Friday, September 27, 2013
Maturity in peace process In two separate incidents in Indian-held Kashmir, attackers killed police and army personnel on Thursday in the latest in a series of recent incidents across the Line of Control (LoC) causing tension between India and Pakistan and threatening the composite dialogue both countries have been struggling to restart. According to reports, the attackers were wearing Indian army uniforms. Three militants attacked a police station in Samba, about 10 kilometres from the boundary with Pakistan, killing five policemen. They then hijacked a truck and struck an army camp in the vicinity, killing one civilian and three soldiers, including a Lt-Colonel. After hours of fighting, the gunmen were killed by the Indian security forces. In the other incident, the Indian army stated it had killed more than a dozen militants out of a group of 30 it alleged had crossed over from Pakistan into northern Kashmir. The operation against the rest is still ongoing, according to local commanders. Opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) leaders immediately jumped into the fray, reiterating their opposition to restarting talks with Pakistan. They demanded that the scheduled meeting between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Dr Manmohan Singh on September 29 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session be cancelled. However, saner voices were to be found in the ranks of the ruling Congress Party and Indian-held Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah. The latter squarely nailed the attacks as an attempt to derail the peace talks. The former, represented by the prime minister, home and foreign minister, all said the ‘spoilers’ would not be allowed to hold the peace process, and thereby India, Pakistan and South Asia hostage to their vested interest in continuing conflict. The Pakistan foreign office too reiterated its belief in the continuation of the dialogue. Civil society groups in both India and Pakistan, some of whom have been in the forefront over many years in seeking peace and normalisation between the two countries, also called for continuation of the talks and peace process, adding the two countries should sign a no-war pact. The situation in India and Pakistan presents contrasting situations as far as peace and normalisation of relations are concerned. In India, ironically, the BJP presents a different face in government from what it is these days displaying in opposition. Who can forget the historic visit of former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to Pakistan in 1999 when the Lahore Agreement was signed with then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. That historic breakthrough of course was sabotaged by Pervez Musharraf with his Kargil adventure. These days it is not the regular army that carries out forays and raids across the LoC but an array of Kashmiri and other jihadi groups. The distance BJP has travelled since then may be ascribed to domestic political considerations, particularly the looming general elections in India. But it does betray the opportunism often on display by politicians for purely expedient reasons and while flying in the face of history’s imperative that India and Pakistan learn to live together as civilised neighbours while talking through their mutual differences, including Kashmir. Fortunately things have moved in a more positive direction in recent years in Pakistan. There is now hardly any mainstream party that does not subscribe to the idea of peace and amity with India. This marks a tremendous shift in the anti-India-laden political rhetoric of past years. If there are holdouts in the hate India brigade, they represent marginal religious and right wing groups with more clout within the power corridors than is justified by their numbers, merely because of the hangover of the hate India rhetoric of the past. Even more marginalised as far as popular support is concerned are the jihadi armed groups that are the prime suspects in the kinds of provocation that of late have been occurring. So while the major opposition party in India, the BJP, blows hot and cold, depending on whether it is sitting on the treasury or opposition benches, in Pakistan the anti-India lobby has been in retreat for many years, having been bypassed by history and its dictates. What is noteworthy and appreciable in the present attempt to derail the meeting in New York of the two prime ministers and the subsequent reset of the composite dialogue is the mature response of the Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the Congress government in seeing through the provocation and reiterating their commitment to the talks. In that sense, India-Pakistan relations seem on the cusp of breaking with the past when provocateurs could all too easily derail peace efforts by the odd incident of provocation. In that sense, maturity seems to be dawning on both sides, along with the realisation that terrorists neither have any faith nor country. They are the common enemies of both countries and therefore need to be tackled together in close consort.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Peshawar attack fallout In the aftermath of the Peshawar attack on a church congregation in which over 80 people were blown to pieces and another around 170 injured, the Christian community throughout the country has taken to the streets with a vengeance. Most protests have proved peaceful, the efforts of church leaders and other well wishers of our Christian brothers proving successful. In some instances though, despite appeals for calm and to remain peaceful, the understandable anger and frustration of the protestors has found expression in destruction of property, burning tyres and blocking highways. The authorities’ dilemma becomes that if they act against the protestors to restore law and order, they run the risk of being accused of sprinkling salt on the wounds of the Christian community. And if they do not, they may end up being accused of being weak and ineffective. This is a classic trap as far as managing angry and justified protest is concerned. The protestors’ anger is directed first and foremost against the PTI’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and by implication against the PML-N’s government at the Centre. They are critical of these two parties for their ‘soft’ approach to the terrorists, based on placing their desire for talks with the terrorists centre-stage. The Christian community under attack however, is first and foremost demanding protection for its churches and other institutions, which they fear may be further targeted. And they are still sceptical of the usual noises from the police and other law enforcement agencies that the security of their places of worship has been stepped up. The group that has claimed responsibility for the Peshawar church carnage calls itself TTP-Jandullah. The main TTP of Hakeemullah Mehsud has attempted to distance itself from the attack. According to the federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali, not much is known about this TTP-Jandullah and it does not appear to have any presence in this region. Now the logical corollary of