Sunday, December 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 28, 2015

BB remembered Another December 27 has come and gone but the serious introspection the occasion should have persuaded the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) to conduct remains conspicuous by its absence even on Benazir Bhutto's eighth death anniversary. To recall, that was the day in 2007, mere months after BB returned from an eight year self-imposed exile to escape the extreme harassment of the PML-N government at that time, that Pakistan's premier political leader was cut down by the hand of assassins who have still to be brought to justice. Suspicions still linger regarding the manner in which forensic evidence was destroyed soon after the assassination by hosing down the site. Since her widower Asif Zardari did not allow a postmortem, even the cause of death was put into doubt, with General Musharraf's regime making absurd claims of her death being an accident when she hit her head against her car's roof handle, etc. Even today, when recalling the horrible tragic details of that day, it beggars imagination that despite the PPP being in power for a full term from 2008 to 2013, the investigation (including an inconclusive one by Scotland Yard) and prosecution of the case leaves much to be desired, particularly since justice is still awaited. On the present run of the way the case has meandered along without a satisfactory and credible conclusion, the apprehension cannot be easily dismissed that it may end up like all the high profile political assassinations in our history: lost in time and translation. The PPP's commemoration of her death anniversary has spiralled downwards over the years to ritualised and predictable respect, with little thought despite the rhetoric, of whether the party still upholds her legacy. Survival in office or even in opposition seems to have emerged as the leit motif of the party under Asif Ali Zardari's stewardship. What is perhaps not realised by the party leadership despite the transition in progress to the next generation of Bhuttos/Zardaris is that this 'minimalist' approach has hollowed out the once widespread appeal of the party (an incremental process over the years). The turn, from the time BB returned from her first exile in 1986, towards an explicit and implicit acceptance of the neo-liberal paradigm that had overtaken the world alienated the traditional mass base of the PPP. This base included the working class, peasantry, students, intelligentsia and women. Today, this list cannot be taken for granted. The collapse therefore of the major left of centre party on Pakistan's political firmament has left progressive democratic politics in limbo. The worst reflection of this loss is the PPP's virtual marginalisation in Punjab, once the main bastion of the once radical PPP. This year, reports speak of the failure of the Punjab PPP to even organise a delegation to attend BB's death anniversary commemoration in Garhi Khuda Bux. How the mighty have fallen. The hopes of the PPP's rank and file now reside in the person of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The young leader though still has a long way to go before he can turn the tide for the party. His speech at BB's remembrance rally had little new or inspiring, even though he wittily dubbed the National Action Plan that has become a bone of contention over the Rangers issue between the federal and Sindh governments as the 'Noon' Action Plan. If Bilawal is to succeed in once again forging the PPP, a pale shadow of its former self, into an effective and inspiring party capable of once again mobilising the masses, he and the party's leadership will have to go back to the drawing board and reinvent themselves through a well thought through political programme. Going on tolling the bell just because one is a monk will no longer do. The PPP needs rethinking, introspection and a fresh visit to its aims and objectives to align them with the people's aspirations, otherwise we may still be here in future years ritually commemorating BB's martyrdom without much hope of the PPP's message finding resonance with the people. That would be a sad epitaph for her legacy.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 27, 2015

Blowing hot and cold As expected, after former chief minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch submitted his resignation, leader of the major party in the Balochistan coalition Nawab Sanaullah Zehri took oath of office as his successor under the Murree Accord and in line with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s nomination of the PML-N heavyweight. Also, the Balochistan Assembly unanimously elected Rahila Hameed Durrani as the first woman Speaker some months after former Speaker Jan Jamali resigned over differences with his PML-N party leadership. After taking oath and receiving a unanimous vote of confidence from all 54 members of the Balochistan Assembly, Zehri addressed some of the concerns and problems of his province. The nationalist insurgency still commanding, despite setbacks in recent months, centre-stage in the affairs of Balochistan, the new chief minister offered on the one hand a dialogue for political reconciliation in the province, of course within the bounds of the law and constitution. On the other, citing his elevation to be the result of the sacrifices of the martyrs belonging to the army, Frontier Corps, police, Levies and citizens, he vowed not to forgive those responsible for such deaths. This is a strange cocktail. How can a ‘dialogue for reconciliation’ proceed without a general amnesty for all those engaged in the fighting of the last almost 14 years? Mixed messages such as these will do little to persuade the rebels in the mountains or their leaders in self-imposed exile that the Balochistan government is a credible partner to engage with for peace and reconciliation. As it is, the rebels see the Balochistan government, whether the previous one of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch or the incoming one, as powerless in matters affecting the province’s insurgency. With his opening salvo, Zehri may effectively have closed the door on any hope of a dialogue. As positions harden consequently, the relatively low intensity insurgency could find a new and more deadly lease of life. Wisdom demanded that the new chief minister open his innings with words that transcended his image as being tough on the insurgents and could soothe and act as a balm on the wounds of the people of Balochistan as well as the nationalist insurgents. However, that was not to be, and we must wait with bated breath what the effect on the troubled province may be. One positive in the chief minister’s early message was the commitment to ensuring protection for the life and property of the Hazaras, a community hard done by at the hands of the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in recent years. As to his other pronouncements on the province’s problems such as water scarcity, education, health and unemployment, Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri had sweet things to say regarding better days to come under his stewardship in all these areas. He also mooted solving the problems of poverty and deprivation of the people of the province though development in industry, etc, to accompany the implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), particularly major industrial zones to be set up on the CPEC route in Zhob and Khuzdar, and smaller zones in other areas. Judgement on these matters must necessarily await their practical implementation. The political class of Balochistan, as represented in the Assembly, congratulated itself on the election of a woman for the first time as the Speaker by arguing this showed the respect women were held in in Balochistan’s society. Tokenism or not, such steps do send a strong message, but neither in Balochistan’s still predominantly tribal culture, nor the much touted election of women Speakers in the National Assembly during the last government, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh in the present dispensation, should such advances in women’s status blind us to the very real and widespread violations of women's rights and their status as second class citizens throughout our society. Before congratulations are due, these women Speakers and their sisters should know that there is still a long way to go and their election should only act as a spur to pursue their goals with greater vigour. Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has his work cut out for him in terms of giving his province peace, development and prosperity. While wishing him success, we can only advise that he revisit his rhetoric on the insurgency and find appropriate messages that advance reconciliation and peace, not continued conflict.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 25, 2015

Deeper trenches The Centre-Sindh government row over the Rangers’ powers for the Karachi operation stubbornly refuses to go away. If anything, the trenches being dug on either side seem to get deeper every day. On December 24, former president and co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari weighed into the controversy by describing what the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) considers as an encroachment on Sindh province’s autonomy as an ‘attack’. Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid felt compelled to reply by turning the remark against the former president, arguing if this was an ‘attack’, Asif Zardari was also part of it. How such a response helps matters escapes us. It is attitudes and statements such as these, especially those since the controversy arose by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, that have muddied the waters further. The Sindh government is digging its heels in and after the provincial cabinet met to consider the federal interior ministry’s straightaway rejection of the Sindh Assembly’s resolution and the summary forwarded by the Sindh government, has written to the interior ministry once again on the subject, setting out its case. All the indications so far point to a desire on the part of the Sindh government to enter into a dialogue with the Centre to sort out the issue, and not to go to court for now, while reserving its right to do so should the Centre not be forthcoming to discuss the matter. The interior minister argues that the Rangers derive their powers from Section 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which transcends Article 147 of the Constitution under which the Rangers were deployed at the request of the Sindh government in the first place. This is strange logic. How can an ‘ordinary’ law transcend or nullify an Article of the Constitution? This kind of argumentation has reduced the whole issue to one of provincial autonomy versus an overbearing Centre. The Sindh cabinet after its session has cited the actions of the Federal Investigation Agency and National Accountability Bureau against provincial institutions without the prior permission of the provincial authorities interference in the province’s remit. The provincial cabinet took notice of the statements of federal ministers on the Rangers issue, especially the interior minister’s ‘wisdom’. The Sindh cabinet spokesman later clarified that the Rangers’ powers have not been curtailed, but before taking important actions, the ‘captain’ of the operation, the chief minister of the province, should be informed and his consent taken. In other words, the Rangers derive their powers from the tasks delegated to them by the provincial government (and now Assembly) and cannot therefore function in a manner that does not give a toss for the concerns of the provincial authorities. Unfortunately, the ‘war of words’ between the Centre and Sindh too shows no signs of abating. The Opposition in the Senate walked out on December 23 on the Sindh issue as a protest, with the notable exception of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and other smaller parties, the former being the original complainant regarding the Rangers’ actions in Karachi. PPP Senators roundly castigated the Centre for its ‘dictatorial’ attitude to Sindh’s affairs. Senator Farhatullah Babar, the spokesman for Asif Zardari, criticised the interior minister for releasing the expenditures on the Rangers the federal government had borne as though because of paying their salaries, the Centre had also acquired the right to dictate their mandate. He pointed to Sindh's contribution to the Rangers’ expenditures, while asking rhetorically whether the Centre had reimbursed any of the province’s expenditures. While this exchange of barbs continues without letup, it is inexplicable why the prime minister has not spoken up or intervened. Surely it is the country’s chief executive who should be the lead point man on this controversy and attempt to find a rational and mutually acceptable solution. Leaving Chaudhry Nisar and Pervez Rashid free to dominate the Centre’s part in the controversy has not, and is unlikely to, defuse or heal the growing rift. It is in the interests of all parties and the federation to nip the growing fissures in the bud before a really serious crisis overtakes everyone. The prime minister must, in this as in other matters of import, lead.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 21, 2015

