Sunday, December 29, 2013
Bilawal House clash Clashes between Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and PPP workers before Bilawal House in Karachi were continuing for the second day at the time of writing these lines. Some workers, mostly PTI, were reportedly arrested by the police. The fracas began on Saturday when PTI leader and MNA for the constituency in which Bilawal House lies, Dr Arif Alvi, turned up with his workers and threatened to demolish the security wall around the residence that was erected while Asif Ali Zardari was president. In September this year, a challenge to the wall in the Sindh High Court against denying access to the road to the public was upheld, later endorsed by the Supreme Court. The PTI leaders and workers ‘suddenly’ decided it as their pubic duty to demolish the wall and recover the road for the general public. This inevitably aroused resistance from the PPP workers who vowed to protect their leaders. The clashes that ensued and continued on Sunday, when Dr Arif Alvi had threatened the wall would be demolished, resulted in one half of the road being opened by the police, which claimed the court decision required proper implementation while ensuring security for Bilawal House and its residents. The latter requirement entailed setting up security cameras and other equipment to monitor the road. Whatever the case, the question remains whether it is appropriate for a political party to take upon itself the mantle of vigilante implementer of legal decisions. The courts may have found in favour of public convenience, but even they would be aware of the continuing security threats to Asif Zardari and his family. In the first place, if the PTI felt aggrieved, it should have approached the court for speeding up implementation of the decision to clear the road. On the other hand, while in a democracy peaceful protest is the inherent right of everyone, it does not offer license to parties or individuals to take the law into their own hands. The clash therefore was entirely and predictably because of the PTI’s provocation before Bilalwal House. The conclusion is difficult to resist that the timing of the move was no coincidence. After all, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his speech at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh on the sixth death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto took Imran Khan and the PTI to the cleaners. But whereas Bilalwal employed the weapon of language, the PTI workers in Karachi were only a step removed from employing the language of weapons or force, hardly in conformity with a law abiding, civilised and democratic stance. The penchant of the PTI to resort to taking the law into its own hands (e.g. the NATO supply blockade) owes itself to some serious psychological problems from which the party appears to be suffering. First and foremost, most PTI leaders and workers appear full of righteous indignation, stemming from their exaggerated sense of entitlement to power and running the country, an ambition they had convinced themselves before the 2013 elections was within their grasp, but which was cruelly exposed by the results. The PTI’s inability to come out of that sense of entitlement and disappointment that its dream lay shattered except for the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has pushed the party into a confrontational mode with all and sundry. Thus Imran Khan has been at loggerheads with the judiciary (let off with a mild reprimand, unlike other political worthies who ran foul of the courts during the previous government), the Election Commission of Pakistan, the election tribunals before whom the PTI has challenged the results of four constituencies (which, even if the results are changed, would hardly constitute a tsunami), the PPP, PML-N (both of whom are constantly berated by Imran Khan for being in cahoots with each other for vested interests) and all and sundry manner of critics or people who question the PTI’s holy writ. The merits of removing the wall and clearing the road for public access before Bilawal House should be settled between the administration, courts and security establishment to ensure access to the public does not compromise the security of its residents. Bilawal’s challenge to the terrorists in his Friday speech has pitched him centre-stage against the terrorists, and given the track record, retaliatory actions against him and his family cannot be ruled out. The PTI’s insistence on immediate implementation of the court’s orders smacks less of concern for the public and more of dangerous politicking over an issue that entails security threats to the Bhutto-Zardari family.
Saturday, December 28, 2013
Enter Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Bilawal Bhutto Zardari kicked off what appears to be the opening shot of his active entry into the rough and tumble of Pakistani politics through his speech at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh on Friday at the sixth death anniversary of his mother, Benazir Bhutto (BB). Addressing a huge charged crowd of PPP workers and supporters from all over the country who had travelled to commemorate their slain leader’s memory, Bilawal made the bravest departure from the ‘ordinary’ politics that defines Pakistan today by throwing down the gauntlet to the terrorists. Calling them ‘wild animals thirsty for human blood’, Bilawal vowed his party would stand against the terrorists. He reminded his audience of the lack of humanity demonstrated by these enemies of the people by attacking mosques and killing innocent people. Bilawal demanded the Punjab government crack down on the safe havens the terrorist enjoyed in the province. A united campaign by the PML-N and the PPP against terrorism could save the country from these monsters, Bilawal argued. He announced the launch of a jihad against the terrorists because only their elimination could ensure peace in Pakistan. In this context he also emphasized that talks would only be held with terrorist groups who agreed to lay down their arms, pay blood money to their victims and respect minorities, amongst other strict conditions. In true Bhutto style and tradition, he courageously iterated that he knew his path was not without danger, dramatically describing his destiny as martyrdom in the wake of his family’s tragedies and his final resting place Garhi Khuda Bukhsh, which now houses two generations of Bhutto martyrs. Difficult as the fight against terrorism is, he was confident that the army would eventually win against the bloodthirsty terrorists. Bilawal asserted that the ‘Punjabi establishment’ was responsible for the PPP’s defeat in the last elections. Although there may be some truth in this claim, Bilawal may be forgiven for ratcheting up the rhetoric likely to appeal to his audience, without necessarily endorsing his view, since the record in office of the previous PPP government left much to be desired. Bilawal also announced the entry of his two sisters into active politics and appealed to the audience to take care of him as they had his mother. He said the PPP had not changed, as some critics assert, because the real essence of the party was ‘passion’ for democracy, rights, and an enlightened and progressive Pakistan. Turning to Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal vowed he and his party would stand with him in defence of democracy should any threat to the system emanate from any direction. However, he reiterated the PPP’s opposition to ‘personalisation’ in the name of privatization of state entities. He was particularly harsh on Imran Khan, calling him Buzdil (Coward) Khan and accusing him of mounting the blockade of NATO supply routes because of his love for the late Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leader Hakeemullah Mehsud. Terrorism began long before drone strikes, he emphasized, and would continue long after such strikes ended, thereby rubbishing Imran Khan’s attempted linkage between the two. The young Bilawal’s speech at this sixth death anniversary of BB was a startling improvement on his previous forays into public rally speaking. His language, diction, wit and body language impressed, bringing back memories of his grandfather and mother. Politics is not expected to be transmuted as an inheritance, but in Bilawal’s case, it felt as though the genes in his body had found expression. The rally at Garhi Khuda Bukhsh was the biggest, but the entire country held remembrances in various forms for the late BB, including prayers, candlelit vigils and other manifestations. Shorn of power except in its stronghold Sindh, the PPP and its jiyalas (committed workers) seem to have once again come into their own in opposition. Bilawal’s critique of the PML-N and PTI leaders evoked a ‘smarting’ response from PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari and PML-N Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. Social media activists seemed enthused by Bilawal’s take on terrorism and the content and delivery of his address, silencing those who in the past considered him too ‘foreign’ an import. While public speaking skills are a necessary tool in the armoury of any political leader in Pakistan, and Bilawal seems well on the way to acquiring them, the real hard work lies ahead. First and foremost, the young Patron-in-chief of the PPP has to restore the links with the jiyalas that appear worn, put balm on their wounded pride and commitment because of allegedly being ignored by the PPP leadership since BB’s passing, and enthuse them to take the field in anticipation of the 2018 round of testing the party’s popularity with the people throughout the country.
