Tuesday, July 30, 2013
A result foretold Not unexpectedly, the PML-N’s candidate, Mamnoon Hussain, won the presidential election by a handsome margin of 432 electoral college votes to his only rival, Justice (retd) Wajeehuddin Ahmed of the PTI’s 77. The electoral college structure gives one vote each to the members of the Senate and National Assembly (Parliament) as well as the smallest provincial Assembly, Balochistan. The other three provinces have a weighted value to each member’s vote so as to equalize the number of electoral college votes for each provincial Assembly. Mamnoon Hussain got 277 electoral college votes from Parliament, while Justice (retd) Wajeehuddin Ahmed garnered 34, with three out of the 314 votes cast being rejected. In the provincial Assemblies, Mamnoon Hussain got the following tally of electoral college votes: Punjab 54.14, Sindh 24.76, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) 21.49 and Balochistan 55. His rival got four electoral college votes from Punjab, 1.9 from Sindh, 36.17 from KP and one from Balochistan. The result was hardly a surprise, given that the ruling PML-N already had a majority of the electoral college votes as a result of its strength in the National Assembly (not so much in the Senate), Punjab and Balochistan Assemblies. So while the result was a foregone and predictable one, what made the election controversial was the direction by the Supreme Court (SC) to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to hold the election on July 30 on the plea of a PML-N leader Raja Zafarul Haq. What made the decision controversial was whether the SC should have intervened in a matter legitimately within the ambit of the ECP, and the manner in which the decision was handed down without hearing any of the other stakeholders. The ECP too has come in for a fair bit of stick for abdicating its responsibility in favour of the SC. As a result of this controversy, the PPP and its allied parties boycotted the presidential election, giving a deserted look on the day to the opposition benches and leaving a sour taste in the mouth at what might well turn out over time to be a pyrrhic victory for the PML-N. This because the new incumbent in the presidency may find it heavy going to find acceptability amongst the boycotting opposition. The next five years therefore could turn out to be very long indeed. It is a matter of regret that after the smooth transition through the ballot box of one government to another, the 12th president of the country could not be elected in a similar manner and spirit. Fault first and foremost lies with the ECP, which fell asleep it seems after the general elections on May 11 and failed to give a date in time that could have avoided the controversy. Its second blunder was refusing the PML-N’s request for reconsideration of the original August 6 date while at the same time tendering the gratuitous advice to the PML-N to go to the SC for direction, which the ECP would be bound to follow. What a travesty of what we hoped was an independent ECP. To make confusion worse confounded, the SC in its ‘haste’ accepted Raja Zafarul Haq’s plea without much ado and without bothering about the viewpoint of any other party. The SC has thus laid itself open to criticism from legal eagles as well as the public. There have been unprecedented (given the high esteem both institutions and their heads were held in until this debacle) calls for the resignation of the Chief Justice as well as the Chief Election Commissioner Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebraheem. Even Imran Khan, considered to have sympathetic leanings toward the judiciary, for whose restoration he never tires of reminding us, his party stood on the barricades, has criticized both the judiciary and the ECP, not only for the presidential election debacle but also over his party’s complaints of rigging not being attended to properly. The whole unnecessarily controversial presidential election will make the task of the new incumbent of the presidency harder, polarize the polity, and render the workings of the democratic system subject to stresses and strains if not conflict. This ‘gift’ of the ECP and SC will return again and again to haunt the country for the next five years.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
Gwadar attack In a classic guerilla attack, some 24 insurgents of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) (whose spokesman later took responsibility for the incident) stormed a Coast Guards isolated outpost in the Sundsar area near Gwadar. Of the 14 Coast Guards personnel manning the post, seven were killed, the rest wounded, while the two personnel missing were later claimed by the BLF to be in their custody. The attackers not only overran the isolated post held by lightly armed Guards, they captured and whisked away weapons and vehicles. The far-flung outpost did not have adequate communication facilities. Hence the response was belated and although Coast Guards, Frontier Corps (FC) and Balochistan Levies troops were rushed to the area to pursue the attackers, the trail may already be cold. In a similar attack last year, 10 Coast Guards personnel were killed near Gwadar. While the loss of life in the incident is regrettable, the real responsibility for this tragedy rests on the policies being pursued in Balochistan by the military establishment through the FC and its intelligence agencies, who stand accused of the infamous ‘kill and dump’ policy, in which dissidents are ‘disappeared’, with their badly tortured and mutilated dead bodies being dumped all over Balochistan and of late even in Karachi. This policy has been in place since at least 2006, when Nawab Akbar Bugti was killed in a military operation ordered by Pervez Musharraf, at the time both COAS and president of the country. The elections of May this year may have fostered illusions in some quarters that with the advent of a more acceptable (than the corrupt buffoon Aslam Raisani) elected government in Balochistan headed by a moderate nationalist Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, peace would return to the troubled province. However, as predicted by knowledgeable observers of the province’s scene, as long as the operations of the military and its various paramilitary and intelligence arms were not brought under the control of the elected government, this hope was unlikely to be realized. So it has proved. During the election campaign, the steady crop of dumped bodies did not cease. On the day Dr Malik took oath as chief minister of the province, five mutilated dead bodies turned up. Dr Malik was expected to try and open dialogue channels with the insurgents in the mountains and in exile, and there have been reports that he has been attempting to do so. But what chance have these efforts in the continuing presence of the grisly harvest of dumped bodies? Reportedly, to avoid the widespread perception and charges that the FC was in the forefront of the kill and dump policy, the murderous task has been ‘outsourced’ to private death squads, some of whom have by now acquired immense notoriety for their cruel acts. The approach to Balochistan’s troubles is mired in contradictions. The