Imran Khan the ‘economist’ Imran Khan’s (IK’s) PTI took out rallies in Lahore, Karachi and Quetta on Sunday against inflation and the state of the economy. Whereas the Lahore rally was sizeable, it was nowhere near the ‘tsunami’ the PTI had promised. The rallies in the other cities were even smaller. In his speech at the rally in Lahore, IK spelt out a nine-point ‘formula’ for righting the wrongs of the economy. IK’s ‘economics’ could be boiled down to declaring war on drone attacks and the NATO supply lines, improving law and order, eliminating corruption, avoiding dependence on IMF loans, taxing the rich, eschewing the printing of currency notes to avoid inflation, and promoting accountability and foreign investment. The implication in this delineation of a magic formula to bring economic wellbeing and prosperity was that IK’s PTI could do this job better than the elected government at the Centre. Even if, for the sake of argument, it is conceded that the PTI could do better than the incumbent PML-N, a closer examination of these nine points would show that there is nothing new in them that is not the stuff of the existing narrative on the country’s, let alone the economy’s woes. Declaring ‘war’ on drone attacks has already been carried out by the PTI through blocking the NATO supply routes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the likely outcome of which will probably be the curtailing of Pakistan’s aid from the US and the west. How that will improve the economy is known only to Dr Keynes IK. As for one of the main planks of the PTI’s politics, i.e. eliminating corruption, although a desirable goal, cannot be guaranteed to make rivers of milk and honey flow. In case IK is unaware, the developed world, in which the kind of crude corruption we have is rare, corruption in government and the corporate sector and a nexus between the two is hardly new or unknown. If that corrupt nexus was the only source of the west’s and the world’s current economic woes, by now it would have been corrected. If ever there was a case of misplaced concreteness, IK’s implied view that corruption's elimination is the magic wand for all economic ills would top the list. IMF loans are not a luxury. Even a government like the PML-N, wedded to according the private sector the role of the engine of the economy, recognised the necessity of such loans if Pakistan was to meet its external obligations. This is bitter but necessary recognition of reality, not the pie-in-the-sky promised by IK’s uneducated take on the economy. Taxing the rich in a capitalist economy has proved difficult even in the developed world, let alone a country such as Pakistan that has known mostly the privileges, perks and state-fuelled concessions to the rich and powerful in our history. Of course the rich should be taxed, especially those hoarding hidden income and wealth. But this is too is neither easy nor quick. The IMF, whatever our view of it and its programmes, is also insisting on just such tax reforms, but the dire straits of the economy have compelled the PML-N government to offer a tax amnesty to hoarded wealth in the hope of boosting investment. The measure may or may not pay off, and will almost certainly postpone the day of reckoning for tax evaders, but no one, including IK who argues for foreign investment, has come up with a better idea so far that encourages not only external investment, but persuades our businessmen to reverse the flight of capital from Pakistan and put their money where it is needed. Perhaps the main reason why IK has embarked on economic terra incognita is because his pro-Taliban pronouncements and policies have alienated a large section of the youth who flocked to his banner in the lead up to the 2013 elections. The fizz seems to have gone out of that youth wave, hence the resort to perceived ‘populist’ demands such as relief from inflation and other steps. But the facts are stubborn things. IK’s ‘economics’ is essentially a reductionist and superficial view that the ‘system’ can and should be run (preferably by Imran’s party) in a better, cleaner way, and that will solve all our problems. The problem with that simplistic notion is that the economic status and problems of the country require intelligent handling of the crisis we (and the world) are passing through, without indulging in flights of fantasy. In the end, capitalism has proved once again to be a system that self-produces periodic crises that are inherent in its make-up. IK has no alternative to offer to that system, except a better ‘managerial’ approach that may yield marginal benefits, but is unlikely to pull Pakistan out of the economic morass it is mired in.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
General Raheel Sharif’s truth Recent events in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) point to the hotbed of terrorist insurgents the area has become incrementally over time. A military check post at Mirali was hit by an explosives laden suicide truck attack the other day while the soldiers were saying their prayers. Five soldiers were killed and 34 wounded. The rescue party evacuating the dead and injured was also ambushed, which invited a counter-attack by the military in which the attackers were finally killed after a prolonged firefight that has given rise to claims that civilians, including women and children were killed as collateral damage. ISPR denies this, pointing out that operational commanders are under strict orders to avoid civilian casualties. The military’s effective response appears to be a departure from previous practice, which was reinforced by local understandings with militant groups of a ‘live and let live’ type. It is being reported that the attackers were Uzbeks and Turkmens, many of whom have made FATA, and particularly NWA, their home for many decades stretching back to the origins of the Afghan wars. ISPR has also stated that this was a localized self-defence action and does not signal the start of a generalized offensive in NWA, something many knowledgeable observers have been demanding for many years, but which has proved a nettle the military is reluctant to grasp. Under former COAS General Kayani, the military’s posture appeared to revolve around the fallout of such an operation as well as the necessity of ownership of any such move by the political leadership. Then and now, that ownership appeared conspicuous by its absence, morphing since the new government came to power into harping on about talks as the preferred option to bring peace, with lately Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘conceding’ the possibility of ‘other measures’ if the talks fail. All the eggs the government (and Imran Khan) have put into this talks basket have not so far hatched any chicks, not the least because the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has rejected any notion of engaging in talks since they are convinced a military operation is in the offing. If even at a stretch it is conceived that the TTP was willing in the past or at least in two minds, the killing of TTP’s chief Hakeemullah Mehsud by a drone strike put paid to the whole effort. His successor, Mullah Fazlullah, is even less amenable to talking to the government. This conjuncture suggests the ‘other measures’ may soon have to be resorted to, willy nilly. In a morale boosting first visit to the Peshawar Corps Headquarters the other day in the wake of the Mirali battle, the new COAS General Raheel Sharif gave a very measured but clear statement as an exposition of the military’s stance. While supporting the government’s first option of talks, the COAS made it amply clear that the military will no longer sit quietly like sitting ducks if attacked by the terrorists. All cannons of warfare allow self-defence. But this still remains, in the absence of a proactive strategy, a defensive posture. NWA also figures in the calculus of post-2014 Afghanistan. But it is undeniable that sooner or later, and quite possibly as a response to developments on the ground, the hornets’ nest of terrorism in NWA will have to be tackled. The TTP now says that its past relationship with the Afghan Taliban, in which it acted as their hosts and supporters, has been reversed to the latter now financing and supporting the TTP. This ‘confession’ should give pause to the military in its long standing posture of covertly if not overtly backing the Afghan Taliban. The Mirali encounter may have been a limited action, but it is not unreasonable to see in it the shape of things to come. While the government and Imran Khan pursue their (seemingly futile) efforts to woo the TTP to the negotiating table, the military needs to keep its powder dry and strategise what appears to many to be the inevitable conflict with the terrorists who have so far enjoyed safe havens in FATA (specially NWA) and represent a permanent threat to the security of state and society. A nettle cannot be gently stroked without damage and hurt to oneself. It can only and must be grasped firmly if success is to be had.