Thursday, January 31, 2013
US pressure no longer working? In an interesting turn of events, the federal cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, has taken two decisions that indicate that Washington may no longer be able to call the shots on everything related to Pakistan. One decision is to hand over Gwadar Port to a Chinese company after the contracted Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) failed over many years to operationalise the port. General Musharraf is believed to have handed over the project on the Mekran coast to the Singapore entity after the US exerted pressure to get the Chinese out of an area at a stone’s throw from the Straits of Hormuz, through which the bulk of the Gulf’s oil passes on its way to the international market. PSA claims in its defence that it had been unable to operationalise the port because it was not allocated the land it requested for full development and operationalisation. The land issue in Gwadar is a sensitive one ever since the project first started, the accompanying development of Gwadar city attracting land speculators and investors from all over Pakistan in the hope of windfall profits, the land having been obtained from local owners at dirt-cheap prices. This resentment still simmers, adding to all the other complaints the Baloch people have of being deprived of their land, resources, and rights. The handover to a Chinese company is a case of the project returning full circle to where it began, the concerns of the US notwithstanding. China provided 75 percent of the initial $ 250 million for the project. The Chinese company that has won the contract is expected to invest further to bring the port online. The problem though with the port is that no planning or implementation has gone into providing the inland infrastructure that could really make the port viable and take some of the pressure off Karachi and Bin Qasim ports to the east. However, in the absence of road or rail links from Gwadar port to the rest of the country, goods imported via Gwadar have to travel overland along the Mekran Coastal Highway to Karachi before being shipped north to the rest of the country, a route that defeats the very purpose in terms of cost and time that the Gwadar port was intended to fulfil. Now that the Chinese have moved back in, one hopes the federal and provincial governments and the port authorities will ensure that the Chinese contractor puts in place plans to train and induct local people to boost employment and allow some of the benefits of the project to trickle down to local citizens, thereby earning a lot of goodwill and allaying some of the resentment the project has left lingering in its wake. The other decision the cabinet took is to approve a government-to-government agreement with Tehran to build the Pakistan portion of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline. On this project too the US has been trying to exert pressure on Pakistan to abandon the project, given the state of Washington’s relations with Iran and the concerted efforts by the US and its western allies, not to mention Israel, to prevent Iran from developing what is alleged to be a nuclear weapons programme. The Iranians of course consistently deny this and argue their programme is purely for peaceful purposes and they have no intention of going down the nuclear weapons route, which they reject on the basis of their late leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s instructions as well as their religious conviction that such weapons are anti-humanity and anti-Islam. The Pakistan federal cabinet has set up a high-powered committee to analyse the IP project further. The Islamabad-Tehran deal is worth $ 1.5 billion for laying the 785 kilometres Pakistan segment of the pipeline that will deliver 750 million cubic feet of natural gas per day by January 2015. International finance for the project being hard to come by because of the known hostility of the US and the sanctions threatened against any country or company that engages with Iran, the latter has offered $ 500 million financing repayable in 20 years, with Iran's Tadbir Energy actually building the pipeline through its sub-contractors. Almost half of the remaining $ 1 billion will be arranged through a Chinese loan and about $ 500 million will be raised y Pakistan through a gas infrastructure development cess. While it is a welcome sign that Pakistan has taken these decisions in its own interest and without being deterred by US pressure, this may not be an inappropriate moment to point out that both projects on Balochistan’s soil should remind us once again that the province is going through very troubled times. In the interests of Balochistan’s as well as the country’s development and progress, it is imperative that peace return to the province by talking to the insurgents and conceding their genuine demands, addressing their genuine grievances, some dating back to the very emergence of Pakistan, and embracing our Baloch brothers instead of trying to drive them into 'paradise' at the point of a bayonet.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
NAB Chairman on the SC Chairman NAB Admiral (retd) Fasih Bokhari, in a letter to President Asif Ali Zardari, has pointed the finger of accusation at the Supreme Court (SC) for unnecessarily pressurising NAB investigating officials in high profile cases, especially the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) case. If these concerns are not addressed expeditiously, the Admiral wrote, it will not be possible for him to fulfil his responsibilities and has hinted at resigning. The Admiral has pointed out that the country is poised at a critical juncture in its history when fair and free elections are anticipated. At this juncture, the people, political forces and the military are on the same page and determined not to allow non-state actors to derail the democratic transition. The Admiral has made a distinction between the legitimate role of the SC in monitoring NAB investigations to the limited extent of ensuring fair investigation, but criticised the growing tendency of the court to itself get involved in guiding investigation in a direction desired and perhaps pre-conceived. Contempt notices (of which the Admiral too has received one), verbal orders that differ from written ones, insufficient time to prepare numerous progress reports are all placing extreme pressure on NAB officials, running the risk of NAB personnel losing their independence and being rendered unable to conduct their investigations in a proper manner. Admiral Bokhari referred to the matter of investigation of very senior members of the government, in which orders even to arrest them had been issued on the basis of regional investigators’ reports, which had yet to be put up to and decided upon by the Executive Board of NAB headed by the Chairman, the only authority so empowered. He refers to the National Accountability Ordinance, which mandates that no reference can be filed unless the chairman has been allowed to exercise his mind on the matter before him and decide whether a clear case of criminality had been made out. In a memorable quote to reiterate that he is under a statutory obligation to uphold the law, the Admiral says, “…there can be no sacred cows, nor raging bulls”. Turning his attention to the media, the Chairman states that there is a clear revolt within NAB, abetted by a certain section of the media that has used the death of NAB investigator Kamran Faisal to vilify the Chairman and some senior NAB officials. “This section of the media appears to be acting as an intelligence unit influencing the public, and possibly influencing certain members of the judiciary. Long-standing ‘stay’ on taxes to be paid by this media house appears to be relevant also,” the Admiral writes. This campaign he argues, in which the role of the SC is evident, is placing great pressure on him to please the court, which could be construed as pre-poll rigging (since by implication it is aimed only at the government). He asks the relevant state institutions to look carefully at the possible role of members of the judiciary and a section of the media in undermining state institutions and the confidence of the people in the state itself. The letter in question has reached the media and been fully reported without any explanation how such a sensitive communication between the chairman NAB and his boss, the president, has become public property. This mystery aside, the contents of the letter constitute a damning indictment and devastating critique of the apex court and sections of the media. The sum total of the NAB Chairman’s charges against the SC revolve around overstepping its juridical powers as the supreme appellate court, interfering in and pressurising investigations in what appears to be a pre-determined direction, and consciously or inadvertently producing an impression of bias against the government. These are very serious charges, and invite questions about the conduct of the court. There is no denying that disquiet has been growing about the manner and direction in which the SC appears to be moving. Some legal minds are even of the opinion that the court is veering towards judicial tyranny. Be that as it may, we have been arguing in this space for a long time that the SC must not only do justice (without the heavens necessarily falling), but also be seen to be doing justice. An overbearing posture or intervention in areas beyond the purview of the court has the unintended effect of bringing the court under a cloud of suspicion and controversy, something undesirable for the judiciary. That is precisely why we have been advising the court to exercise the time-honoured principle of judicial restraint, to avoid precisely these kinds of allegations and accusations. We hope His Lordships will take account of this advice, without flinching from doing what is right and just, but ensuring that no damage accrues to their respect and dignity.