elected government in Quetta and its allied government at the Centre are playing the tune of reconciliation, while the military, FC and intelligence agencies are operating with impunity on an extreme repressive course. The kill and dump policy has yielded the collateral issue of missing persons which, despite the best efforts of the Supreme Court, its missing persons commission (from whom not much has been heard for some time), and now the new government’s task force, has not seen anything resembling a solution or even progress on the issue. The cream of Balochistan’s youth and intelligentsia seem to be the target of the military’s approach, perhaps in the fond hope that ‘decapitating’ the nationalist movement will help squelch it. What this approach ignores is that similar repressive policies against the Baloch since independence have failed to achieve the military’s desired outcome: eliminate any voice speaking for the rights of the Baloch, leaving the field clear to exploit the province’s undeniable potential mineral wealth. Since this latest incident has occurred in the vicinity of Gwadar, it must give pause to revisit the idea that a Chinese company will now complete and run the port as the preliminary step to the much vaunted economic corridor from Gwadar to Kashgar that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif agreed on his recent visit to China. The Chinese are already nervous about their nationals’ safety in Pakistan and have asked for foolproof guarantees and security, but the troubled province of Balochistan, without a consistent reconciliatory rather than a repressive approach to a long standing political problem that bedevils the province, is unlikely to yield too much in the way of positive results.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Energy policy The PML-N government is discovering just how much hot water Pakistan is in after taking office. With almost two months gone by, the government has wrestled with, and finally delivered a policy on arguably one of the two most critical crises facing the country: energy (the other being terrorism). The National Power Policy (NPP) 2013-14 presented by the government on Tuesday, first to the Council of Common Interests (CCI), later to newspaper editors and media persons, appears comprehensive and well thought through, but there are still questions that niggle. The CCI comes into the picture constitutionally and practically (without the provinces on board, the goals of the NPP will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, not to mention the IMF loan under negotiation). However, this first meeting of the CCI under the new government, with all the provincial governments in attendance, gave early indications of the problems ahead. The provinces had grave reservations about being asked to rubber stamp the policy without the benefit of perusal, analysis, and expert comment. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa led the charge, and Sindh followed. At least three of the provinces are less than thrilled at the proposal to deduct 70 percent of the electricity and other utility bills to be collected by the provincial governments from their shares in the federal divisible pool (30 percent would be left for adjustments, disputes, etc). Private sector defaulters will be disconnected if payment is overdue 60 days and reconnection will only be on the basis of pre-paid meters. The NPP identifies three major problems: (1) energy deficit; (2) pricing, affordability, subsidies; (3) distribution. That just about covers every known affliction of the energy sector. Although the diagnosis offers not much that is new, the solutions mooted attempt to make some departures. Generation will incrementally be improved by, for a start, creating a merit order in fuel allocations, the more efficient plants being given priority (the IPPs). New projects will come on line over the next five years to whittle down the gap (these include thermal, hydel, coal and renewable energy generation projects). At present, 45 percent electricity comes from expensive furnace oil generation. At the demand end, conservation strategies will be formulated with measures such as energy saving bulbs in bulk (at first imported, later manufactured domestically), early closure of commercial centres, etc. The energy mix will increasingly veer away from expensive thermal and towards cheaper sources. The average cost of electricity generation, revealed to be about Rs 15.70 per unit at present, would thereby be reduced to single digits. Meantime, lifeline consumers of less than 200 units per month will be cross-subsidised. The present difference between the cost of generation and distribution and the billed price (around Rs 6 per unit) will eventually be eliminated. On the distribution front, the inherent inefficiencies of DISCOs, the degraded national grid infrastructure, and theft will be addressed through restructuring the DISCOs for professionalism, devolution and accountability and/or privatization, investment in the creaking infrastructure, and (an ongoing) aggressive drive against thieves. Currently, our line losses are admitted to be in the range of 25-28 percent (the international norm is 11 percent, best standard is 6 percent), and theft hives off Rs 140 billion per annum (conservative). There is also the proposal to let high loss (theft) areas suffer greater load shedding, as KESC does. Of course this tars paying consumers in such areas with the same brush as non-payers, which seems unjust. There are also proposals for the creation of a coordination council to bring together the various ministries involved, but without empowerment, this appears a toothless non-starter. There are of course a host of other, detailed proposals in the NPP that require more space for delineation and to which we will return, but it is necessary to state that the ambitious NPP has not indicated its price tag, nor whether such huge funds would be available (despite Dar’s optimism that concessional financing would become available once the IMF loan goes through). The security and law and order constraint was discussed in the media interaction, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif being honest enough to admit it was the biggest headache. Last but not least, planning (if it could be flattered with such a description) in the past in the sector has been characterized by the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. To take just two examples, if the NPP’s re-prioritisation of gas for power generation is implemented, there seems no thought given to the impact on the fertilizer industry or CNG sector. The latter, it seems, has fallen on hard times after all the investment in a huge national infrastructure and seems destined to close. The former could also close, destroying not only a $ 10 billion investment but indigenous manufacturing, implying de-industrialisation and an import bill of Rs 452 billion, apart from negative effects on agriculture and food security. In future, decisions about scarce energy resources should not be taken in the manner of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
Monday, July 22, 2013