Crisis deepening? Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has warned of the long term and serious consequences of imposing Governor's rule in the province. Speaking to reporters at the Sindh University convocation in Jamshoro on Saturday, the chief minister claimed that the Rangers were satisfied at the restricted powers they have been mandated with in the wake of the Sindh Assembly's resolution on the issue the other day, and would continue the operation as mandated. In the presence of a democratic dispensation, he argued, there was no need for Governor's rule, nor did the federal government have any authority to impose it in Sindh or any other province. He dismissed suggestions that the Rangers' powers had been clipped, despite the fact that the term "sectarian killings" has been substituted for "terrorism" and the Rangers' ability to put people in preventive detention, as happened in Dr Asim Hussain's case, has been made contingent on the chief minister's prior approval while raids on the Sindh government's offices has been made subject to the chief secretary's prior approval. In a lighter vein, he pointed out that the chief minister was intended to be the operation's captain, whereas it appeared that the head was still there but the cap had been knocked off. On a more sober note, he claimed that the prime minister and chief of army staff's attitude to Sindh was "better" towards Sindh and they would not resort to any precipitate action like Governor's rule. It is pertinent to point out that in recent months, the Sindh government has been accusing the Rangers of overstepping their authority, particularly in the case of the raid on the office of the Sindh Building Control Authority and the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. The provincial government had brought up its concerns with the federal government and the prime minister repeatedly, but without any satisfactory response. It is also necessary to recall, as former PPP prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has done, that it was the PPP-led government that called in the Rangers in 1989 to control lawlessness in many parts of Sindh. The province was at that time afflicted with ethnic strife and dacoits. The Rangers subsequently got special powers after amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act that authorised them to probe cases of suspected terrorist financing. The issue of their powers became fraught in recent days because of the perception of the Sindh government that the Rangers had gone beyond their mandate. It appears that the chief minister on the one hand is warning of the fallout of dismissing the elected Sindh government in favour of (federal) Governor's rule for the democratic dispensation as a whole, resting as it does on the consensus of the political parties, particularly the PPP and the PML-N, on defending the system against any authoritarian moves to destabilise it, as has so often happened in the past. At the same time,t chief minister seems to be putting his eggs in the basket of hoped for wisdom in this regard on the part of the prime minister and chief of army staff. However, despite his claim the Rangers are satisfied with their restricted mandate ('discipline', i.e. following the Sindh government's instructions), it appears all is still not smoothed out. One indicator is the Rangers' approaching the Sindh High Court against the provincial government's changing the special public prosecutor in Dr Asim Hussain's case, albeit an unsuccessful bid. The second is the rash of protests against the restriction of the Rangers' powers by various trade and other groups in Karachi, ascribed by some circles to being orchestrated by the Rangers. The Sindh opposition too has become active to forge a grand alliance against the provincial government. The bottom line appears to be that the federal government and the establishment should refrain from any precipitate moves that may destabilise not only the Sindh government but the democratic dispensation per se. Precisely in such a dispensation, differences can and should be sorted out through dialogue, not finger wagging, threats, or a return to practices from an authoritarian past.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 20, 2015

Rangers’ powers The controversy over the Rangers’ powers in the Karachi operation continues, with various stakeholders delivering their views, which may lead to even more controversy. For example, Corps Commander Karachi Lt-General Naveed Mukhtar during a visit to the Rangers’ headquarters, praised the paramilitary force as the ‘backbone’ of the anti-terrorist operation and ascribed the relative peace in Karachi to the special powers previously assigned to the Rangers. Those powers have recently been curtailed by the Sindh government through a resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly amidst protests from the opposition. The resolution has substituted “sectarian killings” for “terrorism”, restricted the Rangers’ power to put terrorism suspects in preventive detention without the prior approval of the chief minister, prevented any raid on the Sindh government’s offices without prior written approval of the chief secretary, and confined the Rangers to assisting the Sindh police to the exclusion of any federal institution (the context being the FIA and NAB). While the Sindh government’s thrust is to reassert its control of the operation that falls within the purview of the province and resist what it views as encroachment on its turf by federal institutions such as the Rangers, FIA and NAB that have overstepped their remit (in the case of the Rangers mandated by the Sindh government under Article 147 of the Constitution), the message by the Karachi Corps Commander seems to be that the Rangers will continue the operation (as before?). This conflict between the Centre and Sindh found an echo in unnecessarily provocative remarks against the Sindh government by Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, for which he had later to apologise and were expunged after a vociferous protest and walkout by the opposition. The worthy senator lost his ministry for indiscreet remarks and Friday’s performance in the upper house indicates that he has yet to overcome the affliction of foot-in-mouth disease from which he and others of his party’s leadership suffer. Despite the criticism by some quarters that the PPP Sindh government is only trying to protect its incarcerated leader Dr Asim Hussain and others against corruption allegations, this cannot become a justification for riding roughshod over provincial autonomy, which has been achieved after prolonged struggle, culminating in the 18th Amendment. Corruption can and should be tackled by the institutions charged with this responsibility. It should not become the basis for an expanding sphere of operations by the Rangers. In fact it could be argued that the ham-handed manner in which the Rangers have handled such matters has led to the conflict between the Centre and Sindh and culminated in restricting the powers of the paramilitary force to what the Sindh government mandates. There are many in the country who a priori have no patience with such arguments, focused as they are almost obsessively on the PPP’s alleged corrupt culture. For example, long time critic of both the major political parties, the PPP and PML-N, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan, has once again contributed to the controversy by warning that withdrawal of the Rangers from Karachi will inevitably result in a resumption of the killings that have characterised Karachi for years. To prove his point, he refers to the post-1992 operation situation that led to the sustained killing of policemen who had conducted that operation. In the latest version of the pot calling the kettle black, former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza has leaned on the Centre, army and Rangers to score points against his erstwhile party of which he was not only a longtime member, but widely considered close to former president and PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. For all the high faluting ‘principles’ being cited in the critique of the Rangers’ powers being restricted, perhaps the most important trend of increasing establishment crowding into civilian space and the Centre into provincial purview is being ignored. Irrespective, wisdom demands that the powers that be revisit their approach and sit down with the Sindh government to sort out the parameters of the Karachi operation lest it fall victim to these turf wars.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 19, 2015

Cart before the horse Saudi Arabia has ‘surprised’ quite a few by the manner in which it has proceeded to announce a 34-country alliance against terrorism, but none more than Pakistanis. For a start, when the announcement was first made and Pakistan’s name was found to be in the list of members, the response of Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry was one of ‘surprise’. Subsequently, after a reported rap across the knuckles by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for the indiscretion regarding our friend Saudi Arabia, the foreign office spokesman denied the whole thing, ascribing it as usual to ‘inaccurate’ media reporting. Despite the denial, reservations aplenty are to be found amongst political parties and the citizenry at thus being ‘ambushed’ or railroaded into an alliance that no one seems to have known about ahead of the announcement. Conspiracy theorists are wondering out loud whether the establishment has said yes to the alliance without taking the foreign office (and perhaps the government?) into confidence. Whatever the case, even the foreign office spokesman’s admitting that Pakistan would be part of the alliance was tinged with ifs and buts. Pakistan, according to the spokesman, still awaits details of what is expected of it. This is a rather strange way to put together an alliance, and that too for the lofty aim of combating terrorism, no doubt an objective shared by many countries but not necessarily with consensus on who is the main enemy and who a friend in this endeavour. This anomaly is sharply brought into focus by the fact that Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are left out, whereas they are arguably the most effective three forces fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The fact that all three are Shia lends credence to the accusation that the ‘Sunni alliance’ Saudi Arabia wants to cobble together has a sectarian tinge. Not only is it inexplicable how even a close friend like Saudi Arabia could announce Pakistan’s membership without proper consultations beforehand, this tendency to put the cart before the horse is repeated in Saudi Arabia reaching out to the opposition PPP regarding the alliance. One may be forgiven for wondering why Riyadh is not bothering to first talk to the government. Surely without such consultation, Islamabad will at best be a reluctant partner, at worst wary of being part of any sectarian conglomerate that would cause difficulties in its relationship with Iran, which has of late enjoyed firmer footing. The whole thing smacks of taking Pakistan for granted. Perhaps that is what explains the bitter and surprised response of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states when Pakistan earlier refused to join a Saudi-led campaign against the Houthis in Yemen, considered by Riyadh to be surrogates of Iran. If Pakistanis appreciated Islamabad’s rare wisdom in not going along blindly with Saudi wishes on that occasion, many are troubled by the implications of even a nod in the direction of this new construct. The fact of the matter is that the Saudis and some of their Arab and Muslim allies are still not able to make up their minds who is the real enemy, Bashar al-Assad or IS. This confusion is also tinged with sectarian hues. When the Saudi defence minister argues that they aim at all shades of terrorists, what remains unexplained in its wake is why then is Riyadh supporting jihadi groups, including al Qaeda affiliate the Al Nusra Front, in Syria? By any definition, such groups too fall under the rubric ‘terrorist’, since they are imbued with an extremist, fanatical version of jihad, which they justify in the name of religion. And what is to stop Riyadh from twisting Islamabad’s arm in a new way by asking for Pakistan to join the fight in Yemen in the name of combating terrorism (i.e. the Houthis). The quagmire is not only in Saudi minds. It finds reflection also on the ground in the manner in which Riyadh has pursued its sectarian Wahabi agenda in Syria and the broader Middle East. For Pakistan to insert itself, for whatever reason, into such a bog is unquestionably unwise and unacceptable. Obsequiousness in our approach to relations with Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states must give way by now to a self-respecting independent policy in Pakistan’s, and no one else’s, interest.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 14, 2015