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Government-Qadri talks After the first meeting between the government negotiating team that persuaded Maulana Tahirul Qadri to call off his sit-in in Islamabad and the redoubtable Allama, there are hardly any surprises in the outcome. Both sides have stuck to their guns on issues of import in their view, while converging on points agreed in the Islamabad Declaration. For example, as far as the objection that all the agreed points in the Islamabad declaration are unconstitutional or illegal, Federal Minister for Information Qamar Zaman Kaira tried to assuage any worries on this score by asserting that legislation would be enacted to provide cover to the agreed points. It remains to be seen if this task can be completed before the Assemblies go home. Now first the agreed points that emerged after this meeting. The government has committed to announcing the elections date within 7-10 days and will meet Qadri again on a date to be announced by January 31. Qadri asserts that the Assemblies will be dissolved before March 16, the cut-off date that marks the end of the tenure of the National Assembly (though the provincial Assemblies have later dates, extending in all by another month). Qadri further said the elections would be held within 90 days after the dissolution, with 30 days sanctioned for the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to scrutinize the eligibility of candidates aspiring to stand in the elections on the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution relating to the character and honesty of all candidates. Consultations on the caretaker prime minister and chief ministers will first be held between the government and Qadri, and only afterwards between the government and the opposition. It may be pointed out that the legitimacy of the first consultations is purely ‘political’ in nature, while the latter are now part of the constitution. Should there be any disagreement in the first consultations, or should the two consultations produce different results, in the fitness of things, things constitutional should prevail over things purely ‘political’. Logically, while Qadri's views on this issue can and should be solicited, as should those of all players whether they are in parliament or not, the final decision according to the constitution rests on the consultations between the government and the opposition. The government and Qadri have disagreed over the latter’s demand to dissolve the ECP on the grounds that the provincial members (excluding the Chief Election Commissioner) were not properly appointed according to the procedure laid down, central to which is the hearings the parliamentary committees in each provincial Assembly are supposed to hold of all the names put forward by the provincial governments. Mr Qadri objects that these members were appointed without being heard and therefore their appointment is illegal. Since the government does not agree, Qadri has threatened to take the issue to the Supreme Court, which these days has acquired a forbidding profile. The two sides also disagreed on Qadri's demand that all funds under the control of the prime minister and chief ministers be frozen to prevent their misuse for electoral advantage by the incumbents in the run up to the elections. The government argues this would bring all development activity in the country to a grinding halt and is in any case violative of the right of incumbent governments to continue exercising their inherent powers and functions until they depart. Qadri, in a populist gesture, demanded these frozen funds be used to give relief to the people. Nice thought, but impractical. The damp squib the Islamabad long march ended as has now been ‘transferred’ to, and been reflected in, the meeting between the two sides in Lahore. What a colossal waste of the time and energies of a beleaguered people and country the entire exercise has turned out to be. Dr Qadri’s megalomaniacal ambitions may have been partially assuaged by his increased political profile emerging out of obscurity stretching over many years, but it has done little else for the polity or the country. Mercifully, at the very least the adroit handling of Qadri has prevented any suggestion of postponing the elections. This may be the only silver lining in a rather dark cloud.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Obama’s democracy, peace promise US President Barack Obama’s second inauguration speech promised oratorical principles that may not so easily be attained. Emphasising his second term foreign policy objectives, the president vowed the US would support democracy in Asia and the Middle East and resolve its differences with the world peacefully. This may serve to remind those who remember the ‘promise’ attached to the first black president in the US’s history when he was first elected four years ago. The hype surrounding Obama’s ascent to the pinnacle of the most powerful country blinded many to the exigencies of power and the interests of the US worldwide. Reaching out to the Muslim world was one of the foremost commitments Obama made, as witnessed in his famous Cairo speech soon after taking office the first time. The inevitable disillusionment that set in could and should be ascribed to the vested interests of the US’s security and foreign policy establishment, including the powerful Israeli lobby, all of which hamstrung Obama’s intent to make departures and strike out in a different direction in the US’s relations with the rest of the world. One manifestation of that failure can be seen vis-à-vis Palestine, owed in no uncertain measure to the right wing Israeli premier Netanyahu with whom Obama’s relations have been, to put it politely, frosty over Israeli settlements expansion that has all but buried the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the sands of the West Bank. Obama’s first term also witnessed the intervention by the western alliance in Libya, leading to the overthrow and horrific murder of Gaddafi. Currently, the ongoing intervention in Syria through pro-western proxies, amongst whom ironically al Qaeda affiliated groups have a major role, is another example of what Obama means by supporting ‘democracy’ in the region. Both the Libyan and the Syrian regimes have been the foremost opponents of Israel. Is it an accident then that they were the first to feel the brunt of the new messianic call to democracy? And if the US and western allied regimes of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and others are counted, how many tatters does this reduce the democracy mantra to? While ‘peace’ in Palestine, Syria and even Afghanistan, the last despite or even because of the fears surrounding developments after the US troops withdraw by 2014, seems a long way off, the continuing confrontation with regimes such as Iran and North Korea signal new conflicts simmering on the surface. As if all this were not worrying enough, we now have the doctrine of the ‘pivot’ to the Asia-Pacific, a euphemism for potential conflict with China, the rising power in that region. While on the foreign policy front the second term is unlikely to yield much that will be different from the first, Obama’s domestic agenda is likely to dominate the next four years. Obama talked in his speech about equality and unity, while conceding the fraught state of the traditional consensual system of decision making in the US polity because of what he termed “absolutism", a reference no doubt to the intransigent attitudes that inform the Republican Party. Obama’s domestic agenda of seeing through the implementation of healthcare, gun control, climate change, gay rights and illegal immigration promises a bruising confrontation with his opponents in the Republican Party. Some American analysts have repeatedly stressed that the US traditional political system is broken, with no redressal in sight. The fight therefore within the US may turn out really ugly and leave Obama without the means to boast of major accomplishments by the time he leaves office. US presidents tend to be sensitive about leaving a legacy. In Obama’s case, while his first election was a historic turning point for a US with a history of brutal slavery that needed a bloody civil war to eradicate, and his re-election is a further proof of how the US has, and is, changing, legacy-wise, so far at least, the Obama period may be seen with hindsight more as unfulfilled promise than anything to write home about.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Algerian hostage crisis One of the deadliest hostage crises the world has seen has ended in bloody fashion at a remote gas plant in Algeria. Militants affiliated to Al Qaeda In the Maghreb (AQIM) claimed the attack was in retaliation for the French military intervention against Islamist rebels in neighbouring Mali, although western governments seemed sceptical of the claim on the basis that the attack seemed too well planned to have been put together in such a short time. They do however concede the possibility that it may have been triggered by the Mali intervention. The numbers of dead and missing western hostages is still clouded in uncertainty, but the toll seems to run into the hundreds. The isolated gas plant lies in the Sahara, a vast desert shared by many north African countries with scant population except nomads whose traditional way of life has remained virtually unchanged even after borders were drawn in the sand reflecting the limits of colonial domination by various western powers. Thus for example, the Tuareg tribal nomads of Mali and other north African countries that share the Sahara have more or less been left to their own devices, their areas becoming a hotbed of smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. Into this wild and purely policed desert area has intruded the AQIM, seizing large parts of the country in the desert north. When the UN Security Council finally woke up to the threat posed by the AQIM and adopted a resolution sanctioning military intervention to prevent a takeover of unstable Mali by the militants, France, the ex-colonial power, was the only one to brave the risks of a military intervention that promises uncertain prospects. Logistical support has come from the British, but both they and the US have stopped short of committing troops, as reflected in the statements of their respective defence ministers after a meeting in London. The emerging al Qaeda and its affiliates’ threat to the established states of north Africa from the Atlantic to the Red Sea arguably owes itself to the original intervention by the US and NATO in Afghanistan, where the Bush administration occupied the country to remove al Qaeda from its base and prevent further attacks such as 9/11. The ‘splat’ produced by trying to squash the al Qaeda mosquito in Afghanistan through a major invasion and occupation has led to the unintended spread of the al Qaeda franchise across the Muslim world. Outgoing US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta as usual voiced the intent of the US and its western allies to prevent any attempts by al Qaeda or its affiliates to overthrow governments anywhere in the region, citing interventions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and now north Africa (not to mention the unintended consequence of the birth of al Qaeda in Iraq after the US occupation). The emergence of jihadi extremism in threatening form was owed to the use of these militants in Afghanistan against the Soviets and Afghan communists. The chain of cause and effect has by now linked the al Qaeda franchise groups across the arc or crescent that geographically defines the Muslim world. Unfortunately no lessons have been learnt from the outcome of using jihadi extremists in Afghanistan, as witnessed in the Libyan and now Syrian interventions, both of which house al Qaeda affiliates in the western-backed opposition’s ranks. In fact the attack in Algeria used weapons obtained from Gaddafi’s armouries looted by Islamist militants during that struggle as well as possible routes from that country to evade detection before it was too late. Although some western governments whose nationals were killed or are still missing in Algeria have expressed reservations about the Algerian military’s assault on the gas plant, arguably accelerating the hostage casualties, France has fully backed the assault, arguing that there was no room for negotiation, particularly after the captors started killing their hostages. Algeria has a tough attitude to terrorists, having been through a bloody civil war against Islamist militants in the 1990s that killed 200,000 people but led to the final defeat of the Islamists. Relief that the hostage crisis is over is tempered by disquiet about another western intervention in a volatile region besieged by al Qaeda affiliates, which could so easily turn once again into an endless quagmire a la Afghanistan, with eventual failure not something that can be ruled out categorically. The western dilemma is that they will be damned if they do intervene, and damned if they don’t. But at least this should be a rude awakening, albeit belated, that flirting with al Qaeda affiliates in the ongoing Syrian struggle may not be the best option.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Democracy’s march towards maturity As these lines are being written, the government’s negotiating team composed of ministers is holding talks with Maulana Tahirul Qadri regarding his demands, in the hope that some agreement can be hammered out that will allow the Maulana to call off the sit-in in Islamabad and spare the country (and the rally participants) further unnecessary misery. This development followed the deadline of 3:00 pm on Thursday set by the Maulana for a government response, otherwise he said it would be responsible for the consequences. The ‘consequences’ were not spelt out, but concern centred on the possibility of the rally participants attempting to advance on parliament and other sensitive government buildings at the end of Constitution Avenue, which the police and security forces deployed around the rally seemed to be under instructions to prevent at any cost. Earlier, reports in the media speculated about the use of force against the crowd if the Maulana refused to yield to reason, especially since Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira had rejected the Maulana’s demands on Wednesday in a press conference by dubbing them unconstitutional. Reportedly, President Asif Ali Zardari overruled the use of force. Instead, the government wisely opted for talks to try and defuse the situation and offer the Maulana a face-saving retreat. The government’s hand had been immeasurably strengthened by the consensus of the opposition parties gathered by PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on Wednesday, a moot that delivered a very clear message. The consensus spoke of resisting the anti-democratic forces attempting to derail the system on the cusp of a democratic transition. The opposition also gave voice to what many sensible people have been advocating since the ‘crisis’ overtook the country. They urged the government not to waste even a moment in announcing the dates (and composition?) of the caretaker setup and the elections after consultations with all the political parties. Both the president and the prime minister welcomed the opposition’s considered and wise stance. The president charged the prime minister with contacting all the political parties for the purpose. Meanwhile on Thursday, while the negotiations with Qadri were still continuing, the president summoned a session of the National Assembly for January 21, which sparked off speculations that an announcement regarding the caretaker setup and elections may be made during the session. Interestingly, Imran Khan’s PTI refrained from accepting Qadri’s invitation to join the sit-in, reiterating its commitment to follow the path of elections and upholding the democratic order. Perhaps the steady but seemingly irreversible dribbling away of support for the Maulana’s demands may have finally persuaded him to seek a dialogue and even abandon his earlier insistence that he would only negotiate with the president. So what was being discussed in Qadri’s ‘bunker’? His four demands, which he reiterated on Wednesday, comprised dissolution and re-creation of a new election commission, election reforms before holding elections based on the provisions of Articles 62, 63, 218 (regarding candidates’ honesty, etc), allowing the election commission one month to vet candidates’ eligibility on this touchstone, dissolution of the National and provincial Assemblies, and last but not least, the caretaker setup to be decided not just on the basis of the two main parties’ consensus. The Maulana’s desire for an election commission of his choice when the current one enjoys credibility and acceptance by the political parties does not make sense. The honesty criterion can only be implemented on the basis of whether any candidate has been proved guilty of misdemeanour by the courts. Dissolution of the Assemblies will automatically follow the announcement of the date of the elections; the Maulana should therefore acquire some sensible patience. The caretaker setup that so agitates the Maulana will be created by the consensus of all the parties, not just the two main ones, so this demand too is more hot air than substance. Hopefully, the government’s negotiators should be able to bring the frothing Maulana down to earth with logic and reason, and persuade him to call it a day as far as the sit-in is concerned. If and when the standoff is resolved, the government and opposition should not sit on their hands but urgently address the programme for the elections so as to cut out any further attempts to derail the democratic process. The whole episode though, is an indication of the slow but steady march of democracy towards maturity, a long overdue goal for our troubled country.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Crisis and response The political crisis triggered by Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s long march, continuing rally in Islamabad and set of demands, and the suspiciously coincidental order of the Supreme Court ordering the arrest of Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf and others in the RPPs case has revealed the divide in the polity and society. On the one hand stand Qadri and his supporters within the political parties, chief amongst them MQM and PTI. On the other side can be counted almost all the parties represented in parliament, government and opposition, civil society, the lawyers community, and concerned citizens. The former camp has come out through Qadri’s rantings and Imran Khan’s so-called charter of seven demands with ideas that stripped of their verbiage, amount in essence to a return to the affliction of anti-democratic forces putting the cart before the horse, or more accurately, red herrings to sabotage the historic elections due soon. The other camp is agreed on the historic nature of this conjuncture, when Pakistan is poised for the first time in its history to witness a consensual convergence of almost all shades of political opinion on the way forward: fair and free transparent elections through a consensus-based Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) under a consensual caretaker setup whose neutrality will be beyond doubt because it will enjoy the confidence of both government and opposition. It is strange then that the anti-democratic camp is still railing on about rejecting just these consensual rules of the game framed after a great deal of thought and discussion in parliament, and enshrined in the 18th Amendment. The qualified criticisms being levelled at the CEC of being too old to ‘resist’ the machinations of the parties in government and the opposition make no sense when these governments will cease to be in power once the Assemblies are dissolved and the caretaker setup takes over. If the caretaker setup to come is being criticised as some kind of underhand deal (muk-muka) amongst the parties in parliament, surely this is an illogical stance given that inherently the government and opposition are rivals in the elections and have framed these rules of the game to avoid the usual accusations of election rigging that have bedevilled every such exercise in the past. On the touchstone of the constitution, best democratic practice and intent, therefore, the critics are making no sense. The people of Pakistan may or may not be happy with the performance of the incumbent governments during the last five years, but only uninformed and foolhardy elements without an iota of understanding of our past want to throw the baby of democracy out with the bathwater of these governments. The ‘crisis’ engendered by these sinister simultaneous moves aside, the demands of Qadri have exposed his hand. He wants, as in the past, the military and judiciary to settle the fate of the country. Powerful as these institutions are, this is neither their remit nor in accordance with any constitutional or democratic principle. The days of imposed governments manipulated into power by hook or by crook by the establishment may or may not be over (the jury is still out), but the situation and the conspiratorial moves to deny the people the right to bring in another elected government for the first time in the country’s history through fair elections cannot and should not be denied them, especially when the moment is tantalisingly close (this very closeness may well explain the frantic efforts to sabotage the electoral exercise). It is the interests of all political parties, arguably even those supporting Qadri for whatever misconceived reasons, that the electoral exercise is allowed to proceed on time and without putting obstacles in its path. Authoritarian, military, imposed governments are littered through Pakistan’s passage through time, but each one has left a bigger mess in its wake than when it started. The lesson is inescapable: our discontents with democracy and its failings notwithstanding, there is no way forward in the foreseeable firmament other than letting the democratic political process play itself out in what promises to be an increasingly credible manner since it enjoys across the board consensus, and using the space and freedoms only democracy allows to tackle the very serious problems confronting the country and our society.