Friday, December 27, 2013
Benazir Bhutto’s death anniversary Benazir Bhutto’s sixth death anniversary yesterday reminds us of the loss of a charismatic and courageous leader who stood for a democratic and progressive Pakistan. Her struggles against military dictatorship, beginning with the fight against the Ziaul Haq regime that hanged her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and ending with her struggle to move the country beyond General Pervez Musharraf’s grip on power remind us of the abiding memory and legacy of the youngest and first woman to be elected prime minister of a Muslim country in 1988: her amazing courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. After the overthrow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government by General Zia’s military coup in 1977, Benazir had to suffer incarceration in horrendous conditions for years. When the regime finally relented because of her ill health brought about by the prison conditions, she was allowed to go into exile, only to return triumphantly in 1986 after martial law had given way to the Zia-engineered civilian government. A perusal of her political track record may convince some critics that BB’s record in opposition and struggle was far better than her accomplishments in office. But that critique is mitigated by the caveat that while she was in office twice, the powers that be hampered and hindered her ability to wring the changes in state and society she desired fully, while preventing her enjoying a full tenure in both her stints. Along the way, the Bhutto family had added two brothers to the toll the struggle had taken. In the second, Murtaza’s case, the brother was killed and the sister thrown out of office in a sinister conspiracy in 1996. The hounding through the courts that followed finally persuaded BB to opt for self-imposed exile for eight years. Being abroad did not mean BB was out in the cold. She continued to manoeuvre intelligently by persuading Nawaz Sharif, also in exile albeit forced, that the democratic forces needed to stand together if military rule was to be overcome now and in the future. This compact was enshrined in the Charter of Democracy, one of the finest documents in support of a democratic order produced in Pakistan’s chequered history. BB’s return in 2007 was accompanied by real and perceived threats to her life, a threat that was demonstrated in bloody fashion on October 18, 2007, the day of her return, in Karachi when her entourage was bombed, killing almost 200 of the PPP’s workers and supporters. Shocking as the incident was, in which BB escaped harm fortuitously, neither she nor her committed workers and supporters abandoned reaching out to the public for the sake of a democratic transition so sorely needed after Musharraf’s eight years of despotic rule. The fact that she did not live to see those hopes translated into reality is perhaps the biggest tragedy in the history of our benighted land. The BB who returned from her second exile had matured into a leader capable of much more than her admittedly considerable accomplishments before. Hence, the greater the loss to the country and its polity. It must be admitted with regret that those who took up the mantle of BB’s political legacy after her departure from this world failed to perform in a manner worthy of their great late leader. Cronyism, nepotism, allegations of massive corruption and sheer demonstrated incompetence characterised the PPP government from 2008 to 2013. It was no surprise therefore that the electorate punished the party by reducing the country’s largest federal party with a presence throughout the country to a rump entity with a government in its traditional stronghold of Sindh, but with its credibility and appeal considerably dented. The party has been led since BB’s demise by former president Asif Ali Zardari. While an ostensible generational transition is in progress to Asif and BB’s children, particularly the heir-apparent Bilawal, it remains to be seen how far the next generation can transform the fortunes of the party by freeing themselves from the recent poor past and appealing to the youth bulge in our society. With regret it must also be recorded that despite being in power for five years, and four international and domestic investigations, the PPP was unable to complete the task of bringing BB’s murderers to justice. History may record this as the greatest failure of the party of all. Musharraf and some others finally stand indicted in the assassination case, but closure still seems a long way away.
Thursday, December 26, 2013
Government’s drift Even the well wishers of the PML-N government are having an increasingly hard time defending its performance in office during the last six months. Given Pakistan’s dire situation as far as terrorism, law and order and the economy are concerned, the incoming government initially enjoyed a great deal of goodwill based on the perception that a ‘business-friendly’ government may prove more adept at turning the economy round at the very least. However, six months down the road, that hope appears to be dwindling. It should not come as a surprise then that opposition leaders are starting to speak out on the handling of the economy in particular, and the country’s affairs in general. Leader of the Opposition and a PPP leader Syed Khursheed Shah felt compelled to warn the government on Wednesday that they had better get a grip and allay the sense of drift that seems to permeate the affairs of the government. Khursheed was nevertheless constrained, perhaps in recognition of the serious difficulties the country is in, to offer another three months to the government to put its house in order, otherwise the opposition would be compelled, he said, to devise a new strategy. Without referring to the ‘old’ strategy of the opposition, it can be surmised that the warning of a ‘new’ one emanates from two factors. One, the government’s failure to reduce inflation (despite the claims of the Punjab PML-N government regarding foodstuffs), eliminate load shedding (which has returned with a vengeance because of the diversion of gas from the power sector to textiles to take full advantage of the recently granted GSP Plus access to EU markets), or uplift the economy. Fortunately, the Leader of the Opposition, as behoves a senior and responsible parliamentarian, rejected taking these issues to the street (a la Imran Khan) and argued for parliament as the proper forum to resolve these problems. However, while criticizing Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s ‘performance’ in parliament, particularly the festering sore of the use of the word ‘tamasha’ (drama) to describe the opposition’s stance on verifying votes in four constituencies, he said half the ministers do not come to the National Assembly (following no doubt their prime minister’s example) and the minister was talking about the TA/DA allowances parliamentarians get for attendance. He went on to take a dig at the prime minister by arguing that he had kept so many crucial ministries to himself that he had no time to come to parliament. Another voice that has been added to the concerns about the government’s performance is that of PML-Q leader Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. He is so alarmed that he has come out with the ‘original’ suggestion of an All Parties Conference (APC) on the economy, just as was held over national security. The example he gave runs against Chaudhry Shujaat’s wishes as the APC on the approach towards terrorism produced nothing but more confusion and paralysis. Going by that track record, the suggestion of an APC on the economy fails to inspire confidence. Whether one agrees wholly or partly with Khursheed and Shujaat or not, the fact remains that they have put their finger on a critical aspect of the government’s manner of tackling things. The inescapable sense of policy drift has left even government supporters frustrated. Inflation is a direct consequence of supply and demand factors, implying only a boost to production can restore some balance between the two. Production increases require investment (not to be had for love or money at present), energy (increasingly in short supply again) and an enabling environment for entrepreneurship (the Youth Loan scheme has run into trouble at the very outset and the bureaucracy still wields extraordinary power to frustrate businessmen). While Khursheed lauded the reversal of the decline of the rupee vis-à-vis the dollar and hoped for further improvement in this regard, the currency’s value is tied in inextricable bonds with business confidence (the state of which is reflected in the flight of capital from the country) and the state of the country’s external obligations. Whether domestic or external factors are considered, one irreducible truth is undeniable: without tackling terrorism (and its concomitant bad law and order), there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell the economy can recover, let alone flourish. If there is one key to the whole mess the country is in, it is this. But unfortunately, this is an area where confusion and drift reign supreme, refurbished by the confusion the APC produced on peace with the terrorists through talks. Now we neither have ‘talks’, nor concerted action to root out terrorism. In this policy impasse, how can the economy or any other national matter be expected to yield improvement? The government must go back to the drawing board in its own interest and at least be seen to be tackling the country’s problems, otherwise the present perception of drift could hurt it badly in the eyes of the electorate.