Charm offensive with little charm Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz embarked on a ‘charm offensive’ in Kabul to persuade the Afghanistan government and President Hamid Karzai that Pakistan would extend its full support and cooperation in holding an intra-Afghan dialogue for peace and stability in the neighbouring country. In talks with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, ways to promote bilateral relations also came under discussion, including bilateral trade enhancement. Inevitably, while enhanced trade is in the interest of both countries, it is of utmost importance for landlocked Afghanistan. The only caveat in Sartaj Aziz’s remarks during a joint press conference after the talks was that Pakistan would repeat its efforts for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan as it did during the Doha initiative, provided ‘it is asked’, but at the appropriate time and in consultation with ‘other interested parties’. The much-touted formula plugged by Sartaj Aziz was that while Pakistan was willing to help in holding intra-Afghan talks, the process must be ‘Afghan-owned and Afghan-led’. Now two points should be noted here. One, the Doha proposed talks (which have run into heavy weather over the Taliban’s flouting their office in Doha as if they were a government-in-exile) were never ‘intra-Afghan’ but US-Taliban. Two, even if Pakistan can rightly claim credit for assisting that process, it aroused even more mistrust and suspicion in Kabul because of the perception that the Karzai government had been sidelined. Karzai’s chief of staff, Karim Khorram, went so far as to accuse Pakistan of seeking to divide Afghanistan by ceding certain provinces to the Taliban in a power and territory-sharing role to end the war with a de facto break up of the country. While Sartaj Aziz took pains to deny any such Pakistani plan or notion, the blunt remark by the Afghan Foreign Minister that efforts on both sides to strengthen relations, fight terrorism and ignite peace talks “have not been successful” better reflected the real state of acrimony than all the sweet diplomatese on show. Zalmai Rassoul did try to soften the blow by expressing hopes that the new government of Nawaz Sharif would start a new chapter of cooperation with Kabul. It is disingenuous, difficult to believe, and likely to deepen mutual mistrust between the two countries though that Sartaj Aziz actually expected his audience to believe that Pakistan has ‘some influence’ over the Taliban because of the past, but does not control them. That may be partially true, if reports that the Taliban are no longer entirely amenable to the suggestions of their ‘handlers’ are to be believed. But the undeniable reality that Pakistan has harboured the Taliban in safe havens on its soil since 2001 erodes the credibility of the attempt at ‘deniability’ or ‘distancing’ Islamabad from the Taliban. ‘Influence’ therefore is perhaps the understatement of the year. No one, including the west, poised as it is to withdraw next year, believes it is possible to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan without the support of Pakistan. This perception reflects the deep and continuing intervention of Pakistan in Afghan internal affairs, stretching back a turbulent four decades. Starting with the anti-Daud (later anti-communist, anti-Soviet) Mujahideen, Pakistan was also the ‘mother’ of the Taliban. But much to its and Afghanistan’s woe, Islamabad has learnt the harsh lesson, albeit much too slowly, how dangerous and eventually self-destructive playing with armed proxies can prove. Today, these experiments in projecting power into Afghanistan (and India) through armed proxies have wounded Pakistan itself to the quick because of the ‘blowback’ effect. If Afghanistan still bleeds from the Taliban insurgency based on Pakistani soil, Pakistan itself reels from the Pakistani variant of the Taliban that have, in only six years since they emerged, brought the country virtually to its knees. The past cannot be undone, but the future remains in our hands to shape. Afghanistan, Pakistan, the region and the world would be better served if the right lessons are imbibed from this chequered history and a turn taken towards non-interference in neighbours’ affairs, especially through deadly, fanatical, so-called soldiers of God.
Friday, July 12, 2013
New security policy Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has embarked upon a series of consultations with state institutions that are ‘stakeholders’ in the formulation of the new security policy that the government has placed on top of its priority list where it belongs. The first consultation consisted of a visit to the ISI headquarters on Thursday where the PM and his senior colleagues were given a five hour briefing on all aspects of the security challenges facing the country. On Friday the PM was expected to hold a meeting with the interior ministry officials to obtain their input. Next on the schedule is a consultation at GHQ. While these consultations are afoot, the all parties conference originally mooted for Friday has been postponed. Reportedly, while ISI DG Lt-General Zaheerul Islam led the briefing with inputs from senior ISI officers in charge of various aspects of security policy, the PM told the ISI DG that the security establishment’s ‘apprehensions’ would be taken care of. Apparently the reference to ‘apprehensions’ reflects the ‘complaint’ of the security establishment during the briefing that the political leaderships in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan were opposed to the military’s actions and were seriously hampering the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency efforts of the military. Nawaz Sharif characterised the ISI as a major stakeholder in the fight against terrorism. He advised the premier intelligence agency to develop effective mechanisms to pre-empt terrorist activities and for all national security agencies to boost mutual coordination and cooperation to prevent terrorist attacks. He announced that the interior ministry would be the coordinating body among the intelligence agencies. In the light of his recent visit to China, the host country’s concerns over the safety of its nationals in Pakistan and the critical importance of securing them if China’s help in the economic sphere is to be translated into reality, the PM emphasised that Nanga Parbat-type incidents, in which Chinese nationals along with other foreigners were killed, must be prevented at all costs and all Chinese personnel in Pakistan must be given foolproof security. Some reports in the media place the visit by the PM to the ISI headquarters as well as his intent to consult GHQ in the context of alleged differences between the government and the military over the Ziarat Residency attack and the leak of the Abbottabad Commission report that put the military and the intelligence agencies in a poor light. It is being reported that Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif have embarked on a fence mending effort, in which the first step has been a meeting of the two with the Rawalpindi Corps Commander. Be that as it may, the fact remains that mutual distrust and suspicion between the civilian and