this statement made by Chaudhry Nisar in the National Assembly is that either TTP-Jandullah has now established its ‘presence’ in this region, or it is a 'front' and the real culprits are still the usual cast of suspects who, fearing a backlash from this horrendous mass murder, are erecting a smokescreen to camouflage the real authors of this atrocity. The governments in the Centre (PML-N) and in KP (PTI) are coming increasingly under pressure from the army, political forces, Pakistani public and world opinion to strip the blindfold from their eyes and see the ground realities for what they are. Peace can only be established through talks if both sides are willing to give peace a chance. The TTP, after killing Major General Sanaullah Niazi, stated that it was still in a state of war with the Pakistani authorities, there was no ceasefire so far, therefore their attacks such as the one that killed Major General Niazi will continue. These two governments must gird up their loins and prepare, with the help of all stakeholders, including the armed forces, political forces and public opinion, to take on the violent fanatics who refuse to be reasonable or open themselves up for peaceful solutions. This by no means should be interpreted as closing the door on talks. That door must always remain open, even during hostilities with the recalcitrant groups, to leave room for some groups to come in from the cold. However, those of a different mindset, who want to hold the state and society hostage to their aims through asymmetrical warfare, as a prelude to overthrowing the state and instituting their version of an Islamic emirate, must be deal with with an iron fist. Talks in any case run the risk, amongst others, that even in the unlikely event that negotiations for peace succeed with the umbrella TTP, the dozens of small groups that owe nominal allegiance to the TTP but in practice operate autonomously would not necessarily feel bound by any decision of the central TTP, as the recent case of the Punjabi Taliban ‘seceding’ from the TTP’s control proves. A protracted, difficult and tricky fight against terrorism lies ahead. Counter-insurgency in guerrilla-infested areas such as FATA on the basis of the army and paramilitaries, and intelligence-led police counter-terrorism work in the rest of the country, especially in the cities, while leaving room for peaceful solutions, seems the nuanced path ahead. The government in Islamabad has to lead in this endeavour. It remains to be seen if it is up to the challenge.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Cry Karachi Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali told the National Assembly (NA) on Thursday that 10 percent of the job regarding the targeted operation in Karachi had been completed, but there was still a great deal to be done. The next phases, the minister asserted, would be more intense. As a result of the operation, Chaudhry Nisar revealed, the terrorists were running out of the city. Certainly if the reports of gangsters and wanted people’s arrest from Hub, Balochistan and Murree, Punjab are to be believed, it seems the gangsters and terrorists regard the better part of valour to be to ‘disappear’ in the face of perhaps an operation with the greatest political will since the 1992 operation in Karachi (also carried out by a PML-N government). The minister also clarified that he had not stopped intelligence reports from being submitted in the Supreme Court (SC) because they included the name of the Mohajir Republican Army (MRA) but because the report was not worth submitting. Intelligence on the MRA, which has claimed various terrorist acts, does not point in the direction of the MQM. He said further that the report on the MRA was not prepared by this government but the previous one, which included the MQM. Dilating on the ongoing operation, Chaudhry Nisar told the House that the Rangers had so far conducted 400 targeted operations, while the police had carried out 1,000 actions in Karachi so far. From this account, it can be gathered just how difficult and protracted the task of cleansing Karachi of terrorists and other law breakers is going to be. This is an affliction that has accumulated over decades, transmogrifying along the way into a multi-layered problem involving terrorism, political turf wars and criminal activities. The protagonists are not only the known terrorist organisations, they also include, apart from criminal gangs, the armed wings of political parties as well as sectarian groups interested in denominational bloodletting, as the grenade attack on an Imambargah on Wednesday highlights. While the interior minister was informing the NA about the Karachi operation, the issue was resonating in the hallowed chambers of the Supreme Court (SC) too. The SC, seized of the law and order situation in Karachi as the result of a suo motu notice two years ago, appears as frustrated as any other institution at the lack of implementation of its orders vis-à-vis Karachi, as well as the speculation regarding arms flows into Karachi from the sea as well as over land from the north. The SC thinks the arms flowing in from the sea come from India and Israel, while those from the north come from NATO, the US and Russia. While this may be true in terms of the origin and possible routes for smuggling weapons of all kinds into Karachi, it does not necessarily mean that these countries are interested in creating problems for Pakistan, as the conspiracy theory narrative tends to suggest. The fact is that just as in other parts of the world where insurgencies and terrorism have flourished, the troubled country or region acts as a magnet for all types of arms smuggling. The weapons mentioned in the SC list are available in the black market and therefore to jump to the conclusion that the make, manufacture and origin of the weapons reveals a sinister policy of destabilising Pakistan on the part of those countries may be a red herring. Regardless, the fact of easy weapons availability in Karachi is and should be the main point to focus on if the law and order situation in the troubled city is to be improved. The SC thinks the flow can and should be stopped, even if a curfew has to be imposed. While a tempting idea, there is no guarantee that a curfew, which would greatly inconvenience the citizens of Karachi and further erode its economic life, would necessarily help stem the flow of arms. The more difficult but perhaps more efficacious path is to conduct good investigation and intelligence to nab the weapons smugglers. One issue at least has been resolved by the DG Rangers withdrawing his sensational statement before the SC that some 1,900 NATO containers full of arms had ‘disappeared’ in Karachi. The finger of suspicion was pointed at Babar Ghauri, MQM’s Minister for Ports and Shipping during the previous government, but since the DG Rangers’ retreat, this seems to have turned out to be a damp squib. It would perhaps be unfair and premature to pronounce on the Karachi operation at this point. No miracles should be expected overnight. Inherently, the operation will be protracted and difficult. All it needs is the requisite political will to grasp this nettle firmly, finally.