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Absence of political will The first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS), the more powerful forum that has supplanted the erstwhile advisory body, the Cabinet Committee on Defence, turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib. So many months of government talk about a new national security policy (which has still to see the light of day) and when the CCNS finally meets, what emerges is an exercise in illusion, if not delusion. The official statement issued after the meeting ruled out military action against the Taliban and promised to pursue peace only through talks. Use of ‘other options’, it was stated, would only be the ‘last resort’. Chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and comprising the top civilian and military leadership of the country, the CCNS focused on three issues: formulation of a national security strategy, internal security strategy, and relations with Afghanistan. The CCNS deliberated upon the government’s strategy to engage various groups of the Taliban. It is being claimed in media reports that contrary to the widespread public perception that there are no talks afoot with any Taliban group, the government is playing its cards close to the chest and has opened channels for dialogue with discrete groups of militants. In this context, although the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has immediately rejected any efforts by the government to hold talks since it says this too is a dollar-hungry client government of the US and is preparing to attack the TTP, media reports speak of a sense of disillusionment on the part of the newly anointed leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah, at some of his colleagues being prepared for or even actually engaging in talks with the authorities. He has as a result reportedly cut short his stay in North Waziristan and returned across the border to his safe haven in Kunar province. Now that the CCNS is also seized of the issue of security on the western border, an eye should be kept on the threat from cross-border forays (as in the past) by Mullah Fazlullah’s forces. The CCNS envisages development is critical for the fight against terrorism, especially for FATA. It is a sad comment on the state of our polity that we are unable to see the wood for the trees as far as the struggle against terrorism is concerned. Even if it is conceded that the government’s position on dialogue with the Taliban may be a purely tactical one, accompanied by the belief that the TTP will not negotiate and the path will thereby be cleared for a military operation, it is the unrelenting emphasis in every statement by the government on peace through dialogue that may have the unintended effect of sapping whatever morale and will is still left for the fight. The suspicion cannot be lightly dismissed therefore that the political leadership does not appear to have the stomach for what will inevitably be a protracted struggle against terrorism. The military on the other hand appears to be shielding behind the contention that without political ownership of the struggle, the army cannot conduct meaningful operations on the scale required against the terrorists. Some critics alarmingly argue that the Taliban infection has travelled to within the ranks of the security services, which makes any struggle against them risky in terms of internal cohesion. Even if this is dismissed as too alarmist a prognosis, the ease with which some prisons were broken in the recent past and terrorist prisoners in the hundreds released without a shot being fired is a worrying symptom of all not being well inside the security corridors of the state. If the politicians are unwilling, the military reluctant for reasons of political ownership and internal issues, no military operation is likely to take place, much less succeed. Even if the TTP refuses to come to the table, and some factions do talk to the government, in the absence of a concerted military strategy against the terrorists, the most likely scenario is that things will remain pretty much the same: muddling through, hoping against hope, and getting bogged down in wishful thinking. Not exactly a recipe for a successful finish to what has by now been clearly defined as an existential internal threat. Despite all this, the ‘last resort’ may still assert itself despite all this lack of necessary political will.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Dar’s dollar optimism Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s ‘advice’ to businessmen attending the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association’s dinner at the Governor’s House in Lahore on Saturday to cash their dollars without delay as the dollar will not go up any further did not go down well with his audience. Grumbling was heard from the attendees that the Finance Minister had tarred the entire business community with the brush of dollar hoarding. There may have been those amongst the audience whose resentment was justified, but who does not know that the alarming rise of the dollar against the rupee in recent months has persuaded many people, including businessmen, to hedge their money assets by converting them to dollars. One does not know what Mr Dar’s certainty and optimism about the turnaround in the rupee’s value is based on, since even the marginal improvement of the local currency against the dollar in recent days cannot be taken as more than a few drops of welcome rain. Speculation against the rupee has been fuelled by lack of confidence in the current state and future direction of the economy (note the government’s claim of 5.1 percent GDP growth since it took over) and depleting foreign exchange reserves (less than $ 3 billion left with the State Bank, with the government turning to the private banks’ dollar holdings to bail out the country’s import requirements). In his optimistic vein, which smacks more of desperate attempts to restore confidence than fact, Dar claimed foreign exchange reserves would climb to $ 20 billion in three years. Time will tell. Dar is banking on the expected inflows of Coalition Support Funds $ 1.5 billion, PTCL’s outstanding privatisation proceeds of $ 800 million, World Bank and other aid for large infrastructure projects to ease the foreign exchange reserves squeeze. But each one of these sources has problems and roadblocks on the path of realisation. There is no escape from the fact that for confidence to return, Pakistan’s trade deficit, balance of payments and investment all have to show improving trends if the rupee’s precipitous slide is to be halted and reversed. With growing confidence will follow a reversal of dollarisation, arresting capital flight and increased investment, both domestic and foreign. Given the perilous state of the economy because of the above listed factors plus energy, terrorism and law and order, there are unfortunately no short cuts to economic revival. The Finance Minister’s efforts to spin a highly optimistic picture, even if well intentioned, run the risk of adverse reactions if his optimism turns out to be overblown. His cause may be better served therefore by sticking to the facts, grim as they may be. Another example of the economy’s constraints is the announcement by Dar to provide scarce gas two days a week to the captive power plants of the textile sector. The gas supply deficit is causing contradictory pulls from the needs of industry, commerce (especially CNG) and domestic use in winter. Robbing Peter to pay Paul may not be the best way forward. The government would be better advised to consider gas imports for industry rather than cutting back, for example, on domestic consumers (a politically potentially explosive measure). The further promise by Dar to provide easy credit for business flies in the face of the tight monetary policy being pursued by the State Bank in a futile effort to curb inflation. The right hand of the government therefore has to be aligned with the left hand in a consistent manner if credibility is not to be damaged. The government’s tax amnesty for black money to boost investment may succeed, but the tax reforms committed to the IMF will thereby be postponed, if not permanently stymied. The good news of course is Pakistan being given the GSP Plus market access at reduced duty rates to the European Union. But to take full advantage of this concession, the obstacles in the way of industrial production, particularly the textile sector, because of energy constraints has to be tackled on a war footing. The government has its work unenviably cut out for it in the economic sphere. While they have the good wishes of the country to succeed, realistic and well planned policy measures are called for, not dreaming of pie-in-the-sky.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Molla’s hanging Abdul Quader Molla of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) became the first person accused of atrocities during the country’s independence war to be hanged. Whereas a number of senior leaders of the JI in that country are behind bars awaiting trials on similar charges, it fell to the lot of Molla to be the first to have his trial completed and be sentenced to death. A last minute hoped for reprieve when the Supreme Court took notice proved infructuous when the court refused to reverse the death sentence. There has been concern internationally that the tribunals trying the accused for their role in massacres carried out by the JI’s militias, Al Badr and Al Shams against intellectuals and ordinary citizens in what was then East Pakistan do not meet the highest international standards of fair trial. There also does not appear to be in place a proper appeals process to ensure justice is not only done, but is seen to be done. The surprising fact is that these trials and the hanging of Molla come 42 years after the events that finally led to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country following an army crackdown, an indigenous insurgency led by the Mukti Bahini and a relatively short war with India that saw the Pakistan garrison in the eastern wing cut off and finally forced to surrender on December 16, 1971. The shame and ignominy attached to the whole Bangladesh episode was so embarrassing that the political and military establishment that followed the Yahya military junta responsible for the crackdown and atrocities in East Pakistan thought discretion the better part of valour. Even Mr Bhutto’s Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report was suppressed. This was in line with the mood that gripped the remaining Pakistan’s elite: brush the whole tragic episode under the carpet and pretend it never happened. As a result, not only did we fail to learn any lessons from the tragedy, we have continued to repeat the same mistakes again and again and been responsible for subsequent generations being kept ignorant of this bloody chapter in our history, so much so that millions of young people today in Pakistan may not even know that Bangladesh was once part of Pakistan or the reasons why it separated. Not only this, we have never formally apologized for the atrocities visited on our Bengali brothers and sisters. It should not surprise us therefore that whereas the government and the foreign office have acted with restraint so as not to appear to be interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country with which we enjoy good relations bilaterally and as a member of SAARC, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali has once more tooted a tune at variance with that restraint. Sounding like an ultranationalist JI spokesman, the feisty minister’s statement painted Molla as a hero of Pakistan, whereas