military security establishments is of long standing and continuing. Even the leaked Abbottabad Commission report speaks of such differences. Without overcoming this gulf, the struggle against terrorism is like fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back. Similarly, the level of coordination amongst federal and provincial security establishments, especially now that parties other than the PML-N lead the provincial governments in three provinces (although the PML-N is in the Balochistan coalition as a major partner), needs critical improvement if the gaps in the security architecture of the country are to be plugged. It is good that the PM is taking the initiative to hear carefully and try to bring about a meeting of minds with the military first and foremost, and then with the civilian security institutions in order to bring everyone on the same page as far as the national security policy is concerned. The task is far from easy, not the least because the organisational mechanisms for meaningful coordination are conspicuous by their absence. Whether the interior ministry in its role as coordinator will be able to bridge the multifarious divides that bedevil the anti-terrorism effort remains to be seen. It seems that the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that finally saw the light of day towards the end of the previous government’s tenure is still in limbo and its role and powers remain undefined so far. The government must be wary after the PM’s visit to Balochistan before he went to China that the perceptions and policies being pursued by the military in Balochistan do not necessarily represent the best way forward in the troubled province. The insurgency in Balochistan is of a different nature from the jihadi terrorism that afflicts the rest of the country. There, a political solution seems the wisest course, while a nuanced combination of force and leaving the door open to any terrorist willing to come in from the cold best answers the needs of the anti-terrorist struggle.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
No one is safe A suicide blast near Guru Mandir, Karachi on Wednesday killed President Asif Ali Zardari’s security chief Bilal Sheikh and two others and injured over a dozen people, most of them security guards of Mr Sheikh. According to bomb disposal officers, an explosive device of around four kilograms and packed with nuts, bolts and ball bearings killed Mr Sheikh on the spot when the suicide bomber approached his stationary vehicle and detonated himself on the side Bilal Sheikh was sitting. No claim of responsibility is available so far, but the signature makeup of the bomb suggests the local Taliban or some affiliated group may have been behind it. Ironically, reports say Bilal Sheikh, because of his high profile security charge, was himself protected by a police contingent. It is said he was in the habit of changing his routes frequently and never revealed his destination beforehand. Nevertheless, eyewitness accounts from Guru Mandir where he had stopped to purchase fruit say he was a regular customer. The assailant reportedly was tracking him, knew his routine, and pounced when Bilal Sheikh’s bulletproof vehicle and police escort stopped in the fruit market. This suggests the planners of the attack seemed to know at least one habit of Bilal Sheikh, regularly visiting the area of the attack for purchases. This points to the serious need to overhaul the routines of high profile leaders and their security staff. Complacency, the natural outcome of inertia when nothing untoward happens for a long time, is the biggest enemy of safety and security. The enemy is everywhere, the threat permeates universally, and no one can afford to let their guard down at any time. It has been reported that the head of the bomber has been found from a house near the site of the blast. Forensic experts have decided to surgically reconstruct it to try and identify the bomber, who reportedly is a foreigner. The attack and its death and injury toll have been condemned by the president, prime minister and many other leading political figures. The PPP announced a peaceful protest throughout Sindh on Thursday, seeking calm given it was the first day of Ramzan. This incident is the latest reminder of the terrorist threat that looms over the whole of Pakistan. If the security chief of the president cannot be protected, what chance for ordinary mortals? Some versions speak of the assassination being a message for the president himself, who is on record as having taken a firm stand against terrorism. Since he assumed office in 2008, President Zardari has been subjected to a great deal of criticism for being ‘invisible’ (not seen frequently in the public space). This criticism has increased since the May 11 elections in which his party the PPP was trounced. Given this incident, perhaps the critics will revisit the real dangers to our top officials. Of course a ‘bunker’ mentality will not make the threat disappear. That requires proactive counter-terrorist measures. It is interesting to note that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (and the PTI) during the election campaign ran on a platform of opening talks with the terrorists in the interests of peace. Only a few weeks in office have proved a sobering experience for the prime minister and the country as whole as a result of the intensifying spate of terrorist attacks. The truth has hit hard. The terrorists are not only not going away any time soon or coming to the negotiating table, they are embarked on an incremental strategy of sowing as much death and destruction as possible. The prime minister therefore has reassessed the threat and his position from one of talks exclusively, to force plus talks, if his statement to a FATA parliamentary delegation is any guide. That is as it should be in the face of an unremitting siege the terrorists have laid to state and society. The military too is on the same page as the prime minister. This offers the best hope that the political side can bring all the political forces of the country together (through an all parties conference and all other means) and, with support to and the help of the army, security and intelligence services, bring all the stakeholders on the same page to forge a consensus counter-terrorism strategy and the means to implement it. Nothing is more crucial at this point, nothing else will give the country the space it needs to tackle all the other crises, energy, the economy, etc, without tackling the violent threat and restoring peace.