Monday, September 16, 2013
‘Peace’ talks? After the killing of Major General Sanaullah Khan, GOC Swat Division, along with a Lt-Colonel and a Lance Naik in a roadside bombing in Upper Dir on Sunday comes the news that the terrorists continue on the warpath. Two roadside bombs in Miranshah killed two soldiers while two members of tribal police were killed in an ambush on their convoy in Bannu. These developments have raised questions about the ability of the government to now proceed with its preferred option of talks to bring peace to the country. The icing on the cake are the preconditions the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) has put forward before it would be willing to engage in a dialogue. The two main demands of the TTP are that the military should be withdrawn from the entire tribal areas and TTP prisoners released. This, the TTP contends, is the ‘minimum’ required to develop trust and confidence as an earnest of the government’s sincerity in holding talks. The ‘maximum’ demands of the TTP, as is well known, are the imposition of sharia and allowing them to set up an Islamic Emirate in Pakistan as a whole. Since there has been no approach to them from the government so far, the TTP feels justified in declaring that since there is no ceasefire, attacks cannot and will not be halted. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has bravely underlined that bombs will not deter the government from the fight against the terrorists, his statement failed to pin the blame on the TTP for the General’s killing, a statement that did not even mention the perpetrators. That has led many observers to view both Nawaz Sharif and the PTI’s response to the attacks as ‘muted’. Both the PML-N and PTI fought the elections on a platform of overcoming terrorism through talks. The latter’s government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has gone one step further in announcing a phased withdrawal of the army from Malakand. No one doubts that the ground situation and the overstretched deployment of the troops requires the army to be withdrawn or redeployed elsewhere. However, a premature withdrawal of the troops who have sacrificed much to clear Swat and many other areas of the terrorists would undo all that has been achieved so far. The minimum requirement for such a withdrawal is that the civilian provincial government put in place its writ, administration and law enforcement regime in an efficacious manner to create confidence in its ability to ‘hold’ the cleared areas. The General and his colleagues’ killing in Upper Dir militates against any hasty actions on the basis of preconceived notions rather than the actual ground realities. The ‘muted’ response of the two parties who are advocates of a negotiating strategy suggest some embarrassment at the turn of events even before the first steps towards a dialogue have been taken. Neither party has indicated clearly what its negotiating stance would be, and whether the ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum’ demands of the TTP are acceptable to them. Clearly, the demands violate the very letter and spirit of our democratic dispensation and constitution. Even should they, by some stretch of the imagination, wish to concede the TTP’s demands, neither the law, constitution or political and public opinion would allow them to do so. A ceasefire, let alone peace, can only be envisaged at present on the basis of the TTP’s demands. Since these cannot be accepted, what are the ‘negotiators’ bringing to the table? Such vagueness does not a strategy make. Even the welcome news of the release of seven kidnapped workers of the Gomal Zam dam, it now transpires, was less a gesture of ‘goodwill’ as initially touted, and more the result of paying a heavy ransom to the kidnappers, an offshoot of the TTP. The military cannot sanguinely contemplate the death of such senior officers at the hands of the TTP. However, the ‘muted’ response of the ruling parties at the Centre and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may reinforce their reluctance to pursue the struggle against the terrorists without political ownership and support. When one party, the PTI, is stuck on the refrain that if we opt out of the US’s war, everything will miraculously settle down (despite evidence to the contrary), and the other, the PML-N, seems transfixed in the oncoming headlights of the TTP without anything resembling an adequate response, the military is more than likely to keep its peace (but its powder dry) until the dialogue option has run its course without desirable results. There is little to inspire confidence that the fanatics of the TTP are reasonable or open to persuasion. The likelihood therefore is that eventually, after possibly much dithering, both the PML-N and PTI will be forced to accept the logic of using force against those unwilling to listen, let alone abandon their agenda of taking over the state and turning the country into a medieval hell, a la the Taliban five-year rule in Afghanistan. The vast majority of the people of Pakistan, including even those steeped in religiosity, do not want to be pushed backwards into a primitive state owing more to Wahabi and Salafist narrowness than Islam. The struggle for the country’s heart and soul has not just begun, it has entered what may turn out to be the protracted endgame against terrorism and extremism.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Counter-terrorism struggle Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called for the early formation of an Anti-Terrorism Force (ATF), for which no delay would be tolerated. While there are few details available at this point regarding the makeup, mandate and role of such a force, its formation has placed a question mark over the fate of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) set up during the last government, but which remained virtually moribund for lack of focus and follow up. Also, of late reports have said NACTA was, as so many of our institutions tend to be, being used for unjustified recruitment of people not fit for the job. Given its chequered history and lack of proper setting up, let alone functioning, NACTA may well just wither on the vine, particularly if the government intends to place the new ATF at the heart of the struggle against terrorism. Irrespective of whether the old NACTA (or parts thereof) are salvaged or not, and whether ATF replaces it, both in the past and now the need is for a counter-terrorism organisation that is able