Molla and his ilk helped ensure because of their bloodletting that East Pakistan would definitely break away, sooner or later. How does that make him a hero? This is like saying General Yahya, responsible squarely for the breakup of the country, should be considered a hero of Pakistan. Or, if the argument is stretched further, like our JI declaring an enemy terrorist like Hakeemullah Mehsud a shaheed (martyr). The JI, however, is not in power. Chaudhry Nisar’s party, the PML-N, is. How can the prime minister allow one of his ministers to shoot off at the mouth from time to time without even a nod at the government’s policy stance? Pakistan still has much to answer for vis-à-vis Bangladesh. Had we shown even a modicum of the large heartedness Chaudhry Nisar would have liked Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajid to show in Molla’s case, we would have formally apologised to our brethren and sisters in Bangladesh soon after the tragedy, or at the very least at some point in the last 42 years. Sadly, we did not, and have now convinced ourselves it is so much water under the bridge and there is no need now to even contemplate such a possibility. We should not attempt to wax indignant in matters concerning our erstwhile eastern wing, given the above sad facts. While our moral standing in these matters is weak, to say the least, there are nevertheless issues with Molla’s hanging that do not sit easily with rational minds. First, the length of time that has transpired since the crimes for which he was convicted, the advanced age of the accused, reservations about the trial and appeals process all militated against the death penalty in a world increasingly moving away from the ultimate and irreversible punishment. Under the circumstances, perhaps deprivation of liberty for life of the accused may have proved more appropriate, avoided the taint of either revenge (versus reconciliation a la the late lamented Mandela) or political partisan motivation. This last suspicion is rooted in the domestic divide in Bangladesh in the approach to upcoming elections, which have pitted the ruling Awami League against the main opposition Bangladesh National Party and its close ally, the JI. The violent reaction to the hanging strengthens this argument. Avoiding hanging would also have avoided offering the ultra-nationalists like Chaudhry Nisar and our JI the opportunity to make political capital out of this turn of events and causing diplomatic embarrassment in our relations with Bangladesh.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Bouquets and brickbats The second (2007) and third (2009) coming of retired Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry contrasted sharply with his going. It is a sad comment to record that when he retired, society was split in its opinion of him. A brief listing of the forces disillusioned with his tenure since 2009 and the reasons for this turnaround may throw some light on the issue. The media, which had stood unified for his restoration was angry (except for one ‘favoured’ media house) over its exclusion from coverage of the full court reference on the day of the CJP’s departure. The leading lights of the lawyers community who were in the forefront of the movement for the restoration of the judiciary, including Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Asma Jahangir, have been critical of the CJP for over-reach, politicising the office of the CJP, and turning his back on the common man who struggled in the restoration movement. The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has suspended one of its vice presidents for misusing the SCBA’s name in inviting the CJP for a dinner when the SCBA had decided not to do so in protest against the thrashing of lawyers before the Supreme Court (SC) the other day. The PPP and its young co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have made no bones about their delight at seeing the back of the CJP and hoping for restoration of an independent and unbiased judiciary (a reference to the perceived bias against the previous PPP-led government and its leadership). All this amounts to a tsunami of disillusionment and alienation of his foremost erstwhile supporters for his conduct since 2009 and dragging the SC into controversy, with the collateral loss of respect and dignity of the court. Despite this obvious fall from the pristine heights of respect the CJP enjoyed after restoration, he seems unrepentant, at least if his remarks at the full court reference are any guide. The outgoing CJP expressed the hope that the SC would continue to take notice of violations of fundamental rights, including the right to life, by the executive and other state institutions. The implied doctrine enunciated by the CJP relies on the judiciary fulfilling its duty to step in if the executive fails. While this sounds good in theory, it carries grave risks and pitfalls. The doctrine implies the judiciary can and should set itself up above all other state institutions, with no bar or restraint on judicial intervention. If followed in letter and sprit, this doctrine could open the door to judicial dictatorship, a charge mutedly made during the CJP’s tenure. Even if the argument of the CJP that the judiciary in Pakistan’s past had been supine (a charge from which the CJP himself could not be excluded) is accepted, this does not mean the pendulum of correction should now swing so far the other way that a judicial overlordship over state and society follows. The SC’s interventionist posture and providing direct access to petitioners and the aggrieved under the outgoing CJP meant a vote of no-confidence in the lower tiers of the justice system without any serious effort to correct the system’s failings and eliminated the appellate process. Well intentioned the CJP’s efforts may have been, but their consequences will be debated for a long time to come. The incoming CJP, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, has administered a welcome and fresh breath of air to the affairs of the superior judiciary by delineating his vision of where the SC should head. The new CJP says the court should consider and determine the limits of the SC’s suo motu powers. He has argued that the fine line of distinction between the requirements of Articles 199 (setting out the powers of the higher courts) and 184(3) has been blurred. The jurisdiction of the SC under 184(3) should be reviewed to discourage frivolous petitions and prevent misuse by vested interests. CJP Jillani recounted the exponential growth of petitions under 184(3) and through the SC’s Human Rights Cell. While conceding that the SC’s mandate under Articles 184(3) and 187 meant filling the gaps between the law and social dynamics, the value of the trichotomy of powers and the fair trial provisions of Article 10A had to be deferred to. Pakistan can now look forward to sanity and appropriateness underlined by judicial restraint being restored.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Chief Justice’s legacy Nothing sums up the view of large parts of public opinion regarding the legacy of Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry than the unfortunate incident that occurred on the very day he left office on Wednesday. A traditional full court reference saw the entire media except one media house turfed out of coverage of the occasion, leading to an uproar in the excluded media as a whole amidst charges that this indicated the nexus between the Supreme Court (SC) under the CJ and the ‘favoured’ media house. Despite many good judgements of the SC during the last almost five years since the restoration of the superior judiciary, many will see this as further proof of the partisanship, operating on the basis of likes and dislikes, and practicing pick and choose justice under the outgoing CJ. Whether one agrees with this contention in part or in full, it can be argued that the liberal use of suo motu (at least 118 notices) and contempt of court (at least 100 cases) powers during the last five years not only brought the court into the fold of controversy, it also militated against the mountain of backlog of cases before the SC and the judicial system as a whole, a task the CJ is criticized for not addressing. This new jurisprudence reversed the normal order of the SC’s role as a largely appellate court to one where it was exceedingly proactive in its original jurisdiction role. It is undeniable that state institutions in the country have never been citizen-friendly, and therefore e the SC’s taking up the cudgels on behalf of aggrieved individuals and parties to provide justice and relief is admirable. However, it is also a matter of concern that the overuse of such powers (unprecedentedly high) damaged the prestige and respect of the court. The SC under CJ Chaudhry became hyper interventionist, causing encroachments on the turf of other state institutions such as the executive, parliament, election commission and others, eroding in the process the division and trichotomy of powers enjoined in the constitution and making governance that much more difficult in the midst of the myriads of crises afflicting state and society. CJ Chaudhry’s eventful and as some have described it, roller coaster era has come to an end, but the legacy he leaves behind will have an equal measure of admirers and critics, making the task of the incoming CJ Tassaduq Hussain Jilani that much more difficult in restoring some semblance of appropriateness to the SC’s affairs, which he has promised to do. One only has to cast one’s mind back to the respect enjoyed by the outgoing CJ when he was finally restored in 2009 to the controversies dogging his footsteps now to understand that the absence of time-honoured judicial restraint, whatever its effects on other institutions, has also ended up eroding the respect and dignity of the superior judiciary that it deserves. Relations between the Bar and the bench are at an all-time low, resulting in the conspicuous absence of the kind of respectful farewell outgoing CJs receive traditionally. This is even more ironic given that it was the lawyers’ community that was in the forefront of the movement for the restoration of the judiciary. How the mighty have fallen. The critique of CJ Chaudhry's manner of running the SC revolves around playing to the gallery, interfering in matters normally beyond the scope of the court and lying within the purview of other state institutions, choosing high profile cases that took up most of the SC’s time at the expense of the normal (and absent) effort to reduce the huge backlog of cases that justifies the old maxim: justice delayed (in this case horrendously delayed) is justice denied. No one could possibly argue that the good work of the court under CJ Chaudhry be overturned along with the controversial, i.e. we should refrain from throwing the baby out with the bath water. However, it is hoped that the change of guard will persuade the judiciary, and especially the SC, to revert to a more appropriate stance on litigation, appellate versus original jurisdiction, and respecting the trichotomy of powers that lies virtually in tatters. That strengthens the argument for other checks and balances to kick in against our opaque and non-responsive system of government in which much happens or goes on without let or hindrance, more often than not against the interests of state and society. Whether however, the courts are to be the instruments for the undeniable need to cleanse and make transparent governance under our fledgling democracy, at the expense arguably of their own dignity and respect, remains a moot point and a challenge.