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Jaws of conspiracy snapping shut? Tuesday’s events have destabilised the political system and the country as a whole. First came Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s ultimatum of Monday night that the governments should dissolve the Assemblies and go home. He gave a deadline of 11:00 am Tuesday to carry out his ‘directive’. As it turned out, the logic of ground realities ensured that 11:00 am came and went and nothing stirred except the agitated supporters of Qadri in the rally in Islamabad. Qadri’s address to the rally was interrupted by another bombshell. The Supreme Court (SC) ordered the arrest of Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf and others in the Rental Power Producers (RPP) case. The order is questionable on a number of grounds. First and foremost, the order was passed on the basis of a preliminary investigation report presented by NAB before the SC, which carried a rider that the recommendations of the report were subject to legal advice, which the court did not wait for. Nor did the bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry wait for the lawyers of the government and NAB, who were not able to appear on the day, to present their side of the story. The order therefore is flawed on the benchmark of an incomplete investigation, arrest orders without any conviction by a court of law, arbitrary, and ex parte. Although the order evoked immense joy amongst the rally participants and Qadri went so far as to say that half the work was done, the other half would follow the next day, it also aroused a great deal of anxiety, not only amongst the supporters of the government, but across the political spectrum. Criticism of the court’s order followed, with great suspicion being voiced about the legality of the order as well as its timing. The SC has unfortunately, through this step, opened itself up to a new controversy, which cannot be good for the standing of the judiciary. Whether the order was passed coincidentally at the exact moment Qadri and his followers were hurling all kinds of demands and threats against the political system on Constitution Avenue in Islamabad or, as some critics have said, was playing to the gallery by the SC, we leave to the imagination of the reader. In the RPP hearing in question, the NAB chairman was castigated and issued a contempt notice on the grounds that NAB had misused the name of the SC to dismiss two NAB investigators in charge of the case. Further, the NAB chairman was made responsible for putting the name of the PM and others named to be arrested on the Exit Control List and told he would be held responsible if any of these people left the country. This development produced its toll. The Karachi stock market crashed by 525 points. The SC’s order for arresting the PM provoked angry, sometimes violent protests in interior Sindh, including exchange of firing in Hyderabad between protestors and shopkeepers, blocking of the National Highway, large parts of Karachi shut down, and the country braced with bated breath and in shock for further trouble. Imran Khan joined the MQM’s chorus in support of Qadri’s agenda, with the rider that the PTI would prefer change through the ballot box, whereas Qadri claimed that his 40,000 supporters at the Islamabad rally were sufficient to prove that the government had lost its mandate and should immediately go. Not only the conspiracy minded, even ordinary citizens are forced to speculate that this series of developments coming thick and fast on each other’s heels could not be a coincidence, and that suspicion centres on a deep rooted conspiracy to abort the upcoming elections that are to be held under the constitution in the light of the 18th Amendment, which enjoins the treasury and opposition to come to a consensus on a Chief Election Commissioner and a caretaker setup that would be non-partisan and conduct free, fair and transparent elections. The historic nature of the moment is not lost on those with a sense of history. It may not be an accident therefore that these ‘concerted’ moves appear just as the country is poised to stabilise the polity through an agreed procedure and move on to a relatively consolidated democratic system. The actors up front are obvious: Qadri, MQM (half in half out), Imran Khan (in but with a difference), and sundry others who either do not have a stake in the present dispensation or want a shortcut to power. What is not obvious are the possible hidden hands orchestrating these moves and playing the situation like piano keys. This discordant melody can and will be exposed only in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, the advice to all citizens is: fasten your seat belts.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Finally, Raisani’s just desserts It took three days of a sit-in in freezing and wet weather by the Shia Hazara community in Quetta with the bodies of their dead in the bomb blasts to nudge the governing PPP into motion. After a bevy of ministers failed to persuade the protestors to give up their extreme form of protest triggered by the community’s desperation, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf personally visited Alamdar Road, Quetta, the site of the sit-in, and after talks with the protestors, finally took the decision late Sunday night that had been staring everyone in the face. Raisani’s government was dismissed and Governor’s rule imposed. Resisting the widespread calls for Quetta or even the whole province to be handed over to the army, the government conceded police powers to the Frontier Corps (FC) and left the door open for calling in the army if the Governor saw fit. At the time of writing these lines, the notification to this effect seems to have been issued and the protestors have reportedly called off the sit-in and prepared to bury the dead belatedly. It should be noted in passing that according to our religious and cultural norms, deliberately not to bury the dead the same day or at best the next day constitutes about as extreme a form of protest as can be imagined. That may be the main reason why a government slow to respond was finally forced to confront the issue head on. The government should learn a lesson or two from this debacle. Some things need doing, are inescapable, and doing them at the right time and before damage to repute and standing ensues is usually a good idea. Timing, after all, is everything in politics. In the present case, the government has come across as hesitant, reluctant, and a late convert to the warts, flaws and blemishes of the Raisani government. The chorus of voices from all of the PPP’s coalition partners and political parties outside it was lent added weight by the voices from within the PPP’s own ranks, who argued that Raisani was a disaster, and must go. Raisani’s government followed the practice instituted during Musharraf’s benighted rule to include virtually all the Assembly members in the treasury, privilege a few lucky ones with ministries, and thereby reduce the whole idea of parliamentary democracy to a farce. All the ministers of Raisani’s administration, as well as treasury members, had a great time siphoning off development funds from the poorest province’s poorest people. Allegedly, some of them were even involved in crimes (or at least providing protection to the perpetrators) such as kidnapping for ransom, especially doctors, an enterprise that led to much agitation by the province’s medical fraternity. Reports that Raisani had been ready to quit but was asked to hang in till the elections are circulating in the media. The only credence that can be placed on such reports is that criticism from all quarters, including the Supreme Court’s conclusion that the government of the province was not being run according to the constitution, may have finally got under Raisani’s otherwise thick skin. His facile attempts at humour over the years he was chief minister included an element of cruel indifference to the plight of his people. An example of this in the present context is when he facetiously offered to send tissues to wipe the tears of the Hazara community, a remark that compares in infamy with Marie Antoinette’s famously ascribed remark about cake instead of bread. Raisani and his corrupt and incompetent team were tolerated by the PPP leadership all these years, a fact that poses a big question mark over its political wisdom. The greatest irony in the belated solution the PPP leadership has sought for Balochistan’s immediate crisis lies in the fact that having rejected the Hazara community’s demand to hand over Quetta to the army to prevent any adverse development later, the Hazaras (and the Baloch generally) have got the ‘gift’ of the FC instead. Given its track record in the province, hardly a secret by now, of pursuing the decapitation of Balochistan's intelligentsia through its kill and dump policy, an FC with police powers has greater scope for mischief. Whether the FC succeeds in tracking down and bringing to justice the tormentors of the Hazara community or not (and there are serious doubts since not one murderer of the Hazaras has been caught to date), the police powers handed to the FC on a plate risk even more abuse and extrajudicial killings in the province. That way lies greater trouble, unrest, and threats to the federation’s unity and solidarity. Raisani was a disaster, and had to go, better late than never. An empowered FC may prove a bigger disaster, leaving the government with nowhere to go.