Monday, December 23, 2013
Imran Khan the ‘economist’ Imran Khan’s (IK’s) PTI took out rallies in Lahore, Karachi and Quetta on Sunday against inflation and the state of the economy. Whereas the Lahore rally was sizeable, it was nowhere near the ‘tsunami’ the PTI had promised. The rallies in the other cities were even smaller. In his speech at the rally in Lahore, IK spelt out a nine-point ‘formula’ for righting the wrongs of the economy. IK’s ‘economics’ could be boiled down to declaring war on drone attacks and the NATO supply lines, improving law and order, eliminating corruption, avoiding dependence on IMF loans, taxing the rich, eschewing the printing of currency notes to avoid inflation, and promoting accountability and foreign investment. The implication in this delineation of a magic formula to bring economic wellbeing and prosperity was that IK’s PTI could do this job better than the elected government at the Centre. Even if, for the sake of argument, it is conceded that the PTI could do better than the incumbent PML-N, a closer examination of these nine points would show that there is nothing new in them that is not the stuff of the existing narrative on the country’s, let alone the economy’s woes. Declaring ‘war’ on drone attacks has already been carried out by the PTI through blocking the NATO supply routes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the likely outcome of which will probably be the curtailing of Pakistan’s aid from the US and the west. How that will improve the economy is known only to Dr Keynes IK. As for one of the main planks of the PTI’s politics, i.e. eliminating corruption, although a desirable goal, cannot be guaranteed to make rivers of milk and honey flow. In case IK is unaware, the developed world, in which the kind of crude corruption we have is rare, corruption in government and the corporate sector and a nexus between the two is hardly new or unknown. If that corrupt nexus was the only source of the west’s and the world’s current economic woes, by now it would have been corrected. If ever there was a case of misplaced concreteness, IK’s implied view that corruption's elimination is the magic wand for all economic ills would top the list. IMF loans are not a luxury. Even a government like the PML-N, wedded to according the private sector the role of the engine of the economy, recognised the necessity of such loans if Pakistan was to meet its external obligations. This is bitter but necessary recognition of reality, not the pie-in-the-sky promised by IK’s uneducated take on the economy. Taxing the rich in a capitalist economy has proved difficult even in the developed world, let alone a country such as Pakistan that has known mostly the privileges, perks and state-fuelled concessions to the rich and powerful in our history. Of course the rich should be taxed, especially those hoarding hidden income and wealth. But this is too is neither easy nor quick. The IMF, whatever our view of it and its programmes, is also insisting on just such tax reforms, but the dire straits of the economy have compelled the PML-N government to offer a tax amnesty to hoarded wealth in the hope of boosting investment. The measure may or may not pay off, and will almost certainly postpone the day of reckoning for tax evaders, but no one, including IK who argues for foreign investment, has come up with a better idea so far that encourages not only external investment, but persuades our businessmen to reverse the flight of capital from Pakistan and put their money where it is needed. Perhaps the main reason why IK has embarked on economic terra incognita is because his pro-Taliban pronouncements and policies have alienated a large section of the youth who flocked to his banner in the lead up to the 2013 elections. The fizz seems to have gone out of that youth wave, hence the resort to perceived ‘populist’ demands such as relief from inflation and other steps. But the facts are stubborn things. IK’s ‘economics’ is essentially a reductionist and superficial view that the ‘system’ can and should be run (preferably by Imran’s party) in a better, cleaner way, and that will solve all our problems. The problem with that simplistic notion is that the economic status and problems of the country require intelligent handling of the crisis we (and the world) are passing through, without indulging in flights of fantasy. In the end, capitalism has proved once again to be a system that self-produces periodic crises that are inherent in its make-up. IK has no alternative to offer to that system, except a better ‘managerial’ approach that may yield marginal benefits, but is unlikely to pull Pakistan out of the economic morass it is mired in.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
General Raheel Sharif’s truth Recent events in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) point to the hotbed of terrorist insurgents the area has become incrementally over time. A military check post at Mirali was hit by an explosives laden suicide truck attack the other day while the soldiers were saying their prayers. Five soldiers were killed and 34 wounded. The rescue party evacuating the dead and injured was also ambushed, which invited a counter-attack by the military in which the attackers were finally killed after a prolonged firefight that has given rise to claims that civilians, including women and children were killed as collateral damage. ISPR denies this, pointing out that operational commanders are under strict orders to avoid civilian casualties. The military’s effective response appears to be a departure from previous practice, which was reinforced by local understandings with militant groups of a ‘live and let live’ type. It is being reported that the attackers were Uzbeks and Turkmens, many of whom have made FATA, and particularly NWA, their home for many decades stretching back to the origins of the Afghan wars. ISPR has also stated that this was a localized self-defence action and does not signal the start of a generalized offensive in NWA, something many knowledgeable observers have been demanding for many years, but which has proved a nettle the military is reluctant to grasp. Under former COAS General Kayani, the military’s posture appeared to revolve around the fallout of such an operation as well as the necessity of ownership of any such move by the political leadership. Then and now, that ownership appeared conspicuous by its absence, morphing since the new government came to power into harping on about talks as the preferred option to bring peace, with lately Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ‘conceding’ the possibility of ‘other measures’ if the talks fail. All the eggs the government (and Imran Khan) have put into this talks basket have not so far hatched any chicks, not the least because the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has rejected any notion of engaging in talks since they are convinced a military operation is in the offing. If even at a stretch it is conceived that the TTP was willing in the past or at least in two minds, the killing of TTP’s chief Hakeemullah Mehsud by a drone strike put paid to the whole effort. His successor, Mullah Fazlullah, is even less amenable to talking to the government. This conjuncture suggests the ‘other measures’ may soon have to be resorted to, willy nilly. In a morale boosting first visit to the Peshawar Corps Headquarters the other day in the wake of the Mirali battle, the new COAS General Raheel Sharif gave a very measured but clear statement as an exposition of the military’s stance. While supporting the government’s first option of talks, the COAS made it amply clear that the military will no longer sit quietly like sitting ducks if attacked by the terrorists. All cannons of warfare allow self-defence. But this still remains, in the absence of a proactive strategy, a defensive posture. NWA also figures in the calculus of post-2014 Afghanistan. But it is undeniable that sooner or later, and quite possibly as a response to developments on the ground, the hornets’ nest of terrorism in NWA will have to be tackled. The TTP now says that its past relationship with the Afghan Taliban, in which it acted as their hosts and supporters, has been reversed to the latter now financing and supporting the TTP. This ‘confession’ should give pause to the military in its long standing posture of covertly if not overtly backing the Afghan Taliban. The Mirali encounter may have been a limited action, but it is not unreasonable to see in it the shape of things to come. While the government and Imran Khan pursue their (seemingly futile) efforts to woo the TTP to the negotiating table, the military needs to keep its powder dry and strategise what appears to many to be the inevitable conflict with the terrorists who have so far enjoyed safe havens in FATA (specially NWA) and represent a permanent threat to the security of state and society. A nettle cannot be gently stroked without damage and hurt to oneself. It can only and must be grasped firmly if success is to be had.