to bring together under one umbrella all stakeholders in this critical task. That means, as we have repeatedly argued in this space, the setting up of a counter-terrorism organisation that unites the capabilities of all civilian and military, intelligence and security forces of the federal and provincial authorities, and brings together a common data base of all the intelligence available or to be collected in future on all the terrorist groups in order to discover their organisational structure, mutual links, areas and mode of operation, etc. This is doubly critical since the latest reports suggest there may be hundreds of groups operating autonomously in the name of jihad, with most but possibly not all sheltering under the umbrella of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). With the enemy displaying the characteristic of scattered small groups owing nominal allegiance to one platform but in practice operating autonomously, there is no escape from pooling the intelligence with the civilian and military agencies. Intelligence agencies inherently tend to be reluctant to share their information, even with sister organisations, and in Pakistan’s case the traditional suspicion of the military intelligence agencies about their civilian counterparts that they are unreliable, makes this inherently challenging task even more difficult. Difficult, but not impossible, provided the government and the military find the common political will to see this through as the critical input into the difficult anti-terrorism struggle. The ATF will be closely watched whether it fulfils these organisational and functional critical tasks. Meanwhile developments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) indicate just how tough the process of overcoming terrorism is in reality. On the one hand, the KP government has announced that the military will be ‘pulled out’ of Malakand, Shangla, Buner, Swat, Upper and Lower Dir and other areas of the seven districts that constitute Malakand division in a phased manner. If an answer was desired from the terrorists regarding this suggestion, it came swiftly the very next day of the announcement when a roadside bomb in Upper Dir killed Major-General Sanaullah and two senior officers. The TTP was quick to claim responsibility. The release of seven of the eight officers of the Gomal Zam project after two years by the terrorists as a gesture of ‘goodwill’ may be considered by some as a positive development as a result of the present talk about talking to the Taliban, but the killing of senior army officers, particularly Major-General Sanaullah, credited with being the moving force in the state’s recovery of its writ in Swat after the 2009 military operation, indicates a targeted killing intended to delay or sabotage any talk about talks. While it is undeniable that the best strategy against terrorism is to keep the door of negotiations open, the government and the security forces must keep their powder dry in the event of the dialogue offer either not taking off or not producing the desired results. A nuanced strategy that leaves no option unexplored seems best, but the Upper Dir bombing is a good and timely reminder of the treacherous terrain that is counter-terrorism.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Getting dialogue back on track Pakistan and India’s desire to improve relations, as expressed by the PML-N government soon after coming to power and the positive response from Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh got derailed because of the incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) last month, starting with the killing of five Indian soldiers and then escalating into an exchange of firing from both sides. It is therefore a matter for satisfaction that Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and India’s External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed in their meeting on the sidelines of the 13th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meeting in Bishkek has yielded some positive signs and statements. After the meeting, Sartaj Aziz expressed his view, or rather disappointment, that the peace process between the two South Asian neighbours has lost momentum and the composite dialogue has been arrested by the tensions on the LoC. That problem was addressed by the two sides through a reiteration of their resolve to respect the 2003 LoC ceasefire, which has held by and large, despite the odd incident. Sartaj Aziz emphasised to his Indian counterpart that the peace and dialogue process should not be held hostage to electoral considerations or derailed by a single incident. Both sides agreed to use the existing mechanisms such as the Directors General Military Operations (DGMOs) hot line and confidence building measures on the LoC. On the desired meeting between the two prime ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York, Pakistan has suggested September 29 as the date for this interaction. On the other hand, Salman Khursheed underlined the need for a conducive atmosphere for the success of such a meeting. Inevitably, because of the recent tension on the LoC, all the old ghosts standing in the way of a Pakistan-India rapprochement were resurrected from the closet. The main issue of contention remains the lack of progress on providing closure to the Mumbai attacks. Sartaj Aziz attempted to reassure Salman Khursheed that a new prosecutor general was being appointed to pursue the case against seven men accused of training and guiding the Mumbai attackers. Also, a Pakistani Judicial Commission is scheduled to visit India on September 23 to cross-examine witnesses regarding the Mumbai attacks. This visit of the Judicial Commission has fallen foul of the ups and downs in relations generally, and therefore is much delayed. In this context, the two sides discussed post-Mumbai attacks developments to try and push the dialogue process forward. It should not be forgotten that the Nawaz Sharif government, soon after taking over the reins of power, had initiated back channel diplomacy to unfreeze the stalled dialogue and peace process. That interaction too seems to have yielded at least the melting of the ice. Pakistan’s argument that domestic political considerations such as elections, etc, and odd incidents like the LoC exchange should not be allowed to hold hostage or derail the dialogue and peace process cuts to the heart of the role of ‘spoilers’. In any peace process, let alone one so fraught and long standing as the