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The wages of Imran’s ‘sins’ US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has been hosted in Islamabad in the midst of ‘some frictions’ in the US-Pakistan relationship. It is the first visit by a US Defence Secretary for four years, a period that saw extreme ups and downs in the two countries’ relations. The current visit takes place in the context of the looming withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan next year, with the issue of a residual US presence in that country still a contentious matter between Washington and the Karzai government. Pakistan is considered by all, including the US, as critical to restoring peace in Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of the withdrawal of foreign forces. Pakistan too is, or at least should be, a stakeholder with a deep interest in its own right in peace in Afghanistan, which is likely to affect directly the situation vis-à-vis terrorism inside Pakistan itself. Within this framework, the discussions the US Secretary of State had with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the newly installed COAS General Raheel Sharif have by and large been kept under wraps for their sensitivity, except what was considered kosher for sharing with the public. The information put out was not surprising, given that the respective positions and concerns of both sides are no secret. Whereas Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told Mr Hagel that the drone strikes were counterproductive and hurting the government’s efforts to counter terrorism, by which he meant that the peace dialogue his government wants to conduct with the terrorists was being affected (e.g. the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud, chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, on the eve of hoped for talks), the US side stated that Mr Hagel wants to tackle the frictions between his country and Pakistan head on. Further, Hagel pressed for keeping the supply routes to and from Afghanistan open otherwise the US Congress may withhold aid to Pakistan. This demand and threat must be seen in the light of the withdrawn statement by Hagel’s aides that the supply route was about to reopen. He also reiterated the long standing US demand that Pakistan stop giving safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil. Nawaz Sharif repeated his government’s support for the Afghan reconciliation process, implying the US side too should perhaps abandon its ambiguity on the issue and come out in support of Pakistan’s reconciliation efforts with its own terrorists. Chuck Hagel's aides were forced to withdraw their premature and overly optimistic statement about the restoration of the supply lines because the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, whose stoppage of NATO trucks by threatening violence against the truck drivers had caused Washington to announce a stoppage through Pakistan out of concern for the safety of the drivers, had announced a continuation of its disruption of the supply route from Torkham. Since the PTI leads the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its cadres manning the ‘check posts’ to stop NATO trucks are in no fear of being prevented by the police from their ‘vigilante’ actions. Arguably though, the national highways and the question of allowing or stopping the supply routes lie within the purview of the federal government. But Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N government has been playing on the back foot, presumably so as not to be seen as taking up the cudgels on behalf of the west, particularly the US. But this ‘softly, softly’ approach has meant the provincial (PTI) tail has been allowed to wag the federal dog. If the Imran Khan-led PTI’s stoppage of the US/NATO supply lines costs the country bilateral and possibly multilateral aid, these wages will have been paid squarely because of Imran Khan’s 'sins'.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Mandela’s legacy The entire world mourns and pays tribute to Nelson Mandela, the icon of South Africa’s and the world’s struggle for democracy, human rights, dignity, and against racial prejudice and discrimination. It comes to very few men to change history, let alone rewrite it. Mandela’s compelling gifts of head and heart overcame entrenched hatreds and mistaken notions of racial superiority to forge what has been dubbed a ‘rainbow nation’ of all hues in his beloved South Africa. Brave and principled whites, albeit relatively few in number, were always apart of the struggle against apartheid, reinforcing belief in humankind’s innate goodness, rationality and ability to overcome evil, no matter how long it takes. Countries such as the US, France, Britain and even the UN have paid tribute to the great man by flying their flags at half-mast. India has not only followed suit, it has declared five days of official mourning. Pakistan has lagged behind in this regard. The only thing we can boast of is a unanimous resolution adopted on Friday by both houses of parliament to pay respect to Nelson Mandela, but we could easily have done more. Our relatively low-key response to this seminal event reflects the nature of our state and society. Meantime current South African President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) government have announced that an official mourning ceremony will take place on December 10 to supplement the people’s mourning at Mandela’s home. His body will lie in state in the capital Pretoria from December 11 to 13, and he will be buried in his Eastern Cape hometown of Qunu on December 15. While international attention is focused on the great man and his passing, ‘revisionist’ attempts to paint Mandela in ‘saintly’ hues have begun in a mistaken attempt to ‘not speak ill of the dead’. Mandela’s actual record of struggle, including the resort to arms against an unyielding and fascist apartheid regime are being papered over, and his later ‘peaceful revolution’ appears the only game in town. Similarly, ‘embarrassment’ appears to have overtaken even his well wishers regarding his close ties and solidarity with figures like Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Libya’s late Colonel Gaddafi and Palestine’s late Yasser Arafat. On the latter ‘whitewashing’ of Mandela’s image to make it acceptable to today’s political correctness, it needs to be stated that history cannot be ‘revised’ in this way without truth and its lessons becoming a casualty. The 1960s were a period of armed revolutionary and national liberation struggles throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America against colonialism and neo-colonialism, dictatorship and oppression. The regimes responsible for this world order were unbending in their colonial, imperialist and oppressive agendas. The peoples of these oppressed countries had little choice but to take up arms against their tormentors. In South Africa too, the ANC’s ‘Gandhian’ (non-violent) élan gave way to opting for armed struggle when it became obvious that the apartheid regime was uncaring of outside or domestic protest and demands for justice. It answered all such peaceful manifestations with the knout and the mailed fist. The ANC’s armed struggle may not in itself have managed to overthrow the apartheid regime, but it was a factor, along with the former western supporters of South Africa’s racist policies because it suited their material interests turning away under the unrelenting pressure of moral opinion opposed to the affront to human equality and dignity that South Africa represented. Solidarity with successful or struggling movements for revolution and national liberation therefore came naturally to Mandela, and it goes to his credit that to the end of his life, he did not abandon his principles or the friends who had stood by his movement in its difficult years. It would be a mistake to substitute today’s political correctness out of context on a period that considered it legitimate to use force against regimes like the South African apartheid one. And despite today’s received mantra of seeking dialogue and reconciliation as the universal panacea for all conflicts, it is not inconceivable that a similar regime in future may require a dose of the same medicine Mandela tried it, but eventually abandoned it in favour of a much more powerful and ultimately irresistible weapon: moral authority. If his successors in South Africa desire some of Mandela’s shine to rub off on them, they have to seriously restore their now fading moral authority because of the widening poor-rich divide in their country, which still plays out along racial lines, with the non-whites still the have-nots.