Balochistan crisis The families of the Hazara Shias killed in the bomb blasts in Quetta have been sitting in protest in freezing weather for the last three days. Their demands are that the Balochistan government be replaced by Governor’s rule, the city be handed over to the military, and the perpetrators of these atrocities be brought to justice. They are adamant that until their demands are met, they will neither disperse nor bury the 87 bodies they have placed in the street in the middle of their sit-in. Although they have reposed their faith in the army as the only force capable of protecting them and bringing the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi self-confessed murderers to justice, some amongst them have angrily demanded to know what COAS General Kayani has done with the three years extension he got from the government. The sight of men, women and children sitting in freezing, wet weather with the dead bodies of their loved ones lying unburied under the pouring skies has shaken the country. Protests in solidarity with the Shias being subjected to a virtual genocide have broken out all over the country, from north to south. Highways have been blocked, at least one case of blocking the railway near Lahore has been reported, strikes called and shutdowns in a number of cities in evidence. While the protestors freeze, it appears the authorities’ hearts melted at least to the extent of a flurry of sudden activity to somehow try and defuse the protest. PPP federal minister Khursheed Shah was dispatched to Quetta to negotiate an end to the sit-in with the Quetta protestors. However, since he threw up his hands to say the government could not give in to their demands, the protestors could not be persuaded to end their sit-in. He was followed by a posse of federal ministers and finally the Prime Minister (PM) himself. The President is said to be following the situation closely. The PM has ordered Chief Minister (CM) Aslam Raisani to return from Dubai (he is expected today). The government has ordered police powers to be given to the Frontier Corps (FC), announced compensation for the victims, and ordered a special air force plane to take the injured to Karachi for treatment. However, it appears the government is reluctant or unable to impose Governor’s rule, which according to the Balochistan Advocate General, can only be imposed at the request of the CM or if the provincial assembly passes a resolution to this effect. Failing these, parliament can take up the matter. The government appears reluctant to hand over Quetta to the army, fearing this could be the thin edge of the wedge of ‘third force’ intervention, based on past experience. Hence the resort to the FC. However, it is common knowledge that the FC is the most hated force in the province because accusations of following a ‘kill and dump’ policy have been laid at its door and even endorsed by the Supreme Court (SC). The SC’s strictures against the Balochistan government have been vindicated by these latest developments and all Aslam Raisani’s manoeuvrings in the Assembly to remove the Speaker and garner a vote of confidence seem to have been washed away in the cold rain pelting down on the participants of the sit-in on Alamdar Road, Quetta. The only other option open to the government could be an in-house change of bringing in another CM from within the PPP ranks, but it is not certain at this stage whether that would satisfy the protestors and help defuse the crisis, especially since the miseries of the Hazaras are by no means at an end. On Saturday, two more were killed in Quetta by a bomb blast and targeted shooting. Since the last four years, 900 Hazaras have been killed and thousands injured in Balochistan, according to Hazara Democratic Party leader Abdul Khaliq, who is on a three day hunger strike along with his supporters in front of the provincial police chief’s office. The desperate community has finally decided to take things in its own hands. The support it has received from across the political spectrum and citizens all over the country is heartening. However, it would be even better if people all across the country spared a thought for the Baloch being killed and dumped allover the province by the security forces. With whatever new dispensation being introduced in Quetta, while it must deal with the terrorist bloodbath, it may also be afforded an opportunity open channels of negotiation with the Baloch nationalist insurgents to bring a just peace to the troubled province.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
Qadri’s stubbornness Some developments regarding Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s long march on Islamabad scheduled for January 14 indicate the confused state of affairs confronting the country. First and foremost, less than 24 hours after MQM chief Altaf Hussain vowed in his address to participate in the long march, the MQM has announced its withdrawal, papering over the turnabout by saying it still extends its moral support to Qadri’s agenda of reform. Speculations surround the question of the quid pro quo the MQM may have received from the PPP, given that the announcement came soon after the MQM leadership met President Asif Ali Zardari and other coalition allies in Karachi. Despite the loss of his most avid supporter to date, Qadri insists on carrying on with the long march. Government emissaries in the shape of the PML-Q’s Chaudhry brothers have been trying to persuade Qadri to call off his march on the assurance that reforms would be instituted, while pointing to the difficulty of some of his desired reforms needing constitutional amendments through a two-thirds majority in parliament. This is unlikely in the increasingly shrinking time and space left for this dispensation before elections overtake us. Qadri is looking more and more like a pulpit bully who refuses to see the wood for the trees. His so-called “Awami FIR” against the top leaders on the government and opposition side is an exercise in absurdity, given that none of the worthies named control the terrorists from whose direction a threat is perceived to the long march participants. Interior Minister Rehman Malik too has failed to impress upon Qadri the very real threat. Instead, the Maulana has started spouting the language of (quite unnecessary) martyrdom. Qadri’s latest pearls of wisdom concern his so-called charter of demands (an afterthought if ever there was one). He admires the Chief Election Commissioner personally but considers his advanced age a hindrance in being able to deliver a free and fair election. The other members of the election commission, one each from the provinces, Qadri trashes as people controlled by their respective provincial governments. He therefore demands a fresh election commission be created (presumably with his veto). Flying in the face of the constitution as amended by the 18th to 20 constitutional amendments, he wants a say in the caretaker setup rather than leaving it to the treasury and opposition to agree, with the consensus of the other parties in and outside parliament. The constitutional construct and process laid down now in the constitution Qadri dismisses as a muk-mukka (secret, partisan deal). Only a caretaker setup approved by Qadri himself, it seems, would pass muster. Qadri’s insistence on the election candidates being tested on the touchstone of Articles 62 and 63 before being allowed to stand is probably the most problematic of his assertions. In the first place, these ‘moral’ articles were inserted by General Ziaul Haq, arguably the worst and cruellest dictator in our history. As such, they do not pass the test of democratic legitimacy or reflect the wisdom of the people through their elected representatives. It is a matter of regret that the constitutional amendments piloted by Senator Raza Rabbani could not eliminate these subjective criteria because of a lack of consensus on their (much desired) removal. Who is to decide who amongst us is Ameen (truthful) becomes an exercise in subjectivity, unless and until there is concrete evidence against any prospective candidate that he/she has been proved guilty of fraud or corruption. The best solution to fraudulent and corrupt representatives is for them to be held accountable by the electorate, if they cannot be proved guilty in the normal course of the law. Anyone understanding the sensitivity of the country’s present pass, given the spike in terrorism and the tensions on the Line of Control would need their head examined if they continued insisting on a long march that runs security and other risks. But that is precisely what demagogue Qadri is stubbornly persisting with. The reports in the media point to the problems the march could encounter along the way and in Islamabad, including reported attempts by the federal government to deny entry to the marchers in the absence of an NOC from the local administration and the Punjab government’s leaning on transporters not to lend themselves to this quixotic adventure that could set off new ripples of instability through the sinews of the country. Pray that wisdom dawns and nothing untoward happens on January 14, but keep your powder dry.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Black, bloody day Thursday, January 10, 2013, at barely the start of the new year, turned out to be one of the blackest, bloodiest days in the country’s history. In Quetta, three explosions, two sectarian in nature and targeting the victimized Hazara Shia community, and the third part of the nationalist insurgency targeting the Frontier Corps (FC), killed 92 people and injured 147. In Swat, a Tableeghi Jamaat centre saw an explosion that killed 22 and injured 84 people. In Karachi, that hotbed of bloodshed, 12 people were killed and four wounded by gunmen. Any one of these tragedies would have been enough to raise alarm. Taken as a whole on the day, the carnage reflected the parlous state of the country from north to south. Details indicate the morning blast in Quetta near an FC vehicle has been claimed by the United Baloch Army, said to be one of the Baloch nationalist insurgent groups. Their claim of responsibility spoke of the attack being in retaliation for the military operations in Mushkay and other areas of the troubled province. In the case of the two later blasts in Quetta, the billiard hall targeted was located in a Hazara area, and the sectarian nature of the attack was confirmed by a claim of responsibility by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a rabidly anti-Shia group. In other ways too, the anti-Shia attack bore the hallmarks of the terrorists’ tactics when the initial blast attracted police, rescuers, media and the public to the site, where their concentrated numbers suffered most of the casualties when a second blast went off 10 minutes after the first one. The casualties include police, rescue, media personnel and the public. Some of the wounded are in serious condition, which could mean the death toll will rise. In the case of the Swat attack, police sources confirmed the suspicion it was a bomb, given that shrapnel and ball bearings hit the victims. The Tableeghi Jamaat is not known to be involved in any militant activity, although many extremist groups use the cover of its gatherings to promote their own agendas. It is therefore a mystery who would want to target the proselytizing group. Karachi of course continues to bleed, having been reduced at the hands of militias attached to various political parties, jihadi extremists and plain criminal elements. Each new incident carries the trademarks of by now well known perpetrators for well known objectives (with the possible exception of the Tableeghi Jamaat attack). Yet the very repetition of these kinds of incidents points to the disconcerting truth that the governments and law enforcement and security authorities seem to be clueless, reactive, and floundering in the face of determined enemies of the state and society. In the case of terrorism, both sectarian and anti-state (both kinds often overlapping), what seems conspicuous by its absence is a coordinated, effective strategy and the tools, organisational and other, to implement it. The response of the authorities therefore remains reactive, handing the initiative to asymmetrical warriors with an anti-human, fanatical agenda. In the case of the Baloch nationalist insurgency, a problem essentially political in nature, the resort to military means without a political strategy of talking to the insurgents has trapped the province in an endless spiral of increasing violence with no end in sight. Karachi is Hobbes’ Leviathan in miniature, with an all out war of all against all. There too, political expediency, vested interest and absence of political will ensure the killing fields continue to thrive. It could well be that Maulana Tahirul Qadri and his now hot now cold perambulations concerning the upcoming elections are one threat to democracy. On the other hand, terrorists and others of their ilk may not be interested in elections per se, in fact be trying deliberately to create such disturbed conditions that the prospects of the election fade under the blows they continue to deliver against state and society. The problem is that the state, polity and arguably society, seem to have no adequate response to these motivated attempts to bring the country to its knees. On present trends, it seems unlikely that the authorities will arrive at the inescapable conclusions to meet these challenges, which should include a centralized anti-terrorist body with participation of all stakeholders implementing that missing coordinated anti-terrorist strategy, a negotiating initiative on Balochistan, and a sorting out of the mess created in Karachi by uncaring vested interest, political and criminal. Logically, carrying on merrily in the same way may end up upsetting the whole applecart of democracy and the elections. Surely the political class would be the main loser in such a scenario. Can it wake up to the dangers before it is too late?