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Absence of political will The first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS), the more powerful forum that has supplanted the erstwhile advisory body, the Cabinet Committee on Defence, turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib. So many months of government talk about a new national security policy (which has still to see the light of day) and when the CCNS finally meets, what emerges is an exercise in illusion, if not delusion. The official statement issued after the meeting ruled out military action against the Taliban and promised to pursue peace only through talks. Use of ‘other options’, it was stated, would only be the ‘last resort’. Chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and comprising the top civilian and military leadership of the country, the CCNS focused on three issues: formulation of a national security strategy, internal security strategy, and relations with Afghanistan. The CCNS deliberated upon the government’s strategy to engage various groups of the Taliban. It is being claimed in media reports that contrary to the widespread public perception that there are no talks afoot with any Taliban group, the government is playing its cards close to the chest and has opened channels for dialogue with discrete groups of militants. In this context, although the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has immediately rejected any efforts by the government to hold talks since it says this too is a dollar-hungry client government of the US and is preparing to attack the TTP, media reports speak of a sense of disillusionment on the part of the newly anointed leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah, at some of his colleagues being prepared for or even actually engaging in talks with the authorities. He has as a result reportedly cut short his stay in North Waziristan and returned across the border to his safe haven in Kunar province. Now that the CCNS is also seized of the issue of security on the western border, an eye should be kept on the threat from cross-border forays (as in the past) by Mullah Fazlullah’s forces. The CCNS envisages development is critical for the fight against terrorism, especially for FATA. It is a sad comment on the state of our polity that we are unable to see the wood for the trees as far as the struggle against terrorism is concerned. Even if it is conceded that the government’s position on dialogue with the Taliban may be a purely tactical one, accompanied by the belief that the TTP will not negotiate and the path will thereby be cleared for a military operation, it is the unrelenting emphasis in every statement by the government on peace through dialogue that may have the unintended effect of sapping whatever morale and will is still left for the fight. The suspicion cannot be lightly dismissed therefore that the political leadership does not appear to have the stomach for what will inevitably be a protracted struggle against terrorism. The military on the other hand appears to be shielding behind the contention that without political ownership of the struggle, the army cannot conduct meaningful operations on the scale required against the terrorists. Some critics alarmingly argue that the Taliban infection has travelled to within the ranks of the security services, which makes any struggle against them risky in terms of internal cohesion. Even if this is dismissed as too alarmist a prognosis, the ease with which some prisons were broken in the recent past and terrorist prisoners in the hundreds released without a shot being fired is a worrying symptom of all not being well inside the security corridors of the state. If the politicians are unwilling, the military reluctant for reasons of political ownership and internal issues, no military operation is likely to take place, much less succeed. Even if the TTP refuses to come to the table, and some factions do talk to the government, in the absence of a concerted military strategy against the terrorists, the most likely scenario is that things will remain pretty much the same: muddling through, hoping against hope, and getting bogged down in wishful thinking. Not exactly a recipe for a successful finish to what has by now been clearly defined as an existential internal threat. Despite all this, the ‘last resort’ may still assert itself despite all this lack of necessary political will.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Dar’s dollar optimism Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s ‘advice’ to businessmen attending the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association’s dinner at the Governor’s House in Lahore on Saturday to cash their dollars without delay as the dollar will not go up any further did not go down well with his audience. Grumbling was heard from the attendees that the Finance Minister had tarred the entire business community with the brush of dollar hoarding. There may have been those amongst the audience whose resentment was justified, but who does not know that the alarming rise of the dollar against the rupee in recent months has persuaded many people, including businessmen, to hedge their money assets by converting them to dollars. One does not know what Mr Dar’s certainty and optimism about the turnaround in the rupee’s value is based on, since even the marginal improvement of the local currency against the dollar in recent days cannot be taken as more than a few drops of welcome rain. Speculation against the rupee has been fuelled by lack of confidence in the current state and future direction of the economy (note the government’s claim of 5.1 percent GDP growth since it took over) and depleting foreign exchange reserves (less than $ 3 billion left with the State Bank, with the government turning to the private banks’ dollar holdings to bail out the country’s import requirements). In his optimistic vein, which smacks more of desperate attempts to restore confidence than fact, Dar claimed foreign exchange reserves would climb to $ 20 billion in three years. Time will tell. Dar is banking on the expected inflows of Coalition Support Funds $ 1.5 billion, PTCL’s outstanding privatisation proceeds of $ 800 million, World Bank and other aid for large infrastructure projects to ease the foreign exchange reserves squeeze. But each one of these sources has problems and roadblocks on the path of realisation. There is no escape from the fact that for confidence to return, Pakistan’s trade deficit, balance of payments and investment all have to show improving trends if the rupee’s precipitous slide is to be halted and reversed. With growing confidence will follow a reversal of dollarisation, arresting capital flight and increased investment, both domestic and foreign. Given the perilous state of the economy because of the above listed factors plus energy, terrorism and law and order, there are unfortunately no short cuts to economic revival. The Finance Minister’s efforts to spin a highly optimistic picture, even if well intentioned, run the risk of adverse reactions if his optimism turns out to be overblown. His cause may be better served therefore by sticking to the facts, grim as they may be. Another example of the economy’s constraints is the announcement by Dar to provide scarce gas two days a week to the captive power plants of the textile sector. The gas supply deficit is causing contradictory pulls from the needs of industry, commerce (especially CNG) and domestic use in winter. Robbing Peter to pay Paul may not be the best way forward. The government would be better advised to consider gas imports for industry rather than cutting back, for example, on domestic consumers (a politically potentially explosive measure). The further promise by Dar to provide easy credit for business flies in the face of the tight monetary policy being pursued by the State Bank in a futile effort to curb inflation. The right hand of the government therefore has to be aligned with the left hand in a consistent manner if credibility is not to be damaged. The government’s tax amnesty for black money to boost investment may succeed, but the tax reforms committed to the IMF will thereby be postponed, if not permanently stymied. The good news of course is Pakistan being given the GSP Plus market access at reduced duty rates to the European Union. But to take full advantage of this concession, the obstacles in the way of industrial production, particularly the textile sector, because of energy constraints has to be tackled on a war footing. The government has its work unenviably cut out for it in the economic sphere. While they have the good wishes of the country to succeed, realistic and well planned policy measures are called for, not dreaming of pie-in-the-sky.