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Appointment of superior courts’ judges The Senate on Monday engaged with the issue of the procedure for appointing superior courts’ judges. The Senators’ complaint, which echoed across the aisles, was that the procedure as laid down by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution had envisaged parliamentary oversight of the appointment of superior court judges in order to move away from the long standing convention that followed a non-transparent procedure limited to the judiciary, first and foremost, and at best the executive. Parliament previously had no role in the matter. Essentially the procedure as it now stands envisages nominees for appointment as superior courts’ judges to be put forward by the Judicial Commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and comprising, much to the Senators’ chagrin, six out of its nine members from the judiciary. These nominees are then vetted by a parliamentary committee consisting of four members each from the treasury and opposition benches from both houses. The parliamentary committee is afforded 14 days to record in writing its objection to any nominee by a three-fourths majority, failing which the nominee is deemed to have been appointed. Not only is this restrictive of the parliamentary committee’s ability to properly vet the nominees, the Senators say in practice none of the objections or reservations of the parliamentary committee are given any weight by the judicial commission. The Senators’ lament is that in practice the parliamentary committee has become ‘toothless’, and if it has no efficacy, either it should be abolished, or parliament should meet in joint session to enact a new law to correct the perceived imbalance between the judicial and parliamentary stakeholders in the appointments process. The 18th Amendment was the most comprehensive and ambitious undertaking to correct the anomalies that had accumulated in the supreme law of the land, largely because of the tinkering with it by military dictators over the decades. While the process of forging consensus in parliament on the amendment was a lengthy and exhausting exercise that yielded many good things, it failed to completely eliminate or repeal some clauses introduced by General Ziaul Haq to promote his so-called Islamisation agenda, a euphemism for consolidating his grip on power. Also, its proposed procedure for introducing parliamentary oversight for appointments to the superior judiciary did not sit well with the judiciary, which insisted on changes. The previous government acceded to the judiciary’s demands and enacted the 19th amendment to satisfy the judiciary. However, in practice, the Senators complain, parliamentary oversight exists more in the breach. While this may partly be ascribed to the weightage available to the judiciary in the judicial commission versus the parliamentary committee, in practice the procedure has not managed to introduce a credible oversight in the matter by parliament. With a new parliament elected in May 2013, the lawmakers seem inclined to revisit the appointments issue to see if parliamentary oversight can be improved, if necessary by enacting a new law to ensure that the judiciary does not become judge and jury in its own cause. The first casualty of the non-transparent procedure before the 18th amendment was often merit. That may still be the case or at least appear to be the case, until and unless the procedure is made more transparent, above board, and with the necessary checks and balances to ensure the members of the superior judiciary are appointed in a credible manner that enjoys the sanction of both the judiciary and parliament, and thereby the acceptability and respect members of the superior judiciary deserve. Along with a new parliament, a change is also imminent at the top of the judicial edifice, with incumbent Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry due to retire in a matter of days, and his successor Justice Tasadduq Hussain Gillani having expressed his desire to see a healthy and appropriate relationship and division of powers amongst the three pillars of the state, i.e. the judiciary, parliament and the executive. This trichotomy of power has come under great strain in recent years because of the perceived overweening and hyper interventionist role of the superior judiciary since its restoration in 2009, with liberal use of suo motu and contempt powers, which have at times rendered the superior judiciary controversial. Given the balanced views of Justice Gillani, it can be hoped that the era of hyper activism characteristic of the last five years will seamlessly give way to a more balanced role, keeping the time honoured principle of judicial restraint to the fore to ensure all state institutions function within their own purview, without conflict or friction.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
PPP’s future The 47th Foundation Day of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday, November 30th saw a public meeting of the party in Karachi addressed by Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other leaders. In his address, Bilawal tried to rally the troops through a fighting speech that attempted to deal with some of the serious problems confronting the party and its future. The gist of his remarks revolved around the widespread public perception that the PPP had lost its way and faced a bleak future after the drubbing it received in the May 2013 elections, which saw it shrink from the only countrywide political party with roots and a presence in all the federating units to essentially a Sindh-based entity. Bilawal asserted that the PPP was very much alive and would prove before and by the next elections in 2018 the truth of this assertion. He went on to deny that the party had changed since it still connects people. Pakistan, Bilawal stated, is not the property of any “mullah” or “player”. He criticised the PML-N government for what he called the storm of inflation that has kicked in since it took office six months ago, which had made the life of the common man hell. His party, Bilawal said, would resist the privatisation plans of the government, which he characterised as “personalization” (a reference to alleged cronyism). Bilawal then trotted out the leit motif of the PPP: its leaders and workers’ sacrifices in the cause of democracy, in which he listed the fate of his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his mother, Benazir Bhutto on top. He asserted that the PPP had always challenged the status quo and met his critics’ making fun of his indigenous language skills head on by asserting that his relationship with the people and the party’s workers transcended language issues. As a reflection of one aspect of the PPP’s trajectory over the years, two splinter groups of the PPP also held meetings to commemorate the founding day of the PPP. The first, the PPP-SB, held a meeting in the Lahore residence of Dr Mubashir Hassan, the locale of the original founding convention of the PPP in 1967. Dr Mubashir Hassan, one of the founders of the PPP and its first secretary general, pinned the blame for the dwindling fortunes of the PPP on its deviation from the ideas and programme of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and its original élan as a party of the workers and peasants. He criticized the PPP for falling prey to the zeit geist of our times, abandoning nationalisation and veering towards acceptance of privatisation. Dr Mubashir was sceptical of Bilawal’s claim that the PPP would make a comeback in the 2018 elections. The Naraaz (disaffected) group of the PPP led by Naheed Khan and Dr Safdar Abbassi also convened a separate commemorative meeting on the day. It is an interesting fact that both splinter groups, the PPP-SB and the Naraaz broke away from the mother party in the wake of assassinations of top leaders of the party, PPP-SB after Murtaza Bhutto’s and the Naraaz group after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination respectively. Forty seven years after a group of left wing intellectuals and workers met in 1967 to found the PPP as the party of change, the current state of the party raises more questions than answers. The PPP posited Islamic socialism as its creed, nationalized the commanding heights of the economy after coming to power in the wake of the Bangladesh debacle, carried out land reforms but failed to follow through on the logic of transformation of state and society, premised on the class struggle. As a result of its ‘hesitation’, it inadvertently allowed the reactionary and vested interests to mount a deadly counter-offensive, which cost both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto their lives, the latter despite her best efforts to allay the establishment and propertied classes’ view of the PPP as a radical left wing party. How the Phoenix of the PPP can emerge from the ashes of the 2013 defeat and the demoralisation of its ranks and supporters is the forbidding challenge facing the next generation of the PPP’s leadership, first and foremost Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Challenges for new COAS The baton of command of the Pakistan army was ceremonially passed from outgoing COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to new incumbent and the 15th COAS General Raheel Sharif on Friday. With it ended General Kayani’s long 44-year career in the army, which saw him occupy some of the highest positions, including as head of ISI, before taking over as COAS from General Pervez Musharraf in 2007 and receiving an extension of three years in 2010. General Kayani in his farewell address at the handover ceremony in Islamabad reiterated that the armed forces were fully prepared to thwart both internal and external threats. He said the high spirit, sacrifices and martyrs of the army in the struggle against terrorism was a golden chapter in the country’s history, and the martyrs in particular were the benefactors of the country (an indirect rebuttal of Jamaat-i-Islami chief Munawwar Hasan’s statement declaring army men killed in the struggle against terrorism as just 'casualties' and not martyrs). General Kayani’s tenure as COAS saw some remarkable and important developments and his legacy may be debated for years to come. However, what can be stated at this hour of his bowing out is that by and large, General Kayani will be remembered as a military commander who kept the army out of politics and was in office when the first historic democratic transition in Pakistan’s history from one elected government to another took place. He will also be recalled as the first COAS to define the paradigm shift in the military’s mission from one of predominantly guarding the country’s borders to one of combating the internal