Centre-Sindh rift Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has whaled into the Sindh government for procrastinating over extending the Rangers' mandate to continue the Karachi operation. The Sindh government has refrained from extending the mandate that expired on December 4 through an executive decision and has instead referred the matter for broad consultation to the Sindh Assembly. Since the matter has yet to be discussed in the Assembly, a gap of 10 days and counting has opened up in the Rangers' campaign. Chaudhry Nisar warns the Sindh government against playing politics with the Rangers issue. He says other legal and constitutional options would be considered and presented to the prime minister if the Rangers' mandate is not extended. Some would interpret this as a thinly veiled threat. Chaudhry Nisar interprets the 'foot dragging' on the issue by the Sindh government as an effort to make the Karachi operation controversial just to save one person. No doubt the reference is to Dr Asim Hussain, currently in detention and being investigated on a raft of terrorism and corruption charges. Chaudhry Nisar reminds us that the Karachi operation was launched against criminals and terrorists by taking all political parties and stakeholders on board. He also reminds us that Farooq Sattar of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) himself called for the operation on August 13, 2013. Chaudhry Nisar mounted a stout defence of the Rangers as a well trained, professional force and said any criticism of the force would not be tolerated (he neglects to inform us what he plans to do if such criticism continues). He then went on to assert that only terrorists and criminals would benefit if the Rangers' powers were made controversial. The Rangers were making sacrifices to purge Karachi of these evils, he said, and the people and business community of the city were satisfied with the operation and wanted it to continue to its logical conclusion (as though on cue, the Karachi Association of Trade and Industry issued a statement of support for the operation on the same day). Last but not least, what seemed to be worrying Chaudhry Nisar was that the delay by the Sindh government would demoralise the Rangers and embolden the criminals and terrorists operating in the city. On the Pakistan People's Party's (PPP's) part, two responses appeared. One was by Adviser to Sindh Chief Minister on Information Maula Bux Chandio, who expressed the hope that the provincial government would grant an extension to the Rangers' policing powers in Karachi on Monday (today). He argued though that a constitutional requirement needed to be met, that is why the issue had been referred to the Sindh Assembly. Probably what Mr Chandio was alluding to were the reservations in the Sindh government regarding a federal force, the Rangers, invited to assist the provincial administration in tackling Karachi's situation, overwhelming the province's purview in law and order issues. The second, more considered response from the PPP came in a press conference by the party's leaders, in which the PPP spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar set out the party's response to Chaudhry Nisar's statements. Senator Farhatullah Babar focused attention on the Karachi operation having been launched on the recommendation of and with the support of the Sindh government. It was decided, he added, that the Rangers' mandate would be decided by the Sindh government (in line with the constitutional position). Referring to the statement of the chief minister Sindh a day earlier, he pinned down the mandate to curbing four distinct crimes: terrorism, targeted killings, kidnapping for ransom and extortion. In several ways, he conceded, the Rangers had performed this assigned role in a commendable manner. However, he took issue with Chaudhry Nisar's seeking to equate the criticism of a federal force overstepping its mandate with undermining the operation. He categorically rejected the notion that the PPP's reservations were because of one or more individuals and said the real issue was of the Rangers going beyond their remit to include actions against alleged corruption, a problem that should be tackled by the institutions whose task this is. The Rangers have been deployed in Karachi for more than 15 years. During this considerable period and through the tenure of successive governments, the wisdom finally dawned (spurred on by egging from the military) that the police had been rendered ineffective over time because of political interference and therefore the paramilitary force should tackle crime and terrorism. Discomfort followed when the MQM and PPP began to be targeted, the firmer on terrorism suspicions, the latter on an ill-defined alleged nexus between crime and terrorism (with some spice added by allegations of corruption). Chaudhry Nisar's aggressive approach may prove the wrong tack. The federal and provincial governments need to put their heads together, define the Rangers' mandate afresh and winkle out any creases regarding where their remit ends. Karachi needs the Centre and Sindh to work together, not at loggerheads.

Daily Times Editorial Dec 12, 2015

Talks about talks The Heart of Asia Conference in Islamabad produced a litany of positive noises about regional and international cooperation to bring about peace in Afghanistan, while on its sidelines the bilateral interaction between Pakistan and India yielded an agreement in principle to restart the stalled talks between the two countries under the rubric of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue. However, the euphoria over these two developments amongst the participants and stakeholders the world over must be tempered by caution about being swept away by the triumph of hope over reality. The Conference concluded with the desirable but fraught intent to restart the abortive peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The first round of these talks were hosted by Pakistan in Murree with the US and China in attendance. The planned second round never got off the ground as it was overtaken by the controversy that broke out with the revelation of Taliban leader Mullah Omar's death two years earlier. What followed, and apparently continues, was a fracturing of the Taliban ranks over Mullah Omar's successor, with the claimant, Mullah Omar's longtime deputy, Mullah Mansour finding his hands full with challenges to his elevation. That fracture continues with new and alarming developments of late. First, a meeting of top Taliban leaders in Quetta ended in a fratricidal shootout in which Mullah Mansour has variously been reported to have either been killed or at least seriously wounded. This has produced another spanner in the works because given the uncertainty of whether Mullah Mansour has survived and if so, whether he is in a position to lead the movement underlines the existing quandary over who speaks for the Taliban. To further add fuel to the fire, reports regarding an ongoing battle between Mullah Mansour's faction and a rival challenger in Herat that has so far yielded around a hundred casualties on both sides renders the question of who will represent the Taliban at any peace talks that may emerge even more vexed. Further complexity stems from the Taliban attack on Kandahar on the very day the Heart of Asia Conference started, in which 50 people have been killed, pointing to two possibilities: either Pakistan has lost control and influence over the Taliban, or it is continuing a policy of duality by talking peace while waging a not so secret proxy war. The attack further clouded Pakistan's credentials as a peace partner in Afghanistan, the apparent bonhomie and spirit of cooperation reflected in the Conference's final communiques notwithstanding. In fact reservations within the Afghan government regarding President Ashraf Ghani's attempted pragmatic rapprochement with Pakistan burst forth with a vengeance just one day after the Conference when the Afghan intelligence chief, Rahmatullah Nabil, resigned. That may have driven the last nail in the coffin of the Conference's hope for 'increased' cooperation between the Afghan National Directorate of Security and the Pakistani ISI. A fractured Afghan government facing a fractured Taliban does not credible peace partners make. Afghanistan therefore may be expected to continue to be conflicted, with the schisms on both Afghan sides further complicating an already complex conundrum. As far as Pakistan and India's bilateral interaction on the sidelines of the Conference is concerned, the positives are that the brief meeting between the two countries' prime ministers in Paris, followed by the delayed National Security Advisers' meeting in Bangkok, has brought about a marked improvement not only in the atmospherics, but also in the substance of the Dialogue henceforth. All issues, unlike the falling out over the agenda of the aborted National Security Advisers' meeting scheduled in Delhi, have been included. Peace and security, confidence building measures, Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, the Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project, economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control, humanitarian issues, people to people exchanges and religious tourism: this menu seems to cover all bases and issues bedevilling relations between the two countries. However, the cautionary aspect, regardless of welcoming the resumption of the dialogue, is precisely the long standing and so far intractable nature of some, if not all, of these issues. Nevertheless, people of good sense on either side of the border live in hope that wisdom prevails in this resumed dialogue, whose dates and schedule are yet to be fixed for the first step, i.e. the foreign secretaries' meeting. Hope in these fraught times and prospects for the region, for Pakistan looking both east and west, may have been boosted by the Heart of Asia Conference and the bilateral Pakistan-India interaction, but if the past and the few sentences above indicate, there remains many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 7, 2015

LG conclusion With the third phase of the local government (LG) elections in Punjab and Sindh completed, these elections for the lowest tier of the democratic edifice have concluded, with the exception of nine districts housing 81 constituencies in Sindh, whose delimitation was ordered afresh by the courts. This too has now been done and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that the schedule for these remaining local bodies will be announced in three days. In the third phase of the LG elections, 12 districts in Punjab and six in Sindh were in contestation, the latter all in Karachi. The completion of the overwhelming bulk of the LG elections in all the provinces seems the appropriate moment to sum up the whole exercise. This can be done by looking at the process, i.e. the actual practice of these elections, their results and the implications of the final outcome, and last but not least, drawing conclusions for the future suggested by the results. It can be stated without fear of contradiction at the very outset that the pattern in this as in previous phases as well as the earlier LG elections in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa seems similar. Thus, for example, in each province and each phase, the LG elections have passed muster as by and large reflecting the genuine mandate of the electorate. However, this clean bill of health cannot obscure complaints of mismanagement, electoral fraud, violence and clashes between rivals in some constituencies that yielded some deaths, injuries and arrest and punishment for some individuals committing electoral fraud of one kind or another. These failings and misdemeanours do not lend themselves to the tired rhetoric of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) alleging rigging in every electoral exercise since 2013. These LG elections, as much as the general elections of 2013 and subsequent by-elections on some seats have emerged as credible, albeit not without blemishes that the ECP, political parties and the government should take steps to overcome. As to the outcome, none of the LG elections in all the provinces, including the current third phase, sprang any surprises. In this round, as expected, the PML-N won in Punjab, the MQM in Karachi. The interesting evolution of the Pakistani polity now betrays an unprecedented diversity. Each province has a different party in power or leading a coalition. Given the 18th Amendment and now the near completion of the local bodies rung, this implies the near and far future may see the polity traversing the terra incognita of different parties leading the provincial governments and commanding significant support at the local bodies level adjusting to coexistence with each other and with the Centre. In the case of Punjab, the same PML-N rules at the Centre, with the two Sharif brothers in tandem in Islamabad and Lahore. Therefore Punjab and the Centre are likely to have the smoothest relationship of all, as the recent past has already indicated in practice. The interesting and somewhat more complicated relationships are likely to be amongst the other three provinces and Punjab and the Centre, given that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a PTI-led coalition government in which the Jamaat-i-Islami is a junior partner, Balochistan has a National Party-led multi-party coalition government, and Sindh is ruled by the PPP. Our neighbour India went through a similar transition after the dominant Congress Party's hold weakened, giving rise to a much more diverse political landscape with the rise of state (provincial) based parties. Pakistan now seems poised to undertake a similar journey. What allowed India to adjust to the new political realities was the continuity of its democratic system. Pakistan should learn from that experience and understand that without democratic continuity, the new and complex problems that could arise from diversity may not be manageable. As to the by now almost fully installed local bodies and the LGs that will be constructed on this basis, the real test will be whether the newly elected local representatives will be able to wrest power from the entrenched bureaucracy that has been running affairs at the local level for a long time, for the benefit of their constituents. Democracy by itself cannot do this, it only allows the possibility of struggling for real devolution of power. More power therefore to the elbows of our new local representatives.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 23, 2015