Pakistan-India conundrum, ‘spoilers’ are forces with a vested interest in continuing conflict. In the Pakistan-India context, this includes various jihadi groups engaged in the Kashmiri struggle. Most knowledgeable observers are of the view that the raid across the LoC that killed five Indian soldiers and sparked off a brief but intense exchange of firing across the boundary may be attributed to such a group. In days past, any such activity, timed to take the wind out of the sails of any attempt to get the dialogue back on track, would have invited suspicion that the ‘deep state’ was behind it. In the current context, although these matters are wrapped in layers of obfuscation and even deception, it is not clear where the military establishment stands. If outgoing COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani’s formulation that the existential threat to Pakistan currently does not lie to the east but stems from the terrorist threat within is taken at face value, it would lead to the conclusion that the military understands the need for peace with India while Pakistan handles its terrorist problem. Only if the civilian and military stakeholders are in agreement on this as the way forward and the best direction to safeguard Pakistan’s best interests can the dialogue and peace process have any chance of success. At present, on the face of it, necessity seems to dictate just such a posture. Let us hope that the good atmospherics in Bishkek are carried forward to New York and the long delayed and derailed dialogue process is helped to get back on track in the interests of both neighbours, with the concomitant collateral benefit to the region and the world in terms of positing trade and economic cooperation.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Obama’s quagmire before a quagmire It is a measure of the way the world is changing when we contemplate US President Barack Obama’s increasingly desperate efforts to cobble support for his desired military strike on Syria over alleged chemical weapons’ use by Damascus. The US President, in an unprecedented cul de sac over his plans, faces opposition from an overwhelming majority of allies, world opinion, the American people and the US Congress. When it became clear that even the British parliament rejected military intervention in Syria, and given the unlikelihood of getting his way in the UN Security Council because of the veto possibility by Russia and China, Obama turned in desperation to the US Congress for approval. That too looks dubious, since both the Republicans and the Democrats appear divided about plunging the US into another war with uncertain objectives and the very real prospect of being trapped in another quagmire. The US case against the Bashar al-Assad regime rests on dubious foundations, and even the most well disposed of observers towards Washington remain unconvinced by the flaky evidence presented by Washington. Obama failed to persuade the G20 countries in their summit in Saint Petersburg as well. Meanwhile Bashar al-Assad in an interview with US television has warned of the catastrophic fallout of any such military strikes by the US. Without specifying this, it is obvious that Bashar is warning that the whole region would explode, and arguably the conflagration could spread further abroad. The world, far from becoming a safer place as the Washington hawks argue, would enter a new phase of uncertainty and conflict that then may not easily lend itself to being controlled. As it is, the brutal Syrian civil war has remained confined to the battlefield because the UN-sponsored Geneva peace conference is being ignored by the US, effectively sabotaging efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict. Europe, with the exception of France’s ‘socialist’ President Francois Hollande, remains sceptical, worried, and reluctant to get involved in another war in the Middle East. Russia and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have independently suggested plans to tackle the chemical weapons issue through Damascus surrendering its chemical weapons stockpiles to a UN-led mission that would then oversee their destruction. Syria has indicated its readiness for such a development. However, what is missing from the plan is any method of assessing, investigating and destroying any chemical weapons that may be in the possession of the Syrian opposition. The cast of usual suspects that are gung-ho about bombing Syria includes, apart from the US and France, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar leading the chorus for military action against the Syrian government. Obama’s struggle, verging on a political and diplomatic quagmire, to convince the American people (through Congress and direct appeals) and the world of the need, importance and necessity of military intervention reflects the suspicion that has arisen about the US and its few backers’ motives. The hangover f previous disastrous military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have hardened these suspicions to the point of disbelief in the claims of Washington and its satraps and the growing conviction that even a so-called ‘limited’ strike would be the prelude to a full blooded intervention to bring about regime change. Military means may have yielded such a result in the three countries named above, but each one subsequently proved a disaster, with the collateral effect of the rise and spread of jihadi terrorism, led ideologically of not practically by al Qaeda. The Syrian opposition includes a conglomerate of al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The irony is that the US is fighting al Qaeda all over the globe, yet willing to turn a blind eye to what the Syrian opposition represents. It is the same shortsighted expedient policy that has led to such disturbing developments post-intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Mr Obama, the world is older and wiser since you and your predecessors in the White House got away with deception in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’. When you argue that not to act would threaten the US’s credibility, it would seem to be in the fitness of things for you first to consider whether such credibility exists. The sensible majority of the world must come together to stay the hands of the aggressors and redouble efforts to find a political and diplomatic solution to the Syrian quagmire before the US gets itself entrapped in this quicksand, in the process seriously destabilising the peace of the world.