threat posed by terrorism. The fact that this paradigm shift did not see entirely satisfactory results on the ground in the struggle against the terrorists may owe less to lack of intent and more to the inherent inertia that challenges changes in policy in such large organisations, despite the legendary discipline of the armed forces. In other words, the translation of a conceptual change to operational shifts on the ground is never an easy nor trouble-free transition, especially when faced by an elusive and tough battle hardened enemy. The shifting lines of alliance and conflict in the grey and murky area of jihadi proxies in the shadow of 9/11 and the subsequent invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by western forces led to inevitable gaps and weaknesses in intelligence and operational efficacy, notwithstanding the outstanding successes of the military operations in Swat (almost unqualified success) and South Waziristan (not so unqualified). In these two success stories, while the surviving Taliban in Swat fled under Mullah Fazlullah into Afghanistan, in the latter case they simply shifted into the even denser hornet’s nest of North Waziristan, where they continue to be based till today. In fact these operations point to two incontestable lessons from the guerrilla wars in Pakistan and in the world in recent times. One, the approach to the campaign in FATA has suffered not only from the overhang of the so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban misconception, it has also failed to achieve the desired results because of a piecemeal strategy of attacking Taliban groups Agency by Agency, thereby allowing the guerrillas to move away in classic fashion into adjoining, safer Agencies or over the porous border into Afghanistan. Two, the history of guerrilla wars in recent times in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, to take two examples that ended in diametrically opposite denouements, indicates that modern armies are able to eventually overwhelm guerrilla movements with their incredibly enhanced firepower and technical capability if such movements have no external safe havens to retreat into to regroup and whenever threatened. Afghanistan is a case of a guerrilla movement that remains undefeated because of the external safe havens factor, while the Tamil struggle in Sri Lanka arguably had no answer to a determined assault on its internal bases with nowhere to retreat to. Amidst other challenges, the main one facing the new COAS is the struggle against terrorism which, if the above analysis is valid, requires a reformulation of the strategy in FATA to treat the area as a theatre whole rather than a piecemeal approach as in the past in order to have some chance of encirclement of the guerillas and cutting off their avenues of retreat. Second, the new COAS will seriously have to tackle the intelligence weaknesses in the counter-terrorism campaign (a largely urban phenomenon) since such operations are inherently intelligence-led, police operations rather than the big guns of the regular military. General Sharif brings to the task operational, conceptual and training and preparatory experience that eminently makes him the right person for the job. The entire country joins us in wishing him every success.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Day of protest Increasingly, it is difficult to recall good news on most days in Pakistan. The exceptions therefore stand out. Religious parties and groups throughout the country had called for protests after the Friday prayers yesterday against the Rawalpindi incident on 10th Moharram in which at least 11 people were killed. A shutter down strike closed markets through the length and breadth of the land on Friday, providing a trouble-free passage to the protest rallies and processions taken out. No reports of violence or other negative developments had been received by the time of writing these lines. This is cause for breathing a sigh of relief, since the apprehension that the tension that had erupted between different religious denominations in the wake of the Rawalpindi tragedy may erupt into sectarian riots once again on a day fraught with such possibilities. The fact that nothing like this transpired is both a relief and also food for thought why a potentially dangerous situation has been successfully defused so quickly. Credit must go to the authorities for deploying sufficient forces, army, rangers, police, etc, to ensure peace prevailed wherever protests were due to take place. Credit must also go to the religious parties and leaders on all sides for successfully managing and defusing the anger of their respective followers. While Imambargahs were specially protected on the day, the routes and sites of protest rallies and all sensitive locations along the way were also adequately secured. The day of peaceful protest has reinforced faith in the inherent good sense of the people across religious denominations. If only the country could learn to handle all such potential powder kegs with the same sagacity, calm and maturity, Pakistan could well be transformed before our very eyes from ‘the most dangerous country in the world’ to one that invited the respect and admiration of the world. As Friday has shown, this is not a goal beyond our ken. Afflicted as the country is by a range of issues that inherently lead to conflict, such as terrorism, the sectarian divide and the extremist, intolerant mindset that has permeated society in recent decades, the historically evolved, tolerant, syncretic Sufi culture is the paradigm state and society must strive to return to. This is the antithesis of the ‘contributions’ of Ziaul Haq, the Afghan wars, jihad through proxies without and increasingly within, and can help Pakistan to reassert its true character and personality. Whereas the extremist mindset can and must be combated by these ideological and theological means, non-state actors who refuse to listen to reason will have to be tackled with the full might of the state. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government at the Centre and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa campaigned in the elections on a platform of seeking peace through negotiations with the militants and terrorists. Since assuming office, both claimed to have been attempting such a denouement, but assert that the US drone that took out Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud put paid to all such efforts. The icing on the cake was Hakeemullah Mehsud’s replacement as TTP chief, Maulana Fazlullah of FM radio fame. Since the latter has declared after being selected to head the TTP that no talks with the government were possible, the PML-N government appears to be in a dilemma. The Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz was forced to eat his words to a parliamentary committee the other day that the US had now committed to halting drone attacks while the peace negotiations were on. That assertion was blown sky high by the drone attack in Hangu that reportedly killed Haqqani network commanders. Increasingly therefore, the PML-N government is being inexorably pushed towards girding up its loins for military action against the TTP. While this plan is being (hopefully) firmed up, the Central and Punjab governments (both led by the PML-N) must mount an ideological offensive against extremism and deny the sectarian and terrorist groups that enjoy ‘immunity’ in Punjab the ‘safe havens’ they have carved out over the years in the heartland of Pakistan.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Musharraf’s fate Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali pulled another rabbit out of his hat of ‘tricks’ to announce in a press conference on Sunday that ex-president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf would be tried for treason under Article 6 for the Emergency he clamped on the country on November 3, 2007. For this purpose, the government would have recourse to the Supreme Court (SC) with a request to set up a trial court (not a ‘commission’ as the minister erroneously said) comprising judges of the high courts. The government also committed to appointing a special prosecutor to conduct the trial. On Monday, the Ministry of Interior reportedly sent a letter to the Ministry of Law to implement the government’s decision. These moves followed the receipt by the government of the investigation by the FIA into the matter, a report Chaudhry Nisar said would be submitted to the SC along with its application. The announcement set off a virtual storm of comment and speculation as to the procedure adopted by the government and its intent. Some rejected the path being taken as unconstitutional, unnecessary, an attempted distraction from the fraught sectarian situation in Rawalpindi and elsewhere in the country, and an attempt to shift the responsibility from the executive (where it belongs) to the judiciary to avoid any adverse fallout from the military. There were also questions raised about why only the November 3, 2007 Emergency charge was to be pursued and not the (arguably more serious) October 12, 1999 coup in which an elected government was overthrown. To the response to this by some circles that the coup was endorsed by parliament and therefore was a closed matter, the objection could legitimately be raised that a parliament packed with the King’s Party and Musharraf’s political collaborators lacked the inherent legitimacy to provide immunity on the treason charge to the coup maker, apart from such an endorsement falling foul of the constitution. While Musharraf’s spokesman expectedly trashed the move as vengeful (denied at some length by Chaudhry Nisar earlier), a distraction, and likely to annoy the military, at the time of writing these lines an interesting development was expected in the Sindh High Court (SHC), which had ordered the institution of a treason charge on Musharraf, and where the latter’s application for his name to be taken off the Exit Control List (ECL) was up for hearing on Monday. A contempt of court petition had also been filed against the prime minister and the government for their failure to implement the SHC’s order to file a treason case against the ex-dictator. In a first in the country’s history, a military coup maker and dictator is being charged with treason. In the only other instance in our history, Yahya Khan