State of fear Another alleged blasphemy related incident involving the Ahmedi community in Jehlum has once again highlighted the parlous state of affairs regarding the blasphemy issue and especially the state of fear in which minorities generally, and the Ahmedi community in particular, live in our country. The incident began on Friday, November 20, when a supervisor in a factory owned by Ahmedis allegedly burnt copies of the Holy Quran as part of the scrap used to fire the factory's boiler. Workers at the factory reacted to the alleged blasphemy and filed a complaint with the local police. The local mosques then got into the act as they tend to do and instigated people against the alleged blasphemy. An enraged mob forcibly entered the factory, set it on fire along with workers' homes on the premises and vehicles parked inside the compound. Around 14 people living in the factory, including eight women and four children, fled to safety with the help of the administration. Mercifully, there was no human toll in the attack. The police arrested four people initially but released three of them later. This further enraged local people and, egged on by the anti-Ahmedi diatribe from the mosques, they torched an Ahmedi place of worship in Kala Gujran. The local administration and police had failed to anticipate such an eventuality and provide security to all such obvious targets in the area. Only after the Kala Gujran incident in which an inadequate police force deployed failed to hold back the agitated mob were army troops deployed to control the situation, reportedly on the orders of Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. The vigilantes then blocked the GT Road between Jehlum and Islamabad and it took the deployment of army troops and Rangers to get the highway cleared after about seven hours. Ahmedi spokesmen refuted the version of the incident being put out by local people and the police. The factory in question was a chipboard manufacturing unit that burns scrap as fuel for its boiler. The question of intent remains unanswered, although that has never stopped vigilante mobs taking the law into their own hands, an aberration Chaudhry Nisar found unacceptable after the event. The same spokesmen revealed that Ahmedi families residing in the area have fled for their lives, leaving their homes at the mercy of the mobs. A climate of fear has gripped the community, which is apprehensive of more attacks against their persons and properties. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif responded to these events by convening a high level meeting, ordered an investigation, and directed the Cabinet Committee on Law and Order to visit Jehlum and review the situation. The incident reflects the usual pattern of such events. A rumour is sufficient to agitate some people, the mosque throws fuel on the fire, and the rest unfolds in familiar manner through a vigilante mob. Despite the repetition of this pattern from time to time, the government has not stirred a finger to prevent and pre-empt such happenings. Chaudhry Nisar's umbrage at people taking the law into their own hands, while correct in principle, did not and could not prevent precisely such an outcome nor will his statement make any difference to future similar incidents. Time and again, either a misplaced notion or some vested interest can rely on the mosque to blow things out of control. Some restraint must be placed on the ability of the mosque mullahs to instigate such madness. There is little need to point to the repeated incidents of accusations of blasphemy, usually false, which lead to violence, to persuade those with any sense that this affliction has gone on long enough and something needs urgently to be done to prevent such chilling happenings. At the heart of the problem lies a blasphemy law with the maximum punishment of death but with no remedy against false accusation. As far as the besieged Ahmedi community cowering in a state of fear in our society is concerned, we must all express our solidarity and sympathy with them as human beings and citizens, irrespective of our faith or views on their set of beliefs. And while we are at it, is it not time to revisit the 1974 Second Amendment in which parliament relegated to itself the right and power to determine religious questions, thereby violating the spirit of founder Quaid-e-Azam's view of a tolerant and inclusive Pakistan, and condemning in perpetuity the Ahmedi community to its present state of fear of unremitting persecution?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 16, 2015

Bloodbath response The simultaneous attacks at six different locations in Paris by Islamic State (IS) on Friday night reaped a toll of 129 innocent people killed, 116 wounded, of whom 67 are reportedly critical. The worst carnage occurred in the Bataclan concert hall where a musical event was in progress. Eighty-seven young people were slaughtered there by attackers who coldbloodedly fired indiscriminately at the crowd, calmly taking time to reload and finish off people at point blank range before commandos assaulted the hall and rescued dozens of people. Forty people were killed in five other attacks, including a double suicide bombing outside the Stage de France where President Francoise Hollande was watching a football match. The president was immediately whisked away and he has declared a state of emergency, the first in France since World War II. Apart from the concert hall and stadium, cafe terraces were raked with machine-gun fire. President Hollande described it as an act of war by IS on France. It is being called the worst terrorist attack in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004 in which 191 people died. Six of the attackers blew themselves up. A seventh was shot dead by the police. The existence of an eighth gunman could not be confirmed. The whole carnage lasted 40 minutes, with automatic weapons and explosives used indiscriminately to target innocent victims going about their business or just relaxing and having a good time. France's response to the atrocity has been to reimpose border controls to prevent any collaborators of the terrorists escaping, local sports events were suspended, concerts cancelled, the Paris metro, schools, universities and municipal buildings closed. Emergency services were mobilised, police leaves cancelled and 1,500 troops drafted. While hospitals recalled staff to cope with casualties, radio stations warned Parisians to stay home and give shelter to anyone caught out in the streets. President Hollande promised a 'merciless' response, but it is still not clear what that means. IS has called the attacks 'the first of the storm', indicating there may be more attacks inside France and Europe as a whole. The whole world has expressed grief and solidarity against this mindless violence against peaceful innocent citizens. Although there are no words to describe the horror of IS's latest atrocity, the reasons seem obvious. Just as a Russian airliner from Sharm el-Sheikh was reportedly bombed the other day and all passengers killed in retaliation it is surmised for Russia's intervention in Syria against IS, France is now on the receiving end of revenge attacks by IS for the country's role in support of the western aerial strikes campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq. It would perhaps be insensitive to describe in the middle of the tragedy the cost to innocent victims of their government's policy in the Middle East as the chickens coming home to roost, but there is no denying the nexus between the mess created in the Middle East and North Africa by western interventions and the retaliatory revenge attacks being claimed by IS. President Barack Obama was elected on a platform of ending his predecessor George Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Disappointingly, however, while he has created an even bigger mess in both countries through ill thought through withdrawals, he can also boast of the signal honour of starting two new wars in Libya and Syria, the former leading to the destabilisation of North Africa (the Maghreb) and the latter the wider Middle East. Gaddafi's overthrow in Libya at the hands of western-backed insurgents supported by NATO bombardment has left that country in a parlous civil war and sparked off jihadi conflicts in the Maghreb and even deeper south in black Africa. The Syrian intervention's obsession with overthrowing Bashar al-Assad arguably opened the door to the rise of IS. If George Bush's revenge against al Qaeda for 9/11 could be likened to swatting a fly with a sledgehammer, an endeavour whose 'splat' spread the jihadi affliction far and wide, Obama's interventions into the cauldron of the Middle East and North Africa have exponentially increased the terrorist threat beyond borders. Unless the US abandons its quest to unseat Assad, recognises his objective status as an ally in the fight against IS, dumps its jihadist proxies in Syria (which include the al Qaeda affiliated Al Nusra Front), and persuades its western allies as well as friends in the Middle East and beyond to join ranks against IS and construct a collective global architecture to demolish the hydra of IS, the terrorist international will continue to enjoy the initiative and have ample opportunity to replicate the Paris massacre.