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Abbottabad Commission report revelations Since the Abbottabad Commission report on the US SEALS raid that killed Osama bin Laden was leaked to Al Jazeera the other day, each day brings new revelations into the light. This is not merely because the report is a 336-page tome, but because it is, as it is being described, a serious, scathing review of the country’s security, military and intelligence architecture, with few institutions, civilian or military, coming out without bruises. The report describes the May 2, 2011 raid as a “wake up call”, pointing to systemic and systematic collective failure at all levels of government. It lists a series of instances of negligence and poor policy, repeatedly bemoans “military hegemony” and emphasises the strengthening of democracy and civilian oversight of the security agencies and military. The latter is castigated boldly for frequent military interventions in the country’s politics, foreign, defence and security policies to the exclusion, and detriment of, civilian capacity for governance. The report lists 22 wide-ranging recommendations on the basis of testimony from important actors in their individual and institutional capacity. The primary responsibility for the May 2 debacle is pinned on the intelligence-security failure, rooted in political irresponsibility and military exercise of authority, influence on policy and in administrative areas beyond its constitutional or legal purview. It regards such exercise of authority as lacking expertise and competence. The systemic failure is ascribed to acts of commission and omission of specific individuals and institutions that usurped responsibilities that are not theirs. Frequent military interventions are blamed for our national woes. These impacted negatively on civilian performance because of not allowing the politicians the opportunity to learn how to handle the state’s affairs, an enterprise requiring long and uninterrupted empowered experience. It speaks of the need for coordination amongst the eight main spy agencies and the creation of a structure such as the US’s Homeland Security after 9/11. It critiques the marginalisation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the military because of successive COAS’s assuming power as presidents. It recommends that no agreements with foreign governments be merely verbal and the critical need to reduce these to written pacts (a reference to former ISI chief General Pasha’s testimony that drone strikes were a verbal political understanding between the US and Pakistan). The report criticises the tendency of the military to consider itself the sole repository of wisdom as far as threat perception is concerned, drawn as an inference from testimony that the western border was not secured against incursions such as May 2 because the US on the Afghan side was considered an ally and all concentration was on the eastern border. The report emphasises the criticality of a national council on counter-terrorism policy along the lines of the (so far toothless) National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). Additionally, the report condemns the May 2 raid as an act of war and expresses grave reservations regarding the free run the US and its CIA have enjoyed over long years inside Pakistan. While the voluminous report as brought out by Al Jazeera is still being pored over and new revelations continue to roll out as if from a conveyer belt, there are some questions the report is unable to answer definitively. One is whether the US had informed Pakistan prior to the operation, a possibility that could go some way to explain the tardy and wholly inadequate response to the raid from the military and the air force. The second is whether the raiders had ground support from a network, another possibility that might explain some of the mysterious goings on before, during and after the raid was in progress for some half an hour or more. All the noise, clatter, firing and commotion failed to elicit anything resembling a timely or adequate response from the military or even the civilian administration, the latter reportedly having been sidelined by the commandant of the PMA, whether on his own initiative or because of orders from on high is not known. While Federal information Minister Pervaiz Rashid promised the leak will be investigated, the government should consider itself lucky that the leaker and Al Jazeera have spared it the delicate task of revealing the report itself, something the previous and this government should have done over the last six months off their own bat. The report is a treasure trove of information about the May 2 raid as well as the functioning of military and civilian institutions that has many lessons for the future. May we have the courage to learn those lessons in our own best interests.
Monday, July 8, 2013
China to the rescue Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has said in Guangzhou, China, that his talks with the Chinese leadership had been highly beneficial, productive, and beyond even his expectations. Nevertheless, the economic and particularly energy crisis was so serious that tough decisions would have to be taken to overcome them. In response to the Chinese leadership’s concerns about the safety of their citizens in Pakistan, the PM had assured them that his government would provide them foolproof security. This assurance may or may not be possible to translate into reality, simply because so far at least, successive governments have been unable to protect Chinese workers on projects, particularly in remote areas, or the mountaineers killed in Diamer recently. However, if the Chinese cooperation is to be optimally utilised, it is critical that their personnel inside Pakistan are provided security in the first place, and ‘foolproof’ security as far as possible. The PM pointed out that the Gwadar-Kashgar economic corridor would be a ‘game-changer’, benefiting three billion people in the region. Other important projects discussed include the Karachi-Lahore motorway, a bullet train between Peshawar and Karachi, mass transit networks in Karachi and Lahore, and the long delayed 969 MW Neelum-Jehlum hydropower project. On the energy front, the PM underlined Pakistan’s approach to switch as far as possible to coal-fired generation, embellished to the extent possible by solar and wind power to bring down the average cost of generation. The PM asked one of the largest Chinese power generation companies to assist Pakistan in cutting down line losses and theft as a first step. He also hoped Pakistan-China trade could be increased beyond the present $ 12 billion While Nawaz Sharif’s well known penchant for large (and sometimes showpiece) projects was obviously the underlying message in the talks with the Chinese, the cause for satisfaction on the Pakistani side is that as usual, the Chinese have come forward unhesitatingly in support of tackling Pakistan’s serious energy crisis and other infrastructural development projects. However, while the Chinese side’s generosity and efficiency are settled issues, our side needs to review and take a fresh look at our capacity to absorb this help. Inefficiency, corruption, sheer neglect have often characterized our way of doing things, particularly the implementation of crucial national projects. For example, the received wisdom is that the three decades delay in the Neelum-Jehlum hydropower project owed more to mismanagement and the greed of officials wanting a cut to clear the machinery for the project rather than any inherent flaw in the design. The Chinese locomotives case in the Lahore High Court asserts that the Chinese sent poor quality engines and rolling stock for the railways. The Chinese side of the story is that Pakistan provided the wrong specifications, hence the problems. One is at a loss sometimes who or what to believe. Despair at such shenanigans is justified, but even more important, such bottlenecks and inefficiencies have to be put firmly in the past. We should not test Chinese goodwill and friendship beyond breaking point. Also, the concept of bullet trains and other modern transport systems sounds like a fairy tale when the horrible accident between a train and rickshaw overloaded with passengers at an unmanned, ungated railway crossing the other day is recalled. It is all very well to induct modern systems such as bullet trains in a developing economy as role models, but this should not be at the expense of general upgrading of systems, infrastructure, and minimum safety regulations. While it is natural under the straitened economic circumstances to put so many eggs in the Chinese basket, this cannot be allowed to be frittered away by our inefficiencies and corrupt practices. Perhaps then it is a good idea as the PM said, to create a ‘China Cell’ to oversee cooperation in and implementation of projects China commits to.