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Molla’s hanging Abdul Quader Molla of Bangladesh’s Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) became the first person accused of atrocities during the country’s independence war to be hanged. Whereas a number of senior leaders of the JI in that country are behind bars awaiting trials on similar charges, it fell to the lot of Molla to be the first to have his trial completed and be sentenced to death. A last minute hoped for reprieve when the Supreme Court took notice proved infructuous when the court refused to reverse the death sentence. There has been concern internationally that the tribunals trying the accused for their role in massacres carried out by the JI’s militias, Al Badr and Al Shams against intellectuals and ordinary citizens in what was then East Pakistan do not meet the highest international standards of fair trial. There also does not appear to be in place a proper appeals process to ensure justice is not only done, but is seen to be done. The surprising fact is that these trials and the hanging of Molla come 42 years after the events that finally led to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country following an army crackdown, an indigenous insurgency led by the Mukti Bahini and a relatively short war with India that saw the Pakistan garrison in the eastern wing cut off and finally forced to surrender on December 16, 1971. The shame and ignominy attached to the whole Bangladesh episode was so embarrassing that the political and military establishment that followed the Yahya military junta responsible for the crackdown and atrocities in East Pakistan thought discretion the better part of valour. Even Mr Bhutto’s Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission report was suppressed. This was in line with the mood that gripped the remaining Pakistan’s elite: brush the whole tragic episode under the carpet and pretend it never happened. As a result, not only did we fail to learn any lessons from the tragedy, we have continued to repeat the same mistakes again and again and been responsible for subsequent generations being kept ignorant of this bloody chapter in our history, so much so that millions of young people today in Pakistan may not even know that Bangladesh was once part of Pakistan or the reasons why it separated. Not only this, we have never formally apologized for the atrocities visited on our Bengali brothers and sisters. It should not surprise us therefore that whereas the government and the foreign office have acted with restraint so as not to appear to be interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign country with which we enjoy good relations bilaterally and as a member of SAARC, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali has once more tooted a tune at variance with that restraint. Sounding like an ultranationalist JI spokesman, the feisty minister’s statement painted Molla as a hero of Pakistan, whereas Molla and his ilk helped ensure because of their bloodletting that East Pakistan would definitely break away, sooner or later. How does that make him a hero? This is like saying General Yahya, responsible squarely for the breakup of the country, should be considered a hero of Pakistan. Or, if the argument is stretched further, like our JI declaring an enemy terrorist like Hakeemullah Mehsud a shaheed (martyr). The JI, however, is not in power. Chaudhry Nisar’s party, the PML-N, is. How can the prime minister allow one of his ministers to shoot off at the mouth from time to time without even a nod at the government’s policy stance? Pakistan still has much to answer for vis-à-vis Bangladesh. Had we shown even a modicum of the large heartedness Chaudhry Nisar would have liked Bangladeshi Prime Minister Hasina Wajid to show in Molla’s case, we would have formally apologised to our brethren and sisters in Bangladesh soon after the tragedy, or at the very least at some point in the last 42 years. Sadly, we did not, and have now convinced ourselves it is so much water under the bridge and there is no need now to even contemplate such a possibility. We should not attempt to wax indignant in matters concerning our erstwhile eastern wing, given the above sad facts. While our moral standing in these matters is weak, to say the least, there are nevertheless issues with Molla’s hanging that do not sit easily with rational minds. First, the length of time that has transpired since the crimes for which he was convicted, the advanced age of the accused, reservations about the trial and appeals process all militated against the death penalty in a world increasingly moving away from the ultimate and irreversible punishment. Under the circumstances, perhaps deprivation of liberty for life of the accused may have proved more appropriate, avoided the taint of either revenge (versus reconciliation a la the late lamented Mandela) or political partisan motivation. This last suspicion is rooted in the domestic divide in Bangladesh in the approach to upcoming elections, which have pitted the ruling Awami League against the main opposition Bangladesh National Party and its close ally, the JI. The violent reaction to the hanging strengthens this argument. Avoiding hanging would also have avoided offering the ultra-nationalists like Chaudhry Nisar and our JI the opportunity to make political capital out of this turn of events and causing diplomatic embarrassment in our relations with Bangladesh.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Bouquets and brickbats The second (2007) and third (2009) coming of retired Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry contrasted sharply with his going. It is a sad comment to record that when he retired, society was split in its opinion of him. A brief listing of the forces disillusioned with his tenure since 2009 and the reasons for this turnaround may throw some light on the issue. The media, which had stood unified for his restoration was angry (except for one ‘favoured’ media house) over its exclusion from coverage of the full court reference on the day of the CJP’s departure. The leading lights of the lawyers community who were in the forefront of the movement for the restoration of the judiciary, including Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Ali Ahmed Kurd and Asma Jahangir, have been critical of the CJP for over-reach, politicising the office of the CJP, and turning his back on the common man who struggled in the restoration movement. The Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has suspended one of its vice presidents for misusing the SCBA’s name in inviting the CJP for a dinner when the SCBA had decided not to do so in protest against the thrashing of lawyers before the Supreme Court (SC) the other day. The PPP and its young co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have made no bones about their delight at seeing the back of the CJP and hoping for restoration of an independent and unbiased judiciary (a reference to the perceived bias against the previous PPP-led government and its leadership). All this amounts to a tsunami of disillusionment and alienation of his foremost erstwhile supporters for his conduct since 2009 and dragging the SC into controversy, with the collateral loss of respect and dignity of the court. Despite this obvious fall from the pristine heights of respect the CJP enjoyed after restoration, he seems unrepentant, at least if his remarks at the full court reference are any guide. The outgoing CJP expressed the hope that the SC would continue to take notice of violations of fundamental rights, including the right to life, by the executive and other state institutions. The implied doctrine enunciated by the CJP relies on the judiciary fulfilling its duty to step in if the executive fails. While this sounds good in theory, it carries grave risks and pitfalls. The doctrine implies the judiciary can and should set itself up above all other state institutions, with no bar or restraint on judicial intervention. If followed in letter and sprit, this doctrine could open the door to judicial dictatorship, a