Daily Times Editorial Nov 17, 2015

Turning point? The Friday November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris have reaped the first retaliatory response by France. President Francoise Hollande had declared the Islamic State (IS) attacks as an act of war in the immediate aftermath of the massacre. Now on Monday French air strikes have hit Raqqa, Syria, considered the headquarters of IS. Helicopter gunships and A-10 planes also hit IS’s oil convoys in the area in an attempt to eliminate the terrorists’ source of funding by selling oil in the black market. Meanwhile at home, relatives of one of the attackers have been interrogated, raids are being mounted en masse, some people are under arrest, others in house arrest. A global manhunt has been mounted for one of the attackers believed to have escaped. Europe-wide security crackdowns have led to establishing the links of the three jihadist cells believed to have coordinated the attacks with the Middle East, Belgium, possibly Germany and homegrown French roots. The revelation that one of the attackers travelled through Europe alongside Syrian refugees, seeking asylum in Serbia, have made the worst nightmare of the five million Muslim community in France and the refugees influx come true, with calls by right wing parties to end uncontrolled immigration. Muslim mosques have been dabbed with hate messages in Paris and the already marginalised Muslim community fears for its safety. This misplaced concreteness in blaming the peaceful Muslim community in France or the refugees fleeing war zones afflicted by jihadi terrorism would be ironic were it not posing serious threats of further division and ethnic/religious conflict all over Europe. US President Barack Obama has vowed to finish IS at the G-20 summit in Turkey while the EU is saying to Russia to focus its military efforts in Syria on IS. However, it is France and the western alliance that needs to realign its stance on regime change in Syria to confront all jihadis, including the so-called moderate opposition that includes al Qaeda affiliates. A new IS video released on Monday has threatened attacks on the US and Europe. Security has been beefed up in the US and all over Europe even though the American security establishment does not yet envisage attacks on the mainland US. However, this may prove too sanguine a view, given the demonstrated ability of IS to infiltrate cells all over the world in preparation for such massacres. The focus on the Paris carnage has eclipsed the twin suicide bombings in Beirut just a day earlier on Thursday that killed at least 43 people and wounded more than 239. The suburb of Beirut struck is a Hezbollah stronghold. IS claimed responsibility and warned of more attacks on Hezbollah, which is fighting on the side of Bashar al-Assad along with Iran against the jihadi opposition and IS in Syria. The Pakistani Foreign Office has seen fit to declare categorically that IS does not exist in the country and that Pakistan is ready to overcome such challenges. That may be unnecessary denial and chest thumping. The fact is that the terrorism base in Pakistan can easily lend itself to IS’s purposes, as is happening already on the margins of the Afghan Taliban. Terrorism of the IS and all other varieties is by now a global phenomenon and it will not do to lapse into complacency on the basis of the undoubted successes the military’s counter-insurgency operation in FATA have gained. Counter-terrorism is still, as the military has recently emphasised, where the lag is. No country in the world can now afford to let its guard down, especially not a country like Pakistan, which has been centre stage for decades in the incremental growth beyond borders of terrorist organisations. With COAS General Raheel Sharif visiting Washington currently, the issue of resolving the Afghan conundrum through peace talks assumes critical importance. If the Afghan Taliban insurgency can be resolved through some political power sharing deal, it would have two collateral benefits. One, it may deprive the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan of its safe havens across the border on Afghan soil. Two, it may free up our military and security forces to focus on the possible emergence of an IS threat. As the clich√© goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. No room therefore for burying one’s head in the sand in denial.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 14, 2015

Civil-mil ruction Pakistan is no stranger to the civilian-military divide in our history. But whenever it rears its ugly head, there is an inevitable veritable flurry of staking out positions by all stakeholders. In the current kerfuffle that has followed in the wake of the ISPR statement after the Corps Commanders meeting and the government’s rejoinder, the debate in the Senate indicates the underlying alarm caused amongst the democratic forces, which have come together in solidarity and defence of the democratic system and the civilian government despite their mutual differences. The sentiment was perhaps best summed up by Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, Leader of the Opposition in the upper house, when he said on the floor of the house that although the treasury benches (lately) had been carrying out his character assassination, and despite the fact that he was the government’s most trenchant critic, if it came to the crunch, he and his party would stand by the government. Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP perhaps went furthest in not just defending the government (albeit bewailing the fact that he had been reduced to what sounded like an advocate for the treasury benches) but questioning the ‘poor governance’ of the army (the reference being to the ISPR statement’s focus on the poor governance of the ruling PML-N). There was a unanimity of views amongst the Senators that there should be no overstepping the constitutional, limited role by any institution while decrying the method whereby the military conveyed its concerns through a public statement rather than discreetly in meetings that just preceded the Corps Commanders conference. It is interesting to note that the opposition Senators were foremost in defending the government while not being shy of admitting it was guilty of poor governance. This was reflected in the criticism that the government benches appeared paralysed by fear, particularly in the National Assembly, when they failed to utter a single meaningful word in their defence. The task of setting out the government’s case therefore was left to the rejoinder issued to state that implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), which was the main thrust of the ISPR ‘critique’, was the collective responsibility of all institutions of the state. Tacitly and implicitly, the government seems to have opted, apart from the rejoinder, in considering discretion to be the better part of valour and reportedly instructed the PML-N leadership to say no more for fear of exacerbating the situation. This may well be a blessing in disguise if the past indiscreet utterances of several ministers is kept in view. The rejoinder seems to have been carefully crafted with the objective of preventing or pre-empting any such ISPR pronouncements in future. There has been talk since Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched of a ‘creeping coup’ by the military, meaning leveraging more and more space for itself on security and foreign policy issues at the expense of the civilian government. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, perhaps stung twice by the consequences of taking on the military during his previous two terms, has imbibed the lesson not to unnecessarily rock the boat through open defiance. Instead, he seems to have been willing to concede the space the military has muscled its way into on the wisdom that patience pays and this squall too will pass. It only needs to be waited out. Whether however, such a strategy can succeed in the face of the government’s manifest shortcomings and failures in the implementation of the NAP, economic development (skewed almost exclusively in favour of infrastructure at the expense of the people’s problems of health, education, employment, inflation, etc), the energy crisis and a myriad of other accumulated discontents in society that do not figure on the government’s radar, remains an open question. In other words, does the government have the space and time that will allow a strategy of ‘procrastination’ and conceding space to powerful state institutions for the sake of remaining in power, finishing its tenure and living to fight another day, likely to furnish a favourable outcome? Crystal ball gazing aside, it is a moot point and one that has sufficiently alarmed the democratic forces as to forge unity around the defence of democracy and civilian supremacy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 9, 2015

Modi's setbacks Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's first visit this year to Indian Held Kashmir has not gone off according to plan. Despite the detention of some 400 Kashmiri leaders of the Hurriyet Conference and their workers and strict security that virtually reduced Srinagar to an armed garrison bristling with soldiers, the Kashmiri people roundly rejected Modi's overtures. At a rally in Srinagar's cricket stadium, Modi announced a package of Rs 800 billion for rehabilitation of the victims of last year's worst floods in more than a century, creating jobs for youth by improving education and promoting industries such as tourism and cashmere wool. However, curfews, tight security, heavy deployment of paramilitary personnel and sharpshooters failed to quell the protests and shutdowns that gripped the whole of Indian Held Kashmir. Schools and colleges were shut and the Indian authorities suspended the Internet for fear it could be used by the protesters to organise resistance to the visit. Clashes with police and security forces by protesters attempting to take out a rally resulted in the death of at least one young man. Mirwaiz Farooq and Ali Gilani both spoke with one voice from house arrest that the Kashmiri people's sacrifices could not be 'bought'. They both returned the narrative to the irreducible right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. Though the UN has long ago betrayed its responsibility in this regard, its resolutions are still in the field. Even former chief minister Omar Abdullah castigated Modi's attempt to weigh the Kashmir issue in rupees and paisas. Engineer Rashid, who was at the centre of an attack by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPAs in the state's Assembly recently for throwing a 'beef' party, was also detained after he took out a black flag protest. Protests were also held against Modi's visit in Azad Kashmir. This proves that the hearts of Kashmiris across the Line of Control (LoC) beat as one despite the division. As if the Kashmir visit on Saturday's outcome were not bad enough in terms of exposing the ground realities in the state, BJP received a drubbing in the much anticipated Bihar state elections at the hands of a Lalu-Congress combine. Despite the BJP being part of the coalition government in Indian Held Kashmir and in power at the Centre, Modi's 'reception' in Srinagar and the heavy electoral defeat in Bihar indicate that Modi may be in trouble. He had been elected last year largely on the anticipation that he would succeed in reproducing the economic 'miracle' he had managed while chief minister of Gujarat, a tenure that saw the worst pogrom of Muslims in that state in living memory. But what Modi and the BJP failed to realise was that the combination of economic development and a hate-filled Hindutva agenda that seemingly served them well in Gujarat would be difficult, if not impossible, to pull off in India as a whole. The ethnic, class and caste reality of India is much more complex than such simplistic prescriptions could address. Added to this truth are the failure of the Modi government so far to live up to its 'promise' of economic development and the rising crescendo of resistance to the tide of intolerance and hate being fuelled by Shiv Sena and others, on which Modi has adopted a studied silence. This has convinced many secular minded intellectuals and celebrities in India to protest through messages and the return in protest of national awards. All rational, democratic, secular forces in India (and their ranks are formidable) have recognised the threat that Modi and the Sangh Parivar's Hindutva agenda presents to a country that could be torn apart by such divisive politics. Modi and the BJP have erred grievously in thinking India could so easily be 'saffronised'. His predecessor as BJP prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, was wise enough to recognise the limits of the appeal of the saffron brigade. He was also a peacemaker. Modi on the other hand has recklessly thrown all caution to the winds internally in pushing (or being complicit in) a Hindutva drive, and externally in stoking tensions with Pakistan, the latter possessing the unthinkable possibility of mutual annihilation. The Indian electorate may already be having second thoughts if not ruing the day they chose Modi to lead the country. The portents therefore for Modi and the BJP's future political fortunes appear bleaker by the day.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 8, 2015