was declared a usurper by the courts only after his death. Musharraf on the other hand is alive and kicking, out on bail in the four serious cases of murder, etc, instituted against him so far. Were the SHC to grant Musharraf the relief of removing his name from the ECL, some are inclined to believe he would fly straightaway to Dubai, ostensibly to visit his ailing mother, and perhaps never return (although some of his gung-ho supporters are vociferously denying he would leave Pakistan). Musharraf’s return to the country earlier this year in a quixotic effort to enter politics clearly backfired, and even his parent organisation, after he ignored advice to stay away, was unable to prevent the ignominy of a former COAS being dragged through the courts. However, no one should take lightly the possible reaction of the military to a treason case carrying a possible death sentence being pursued against its former chief. Whether GHQ would be inclined to swallow such humiliation in a country dominated almost throughout its existence by the powerful military remains an open question. That may be one reason why the charge of shifting responsibility from the executive to the judiciary and putting the ball in the latter’s court by the government rings credible. Nor should the influence of the Saudi monarch be ignored, who is believed not to be in favour of pillorying Musharraf and who is widely regarded as enjoying a lot of influence over the present PML-N leadership. So while in principle the idea of a treason trial (and for the 1999 coup too) appears the correct thing to do, the sceptics are still understandably unconvinced that the government means what it says and that some other way out may not be in the offing.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
KP coalition splinters On Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan’s advice, the PTI’s alliance with Aftab Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) has been ended. There were rumblings of trouble for some weeks. The startling development reportedly followed warnings to two QWP ministers allegedly involved in corruption, to desist. These warnings did not sit well with the QWP, a coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincial government. Senior Minister Sikandar Sherpao and other QWP ministers stopped attending cabinet meetings and their 10 MPAs boycotted the Assembly. Imran Khan has said that his party was given a mandate in the May 2013 elections on a platform of opposing corruption, and therefore the PTI would not tolerate any partner who indulged in, or turned a blind eye to corrupt practices. In the same breath he praised his Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) coalition partner’s ministers for exemplary adherence to probity and the KP government’s anti-corruption stance. The QWP has reacted angrily to these developments. They claim they were never informed of any concrete charges of corruption against their ministers. Had the PTI so informed, they assert, they themselves would have taken action against the ministers if the charges against them were proved. Under the circumstances, their ministers were dismissed without a hearing or opportunity to clear their name, the QWP stated. A press conference was planned y the QWP at the time of writing these lines, in which Sikandar Sherpao and other leaders promised to expose the PTI’s own ministers’ misdeeds and corruption. Whether there is any weight in this riposte or it is merely a retaliatory move will only become clear with time. QWP spokesman Tariq Khan attempted to link the breakdown in relations with the QWP’s principled stand on not attempting to disrupt NATO supplies as demanded by the PTI because this was the prerogative constitutionally of only the federal government. The PTI now stands accused of not acting against its own ministers’ alleged corruption to set an example before dismissing the QWP ministers and expelling the party from the coalition. However, the PTI has removed one of its own ministers who was disqualified by the Supreme Court (SC) for holding a fake degree. The move against the QWP has evoked demands that the PTI put its own house in order by investigating the alleged corruption of its own ministers. In a house of 124 members in the provincial Assembly, the PTI still commands 53 seats, the JI eight, Awami Jamhuri Ittehad Pakistan five. These coalition partners along with two independents gives the incumbent KP government 68 seats, a majority, but just how comfortable is not clear. Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s JUI-F and the PML-N are waiting in the wings. That would be a new turn for the books since the PML-N had turned down the JUI-F’s offer after the elections to form a coalition government instead of the PTI’s. Speculation swirls around whether the redoubtable Maulana will now see this splintering of the PTI-led coalition as his best chance since the elections of fulfilling his wish. Imran Khan and the PTI have put corruption centre-stage in their election campaign and after. What is surprising therefore is that the PTI did not see fit to take into account the reputation of Aftab Sherpao when he was chief minister of KP before entering into a coalition with his party. That not only smacked of the usual expediency in forming coalition governments by throwing moral imperatives to the wind in favour of garnering the necessary numbers, it may also have owed something to CM Khattak’s long standing relationship with Aftab Sherpao, dating back to when they collaborated in 1994 to remove the PML-N’s government in KP and as result of which, Aftab Sherpao was elevated to CM. Simply to recount this background is sufficient to bring home the expedient and shifting nature of politics and political alliances in our political culture, a tendency of long standing but which appears to be alive and kicking even today. The KP government may be able to ride out this storm, but the episode has certainly cast the PTI itself in a less than savoury light for ‘cavorting’ with what they now call corrupt elements.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Another Haqqani rubbed out The assassination of the eldest son, Nasiruddin Haqqani, of the Haqqani Network (HN) leader Jalaluddin Haqqani in Bhara Kahu on the outskirts of Islamabad on Sunday night comes barely a week after Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud's death in a drone strike in North Waziristan. He is reported to be the fourth Haqqani brother to have been rubbed out by one means or the other. Two armed men opened fire on Nasiruddin, the chief financier and spokesman of the HN, as he was buying bread in the bazaar, stopped to make sure he was dead and then fled. Nasiruddin’s driver picked up the body and transported it to the Haqqani home near Miranshah, North Waziristan, where he is reported to have been buried. No claim of responsibility has surfaced so far, feeding the rumour mills fulltime. The TTP was quick to react, blaming the ISI for the assassination because they said, of Nasiruddin’s close support to Hakeemullah Mehsud. They also vowed to avenge his death. Other speculation centres on the usual cast of suspects, headed first and foremost by the US, which had declared the HN a terrorist group in 2012, in an ironic twist on the HN’s once blue-eyed boys status in the eyes of Washington during the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan. Former US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen had categorised the HN in 2011 in testimony before Congress as a “veritable arm” of the Pakistani ISI. HN is considered one of the most deadly groups fighting the US, NATO and the Karzai Afghan government, with links to al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and a string of militant groups in Pakistan, including the TTP. The Pakistan army’s ISPR refused to comment on the assassination. The local police appeared clueless about whether the murder had actually occurred, and if it had, who was the victim, since the body was whisked away long before the police lumbered onto the scene. The local SHO has been suspended, but what good does that do when the incident is clearly a ‘black ops’ targeting by whoever was responsible. Some intriguing questions have arisen as a result of this incident. Some are describing it as a replay of the Osama bin Laden raid. It is being reported that Nasiruddin Haqqani had been living in the area for the last 3-4 years. Surely the intelligence agencies, if not the authorities, would have been aware of his presence. That will be the question that will once again be asked by the world. It will strengthen the conviction amongst wide swathes of international and domestic opinion about the establishment’s support for the HN. It will also once again resurrect the questions about the policy of the security establishment when this incident has once again highlighted the links of HN with a conglomeration of the Pakistani state’s enemies, including the homegrown TTP against whom the military is fighting. Nor should it be forgotten that all the reports speak of Maulana Fazlullah, the recently crowned successor of Hakeemullah Mehsud as the chief of the TTP, having found safe haven in eastern Afghanistan just across the border under the aegis of the HN. Internationally, it may ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan regarding its links with the HN. The complex play of forces in the Afghanistan (and now increasingly Pakistan) theatre shows the manner in which alignments have changed and shifted since the end of the Cold War. Yesterday’s allies (the US and the Afghan Mujahideen, including the HN) are today’s sworn enemies. Pakistan’s long standing policy of so-called ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan to be gained through armed proxies has badly backfired in the shape of domestic terrorists (like the TTP) linked inextricably with the global (al Qaeda) and regional (the Afghan Taliban, etc) terrorist groups that have laid siege to Pakistan and Afghanistan, not to mention the broader region, and created the gravest threat to Pakistan’s security in living memory. The military needs now (if it has not so far) to review its policies and options in the matter of Afghanistan before the 2014 drawdown of US and NATO troops and, as a corollary, how to tackle the homegrown terrorist threat, and advise the government accordingly.