charge mutedly made during the CJP’s tenure. Even if the argument of the CJP that the judiciary in Pakistan’s past had been supine (a charge from which the CJP himself could not be excluded) is accepted, this does not mean the pendulum of correction should now swing so far the other way that a judicial overlordship over state and society follows. The SC’s interventionist posture and providing direct access to petitioners and the aggrieved under the outgoing CJP meant a vote of no-confidence in the lower tiers of the justice system without any serious effort to correct the system’s failings and eliminated the appellate process. Well intentioned the CJP’s efforts may have been, but their consequences will be debated for a long time to come. The incoming CJP, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani, has administered a welcome and fresh breath of air to the affairs of the superior judiciary by delineating his vision of where the SC should head. The new CJP says the court should consider and determine the limits of the SC’s suo motu powers. He has argued that the fine line of distinction between the requirements of Articles 199 (setting out the powers of the higher courts) and 184(3) has been blurred. The jurisdiction of the SC under 184(3) should be reviewed to discourage frivolous petitions and prevent misuse by vested interests. CJP Jillani recounted the exponential growth of petitions under 184(3) and through the SC’s Human Rights Cell. While conceding that the SC’s mandate under Articles 184(3) and 187 meant filling the gaps between the law and social dynamics, the value of the trichotomy of powers and the fair trial provisions of Article 10A had to be deferred to. Pakistan can now look forward to sanity and appropriateness underlined by judicial restraint being restored.
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Chief Justice’s legacy Nothing sums up the view of large parts of public opinion regarding the legacy of Chief Justice (CJ) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry than the unfortunate incident that occurred on the very day he left office on Wednesday. A traditional full court reference saw the entire media except one media house turfed out of coverage of the occasion, leading to an uproar in the excluded media as a whole amidst charges that this indicated the nexus between the Supreme Court (SC) under the CJ and the ‘favoured’ media house. Despite many good judgements of the SC during the last almost five years since the restoration of the superior judiciary, many will see this as further proof of the partisanship, operating on the basis of likes and dislikes, and practicing pick and choose justice under the outgoing CJ. Whether one agrees with this contention in part or in full, it can be argued that the liberal use of suo motu (at least 118 notices) and contempt of court (at least 100 cases) powers during the last five years not only brought the court into the fold of controversy, it also militated against the mountain of backlog of cases before the SC and the judicial system as a whole, a task the CJ is criticized for not addressing. This new jurisprudence reversed the normal order of the SC’s role as a largely appellate court to one where it was exceedingly proactive in its original jurisdiction role. It is undeniable that state institutions in the country have never been citizen-friendly, and therefore e the SC’s taking up the cudgels on behalf of aggrieved individuals and parties to provide justice and relief is admirable. However, it is also a matter of concern that the overuse of such powers (unprecedentedly high) damaged the prestige and respect of the court. The SC under CJ Chaudhry became hyper interventionist, causing encroachments on the turf of other state institutions such as the executive, parliament, election commission and others, eroding in the process the division and trichotomy of powers enjoined in the constitution and making governance that much more difficult in the midst of the myriads of crises afflicting state and society. CJ Chaudhry’s eventful and as some have described it, roller coaster era has come to an end, but the legacy he leaves behind will have an equal measure of admirers and critics, making the task of the incoming CJ Tassaduq Hussain Jilani that much more difficult in restoring some semblance of appropriateness to the SC’s affairs, which he has promised to do. One only has to cast one’s mind back to the respect enjoyed by the outgoing CJ when he was finally restored in 2009 to the controversies dogging his footsteps now to understand that the absence of time-honoured judicial restraint, whatever its effects on other institutions, has also ended up eroding the respect and dignity of the superior judiciary that it deserves. Relations between the Bar and the bench are at an all-time low, resulting in the conspicuous absence of the kind of respectful farewell outgoing CJs receive traditionally. This is even more ironic given that it was the lawyers’ community that was in the forefront of the movement for the restoration of the judiciary. How the mighty have fallen. The critique of CJ Chaudhry's manner of running the SC revolves around playing to the gallery, interfering in matters normally beyond the scope of the court and lying within the purview of other state institutions, choosing high profile cases that took up most of the SC’s time at the expense of the normal (and absent) effort to reduce the huge backlog of cases that justifies the old maxim: justice delayed (in this case horrendously delayed) is justice denied. No one could possibly argue that the good work of the court under CJ Chaudhry be overturned along with the controversial, i.e. we should refrain from throwing the baby out with the bath water. However, it is hoped that the change of guard will persuade the judiciary, and especially the SC, to revert to a more appropriate stance on litigation, appellate versus original jurisdiction, and respecting the trichotomy of powers that lies virtually in tatters. That strengthens the argument for other checks and balances to kick in against our opaque and non-responsive system of government in which much happens or goes on without let or hindrance, more often than not against the interests of state and society. Whether however, the courts are to be the instruments for the undeniable need to cleanse and make transparent governance under our fledgling democracy, at the expense arguably of their own dignity and respect, remains a moot point and a challenge.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
The wages of Imran’s ‘sins’ US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has been hosted in Islamabad in the midst of ‘some frictions’ in the US-Pakistan relationship. It is the first visit by a US Defence Secretary for four years, a period that saw extreme ups and downs in the two countries’ relations. The current visit takes place in the context of the looming withdrawal of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan next year, with the issue of a residual US presence in that country still a contentious matter between Washington and the Karzai government. Pakistan is considered by all, including the US, as critical to restoring peace in Afghanistan, particularly in the wake of the withdrawal of foreign forces. Pakistan too is, or at least should be, a stakeholder with a deep interest in its own right in peace in Afghanistan, which is likely to affect directly the situation vis-à-vis terrorism inside Pakistan itself. Within this framework, the discussions the US Secretary of State had with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the newly installed COAS General Raheel Sharif have by and large been kept under wraps for their sensitivity, except what was considered kosher for sharing with the public. The information put out was not surprising, given that the respective positions and concerns of both sides are no secret. Whereas Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif told Mr Hagel that the drone strikes were counterproductive and hurting the government’s efforts to counter terrorism, by