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
The revolution resumed? Egypt’s powerful military finally overthrew President Mohamad Morsi after the latter had defied the 48 hour deadline the army had imposed for a solution to the political crisis that has had the country in its grip since January this year. The overthrown Muslim Brotherhood leader was reportedly being held in a Republican Guards barracks. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army commander, announced a political transition with the support of a wide range of political, religious and youth leaders. General Sisi also announced the suspension of the Islamist-drafted constitution and a roadmap for a return to democratic rule under a revised rulebook. The president of the constitutional court has been appointed interim head of state, assisted by an interim council and a technocratic government until new presidential and parliamentary elections. Sisi said an agreement had been reached (obviously with Morsi’s opponents) on building a strong, cohesive, inclusive society. The tens of thousands of protestors on the streets erupted with joy at the development. Morsi categorised the move as a “full military coup” that he “totally rejected”. The military had in its ultimatum titled “The Final Hours”, warned the overthrown president that if he failed to resolve the differences with the protestors on the streets within 48 hours, the military would be forced to impose its own solution. Initially defiant, Morsi tried at the last possible moment to suggest a coalition government could overcome the crisis. But it proved too little too late. The momentum of events had long passed the point of no return. The opposition refused to negotiate with Morsi and instead met the army commander. That sealed Morsi’s fate. The military was in control of the state broadcasters’ headquarters and had banned Morsi and about 40 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders from leaving the country. A rally of tens of thousands of Morsi’s supporters was prevented by tanks from marching on the presidential palace or the Republican Guards barracks where Morsi was being held. Sisi insisted the government would be “strong and capable” with “full capacities”. A panel to look into amendments in the constitution would be formed and a law framed to regulate parliamentary elections. Although Muslim Brotherhood spokesmen were veering between calls for peaceful resistance and dire predictions of “considerable bloodshed”, the mood on the streets was one of elation rather than foreboding. So ends the experiment of allowing an Islamist party of long standing, hardened in struggle against repression over decades to take power through the ballot. The staggered parliamentary elections from November 28, 2011 to February 15, 2012 had given the Muslim Brotherhood almost half the seats, with the even more hardline Salafists gathering another quarter. Morsi himself garnered 51.7 percent of the vote in a runoff presidential election in June 2012. These results convinced the Islamists that they could remould the Egyptian polity and society along their preferred lines. This was a misreading of the thrust and import of the uprising against Mubarak. The spontaneous uprising was led by liberal, democratic, secularist forces initially. The Muslim Brotherhood joined in later, after an initial period of vacillation. However, the organized political forces of the Islamists overwhelmed the disparate, disorganised, disunited forces of the ‘revolution’ in the electoral race. This victory went to their head and they chose a course of Islamisation that clearly was the antithesis of the uprising’s declared and undeclared aims and objectives. The Muslim Brotherhood government, with the support of the Salafists, alienated the liberals and secularists by seeking to entrench Islamist rule, notably in the new constitution that was rammed through parliament despite the withdrawal of the opposition from the process of its drafting. But the Islamists also alienated millions more with economic mismanagement that has brought the Egyptian economy virtually to its knees. The coming together of all these strands on the streets in protest, which grew from the commemoration of the second anniversary of the uprising against Mubarak on January 25, 2013 into an irresistible force, indicates that the agenda of political exclusiveness practiced by the Islamists evoked alarm and eventually protest on such a scale that the tide turned against Morsi and company. The question now is what the future holds. It would be in the fitness of things, and in line with the message of the protestors on the streets, that the interim period should be as short as possible, democracy should be restored as soon as the inclusive antithesis of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is agreed, and the democratic revolution resume its forward march after overcoming the disastrous byway of Islamism in which it remained trapped over the last year or so.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Not just a ‘test case’ To his credit, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif made it a point to travel to Quetta in the wake of the suicide bombing near an imambargah on Sunday to apply balm on the wounds of the victims. After a high level meeting, the PM said in a press conference that terrorist violence was no longer acceptable. The PM directed all law enforcement agencies, including the ISI and IB, to treat the Sunday bombing as a ‘test case’ and catch the culprits. He said Quetta is a small city of about 20 lanes and it should not be hard to secure it. The PM needs to reflect why this has not happened for the ‘small’ city so far, not even for the Hazara areas of Quetta that have been under unremitting terrorist attack for months now, extracting a toll of hundreds of lives. Could this be a case of turning a blind eye to terrorism, the main thrust of which in Quetta has been sectarian? This in spite of the fact that the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has openly and repeatedly claimed responsibility for the killings of the