Monday, September 9, 2013
APC consensus The much awaited All Parties Conference (APC) concluded in Islamabad on Monday with a joint resolution emphasizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Pakistan and expressing complete trust and confidence in the armed forces. After detailed briefings by the COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and DG ISI Lt General Zaheerul Islam, the APC, attended by all party heads including the ‘reluctant debutante’ Imran Khan, reminded the people of the recommendations of the previous six APCs and joint sittings of parliament from 2008 to 2013 that had not been implemented. The APC made reference to the ‘give peace a chance’ philosophy underlying these recommendations. It expressed sorrow and regret for the thousands of civilian lives and military personnel lost in the struggle against terrorism over the years, declared the drone attacks illegal and immoral, and underlined the blowback from the actions of NATO/ISAF in Afghanistan on Pakistan’s security. The APC underlined the colossal damage to social and physical infrastructure, financial losses and the adverse effects on the economy of the ongoing strife. It emphasized the need to compensate and rehabilitate the victims of terrorism. It also recommended that Pakistan consider taking its case against drone attacks to the UN Security Council. The APC appreciated and supported the collaborative efforts of the federal and Sindh governments in conducting a targeted operation against violent criminal elements in Karachi. Peace within and without lay at the root of the joint resolution’s advocating dialogue to bring the alienated Baloch back into the mainstream and supporting peace efforts in Afghanistan. The federal government was given a mandate to do whatever it considered necessary to achieve these goals of peace, without which no progress was possible. Earlier, in his opening remarks at the start of the APC, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, chairing the moot, appealed for eschewing politicking on certain issues of national importance such as terrorism and the energy crisis and stressed the need for unity in the face of these adversities. He appreciated the fact that both major stakeholders, the PPP and the MQM, were on board vis-à-vis the Karachi operation. The positives that can be counted from the holding of the APC, despite a healthy dose of scepticism on the part of most analysts regarding what may or may not be achieved from what some considered a futile exercise, are that all the political forces and the armed forces were in agreement on the way forward. General Kayani underlined this in a statement on the day. The thrust of the APC’s conclusions boils down to giving dialogue and negotiations with the terrorists a chance. Imran Khan, whose desire for a separate briefing before the APC was conceded by a meeting just before the APC with the prime minister, COAS, DG ISI and interior minister, argued that the government should not employ talks and force simultaneously, but allow the dialogue option a fair run before taking a different tack. That desire is reflected in the APC’s joint resolution’s emphasis on dialogue as the first option, although media reports go further than the wording of the resolution and say force remains the fallback option if talks fail. The APC was originally scheduled by the government for July 12 but could not be held for, among other reasons, the fact that the government’s preparations were not yet complete. It has been argued in certain quarters that amidst all the other blunders by Musharraf, sending the army into the tribal areas for the first time in Pakistan’s history in 2004, ostensibly under US pressure, was a grave error that is mainly responsible for the chaos that has overtaken the country since. What this narrative ignores is the complete picture of the trajectory of events since 9/11. Musharraf practiced a dual policy vis-à-vis his ostensible US and western allies in the war on terror by acting against al Qaeda and protecting, nurturing and providing safe havens to the Afghan Taliban to fight on in Afghanistan. This enmeshed Pakistan not only in Washington and other western capitals pressing for Islamabad to ‘do more’ vis-à-vis the terrorist safe havens, it arguably led to unbearable pressure that culminated in the ill-thought-through adventure of sending troops into the tribal areas. Since then, rounds of fighting have been punctuated by peace talks, agreements derived from these having a sorry history of violations by both sides and the terrorists using peace interludes to strengthen themselves. The icing on the cake was provided by the Lal Masjid fiasco, after which the TTP was formed and declared war on the state. While the APC’s positives are not to be sneezed at, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. The consensus achieved in Islamabad is heartening and welcome, but the follow up is even more critical.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
General Kayani’s ‘non-involvement’ On Defence Day, COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani delivered an important speech at the Military College Sui. General Kayani was visiting the area for the first time since 2007, when he was there in the aftermath of the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti. He took advantage of the occasion to reiterate that the military was not carrying out any operation in Balochistan and that it was the Frontier Corps (FC), police and Levies who were dealing with the law and order situation. The army, the COAS said, was carrying out development work in the province, ranging from education and health to infrastructure projects. To prove his point, General Kayani quoted facts and figures to illustrate the army’s contribution to the wellbeing of the province. These activities, he underlined, were to make Balochistan strong and prosperous, in which lay the guarantee of the defence of the country. The list of the army’s efforts in this regard appears impressive. General Kayani reeled off statistics of the army’s intervention in education, health and infrastructure development. He revealed that over 20,000 Baloch youth were enrolled in army- and FC-run educational institutions in the province and outside it. Employment had been offered to youth in projects such as marble manufactures and coal mining run by the army. In