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Elections date Maulana Tahirul Qadri’s deadline to the government to carry out constitutional and electoral reform expired yesterday. We await the Maulana’s next move, with an eye on his threatened (and to some threatening) long march on Islamabad come January 14. Meanwhile the PPP’s senior leadership met under the chairmanship of President and co-Chairperson of the party Asif Ali Zardari in Karachi on Wednesday to assess the political situation that has emerged in the wake of Qadri’s storm (in a teacup?). The meeting reiterated the resolve of the party not to allow any attempt to postpone the upcoming elections. A four-member committee comprising senior ministers has been formed to conduct discussions with the country's political forces, including the PML-N Punjab government. This step assumes greater significance in the light of President Zardari’s announcement yesterday that the Assemblies will complete their tenure on March 16, and be dissolved on that date. Although no date for the polls accompanied the announcement, according to the constitution, there is a time limit of 90 days to hold the elections from the date of dissolution of the Assemblies. That takes us to mid-June, an unfavourable season for holding polls because of the summer heat. So the window of decision runs from March 16 to June 16, implying any date could be decided during this timeframe. What is awaited is a consensus agreement on the caretaker prime minister and setup, for which, as noted above, the four-member negotiation team of the PPP will be centre-stage. The other significant statement emanating from the PPP leadership meeting is the reiteration of the government’s resolve to maintain law and order and protect the life and property of citizens. In this context, Islamabad’s commercial heart, Blue Area, is being considered too valuable and sensitive (because of proximity to all the top government institutional buildings at the top of Constitution Avenue) to be allowed as a venue for the long march. Resistance, according to Interior Minister Rehman Malik, is also coming from the businessmen of Blue Area, which is set to be shut for three days to avoid any untoward development. The traders, again according to Rehman Malik, have underlined to the minister that if the Qadri march is allowed, or tries forcibly to enter Blue Area, they and their families, numbering some 60-70,000, will come out to resist the marchers. The business community of Blue Area fears damage to their properties from a largish crowd fired up by the fiery Maulana, as well as the threat of attacks on the marchers, a threat confirmed by Rehman Malik as well as the Punjab Counter-terrorism Department. Maulana Qadri though, is still frothing at the mouth that the federal and Punjab governments are resorting to undemocratic methods to thwart the long march, and warns of a backlash if the march is obstructed. There is little or no evidence that either the federal or Punjab government is doing any such thing. On the contrary, they seem to have taken a political decision to allow the march within the bounds of the law and peaceful assembly, an inherent right of all citizens that has been upheld by the Islamabad High court in a petition seeking a stay against the Qadri march. Meanwhile President Zardari has reportedly summoned all the PPP’s coalition partners for a discussion on the Qadri phenomenon, amongst whom the MQM too is included. This may raise a few eyebrows since the MQM has publicly supported Qadri’s march and his ‘agenda’, cloaking it in the revolutionary sounding mantle of a movement against feudalism. So far the MQM remains publicly committed to participating in Qadri’s march. Whether this is the usual MQM tactic of seeking concessions from the PPP through these kind of blackmailing tactics or a serious commitment to Qadri and whatever he is seeking will soon be revealed. PML-N is reportedly mobilising some big guns of the Barelvi school of thought (Qadri’s creed) in the shape of the Ulema Mashaikh Council Pakistan to expose Qadri’s contradictory stances over time on the blasphemy law and his claim that Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) had visited and blessed him in a dream. The Maulana’s past, as those who know him and his history, is a bundle of contradictions, so the expose will not be difficult. The Deobandi school is already doctrinally opposed to Qadri, as Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s statements against our homegrown Don Quixote testify. What windmills then is Qadri tilting against and on whose behest? This is still a grey area, with public opinion and the political class more or less agreed that the deep state is not behind it (unlike in the past) and that Qadri is an agent of the west (see the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s explicit accusation in this regard). However, deep rooted suspicions about the west derived from history aside, logically it does not make sense for the west to go against the grain of its current thrust globally that democracies serve its interests best. Why then would it be trying to upset the democratic applecart through Qadri to bring in a military-sponsored or controlled regime, especially given the west’s problems with our military vis-à-vis Afghanistan, problems that have of late yielded to the breakout of seeming cooperation but a fraught past still hovers over everybody’s head? Reservations over the past shenanigans of the deep state aside, it does not make sense either that the military establishment has suddenly reversed itself on the need for continuity in the political process under a democratic dispensation, particularly the first ever and historic peaceful transition through the ballot box from one elected government that has completed its term to another brought in through free, fair and transparent elections. So the mystery of Qadri and his ‘backers’ remains unresolved so far.
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Reko Diq fiasco The Supreme Court (SC) in its reserved judgement in the Reko Diq case has through a short order held the original agreement to explore and later mine the copper and gold reserves in the area null and void, and as a consequence, all later agreements stemming from the original one. The Balochistan government had signed a Chaghai Hills Exploration Joint Venture Agreement (CHEJVA) with Australian mining group Broken Hill Propriety (BHP) in 1993 when a caretaker government under Moeen Qureshi at the Centre and Mohammad Nasir Mengal in Balochistan was in office. The appropriateness of a caretaker government signing such a far reaching deal regarding a precious natural resource is certainly questionable, but this seems to have been a repeated pattern ever since. In 2002, when governor’s rule existed in Balochistan before the elections under Musharraf that year, the Governor, Justice (retd) Amir-ul-Mulk Mengal signed an addendum to CHEJVA to overcome certain legal lacunae that stood in the way of BHP’s successor company Tethyan Copper Co (TCC) acquiring assignment of the interest of the parties to CHEJVA. The original 1993 CHEJVA, an addendum to the exploration agreement of March 2000, an option agreement of April 2000 and a novation agreement of April 2006 have all been found “illegal, void and non est” on the touchstone of the Mineral Development Act 1948, the Mining Concession Rules 1970 framed under it, the Contract Act 1872 and the Transfer of Property Act 1882. The judgement can only be welcomed since all this skullduggery and bending of the laws and rules seems to be typical of the manner in which the mineral wealth of Balochistan has been handled since independence. Nothing, no law, no rule, seems to stand in the way of concessions to foreign interests and their local collaborators in selling the natural resources of the poorest province of Pakistan for a song. This has led Baloch nationalists to bitterly oppose such blatant exploitation and appropriation of the rights of the people of the province over their natural resources. One only has to cast one’s mind over the sorry history of Sui gas, the Saindak copper and gold project, Gwadar Port and sundry others to understand the depth of bitterness generated amongst generation after generation of the Baloch since independence at the ‘internal colonialist’ policies they have been subjected to. Unfortunately, instances of redress or compensating for past wrongs too have been conspicuous by their absence in the case of Balochistan. Hence the current Baloch generation’s veering towards separatism, having given up hope of justice or equity from the state. To return to Reko Diq, a few facts will highlight the literal gold mine it represents. Reko Diq lies in Chaghai District, 70 kilometres northeast of Naukundi, close to the confluence of the Afghanistan and Iran borders. The desert site is estimated to hold 5.9 billion tons of copper ore, of which 2.2 billion tons is considered mineable. This would yield 200,000 tonnes of copper and 250,000 ounces of gold per annum. Estimates of the value of the deposits vary according to the fluctuations in the price of copper and gold, but the lowest estimate is a worth of $ 3.3 billion and rising because of price escalation in the international market. The struck down agreement between the Balochistan government and TCC gave the former a 25 percent stake and the latter the remaining 75 percent. Baloch anger over one more instance of the exploitation by outsiders (foreign and other provinces of Pakistan) of its natural resources had been rising since 2010 and eventually dragged Aslam Raisani’s government into the ‘nationalist’ camp. Now, after the original and later agreements have been declared null and void by the SC, certain questions linger. First, what effect will the SC decision have on the international arbitration proceedings initiated by TTC and what will be the fallout on foreign investment in Pakistan as a whole? Second, lacking the finance and expertise, how will the Balochistan or federal government develop the Reko Diq reserves of copper and gold? The weight of the SC decision has come down on the side of Pakistani and Baloch interests, as it should. But what follows will be interesting to watch. Dr Samar Mubarakmand, our prominent nuclear scientist, has been offering his services all over the place, first for the Thar coal project (his underground gasification proposal having proved unfeasible by now) and now the Reko Diq copper and gold project. With due respect, nuclear science is a different discipline from mining. What the Balochistan and federal governments should do is seek finance and expertise internationally, but this time sign agreements in an open, transparent manner according to the laws and rules of the land and best international practice, and that too not by any interim or caretaker setup, but by a government mandated by the people to do so while upholding the interests of the local people of the area, province, and country. Are we capable of getting this right? Given the track record revealed by the SC case, it remains to be seen.