Shia Hazara in Quetta since at least January this year. The conspiracy minded are wont to ascribe this strange anomaly to some covert agenda to draw attention away from the Baloch nationalist insurgency raging in the province while subjecting even moderate nationalists not fighting with the insurgents to the ‘kill and dump’ policy that has so far delivered a grisly crop of badly tortured dead bodies turning up all over Balochistan and lately in Karachi. The only passing reference the PM made to this other troubling phenomenon in Balochistan was to say that the issue of missing persons would be ‘resolved soon’. With respect Mr PM, all the efforts of human rights bodies and even the Supreme Court has failed to resolve this problem. It is therefore difficult to swallow this assurance without a huge pinch of salt. The reason is that the military, acting through the Frontier Corps (FC) and its intelligence agencies, is said to be behind the ‘kill and dump’ policy. They perhaps see it as the only, and perhaps ‘final’ solution to Baloch nationalism that has of late despaired of remaining within Pakistan and whose insurgent wing has been openly demanding independence. Dr Abdul Malik’s induction as chief minister raised hopes in some quarters that he may be able to persuade the insurgents to talk rather than fight. So far, however, there is no sign that the new government in Quetta has moved on this front. And if it has discreetly, the chances of success are diminished to the same degree as the abduction, torture, killing and dumping of dissidents is not curbed. It is all very well, and by all measure positive, for the PM to call on all agencies to coordinate closely and assist the Balochistan government to crush terrorism, but the lack of coordination between federal and provincial, civilian and military agencies is as rife in Balochistan as in the rest of the country. Mere lip service to a coordinated effort may not be sufficient. It is good that the PM has promised to return to Balochistan to monitor the situation personally. Perhaps his intervention can get the traditionally hermetically sealed world of the security and intelligence agencies to open up for the sake of the national endeavour against the terrorist threat. While it was appropriate that the PM concentrate mainly on the terrorism in Quetta on this visit, he was mindful of the dimensions of the problem beyond Quetta and even beyond Balochistan. His commitment to assist all provincial governments, including non-PML-N ones in Sindh (PPP) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PTI) is a welcome move to rise above partisan political interests for the sake of the country. Similarly, promising to convene a big conference of the leaders of all political parties on his return from China to chalk out the approach to combating terrorism seems sensible as a way of taking all political forces on board, but we would caution against the tendency of such meetings to confine themselves to high sounding verbal statements without any practical effect. The PM should ask for concrete steps the parties think are needed, and ask for their cooperation in implementing them. This is doubly important since the stance of the PML-N and the PTI during the election campaign that the best way forward was to talk to the militants seems to have entered a cul de sac since continuing drone strikes and terrorist attacks have made that project suspect if not dead in the water. While the intent of the PM to get the security agencies to make the Quetta bombing a ‘test case’ can be understood as an exhortatory message to these agencies to get their act together, it runs the risk of falling into the same category of reactive rather than pro-active steps that are needed to crush terrorism. First and foremost, the historical antipathy of security, particularly intelligence agencies to sharing turf or information and cooperating fully with their brother agencies has to be overcome by bringing all these disparate organisations under one roof, in one anti-terrorism body with a common data base. Only when all the available inputs of intelligence, information, organisational structure, areas of operation, links, etc, of the terrorist outfits are known, i.e. all the dots are joined, will a clear picture of the enemy and therefore the means to fight him emerge. “Know thy enemy and know thyself, and you will fight a hundred battles and win” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Afghan-Pakistan mistrust The latest row that has broken out between Kabul and Islamabad is a familiar script with added recent ‘scenes’. At a Friday meeting between Pakistani National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz and Afghan Ambassador Umer Daudzai, the former suggested a power sharing arrangement with the Taliban to usher in peace in Afghanistan, involving a form of federation and ceding power in some Afghan provinces to the Taliban. Reacting bitterly to the suggestion itself and adding Afghan perceptions and suspicions to the proposal, Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Ershad Ahmadi said, “We believe this federalism is a means for the Pakistanis to achieve what they could not achieve through their proxy (the Taliban) on the battlefield.” Ahmadi further said the ceremonial opening of a Taliban office in Doha, which raised angry protests in Kabul that the office had the appearance of a government-in-exile, was part of a Pakistani plan to increase the Taliban’s international prestige. He categorized the emerging situation as one in which elements within the Pakistan government had a grand design of using the peace process as a means to undermine the Afghan state and set up little fiefdoms around the country in which their most important strategic asset, the Taliban, would play an influential role. Ahmadi said despite hopes the new Nawaz government may curb meddling in Afghan affairs, Kabul now felt the civilian administration was aiding the double game played by the military and the ISI. However, Pakistan’s foreign ministry spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry denied any suggestion of ceding territory had been made during the meeting between Sartaj Aziz and Ahmadi. Afghan President Hamid Karzai weighed in with concern about Pakistan’s motives in the peace process during a press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron in Kabul on Saturday. He asserted that “delivering a province or two to the Taliban” would be perceived as an invasion by the Afghan people. Relations between the two neighbouring countries, never easy, seem to have plummeted to new lows after the Taliban office in Doha sported a sign saying ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ and flew the Taliban flag, neither of which Kabul says were approved as part of the peace process and were subsequently removed by the Qatari authorities. Now this expression of outrage and suspicion about Islamabad’s motives vis-à-vis Sartaj Aziz’s power sharing proposal is the icing on the cake. Afghanistan-Pakistan relations watchers will hardly be surprised. Pakistani intervention and interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, stretching over the last four