Dera Bugti, the army had established health centres and dispensaries and built roads, electricity and water schemes in Kohlu (Marri area). Recruitment of Baloch youth in the army was at 1.7 percent in 2007, far below the province’s due share on the basis of population of 4 percent. From 2010 to date, the army had accelerated its recruitment drive in Balochistan, lowering in the process its educational and physical parameters in order to increase the representation of the province in the armed forces. In this drive, 12,000 youth had been inducted into the army in this period, bringing the representation of the province in the army up to 3.5 percent. In the officer corps, 329 inductees from the province had brought the total Balochistan officers in the army to 759. The Military College Sui was originally one of three military cantonments being built in the troubled Bugti and Marri areas. Work on all these cantonments had been stopped and the Sui cantonment had been turned into a military college with the help and cooperation of the army, FC, provincial government, and Pakistan Petroleum Limited, which runs the Sui gas fields. Impressive as the peroration of General Kayani appears at first glance, there are many omissions in his telling, including some huge elephants in the room. In the first place, to say that the army is not involved in any operation in Balochistan is to hide behind a technicality. The FC, which is in the forefront of the campaign against the nationalist insurgency and has won ‘plaudits’ from all and sundry including the Supreme Court for being involved in the cruel and notorious ‘kill and dump’ policy, is commanded by serving army officers. To argue therefore that ‘this’ has nothing to do with the army is dissembling at best. Second, all the ‘development’ thrust of the army in Balochistan is predicated on the thesis that all that is required to wean away the youth of the province from the nationalist struggle is to offer them education, jobs, and economic opportunities, i.e. mainstream them, and they will become ‘good little boys’. Undeniably, for the poorest and least developed province of the country, such opportunities being offered for the first time will find many takers, as the COAS’s statistics show. However, this and infrastructure development will not by themselves solve the political problems of the province or the burning issue of the nationalist insurgency. It is interesting to note that most if not all of the social sector and infrastructural projects listed by the COAS fall within the areas infested by nationalist guerrillas. It would be difficult to resist the conclusion then that these ‘development’ efforts are actually the ‘soft’ face of the counterinsurgency drive of the military. Unlike the jihadi terrorism that afflicts the country as a whole, the problems of Balochistan are political, rooted in the unfortunate history of deprivation and oppression of Balochistan since Pakistan came into being. Political problems are seldom settled by force. Only political solutions can address long standing political and economic grievances. If only the military establishment understood the wisdom of engaging with the insurgents to resolve these admittedly difficult if not intractable issues, Balochistan and the country might be spared further bloodshed and ruin. A tall ask perhaps.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Failure is not an option After days of confabs including a federal cabinet meeting in Karachi, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has expressed his views on the situation in the city, while federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar has explained the decisions of the cabinet in a press conference. The PM has ruled out the MQM’s demand by saying it is premature to hand Karachi over to the army. However, he is desirous that an army-type force be set up to handle the complex law and order problems of Karachi. That may be some distance in the future, but all indications are that the police in the city may be strengthened by training by the army, particularly where it has to face the hardened terrorists who have also made a home for themselves in the metropolis. The decision of the cabinet to launch a Rangers-led and police-supported operation in Karachi is intended to bring to a halt targeted killings and other criminal activity to restore some modicum of peace to the troubled city. According to Chaudhry Nisar, hundreds of criminals have been identified and we await with bated breath the start of arrests of all such elements. The minister says the operation will be led by the DG Sindh Rangers and will go after all criminal elements without discrimination or caring about their political affiliations. The minister underlined the consultations with the political parties and all other stakeholders in the light of intelligence reports and briefings before the decision to give the go ahead to the operation was taken. The organisational structure envisaged for the operation comprises four committees. The first committee, charged with supervising the operation, will be headed by the DG Sindh Rangers and will have the top police, law enforcement agencies and intelligence officers as its members. One major innovation is giving the Rangers investigation and prosecution powers, something the DG had complained before the Supreme Court the other day was not available to the Rangers and as a result, many of those arrested were released by the courts for lack of evidence or proper prosecution. The second committee will be headed by the chief minister Sindh and will be charged with monitoring the operation on a weekly basis. It will have as its members the DG Sindh Rangers, IG Police, officers of the federal and provincial intelligence services, the National Aliens Registration Authority and NADRA. The third committee will be composed of notables from civil society, including the media. It will look into complaints of political parties regarding actions against their workers. The fourth committee will be headed by federal minister Zahid Hamid and have amongst its members the Sindh prosecutor general and the Attorney General, as well as Barrister Senator Farogh-e-Naseem of the MQM. This committee of legal experts will examine and review criminal laws to frame recommendations for improving investigation and prosecution. All this flurry of activity is to