Monday, January 7, 2013
Democratic forces’ convergence The alarm bells set off in the polity as a result of Tahirul Qadri’s offensive, widely interpreted as a conspiracy to have the elections postponed, has evoked a remarkable convergence amongst almost all the political parties to resist any such adventure. From Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf to opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, ANP through the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, etc, a chorus of voices is now being heard condemning the sinister move and reiterating the democratic forces’ resolve to ensure that the elections are held, on time, and in a free and fair manner. The PM while addressing a rally in Chakwal said all the political parties were on the same page on this issue and that there was no alternative to democracy. The system had made advances and would be consolidated over the next five years (when a new government is elected this year). He went on to point out that the army and judiciary too are aligned with the protection and promotion of democracy. Nawaz Sharif in conversation with Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadith chief Senator Sajid Mir said “remote controlled" people were trying to fool the people by talking about electoral reforms and bringing 'change’ in the country but their nefarious agenda would be foiled. He further underlined that undemocratic forces had brought the country to the verge of destruction, with an increase in terrorism, inflation and unemployment. Only democracy can safeguard the integrity and development of the country, the PML-N chief emphasised. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly has passed a resolution critical of Qadri. Meanwhile Federal Interior Minster Rehman Malik has revealed intelligence intercepts indicate there may be a threat to attack Qadri’s long march by extremists. Interestingly, US and UK diplomats have clarified and rejected the speculation that they were backing Qadri. While reports speak of the government contemplating an All Parties Conference to strategise against the Qadri threat, even Chief Election Commissioner Justice (Retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim has spoken of conspiracies to delay the elections and derail democracy, which would be combated by the Election Commission ensuring the elections are held in time and no obstacle will be allowed to stand in the way of this crucial task. While the polity by and large converges on the need to combat Qadri’s and any other conspiracies against the timely holding of this historic election, the only discordant notes had been struck by the PML-Q and MQM. While the PPP has succeeded in pulling back its coalition ally the PML-Q from support for Qadri and his long march, the MQM chief Altaf Hussain has hinted darkly at some kind of political ‘drone attack’ soon. What this ‘drone attack’ may consist of is not clear, but speculation revolves around the possibility that his party may pull out of the ruling coalition, where it has co-existed with the PPP and other allies uneasily throughout the last five years. The MQM has a sorry record of letting down the democratic forces at critical junctures, and this time too, disappointingly, it seems to bee positioning itself against history and the democratic dispensation. As long as the democratic political forces and the state institutions accused in the past of derailing democracy, i.e. the army and the judiciary, are all on board, there should be little difficulty in letting the Qadri phenomenon end in a whimper rather than a bang. Pakistan needs a successful, peaceful transition under a consensus election commissioner and caretaker prime minister through the ballot box, from an elected government completing its tenure for the first time in the country’s history, to another elected government. Nothing could, at this juncture, be more critical if Pakistan is to turn the page on its dark dictatorial and antidemocratic past.
Saturday, January 5, 2013
New military doctrine Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf has outlined the need for Pakistan to redesign and redefine its military doctrine in an address at the National Defence College. As part of this rethink, the PM underlined the criticality of improved intelligence gathering and coordination amongst all civil and military institutions if terrorism is to be tackled comprehensively and successfully. Non-state actors are targeting the state’s symbols and institutions in a bid to impose their agenda, the PM said. He formulated the complex and multi-faceted nature of national security in today’s dynamically changing world, requiring a strategic framework that encompasses all elements of national power while coming to grips with internal and external challenges. National security can no longer be guaranteed unless sustainable socio-economic growth, political sovereignty and stability, rule of law, food security, stable state institutions and technological advance are attained. The terrorists thrive in the antithesis of these elements, comprising an environment of chaos, uncertainty and instability. The PM pointed to the critical role of the media in forging a consensus on the broad contours of national security. The war against the terrorists is also psychological and ideological. The regressive mindset that has state and society in its grip and is constantly refurbished and strengthened either by overt or covert support to the terrorists’ agenda has to be combated if we are save our culture, values and way of life, the PM argued. The military confronts a nameless and faceless enemy and cannot succeed against it without the will and support of the people. The PM paid tribute to the sacrifices of the military and security forces in this struggle, and vowed that the support and resources of the government and parliament were solidly behind the armed forces in this endeavour. The PM’s remarks come at a time when the armed forces reportedly are themselves engaged in revisiting their doctrine in the light of the changing nature of the threat to state and society. Traditionally, the military establishment has been oriented towards an east-west border security paradigm. If the threat from the east in the past was sought to be met by a conventional (and later nuclear) defence strategy, the western border was supposedly made safe by reliance on non-state jihadi extremists. During the long years of intervention in Afghanistan, starting from the early 1970s and escalating through the Soviet occupation and subsequent intra-Afghan wars, this reliance on proxies finally came home to haunt us with a vengeance in the shape of homegrown terrorists who have challenged the state arms in hand. If the strategic regional and international shifts have persuaded both Pakistan and India that their mutual inertest lies in normalising relations despite lingering issues and differences, implying a relative abatement of the eastern threat perception, the western border theatre remains a headache. COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani has conceptually indicated the shift in GHQ’s thinking by emphasising that the threat to Pakistan lies within, not without. A breed of armed, fanatically driven, battle hardened terrorists has state and society by the throat. If in days gone by (and perhaps until recently), the military considered itself the repository of all wisdom concerning national security (hence the growth and consolidation over a passage of decades of the national security state), time has proved that war is too serious a business to be left to the Generals alone. Today’s wars, whether conventional or asymmetrical, have to be fought with the full gamut of military and civilian tools available to ensure that the terrorists who pose an existential threat to state and society are routed ideologically, politically, militarily, through good intelligence and police work, and with the full and unstinted support of the civilian polity and citizenry. That is precisely why we have constantly argued in this space for an overhaul of the present paradigm of fighting against terrorism by ensuring such coordination and taking into account the ideological and political ramifications of this struggle. Without a comprehensive strategy, and the organisational structure to implement it, the fight will be that much harder.