Reinventing the Left The Trust for History, Art and Architecture of Pakistan (THAAP) is holding its three-day sixth International Conference in Lahore. As its name implies, this is an intellectual forum that seeks to bring a critical outlook on the matters under its preview. Accordingly, on the first day of the conference on November 6, the proceedings fielded papers by various scholars on history, politics and the arts. Perhaps the most interesting of these was a paper by Meher Ali on “The Hidden Left: Communist Activity and Influence in Pakistan’s Early Years”. In it, Ms Ali dilated upon the history of the Left in Pakistan, centred on a discussion of the inhospitable milieu encountered in the new state by leftist parties, particularly the Communist Party. Early support garnered by the Party later virtually vanished due to repression by the state. The most famous episode of this repression against what the state labelled anti-state elements was the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 because of which such luminaries as Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sajjad Zaheer were incarcerated for long years. Arguably, the move spelt the death knell of the Communist Party in pure form and communists and leftists from then on sought to operate through and with various left-leaning nationalist parties, student and trade unions and in the cultural and intellectual field. The influence of leftist thought across disparate areas in Pakistani society cannot be denied. However, all such efforts dissipated during the extreme reaction unleashed by military dictator General Ziaul Haq in the 1980s, resulting in the virtual collapse of the Left in Pakistan around 1981, a full decade before the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. What that cataclysmic event heralded was a post-Cold War world in which capitalism, the mortal enemy of communism and the Left, was given free rein and in its triumphalism fulfilled its historical tendency to expand throughout the world, described today as the process of globalisation. In Pakistan’s political landscape, not only did the Left suffer arguably a grievous collapse in the 1980s, even the nationalist camp that had provided cover and an umbrella to operate under suffered a decline if not its own collapse. Barring small parties and groups that still identify themselves of the Left therefore, Pakistan’s leftist politics has been rendered barren. The problem the remnants of the Left suffer from in Pakistan, in common with similar problems the world over, is the lack of a narrative no longer limited to its own received wisdom of the twentieth century, which by and large has lost its audience and does not appeal in convincing fashion to the subsequent generations that have come of age post-Zia. Disparagingly, these generations are dismissed by some as ‘Zia’s children’. However, this is a somewhat cynical and superficial view that fails to take account of the unprecedented changes in Pakistan as well as the world since 1991. What is missing and may explain the lack of resonance with the young of the residual Left’s narrative is its inability to explain, analyse and lay bare the workings of what has become for all intents and purposes an inter-connected world. The communications revolution, bringing into play the internet and its derivatives such as the social media, by and large are dominated here and everywhere by conservative and even reactionary ideas, not the least of which is the exploitation of the outreach of such new means of communication by the extremist and terrorist camp. The task therefore for the older generation of leftists is to reinvent a Left narrative that grips the imagination of the young. This can only be created through a thoroughgoing critique of existing conditions at home and elsewhere and connecting with the movements and ideas that are today challenging the notion that history has ended in liberal bourgeois democracy and the free market and that there is no alternative to the present (unequal and unjust) world order. Given both the achievements and drawbacks of the socialist, left-oriented and national liberation revolutions of the twentieth century, an honest and objective critique of this rich experience is perhaps the only way to reconstruct a narrative that not only addresses the problems the present dominant capitalist order has presented the peoples of the world with, but tries to critically avoid some of the mistakes of the Left historically, including the practice and eventual outcome of successful revolutions. This narrative must, if it is to have relevance, move away from rigid conformity with the ideas of the past that are no longer apt while conserving the truths the panoply of left literature and practice has bequeathed.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 2, 2015

Electoral landscape The exercise of holding local bodies elections in 12 districts of Punjab and eight districts in Sindh in the first phase passed off by and large peacefully, although notable instances of violent clashes between rival party workers were reported from some areas. The worst incident occurred in Khairpur where 12 people were killed in an exchange of firing between rival party workers of the PPP and PML-F. Physical clashes were also reported from various areas but nothing on the scale of Khairpur. The results as available so far did not run contrary to expectations. The PML-N carried the day in Punjab while the PPP triumphed in Sindh. The advantages of incumbency, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) pointed out in its preliminary analysis, were clearly on display. A surprising development was the emergence of so many independent victors, who taken as a whole counted as the second largest (albeit disparate) group. Two factors may help to explain this phenomenon. First, aspiring candidates who failed to garner their parties' tickets ran as independents and reaped the benefit of their local stronghold constituencies. Second, it could also indicate a level of dissatisfaction with the mainstream incumbent parties. Whether some or most of these independents later negotiate their way into the corridors of power, a phenomenon of long standing in our political culture, the trend should give pause for thought to all the mainstream parties. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has much to learn from the instances highlighted in these local elections in terms of overcoming the lapses and mismanagement reported. Security remains an area of concern and should be focused on for the remaining two phases of the elections. The ubiquitous VIP culture was on display, at least when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif voted in Lahore and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Larkana (a first for the latter). Polling stations were emptied of voters before they arrived. Ostensibly this was for security reasons and offers a contrast with the way leaders in democratic societies appear to exercise their right to vote. The Ahmedi community, in line with its announcement before the polls, boycotted the election on the basis that its concerns regarding status, voting rights and representation went unaddressed. Other minorities and women, both subject to restrictions and problems in past electoral exercises, appeared able to participate unhindered. Physically challenged voters were not facilitated, an oversight the ECP would be advised to correct in future. The exorbitant spending in these elections, in conformity with what has become over the years a fact in all elections, was blatantly and unabashedly visible without causing even a crease on the ECP's brow. Effectively, the electoral road is closed to all but the moneybags in our society. Apart from the emergence of the large number of independent winners, the expected fireworks between the PML-N and the PTI in Punjab ended as a damp squib. The failure of the latter to dent the former in its home base has claimed its first casualty in the shape of the reported resignation of the PTI's Lahore organiser, Shafqat Mahmood. Ex-Governor Chaudhry Sarwar too must take the blame for his failure to produce a satisfactory outcome as the Punjab chief of the party. In Sindh the result was expected since the eight districts going to the polls were all rural areas, the stronghold of the PPP in that province. Although there is much room for improvement in the arrangements for holding the next two phases of the local elections, there is no denying a sense of satisfaction at the beginning of the process of electing the lowest tier of the democratic structure after all the delays and foot dragging, perceived as provincial governments' reluctance to devolve power to the grassroots. It took years of agitating the issue, the 18th Amendment and the efforts of the Supreme Court before even this stage could be reached. Hopefully, the future holds the routine and timely holding of local elections rather than the decade that has been lost since the last such exercise. The ordinary citizen is most interested in the creation and sustainability of local bodies since they promise delivery at the doorstep. Pakistan's halting journey towards a fully functional and consolidated democratic system continues, a source of satisfaction for all democratically minded forces, and a promise of a more stable and mature polity to come.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Nov 1, 2015

Local bodies polls Twelve districts in Punjab and eight in Sindh went to the polls on Saturday to elect their representatives for the local bodies after a hiatus of 10 years, but this time on political party basis. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and its provincial branches in Punjab and Sindh, contrary to the hope that they would have learnt some lessons from past controversies, seem again to have failed to conduct satisfactory local elections, partially if not substantially. Reports poured in all day of anomalies, mistakes and mismanagement in the polling in various constituencies throughout the two provinces, in a replay of the manner in which elections have been held since 2013 (general elections) and to date (by-elections). The credibility of the ECP was already virtually in tatters since the controversy over the 2013 general elections was agitated by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) with allegations about rigging that found their extended and most vigorous expression in the seven month sit-in by the PTI in Islamabad. The PTI may have been guilty of exaggeration and distortion of what actually transpired, as the conclusion of cases before the Election tribunals and the Judicial Commission that examined the 2013 electoral process indicated. No finding of systematic, planned rigging was discovered. However, both the Election Tribunals and the Judicial Commission pointed fingers at the mismanagement of the electoral process by the ECP. The PTI was not deterred by its failure to prove its rigging charges and continues to flog what is increasingly looking like a dead horse, upto and including on the eve of these local bodies elections. At the time of writing these lines, it is not possible to determine the outcome of these local elections as the Lahore High Court had initially stopped the media from announcing results until official confirmation was available, but later relented and allowed the media to start announcing the interim and non-official results as they become available, starting from one hour after the polls close, but with appropriate riders about the nature of these announcements as interim and unofficial. Whatever the final outcome, for the moment it is only possible to comment on the process itself, which again left something to be desired. First and foremost, it was alarming to be informed during the day that in some areas, the ballot papers had been wrongly printed and therefore voting could not take place in such locations. One wonders if the ECP has any process of checking its printed material before farming it out. Second, reports from some areas that unauthorised persons, particularly women, were caught openly stamping ballot papers according to their whims and wishes, often in the absence of polling staff. Third, and even more alarmingly, there were reports of clashes in both provinces. In Khairpur, Sindh, the home district of Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, his niece was caught on camera stamping ballot papers and his nephew brandishing a rifle openly and blatantly in violation of the code and rules that no firearms could be carried or displayed openly. Later in the day, a clash between PPP and PML-F cadres resulted in guns being freely used and reaping a crop of at least 12 deaths and many injured. Although the Rangers were then deployed and a curfew imposed, the incident indicates the less than satisfactory security arrangements in what could have been easily identified as a hotly contested constituency. The outcome of the local bodies elections will become clear by and by. What will not become any clearer is why the present members of the ECP insist stubbornly in clinging to their posts when their credibility has been, to put it politely, called into question and at least one party, the PTI, has been demanding their resignation, albeit without success. In the absence of what seems the proper course for the present ECP setup to leave voluntarily, the aftermath of these local polls could present a case for their removal and the reconstitution of a fresh and credible ECP before the whole electoral process is reduced to such controversy that even the next general elections in 2018 become difficult if not impossible to hold, let alone for their results to be accepted across the board. Without a credible ECP and an electoral process whose results are broadly accepted by the stakeholders, the country could lurch from one crisis to the next until something either explodes or gives way. Since no member of the ECP can be removed except through the procedure laid down in Article 209, i.e. the same process that is involved in the removal of a judge of the superior judiciary through the Supreme Judicial Council, the unwillingness of the present ECP to give way may force the government’s hand to move references against the ECP members in the constitutionally approved manner.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Oct 31, 2015