the good after months of prevarication by the government. Of course the proof of the pudding lies in the eating. It would be premature to pronounce on the results that may be expected from the new regime created to deal with law and order in Karachi. Without meaning to quibble, the thought does cross one’s mind whether all these committees will be able to work in close coordination and harmony with each other, a sine qua non for any successful operation. The silver lining is the civil society committee that promises safeguards against abuse. Now one wishes the structure does not creak along but springs into action as soon as possible, as the monster of targeted killings continues to swallow up more lives every day in the city. This is not to deny the wisdom in the PM’s caution that the situation in Karachi is too critical and complex to be handled in haste. Nevertheless, the urgency of action cannot be denied either. It is heartening to note that the Corps Commanders conference the other day also extended its support to the planned operation in Karachi, since the civilian and military sides need to be on the same page. Whether however, despite their protestations of support and agreement, all the political parties in Karachi are on that same page remains to be tested when the operation actually gets under way. When and if their workers come in the path of the operation, the parties’ response will indicate the seriousness of their intent. For the sake of Karachi and the country, one hopes everyone will play their role responsibly to return Karachi to what it once was: the city of lights. Failure in this case is not an option.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
Judiciary’s role Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, while addressing the roll signing of new Supreme Court (SC) lawyers in Lahore on Saturday, took the opportunity to dilate on the role of the judiciary in a democratic dispensation. In such a system, the CJP argued, every institution has to recognize and respect constitutional norms. The three main organs of the state, the judiciary, executive and legislature, cannot transcend their constitutional circumference through the abuse of authority. The success and efficacy of a democratic system, inter alia, depends on the independence of the judiciary. The judiciary, he emphasised, being the custodian of the constitution, had been specifically equipped with the power of judicial review to check the arbitrary exercise of power by any authority or institution. He argued that the SC on his watch had attempted to fulfil its responsibility as the apex of the judicial hierarchy and the final arbiter of constitutional and legal controversies to bring legal and judicial reforms by prudent interpretation of laws through various landmark judgements and judicial policies. The National Judicial Policy, revised from time to time in consultation with all the stakeholders at national and international levels, has set out guidelines for judges and lawyers for the prompt and fair dispensation of justice. The hard work of the courts, the CJP said, had strengthened public trust in the justice system and more and more people were approaching the courts for redressal of their disputes and grievances. The CJP underlined that a strengthened and independent judicial system plays an assertive and decisive role for the promotion of the rule of law that is the basic substance of democracy, necessitating the supremacy of the constitution, equality before and equal protection of the law. It is the statutory and constitutional responsibility of the judiciary to safeguard fundamental rights and restore entitlement to their owners and grant relief to the aggrieved. While there is little in the remarks of the CJP with which anyone can take issue, they represent the theoretical framework of the role of the judiciary in a democratic system, or at best its highest aspiration. However, the gulf between the principle and the reality is still glaring. Take for example the National Judicial Policy. While it has much to recommend it and its achievements cannot and should not be belittled, it has failed to address the grave issue of the huge backlog of cases in the judicial system that are the bane of litigants’ lives. One of the reasons why more and more people are encouraged to approach the courts is perhaps the freer use of suo motu powers that have convinced shy litigants that redress of their grievances is possible under the umbrella of a hyperactive judiciary. The downside of this phenomenon is that whether through petitions or the frequent use of suo motu powers, the judiciary has not always adhered to the time honoured principles the CJP also reflected on of all the organs of the state remaining within their constitutional powers and perimeters. The last four years since the restoration of the judiciary have seen may instances of controversy surrounding the courts’ transcending their proper purview and intervening in spheres that arguably belong within the jurisdiction of the executive, and sometimes even parliament. The most serious and current controversy swirling around the judiciary is the issue of judges’ appointments to the superior judiciary. Under the 18th and 19th Amendments to the constitution, the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP) is charged with recommending the names of judges to be appointed to the superior judiciary. Although in theory a parliamentary committee composed of both treasury and opposition members is supposed to exercise oversight over such appointments, the lawyers’ community has been agitating for some time that the JCP gives too much power to the CJP and is therefore fundamentally non-inclusive as far as the other members of the JCP, particularly its members drawn from the Bar, are concerned. The JCP controversy has by now spilt over to the parliamentary oversight committee’s role too. After the 19th Amendment, the parliamentary committee’s ability to reject any name proposed by the JCP for appointment as a judge of the superior judiciary has to come with a three-fourths majority and in writing, and is still subject to judicial review by the superior courts. Given this track record of a hyperactive judiciary and the controversies in the JCP, etc, it would perhaps be wise to consider the project of an independent and credible judiciary as still a work in progress.