Friday, January 4, 2013
Remembrance, justice and blasphemy Yesterday, the second death anniversary of Governor Salmaan Taseer was commemorated with prayers and civil society candlelight vigils. The memory and sense of loss of a larger-than-life Taseer has not abated with time. If anything, his absence is even more keenly felt by his family, friends and colleagues. Commemorations are usually occasions for casting a glance back over the life of the departed. In this case, a brief resume is sufficient to point to Salmaan Taseer’s considerable accomplishments. A self-made successful businessman, media entrepreneur, fighter for democracy and a progressive Pakistan, Taseer was murdered in cowardly fashion by his police guard, Mumtaz Qadri in brutal fashion on January 4, 2011 in Islamabad. The cause of his martyrdom was the stand Taseer took on behalf of a poor Christian woman, Aasia bibi, falsely accused of blasphemy to take revenge for a minor altercation with her accusers. Unfortunately, the religious lobby and parts of the media distorted Taseer’s position that the blasphemy law, subject to much abuse over the years, should be revisited to safeguard people against false accusation. This led some overly eager electronic media anchors to paint him as a blasphemer himself. A deranged police guard infected with extremist ideas did the rest. No one in the religious lobby or the guilty media persons have been taken to task for instigation to murder. The murderer was garlanded by those so-called guardians of the law, the lawyers who saw Qadri as a hero rather than the villain he is. The self-confessed murderer was sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court, but the judge had to flee abroad with this family because of threats to his life. It may be recalled that a judge of the Lahore High Court who acquitted two Christians accused of blasphemy was murdered in the past. Qadri’s case is in appeal before the Islamabad High Court, where the wheels of justice are grinding exceedingly slowly. The crazy mindset that led to Taseer’s horrible murder also took its toll of the Christian federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. As though all this were not enough, and while the Taseer family was still reeling from the shock of Salmaan’s assassination, his son Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped in broad daylight from Lahore in September 2011. Far from any salve for their wounds, this new blow devastated the family, which still waits in anguish for Shahbaz Taseer’s safe return. Taseer’s case still awaits justice and closure. The Islamabad High Court should take sympathetic consideration of the family’s agony and put the case on fast track, especially since the confession by the murderer is a matter of record. Personal or one family’s tragedy aside, the murder of Salmaan Taseer should have focused minds on the lacunae that allow the misuse and abuse of the blasphemy law for revenge, material, or other, vested interest. The thousands of people accused, usually falsely, since the blasphemy law was given its present draconian shape, have been the victims of a travesty of justice. Many have been killed by crazed mobs. Recently two such cases emerged in Punjab and Sindh, where a worked up crowd dragged the accused out of police custody, beat and burnt them to death. Can any society that allows and does not stop such madness qualify to be considered civilised? The ulema’s role in this matter has been disappointing. In their zeal to protect the blasphemy provisions, they have lent the law as it stands blind support instead of addressing its by now well documented abuses. The Rimsha Masih case saw a cleric indulging in false accusation of blasphemy against a challenged 14-year-old Christian girl by doctoring evidence. Neither has the political class covered itself with glory here. Some brave souls in some of the political parties in parliament have attempted to either repeal or revisit the scope for abuse and lack of safeguards against false accusation, which often leads to death at the hands of vigilante mobs, but all too soon buckled under pressure from the religious lobby. The requisite political will and consensus to address an obvious travesty that has led to so many tragedies is conspicuous by its absence. Salmaan Taseer may be gone, but his legacy lives in the continuing struggle for democracy, a progressive society, and returning Pakistan to the destiny envisaged for it by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On this cold and gloomy day, this is the only spark of hope left behind by the sorely missed departed. RIP, Salmaan Taseer, we salute you, your sacrifice, your life’s struggle, and hope this serves to inspire new generations of fighters for the people of our crisis-ridden beloved country.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
Alarm over Qadri threat Alarm appears to be growing over the threat posed by Tahirul Qadri and his long march scheduled for January 14 if, as he says, the reforms demanded by him are not implemented by January 10. The alarm has been added to by the MQM’s throwing in its lot with Qadri, as well as another ruling coalition ally the PML-Q flirting with the dubious agenda of the Maulana. PTI’s Imran Khan has been taking a soft line on Qadri without going the whole hog in support a la MQM. What this means is that a clear divide has opened up between those political forces that stand committed to the historic opportunity for the very first time to see an elected government compete its tenure and its successor voted in under a consensus caretaker government and a consensus Chief Election Commissioner, and those, denials by Qadri and MQM notwithstanding, who seem to be touting a formula that in essence would lead to the postponement of the elections for an indefinite period. Any political party wedded to democracy and coming to power only through the ballot box stands in the first category, which means more or less the whole political class, opportunists and blackmailers like MQM and PML-Q excepted. The two main parties, the PPP and the PML-N, who have the greatest stake in a free, fair, transparent election through which a peaceful transition through the people’s votes can be accomplished, naturally are gravitating closer to each other to prevent what is increasingly looking like a sinister conspiracy to derail the system, the deep state topping the list of usual suspects behind this shadowy move. Unfortunately, suspicions aside, there is no evidence so far who exactly is the author of this extraordinary intervention. Even a politically savvy actor like Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI-F has been forced to concede that he does not know on whose behest or agenda Qadri is playing. The threat to the historic democratic transition in the offing for the first time in the country’s history has persuaded Nawaz Sharif to ask the ruling PPP to declare the name of the caretaker prime minister and setup and announce the elections schedule as soon as possible. The unwritten subtext of this message is to try and pre-empt, or at the very least defuse the impact of the long march Qadri is threatening to besiege Islamabad with. At the same time, the opposition leader has said that as long as Qadri and his supporters remain peaceful, they have the right to stage the long march and should be given a free hand. That indeed is the crux of the coming problem. Given the aggressive tone of Tahirul Qadri in his rally speeches and elsewhere, the big question is whether the emotional rhetoric he is employing will help or hinder attempts to keep the long march peaceful and within the bounds of the law. For example, assuming the marchers receive free and unhindered passage, it can be hoped that the journey at least will be without unpleasant incident. However, what is not clear is what the marchers and their organizers plan to do once they are in Islamabad. Will they hold a public rally and then disperse peacefully, will they remain and lay ‘siege’ to the capital? What will be the demands that can realistically be considered at such a gathering, given that the prior demands are unrealistic in the extreme for deadline as well as content? Perhaps the advice of Nawaz Sharif should be heeded by all and the closed door negotiations going on amongst the two main protagonists as well as other parties in parliament put on a fast track in order to put to rest all the alarmist and alarming speculations being aired, which have done more than their bit in spreading confusion and uncertainty just when the country is poised to write a new and positive chapter in its chequered democratic history.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Talking to the TTP Ever since the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) came out with its ‘talks’ offer, there has been a lot of perambulating around whether the right approach to tackling the terrorists is to talk or fight. The problem with the debate is that it is not focused on what the TTP have actually offered. Stripped to its essentials, they are asking the Pakistani state and society to surrender to their outlandish demands for reformulating the constitution and laws according to their definition of an Islamic Emirate and all it stands for. This is a ‘vision’ in which anyone dissenting from their narrow, rigid, literalist and oppressive interpretation of Islam would be subject to being killed without further ado. This threat is extended to all Muslims, particularly Shias, arguably Barelvis, and the followers of the Sufi tradition of the subcontinent. It would also pulverise the religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, amongst others, not to mention women and their rights. That is why the initial response from government quarters was to reject the ‘ultimatum’ out of hand. But the issue refuses to go away, a reflection of the confused and divided state of mind in the polity and society. These ‘creatures’ are not open to reason or logic. They wish to dictate their antediluvian agenda at gunpoint. It is interesting therefore to consider what ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan said the other day while addressing a reference in Peshawar for slain leader of the party Bashir Bilour. His argument was that the first option for ANP was talks with the TTP and not military action against them. To make the olive branch more palatable to the TTP, he says his party does not insist on the prior laying down of arms by the TTP but simply for them to renounce violence and adopt the path of dialogue. If, says Asfandyar, this does not yield the desired results, then the option of force could and should be considered. Interior Minister Rehman Malik too has voiced similar sentiments, but with a little bit more steel in his threat to use force if the TTP does not renounce violence. The ANP may be relying on the ‘successful’ strategy they adopted in the case of the Swat militants, offering talks and a peace agreement before being overtaken by the military offensive that cleared the valley of the malign and terrifying influence of the Taliban. But this is the surface view of the experience in Swat. The fact is that the ANP negotiators, at gunpoint, ceded almost all the writ of the state to the militants, including Islamic courts and the implementation of the militants’ version of Sharia. It is only when the militants, not content with their ‘victory’, continued with their oppressive practices and made the life of the people of Swat even more miserable that the authorities, with the help of the military, took them on and wiped out their ‘rule’ in Swat. Lingering influences and sporadic infiltration back into the valley by the militants on the run from Swat do not refute, in fact reinforce the logic of the terrorists’ mindset: accept all we want or nothing. How can anyone ‘negotiate' with such an ultimatum? The TTP wants nothing but the complete surrender of the state and society to their oppressive rule, and they are prepared to go to great lengths to impose this on the people at the point of a bayonet. The minuet being played out between the TTP and the government and its allied party the ANP in terms of conditionalities and counter-conditionalities regarding talks is more rhetorical than real. The TTP are not amenable to rationality. Their demands, representing a minority opinion at best, are unacceptable to the state, society and people of Pakistan. Logically then, the only option that makes any sense is for the TTP to be taken down and this existential threat to the country wiped out forever. Of course their narrative in the political discourse needs to be combated too in order to clear the confusion they have sowed amongst misguided sections of the public and the media. Bu the bottom line is that without military means, supported and boosted by good intelligence work, there is no way out of the cul de sac the TTP wants to push Pakistan into.