Friday, November 8, 2013
LG elections conundrum The Local Government (LG) elections ordered by the Supreme Court (SC) are becoming more and more controversial. On Thursday, a consensus emerged across the aisle in the National Assembly (NA) to not hold elections that would suffer from inadequate preparation and may end up becoming less than credible if not engender the usual round of accusations and counter-accusations that the process had been non-transparent if not rigged. Although the unanimous resolution of the NA to delay the LG elections until preparations were completed satisfactorily is not binding, it does reflect the misgivings of the political class as a whole that the SC's insistence on holding these elections on November 7 in Sindh and December 7 in Punjab and Balochistan, over and above the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP’s) reservations regarding printing the millions of ballot papers required and delimitation of constituencies, may lead to a great deal of ruction if a flawed election process is conducted. While it is understandable that the SC’s insistence is rooted in the sorry track record of political governments in holding LG elections in the past, making haste now despite the obvious obstacles to a credible and transparent process does not inspire confidence. Underlying the NA resolution, and reflected in the speeches made on the floor during discussion on the issue, is parliament’s resentment of an overbearing and interventionist judiciary that has seen fit to venture into areas normally within the purview of the executive or parliament. Lest anyone conclude that the role of the superior judiciary in this matter is all controversy, the decision by the Lahore High Court (LHC) overturning the intent of the Punjab government to hold LG elections on a non-party basis, is a clear verdict upholding the LHC’s interpretation of the relevant Articles of the constitution that militate in favour of political parties-based local elections. However, the SC is seen as leaning on the ECP to hold the elections in November/December come hell or high water, and in turn the ECP is leaning on the Sindh and Punjab governments to complete the delimitations, etc, in time. The federal government, in the person of Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, has also expressed the difficulties in printing the required ballot papers by the Printing Corporation of Pakistan within the 20-25 days available, while the NA opinion tilted in the direction of rejecting any attempt to farm this task out to private printing presses as this could not be considered free of the apprehension of mistakes and even deliberate manipulation. Ishaq Dar said it was not appropriate for the executive to get involved in having the ballot papers printed as this may give rise to controversies regarding the transparency and accuracy of the process. If all this were not enough, nine parties in the Balochistan Assembly want the ‘bogus’ voters lists used for the May general elections revised by the ECP, failing which the LG elections would not reflect the will of the people. The above iteration of the controversy surrounding the LG elections is enough to make one’s head spin. The whole furore owes its origins to the insistence of the SC on holding the elections irrespective of the problems pointed out by the ECP, the NA, and the federal government. Sympathy for the consideration of the SC that neither the ECP nor the politicians should be allowed to once again ‘sabotage’ the holding of local bodies elections cannot and should not blind us to the possibility that elections held without proper preparation and in haste despite all the roadblocks could end up with a whimper rather than a bang. There is no denying the necessity and importance of having elected local bodies as the lowest rung of the democratic edifice, but that rung must be seen to have been constructed transparently and credibly according to the provisions of the constitution, law and best democratic practice. Falling short on these standards would not lend credence to any local bodies that may emerge as a result of a flawed process. It is still not too late for the state’s institutions, the executive, parliament and the judiciary to put their heads together and sort out the anomalies in the present plan. The heavens will not fall if the local bodies are elected a few months later, provided that in the process all the wrinkles in the process are ironed out.
Monday, November 4, 2013
US ‘distances’ itself from talks The US, through its State Department spokesperson, has found a ‘convenient’ way to ‘distance’ itself from the Pakistan government’s proposed peace talks with the Taliban, while refusing to comment on the drone strike that killed Hakeemullah Mehsud the other day. On the peace talks, the spokesperson said in Washington that this was an ‘internal’ matter for Pakistan. Neither confirming the drone strike nor the fact that Hakeemullah was dead, the spokesperson ‘diplomatically’ referred in general to the “shared interests, including security and counterterrorism cooperation” with Pakistan in the quest to build a more prosperous, stable and peaceful region. He did not even bother to answer Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s accusations that the US deliberately sabotaged the allegedly impending peace talks. This dissembling may serve the US’s interests by remaining non-committal while continuing with its drone campaign, as both President Barack Obama and US Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson tended to do in their recent meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Washington and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar in Islamabad respectively. But it will likely fuel the rising anger in Pakistan against the US, not the least because the sense of humiliation that attended the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad will return with a vengeance because of Hakeemullah’s being taken out. While that section of opinion in Pakistan that is convinced of the US’s desire and intention to sabotage ‘peace’ in Pakistan cannot be persuaded otherwise, there are niggling questions about the Hakeemullah episode. How did Hakeemullah Mehsud come to afford the palatial home near Miranshah where he was killed, a home said to be worth $ 120,000? Clearly, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief had come into good fortune. The compound reportedly housed his family, and it can be conjectured that he may well have visited it before the last and fateful journey he made to his luxurious home. Is it the case, as is being speculated in parts of the media, that our security forces collaborated with the drone strike by providing ground intelligence on his movements? Whether these questions hold any water or not or are merely more of the proliferation of conspiracy theories in Pakistan, is difficult to determine. It is unlikely we will ever learn the truth about this affair. Meanwhile the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly has passed a resolution asking the federal government to stop NATO’s supply lines until the drone strikes stop. While reports say the federal government does not see the wisdom in annoying the US beyond what may be tolerable, the federal cabinet meeting to deliberate on the emerging situation was scheduled to take place at the time of writing these lines. The government is between a rock and hard place. On the one hand, there are apprehensions that once the TTP sorts out its succession issues and decides on the exact nature of the response to Hakeemullah’s killing, the government and people should brace for accelerated terrorist attacks all over the country. On the other, the government knows the enormous stakes and advantage gleaned from the prime minister’s recent visit to Washington in terms of helping Pakistan overcome its energy and economic crises. The cost of defiance of Washington beyond tolerance limits could prove prohibitively expensive. The political parties, with Imran Khan’s PTI in the lead on a white charger, want nothing less than ‘war’ against the US. These emotional and immature responses reflect the lack of political experience of the PTI leadership, and its KP provincial government may well become a casualty of its quixotic campaign to stop the NATO supply lines, by hook or by crook, with or without the federal government’s assent. But this is the least of our present worries, tightened security against the possible terrorist threat being enhanced by the looming approach of Muharram.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Talks strategy in tatters? After the killing of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone attack, the government’s talks strategy appears to be in tatters. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar had claimed in his press conference the other day that the first steps toward s a dialogue were in the works when the drone struck. Such a claim can only be taken as the government’s start of concrete steps to bring the TTP to the negotiating table. It cannot be claimed, as Chaudhry Nisar asserted, to be the actual beginning of negotiations. How can one say with certainty that the TTP would have accepted the invitation for a dialogue? And if they did, would they resile from their demands to impose sharia according to their interpretation (implying throwing away the constitution), release all their prisoners and withdraw the army from FATA? All this is in the realm of the unknown. Categorical assertions such as those of Chaudhry Nisar and Imran Khan that the ‘peace process’ has been deliberately sabotaged by the US therefore remain more subjective opinion than unassailable objective fact. It is being speculated in the British press that the answer to the question why Hakeemullah was targeted now and not earlier lies in the fact that his travel to his house flushed him out of hiding and gave the drone warriors their best opportunity ever. While Chaudhry Nisar is trying desperately to distance the government from any complicity or approval of the drone strike, given the past record of cooperation by Pakistan in this endeavour while retaining deniability by protests, some level of cooperation may not be ruled out. Of course, if true, and even if not, the death of Hakeemullah will prove extremely awkward for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government to handle, since they now appear sandwiched between the body of domestic opinion, led by Imran Khan, that interprets the drone strike as sabotage of what they view as a peace process poised to proceed, and the US and its clout over Pakistan’s strategic, diplomatic, economic, etc, future. Angry as some people may be in and outside government on the drone strike, Islamabad is not in a position to annoy Washington beyond a point. It remains to be seen what the emergency cabinet meeting the prime minister has called today decides after being briefed on the developments. Stopping NATO supply lines, as Imran Khan insists, may not stop the drone strikes, as Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid argues. And the proposed step suffers from no clear idea of the timeline for such stoppage and what would be the next move if drone strikes did not stop. Can Pakistan sustain the pressure that will inevitably follow an indefinite stoppage, indefinitely? We should be cognizant of our vulnerabilities, especially on the economic front, and not get carried away by angry rhetoric. Meanwhile the TTP has it seems been unable to agree on a permanent chief and has chosen instead to go for what appears to be a compromise choice as interim leader. Vowing revenge, the TTP seems set to turn its back on the talks offer, prompting a high security alert in all the major cities of the country. In this space we have consistently argued that the talks proposal is not feasible for reasons that have nothing to do with drones. It represents the inherent weakness on display by the state against the terrorists by offering talks when the latter are stubbornly sticking to maximalist demands that amount to a virtual surrender by the state. The US’s drone strike on Hakeemullah Mehsud may well have driven the final nail into the coffin of the hopes for a negotiated settlement with the TTP, but the whole proposal and its chances of ‘success’ on terms acceptable to the state were always highly uncertain. The government has now, with the help of input from the security forces, to come up with the missing Plan B to tackle a dangerous, slippery enemy wedded to nothing less than the destruction of the democratic system of Pakistan