Balancing act The Iranian National Security Adviser Ali Shamkhani’s visit to Pakistan and his interaction with the top leadership have encouraged hopes of cooperation between the two brotherly neighbouring countries as well as raised concerns about Pakistan’s regional foreign policy. In a meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Mr Shamkhani did not mince his words in describing Saudi Arabia’s policy as one of stoking instability and insecurity in the region while that of the west as seeking ‘managed exploitation’ of terrorism to advance its agenda and interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. He praised the decision of Pakistan to stay out of Saudi Arabia’s military aggression against its impoverished neighbour Yemen. On the other hand he described Iran and Pakistan as two influential countries in the region and the Muslim world whose friendly and constructive relations have never been affected by change of governments. The fight against terrorism, he went on, was one of the pressing issues for both Tehran and Islamabad. Shamkhani also discussed the stalled peace talks in Afghanistan, border security between the two neighbours and economic development and cooperation. In the latter context he referred to the July agreement signed between Iran and the P5+1 on Tehran’s nuclear programme, the consequent potential removal of sanctions on Iran and the concomitant opening up of economic and other opportunities for cooperation between the two countries. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in turn appreciated Iran’s active and constructive role in regional matters, especially in the campaign against terrorism. Terrorism, the prime minister underlined, has turned into a global threat and his government remains committed to the battle against the scourge. He emphasised that Chabahar and Gwadar, far from being in competition as some hostile sources try to project, would be ‘sister ports’ and complement each other. Iran’s rehabilitation in the eyes of the powers that be following the agreement on its nuclear programme offers real and tangible advantages for completing the stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, which would help us overcome our energy crisis, and enhance overland trade across the common border. For the latter, road and even rail enhancement would be to mutual benefit. Iran has just scored another diplomatic victory by being invited by the US to join the multilateral discussions on the Syrian crisis, given that it is on the ground in the conflict on the side of Bashar al-Assad and therefore an important if not critical partner in the search for a political solution to that bloody war. In its stance in Syria, Iran is aligned with Russia in support of the al-Assad government. The US’s conceding to the need for Iranian participation in the Syrian dialogue has not gone down well with Saudi Arabia, which has only truculently and reluctantly accepted the necessity of including Iran in the endeavour. Iran’s growing stature globally should be taken note of by Pakistan and employed to its own benefit. However, Islamabad has to conduct a careful balancing act between the conflicting interests of Saudi Arabia and Iran and not get squeezed in the middle or give in to demands not in its own best interests, as it demonstrated in the Yemen case despite the obvious fallout of anger on the part of Riyadh and its ally the UAE. Pakistan cannot allow itself to be taken for granted by any country, no matter how friendly or generous, and should keep its own national interests above all else. Sometimes that ‘neutral’ stance will inevitably bring it into conflict with either of the two sides embroiled in a war of influence in the region, i.e. Saudi Arabia and Iran, a struggle some have likened to a war for the soul of the Muslim world. Difficult as it is, Islamabad should remain on good terms with both sides in this conflict, even if it means sometimes annoying one or the other side because of rejecting unacceptable demands on it, such as was implied in asking for the Pakistan army to act as a mercenary force in Yemen. Such adventures have never, and will never pay off and have the potential to damage Pakistan’s interests in unforeseeable ways. Pakistan needs such problems to add to its existing stock like it needs a hole in the head.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Oct 19, 2015

A house divided The aftermath of the narrow victory in the NA-122 by-election and the losses in the PP-147 constituency in the same area and the NA-144 seat in Okara has brought unusual creases of worry to the brow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. These worry lines are being caused by some of these new trends as well as some older problems within the ranks of the ruling PML-N. First the by-elections. PML-N's Ayaz Sadiq barely scraped home by a few thousand votes. The provincial seat in Lahore was lost in no uncertain fashion, providing the ruling party's main rival the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf some consolation. The Okara seat was lost to an independent candidate. In all three by-elections, rivers of gold and silver flowed from all sides. Not that this is a new phenomenon in our politics, but this occasion seems to have broken all past records. This underlines the reality that elections have now become such an expensive endeavour as to cut out all but moneybags with overflowing pockets. Conspicuous by its absence in this spending free for all was the Election Commission of Pakistan that failed to enforce spending limits laid down in the rules. The prime minister took his younger brother, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, as well as senior ministers and leaders of the party to task in a meeting at his residence in Lahore on the eve of his departure to the US for failing to support the campaigns of all their three candidates in these constituencies. While this reflects the seeming deep divisions within the party at the top level, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Federal ministers are publicly at each other's throats in recent days. Thus their statements in the media have exposed the PML-N as a house divided. To illustrate, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar (who was conspicuous by his absence) has reportedly not been talking to Defence, Water and Power Minister Khwaja Asif for at least four years! The former has rubbed the point home by saying publicly that he has no use for the defence ministry since he has direct access to GHQ. What this says about civilian supremacy needs no explanation. Khwaja Asif seems to be at loggerheads with a number of federal cabinet ministers as well as top leaders of the PML-N. Thus he is reported to have had a row not so long ago with Shahbaz Sharif regarding the latter's criticism of the workings of the Power ministry in managing the energy deficit and its concomitant persistent load shedding, a failure that is starker because of the exaggerated claims of the PML-N during the 2013 elections campaign to overcome load shedding within, variously, days, weeks, months. Halfway through its tenure, the government has fallen flat on its face in this regard, a failure highlighted by an extremely critical report by NEPRA regarding corruption and mismanagement in the energy sector. Khwaja Asif, in tandem with the Oil and Gas Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has rounded on Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal. To add to the party's troubles, the rival factions of Punjab Minister of Law Rana Sanaullah and Chaudhry Sher Ali are publicly at daggers drawn over the impending local bodies elections,not the least because of a tussle over the mayor's slot in Faisalabad. Until now, Nawaz Sharif has behaved in a distant, aloof manner regarding these rifts but the by-elections outcome seems to have woken him up to the likely impact on the results of the local bodies elections of a divided party. Why is the PML-N's leadership behaving in this immature fashion? The reasons are to be found in the party's political culture which, despite the party being in electoral politics for decades, is not internally democratic. Thus individual egos and rivalries easily trump concepts of collective cabinet responsibility and internal fissures and differences not being aired in public. Second, the party is now suffering the almost inevitable trajectory of public opprobrium for its manifest inability to deliver an easing of the people's travails even halfway through its tenure. For the prime minister, the writing on the wall has finally become discernible in the light of the by-elections trend. The next elections will follow the local government elections and the latter's results can indirectly make or break the party's fortunes in 2018. Plenty to worry about, prime minister.

Daily Times Editorial Oct 17, 2015

The penny drops In the wake of the relatively short lived takeover of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz by the Taliban and under pressure from his own military and security establishment, US President Barack Obama announced on October 15 that the planned drawdown of US troops to a small US embassy based contingent in Kabul by the time he leaves office in January 2017 would now be reversed/delayed. Instead the troops would be reduced to 5,500 starting sometime in 2017 and be based in four locations: Kabul, Bagram, Jalalabad and Kandahar. Some of these locations are critical to the operation of drones by the military and the CIA. The decision comes after months of deliberations between Obama, Afghan leaders, the Pentagon and commanders in the field. The discussions may have begun after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani's visit to Washington in March this year, but they have been lent urgency by the (temporary) fall of Kunduz in the north and the current ongoing siege of Ghazni in the east. The spread of the Taliban's new siege of provincial capitals' tactics, and the strategic importance of Kunduz in terms of Central Asia and Ghazni because it lies on the highway linking Kabul with Kandahar should, and indeed appear to have, set off alarm bells in Washington. The Taliban have timed these attacks, as well as deadly bombings in Kabul, in the aftermath of the abortive talks with the Afghan government hosted by Pakistan in Murree, the planned second round of these talks having fallen foul of the revelation of Mulla Omar's death two years ago. After some ruction as a result of of the revelation inside the Taliban ranks, his putative successor Mulla Mansour appears to have come out on top as the new leader, giving hope to the resumption of the stalled dialogue. The peace plan of which these talks are a part will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif meets President Obama in Washington on October 22. Obama has declared in unequivocal terms that Afghanistan will not be allowed to become a safe haven for terrorists to attack the US again. Brave words, but the question lingers whether they can be backed up by the wherewithal required to ensure that on the ground. Obama would like a complete withdrawal of US and allied troops after a political settlement between the warring sides in Afghanistan. But while such an outcome still seems some way off, if at all attainable, the demonstrated weaknesses and inadequacies of the Afghan forces trained by the US in Kunduz and elsewhere strengthen the hand of the Taliban, reflected in their condemnation of the delayed western pullout, vow to expel all remaining foreign forces, and expressed readiness to engage in a dialogue on certain conditions. These latter include an end to the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. To the original sin of George Bush's invasion of Afghanistan was later added the premature withdrawal of Barack Obama. Bush did not heed sane advice not to get bogged down in the 'graveyard of empires'. Obama, playing to a war weary domestic gallery, adopted what can only be referred to as a 'cut and run' policy (similar remarks apply to his withdrawal from Iraq, also a Bush legacy). Despite a year long review of options in Afghanistan, with the best, most sophisticated war machine's advice, this is all Obama could come up with. The cost to the US in lives and money was huge, but nowhere near the cost to the people of Afghanistan. The country lies ruined, on its knees, unable to sustain itself in military or economic terms. Aid from its 'conqueror' is and will dry up incrementally as the delayed withdrawal unfolds. The Taliban are chuckling at the coming true of what they said after the US invasion and occupation: the enemy may have the watches, but we have the time. Obama's legacy seems destined to turn out a debacle ending in a Taliban victory eventually, bringing us all back to square one. Futile indeed.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Sept 14, 2015