which he meant that the peace dialogue his government wants to conduct with the terrorists was being affected (e.g. the killing of Hakeemullah Mehsud, chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, on the eve of hoped for talks), the US side stated that Mr Hagel wants to tackle the frictions between his country and Pakistan head on. Further, Hagel pressed for keeping the supply routes to and from Afghanistan open otherwise the US Congress may withhold aid to Pakistan. This demand and threat must be seen in the light of the withdrawn statement by Hagel’s aides that the supply route was about to reopen. He also reiterated the long standing US demand that Pakistan stop giving safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil. Nawaz Sharif repeated his government’s support for the Afghan reconciliation process, implying the US side too should perhaps abandon its ambiguity on the issue and come out in support of Pakistan’s reconciliation efforts with its own terrorists. Chuck Hagel's aides were forced to withdraw their premature and overly optimistic statement about the restoration of the supply lines because the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, whose stoppage of NATO trucks by threatening violence against the truck drivers had caused Washington to announce a stoppage through Pakistan out of concern for the safety of the drivers, had announced a continuation of its disruption of the supply route from Torkham. Since the PTI leads the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its cadres manning the ‘check posts’ to stop NATO trucks are in no fear of being prevented by the police from their ‘vigilante’ actions. Arguably though, the national highways and the question of allowing or stopping the supply routes lie within the purview of the federal government. But Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N government has been playing on the back foot, presumably so as not to be seen as taking up the cudgels on behalf of the west, particularly the US. But this ‘softly, softly’ approach has meant the provincial (PTI) tail has been allowed to wag the federal dog. If the Imran Khan-led PTI’s stoppage of the US/NATO supply lines costs the country bilateral and possibly multilateral aid, these wages will have been paid squarely because of Imran Khan’s 'sins'.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Mandela’s legacy The entire world mourns and pays tribute to Nelson Mandela, the icon of South Africa’s and the world’s struggle for democracy, human rights, dignity, and against racial prejudice and discrimination. It comes to very few men to change history, let alone rewrite it. Mandela’s compelling gifts of head and heart overcame entrenched hatreds and mistaken notions of racial superiority to forge what has been dubbed a ‘rainbow nation’ of all hues in his beloved South Africa. Brave and principled whites, albeit relatively few in number, were always apart of the struggle against apartheid, reinforcing belief in humankind’s innate goodness, rationality and ability to overcome evil, no matter how long it takes. Countries such as the US, France, Britain and even the UN have paid tribute to the great man by flying their flags at half-mast. India has not only followed suit, it has declared five days of official mourning. Pakistan has lagged behind in this regard. The only thing we can boast of is a unanimous resolution adopted on Friday by both houses of parliament to pay respect to Nelson Mandela, but we could easily have done more. Our relatively low-key response to this seminal event reflects the nature of our state and society. Meantime current South African President Jacob Zuma and the African National Congress (ANC) government have announced that an official mourning ceremony will take place on December 10 to supplement the people’s mourning at Mandela’s home. His body will lie in state in the capital Pretoria from December 11 to 13, and he will be buried in his Eastern Cape hometown of Qunu on December 15. While international attention is focused on the great man and his passing, ‘revisionist’ attempts to paint Mandela in ‘saintly’ hues have begun in a mistaken attempt to ‘not speak ill of the dead’. Mandela’s actual record of struggle, including the resort to arms against an unyielding and fascist apartheid regime are being papered over, and his later ‘peaceful revolution’ appears the only game in town. Similarly, ‘embarrassment’ appears to have overtaken even his well wishers regarding his close ties and solidarity with figures like Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Libya’s late Colonel Gaddafi and Palestine’s late Yasser Arafat. On the latter ‘whitewashing’ of Mandela’s image to make it acceptable to today’s political correctness, it needs to be stated that history cannot be ‘revised’ in this way without truth and its lessons becoming a casualty. The 1960s were a period of armed revolutionary and national liberation struggles throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America against colonialism and neo-colonialism, dictatorship and oppression. The regimes responsible for this world order were unbending in their colonial, imperialist and oppressive agendas. The peoples of these oppressed countries had little choice but to take up arms against their tormentors. In South Africa too, the ANC’s ‘Gandhian’ (non-violent) élan gave way to opting for armed struggle when it became obvious that the apartheid regime was uncaring of outside or domestic protest and demands for justice. It answered all such peaceful manifestations with the knout and the mailed fist. The ANC’s armed struggle may not in itself have managed to overthrow the apartheid regime, but it was a factor, along with the former western supporters of South Africa’s racist policies because it suited their material interests turning away under the unrelenting pressure of moral opinion opposed to the affront to human equality and dignity that South Africa represented. Solidarity with successful or struggling movements for revolution and national liberation therefore came naturally to Mandela, and it goes to his credit that to the end of his life, he did not abandon his principles or the friends who had stood by his movement in its difficult years. It would be a mistake to substitute today’s political correctness out of context on a period that considered it legitimate to use force against regimes like the South African apartheid one. And despite today’s received mantra of seeking dialogue and reconciliation as the universal panacea for all conflicts, it is not inconceivable that a similar regime in future may require a dose of the same medicine Mandela tried it, but eventually abandoned it in favour of a much more powerful and ultimately irresistible weapon: moral authority. If his successors in South Africa desire some of Mandela’s shine to rub off on them, they have to seriously restore their now fading moral authority because of the widening poor-rich divide in their country, which still plays out along racial lines, with the non-whites still the have-nots.