decades, is seen by most Afghans as the root cause of the travails the Afghan people have passed through during this period. Starting with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government supporting the embryonic Afghan mujahideen after Sardar Daud overthrew the Afghan monarchy and declared a republic in 1973, through the resistance to the communist regime that took power in 1978, the subsequent Soviet invasion and occupation that triggered a western-led international effort to defeat the Soviet encroachment and gave birth to jihadi movements from all corners of the Muslim world and beyond, to the ‘solution’ to the internecine mujahideen civil war that followed the retreat of the Soviets in 1989 and the fall of Najib’s communist government in 1992 by overcoming them with the Taliban launched from Pakistani soil, to giving safe havens and permission to the Taliban to relaunch a guerrilla struggle from Pakistani soil after their government fell to the US invasion in 2001 after 9/11, the track record suggests the Afghans have weight in their suspicions about Islamabad. The original riposte by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to the Daud coup may have been to counter any actual or future support by Pashtun nationalist Daud to the insurgency in Pakistan’s provinces Balochistan and NWFP (as it was then known), but it subsequently took on a life of its own and produced justifications in Islamabad’s power corridors ranging from a possible final solution of the Durand Line conundrum to strategic depth to preventing a ‘pincer’ encirclement by Indian influence in Kabul. The first two ideas may have exhausted their shelf life, but the third still seems to be alive and kicking. In the nineteenth century, the Czarist Russian and new conqueror of India the British Empire finally learnt the lesson that their rivalry for influence in Kabul was costing them dearly and mutually agreed to make Afghanistan a ‘buffer’ state. Peace of sorts did set in until the British finally left in 1947. Since then, Afghan irredentist claims vis-à-vis the Durand Line and claiming the Pashtun areas east of that Line in Pakistan set the tone and tenor of relations between the two neighbours. The Pakistani interventions in Afghanistan over the last four decades have only served to generate hatred towards Pakistan by a majority of Afghans, despite the role played by Pakistan in hosting millions of Afghan refugees over many years. Islamabad’s interests may have been, and could still be, better served by befriending the Afghan people rather than trying to conquer or control them through jihadi proxies. The chances of such a change in the foreseeable future are slim, to say the least, and that promises more trouble post-US/NATO withdrawal in 2014, with the spillover inevitably making things in Pakistan even worse. Our policy makers should read the writing on the wall.
Monday, July 1, 2013
Bloody Sunday On the same day, 28 people were killed and 65 wounded in a suicide bombing near an imambargah (mosque) in Quetta, 17 people were killed and 46 wounded in a car bomb attack on a Frontier Corps (FC) convoy in Badaber in the outskirts of Peshawar, and eight people were killed and 12 wounded in bomb attacks in South Waziristan. If the count of those killed and wounded is totted up, the day could rightly be termed Bloody Sunday. The suicide bombing attack in Quetta was aimed at the imambargah in congested Hazara Town, where massive bombings killed more than 200 people earlier this year. Prayers had just finished in the imambargah, and had the suicide bomber succeeded in reaching it, the toll would almost certainly have been higher. Fortunately (if one can use that word for an incident that nevertheless killed and injured so many), the attacker was stopped at a checkpoint set up by local volunteers and blew himself up some 50 yards from the imambargah. It is inexplicable why, when the area in question and the Hazara community in particular had been the target of horrendous bombings a few months ago, the security forces were not manning checkpoints instead of local community volunteers (many of whom must be amongst the dead and wounded as a result). This ‘lapse’ is likely to resurrect the Baloch nationalists’ contention that the security forces are concentrating on Baloch dissidents, attempting to quell the trouble through their ‘kill and dump’ policy, while turning a ‘blind eye’ to the activities of terrorists such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which took responsibility for the attacks earlier this year. If the security forces wish to avoid such odious accusations, they should ensure the LeJ and other terrorist outfits in Balochistan are taken out and the kill and dump policy is at least put on hold if not abandoned to give peace a chance in the troubled province. In the Badaber bombing, although the target was a FC convoy, most of the victims were innocent people since the car bomb was parked in a busy market and detonated by remote control. Security forces sources said this attack may have been a response to the security sweeps carried out in the area in recent days. In two separate attacks, four members of a peace committee and four soldiers were killed and at least 12 people injured in the Wana/Miramshah area of South Waziristan. This toll of human lives in one day in the troubled western borderlands adjoining Afghanistan serves to focus minds on the impending withdrawal of foreign troops and the efforts to get some sort of political settlement in Afghanistan before that withdrawal. Visiting British Prime Minister (PM) David Cameron in a joint press conference with PM Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad on Sunday put what he thought was needed unequivocally: “…a tough and uncompromising security response…” to terrorism. He added that such a response must be accompanied by investment in education and tackling poverty. Cameron went on to describe the situation because of terrorism as a common threat and huge global challenge. As part of the strategic dialogue with Pakistan, the British PM has promised help in providing technical support for the new counter-terrorism policy being contemplated by Nawaz Sharif’s government along with equipment to deal with improvised explosive devices, the weapon of choice of the terrorists. He has also extended help to Pakistan in ensuring the security of infrastructure and sharing expertise on safeguarding sporting events. Nawaz Sharif on the other hand, while condemning the bombing attacks, expressed his government’s resolve to conduct the struggle against terrorism until it was overcome. He also reiterated his government’s commitment to a peace deal in Afghanistan, a precarious process that was almost stillborn after the Taliban opened their office in Doha. Peace in Afghanistan, as both PMs reiterated, is crucial for Pakistan, which has lost over 40,000 people killed since 2004, 2,500 of them in this year alone (signifying an intensification of the terrorists’ campaign), and suffered estimated losses of $ 60 billion to the economy. The new counter-terrorism policy of the PML-N government is anxiously awaited, not the least because of the happenings on Bloody Sunday.