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Appointment of superior courts’ judges The Senate on Monday engaged with the issue of the procedure for appointing superior courts’ judges. The Senators’ complaint, which echoed across the aisles, was that the procedure as laid down by the 18th Amendment to the Constitution had envisaged parliamentary oversight of the appointment of superior court judges in order to move away from the long standing convention that followed a non-transparent procedure limited to the judiciary, first and foremost, and at best the executive. Parliament previously had no role in the matter. Essentially the procedure as it now stands envisages nominees for appointment as superior courts’ judges to be put forward by the Judicial Commission headed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan and comprising, much to the Senators’ chagrin, six out of its nine members from the judiciary. These nominees are then vetted by a parliamentary committee consisting of four members each from the treasury and opposition benches from both houses. The parliamentary committee is afforded 14 days to record in writing its objection to any nominee by a three-fourths majority, failing which the nominee is deemed to have been appointed. Not only is this restrictive of the parliamentary committee’s ability to properly vet the nominees, the Senators say in practice none of the objections or reservations of the parliamentary committee are given any weight by the judicial commission. The Senators’ lament is that in practice the parliamentary committee has become ‘toothless’, and if it has no efficacy, either it should be abolished, or parliament should meet in joint session to enact a new law to correct the perceived imbalance between the judicial and parliamentary stakeholders in the appointments process. The 18th Amendment was the most comprehensive and ambitious undertaking to correct the anomalies that had accumulated in the supreme law of the land, largely because of the tinkering with it by military dictators over the decades. While the process of forging consensus in parliament on the amendment was a lengthy and exhausting exercise that yielded many good things, it failed to completely eliminate or repeal some clauses introduced by General Ziaul Haq to promote his so-called Islamisation agenda, a euphemism for consolidating his grip on power. Also, its proposed procedure for introducing parliamentary oversight for appointments to the superior judiciary did not sit well with the judiciary, which insisted on changes. The previous government acceded to the judiciary’s demands and enacted the 19th amendment to satisfy the judiciary. However, in practice, the Senators complain, parliamentary oversight exists more in the breach. While this may partly be ascribed to the weightage available to the judiciary in the judicial commission versus the parliamentary committee, in practice the procedure has not managed to introduce a credible oversight in the matter by parliament. With a new parliament elected in May 2013, the lawmakers seem inclined to revisit the appointments issue to see if parliamentary oversight can be improved, if necessary by enacting a new law to ensure that the judiciary does not become judge and jury in its own cause. The first casualty of the non-transparent procedure before the 18th amendment was often merit. That may still be the case or at least appear to be the case, until and unless the procedure is made more transparent, above board, and with the necessary checks and balances to ensure the members of the superior judiciary are appointed in a credible manner that enjoys the sanction of both the judiciary and parliament, and thereby the acceptability and respect members of the superior judiciary deserve. Along with a new parliament, a change is also imminent at the top of the judicial edifice, with incumbent Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry due to retire in a matter of days, and his successor Justice Tasadduq Hussain Gillani having expressed his desire to see a healthy and appropriate relationship and division of powers amongst the three pillars of the state, i.e. the judiciary, parliament and the executive. This trichotomy of power has come under great strain in recent years because of the perceived overweening and hyper interventionist role of the superior judiciary since its restoration in 2009, with liberal use of suo motu and contempt powers, which have at times rendered the superior judiciary controversial. Given the balanced views of Justice Gillani, it can be hoped that the era of hyper activism characteristic of the last five years will seamlessly give way to a more balanced role, keeping the time honoured principle of judicial restraint to the fore to ensure all state institutions function within their own purview, without conflict or friction.
Sunday, December 1, 2013
PPP’s future The 47th Foundation Day of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) on Saturday, November 30th saw a public meeting of the party in Karachi addressed by Patron-in-chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and other leaders. In his address, Bilawal tried to rally the troops through a fighting speech that attempted to deal with some of the serious problems confronting the party and its future. The gist of his remarks revolved around the widespread public perception that the PPP had lost its way and faced a bleak future after the drubbing it received in the May 2013 elections, which saw it shrink from the only countrywide political party with roots and a presence in all the federating units to essentially a Sindh-based entity. Bilawal asserted that the PPP was very much alive and would prove before and by the next elections in 2018 the truth of this assertion. He went on to deny that the party had changed since it still connects people. Pakistan, Bilawal stated, is not the property of any “mullah” or “player”. He criticised the PML-N government for what he called the storm of inflation that has kicked in since it took office six months ago, which had made the life of the common man hell. His party, Bilawal said, would resist the privatisation plans of the government, which he characterised as “personalization” (a reference to alleged cronyism). Bilawal then trotted out the leit motif of the PPP: its leaders and workers’ sacrifices in the cause of democracy, in which he listed the fate of his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and his mother, Benazir Bhutto on top. He asserted that the PPP had always challenged the status quo and met his critics’ making fun of his indigenous language skills head on by asserting that his relationship with the people and the party’s workers transcended language issues. As a reflection of one aspect of the PPP’s trajectory over the years, two splinter groups of the PPP also held meetings to commemorate the founding day of the PPP. The first, the PPP-SB, held a meeting in the Lahore residence of Dr Mubashir Hassan, the locale of the original founding convention of the PPP in 1967. Dr Mubashir Hassan, one of the founders of the PPP and its first secretary general, pinned the blame for the dwindling fortunes of the PPP on its deviation from the ideas and programme of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and its original élan as a party of the workers and peasants. He criticized the PPP for falling prey to the zeit geist of our times, abandoning nationalisation and veering towards acceptance of privatisation. Dr Mubashir was sceptical of Bilawal’s claim that the PPP would make a comeback in the 2018 elections. The Naraaz (disaffected) group of the PPP led by Naheed Khan and Dr Safdar Abbassi also convened a separate commemorative meeting on the day. It is an interesting fact that both splinter groups, the PPP-SB and the Naraaz broke away from the mother party in the wake of assassinations of top leaders of the party, PPP-SB after Murtaza Bhutto’s and the Naraaz group after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination respectively. Forty seven years after a group of left wing intellectuals and workers met in 1967 to found the PPP as the party of change, the current state of the party raises more questions than answers. The PPP posited Islamic socialism as its creed, nationalized the commanding heights of the economy after coming to power in the wake of the Bangladesh debacle, carried out land reforms but failed to follow through on the logic of transformation of state and society, premised on the class struggle. As a result of its ‘hesitation’, it inadvertently allowed the reactionary and vested interests to mount a deadly counter-offensive, which cost both Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto their lives, the latter despite her best efforts to allay the establishment and propertied classes’ view of the PPP as a radical left wing party. How the Phoenix of the PPP can emerge from the ashes of the 2013 defeat and the demoralisation of its ranks and supporters is the forbidding challenge facing the next generation of the PPP’s leadership, first and foremost Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.