Bilawal attacks After a long hiatus since his political career was launched in Karachi on October 18, 2014, during which the air was full of speculations about differences between him and his father Asif Ali Zardari, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari relaunched his long awaited political journey with an address to a PPP workers' convention in Lahore on Saturday, September 12. What was immediately noticeable about the tone and content of Bilawal's speech was the full frontal attack on the PML-N leadership and government. Forget the controversy about differences between Bilawal and Asif, this assault seemed to take its cue from the recent outbursts of the former president against the government. Bilawal launched into the Sharifs by claiming that the 'friends' of terrorists were ruling the roost in Punjab. Dilating on the change in the PPP's policy, he said there could be no 'reconciliation' with the sympathisers of the extremists or friends of dictators. He said the present rulers only realised the need for an operation against the terrorists after the Peshawar Army Public School bloodbath. Before that, they were attempting to hold talks with the terrorists. Bilawal questioned the attempts to paint the PPP in the colours of being involved in terrorist financing (a reference to Dr Asim Hussain's arrest and the allegations laid at his door) when the party was the first to take up cudgels against the terrorists. He reminded his audience that Operation Zarb-e-Azb actually started in 2008 under a PPP government when operations were launched in Swat and South Waziristan (both acknowledged to be successful in driving the terrorists out of those areas). How, he questioned, could such a party be put in the dock on charges of financing terrorism, and that too at the hands of a government that had betrayed signs of either being sympathetic to, or scared of, the terrorists. Lahore, the bastion of democracy, Bilawal argued, had been handed over to the sympathisers of the terrorists. On the economy, Bilawal lambasted the government for its anti-farmer policies, which were forcing farmers to commit suicide, burn their crops or dump them on the roads because they could not get a fair price for their produce. In contrast to his mother, Benazir Bhutto's attitude to the issue, when she once pledged to buy up farmers' crops in a crisis even if she had to dump them into the sea, the PML-N government was letting farmers die of hunger and rubbing salt into their wounds by diverting the state's resources towards showpiece projects like the metro bus. Bilawal warned the government that the common people would not allow you to rule if you do not solve their problems. He reminded Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif of his election campaign pledge to overcome load shedding within six months of coming to power or he would give up his name for some other. Bilawal wanted to know, more than two years down the road, what name the chief minister would like to be called by now. He castigated Shahbaz Sharif as neither a Khadim (servant of the people) nor Aala (great) (a play on the title the chief minister likes to be referred to as: Khadim-e-Aala). Describing the style of governance of the Sharifs as favouring only their friends and loyalists, some pertinent questions raised by Bilawal were why so many institutions were running without heads and others being led by visionless cronies appointed against merit; why the government has destroyed PIA and is unable to even pay the salaries of the workers of Pakistan Steel Mills; why the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was nowhere to be seen despite corruption being rampant on this government's watch, and why NAB was not investigating the Nandipur project scandal when the cost had risen from Rs 22 billion to 181 billion. Bilawal has come out in Punjab with both fists swinging and all guns blazing. This change of tack was becoming visible of late since the Punjab PPP's long standing argument that the 'reconciliation' policy was damaging the political prospects of the party in the most populous province that was once its main (ideological and political) base were clinched by the recent spate of arrests and cases against the PPP's leaders. What remains to be seen, despite the obvious enthusiasm of the PPP's workers to have their young leader in their midst at last, is whether the new strategy can succeed in overcoming the graph of the PPP's decline in Punjab over many years. If Bilawal's remarks are any guide, it appears the party is groping its way back to its original élan of a party of the poor, peasants and workers. The response of this constituency will be watched with great interest in the days ahead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Sept 21, 2015

The Afghan connection Interpretations of the origins and control of the Badaber attack could cause misunderstandings between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although the ISPR account of the attack traced its perpetrators and controllers to Afghan soil, ISPR was careful not to point the finger of blame at the Afghanistan government. Nevertheless, President Ashraf Ghani's office considered it necessary to reiterate that Afghan soil would never be allowed to be used for terrorism against other countries and emphasising the need for Islamabad and Kabul to cooperate and work together against the common menace. Hopefully this clarification will lay any suspicions about Kabul's role to rest. The logic of the situation and the ground realities point to some irrefutable facts and perhaps the aim of the terrorists to create a gulf between the two neighbouring countries, which would obviously work to their advantage. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistani Taliban, having been driven out of their bases in FATA, have found safe havens across the border on Afghan soil. Kabul, hard pressed to contain the insurgency after the withdrawal of the bulk of NATO troops, is not in a position to control cross-border incursions along the infamously porous divide on its own. It is another matter that recent developments after the Kabul-Taliban talks floundered and the Taliban carried out deadly attacks in Kabul have once again soured the trust being built between Islamabad and Kabul. That has proved a setback to the critical need for both countries to work together to deny the terrorists freedom of movement across the porous border. Of course Kabul could, and does when relations deteriorate, point accusing fingers at Pakistan for continuing to harbour the Afghan Taliban on its soil. But the Pakistan government's reiteration of willingness to host the stalled second round of talks between Kabul and the Taliban leaves the door ajar for the exploration of a negotiated political settlement with the insurgency. That would be the ideal outcome, not only because peace in Afghanistan and peace in Pakistan are inextricably intertwined, but also because such a development would focus minds and effort on scotching the embryonic emergence of Islamic State-affiliated groups inside Afghanistan (and arguably Pakistan). As far as the Badaber incident is concerned, investigations, including forensic analysis of the dead bodies of the attackers, to whose body count one more has been added in the shape of a charred body discovered later, are in progress. A dragnet has netted tens of suspects, but it is not clear if this is a case of the 'usual suspects' being rounded up or based on actual leads. The owner of the vehicle used in the attack has been arrested, but reports say he had sold the vehicle, which then passed through at least five hands before the deadly attack. Nevertheless, this offers a promising trail to be vigorously pursued. While critics are pointing to a security lapse in the face of prior accurate intelligence reports about just this kind of terrorist attack on Badaber amidst calls for the accountability of concerned officials who ignored the warnings, the lapse is neither new nor the first such instance. Similar warnings of impending attacks, including the Bannu jail break, were reportedly available before the event but not acted upon effectively. The terrorists rely on heightened security after every attack to fall into the almost inevitable inertia of business as usual before launching their next assault. They therefore enjoy the advantage of will, time and space, with the security forces naturally being in a strategic defensive and reactive mode. The exception to this rule are the military operations in FATA, of which the bombing in the Tirah Valley on Saturday, September 19, which reportedly killed 16 terrorists in retaliation for the Badaber attack, proving the point about the need for being proactive and keeping the initiative with the security forces. National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz has said the evidence collected regarding the Badaber attack will be shared with Kabul. This is to the good, but to regain recently lost trust between the two sides, Pakistan should now bend its back to get the stalled Afghan talks restarted.

Daily Times Editorial Sept 20, 2015

Badaber attack The early morning surprise attack by a reported 19-20 terrorists of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Badaber air base near Peshawar on Saturday, September 18 offers cause for satisfaction at the effective and quick response by the security forces but also poses troubling questions. According to the ISPR account of the incident, the attackers struck at 5:00 am, forcing entry into the gate with rockets and hand grenades. They then split up into two groups, one heading for the Administrative block while the other headed for the residential area. According to DG ISPR Major General Asim Bajwa, there were about 2,000 people in the residential area, and had the terrorists succeeded in reaching it, the casualty toll would have been much higher. As it is, when they were challenged by the security guards and the integrated Defence Service Group, SSG commandos and police, they turned towards the nearby mosque, slaughtering 16 worshippers there and seven in the nearby barracks. In the firefight that followed, one army officer and two soldiers were martyred. The quick and efficient rapid response by the defence forces wiped out 13 of the attackers within 50 metres of the gate, preventing a bigger bloodbath and damage to the air base and its assets. Major General Bajwa revealed that telephone intercepts indicated the whole operation originated from and was controlled throughout from Afghan territory. The entire defensive operation was completed by 9:00 am. The ISPR account however failed to say what had happened to the 'missing' 6-7 attackers, if the figure of 19-20 in the FIR registered is to be believed. Did they manage to escape? The rapid response and efficient elimination of the threat nevertheless shows that the lessons from previous such attacks have been imbibed. Messages and statements of condemnation of the attack and praise for the martyrs amongst the defenders flowed thick and fast from all quarters in the wake of the news breaking. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif led the chorus, followed by Senators and political leaders across the political divide. Each one expressed their resolve to continue the drive against the terrorists until their complete annihilation. The US too pitched in with messages of condemnation and support in equal measure. While it has been anticipated since the start of military operations in FATA that have uprooted the terrorists from their long standing bases that the latter would retaliate through terrorist attacks throughout the country to keep the security forces on the hop, the received wisdom seemed to be that soft targets would be chosen. Despite the positive development that the anticipated attacks have been few and far between, what was perhaps surprising about this attack was that a 'hard' target was chosen. The attackers must have known that such a heavily guarded facility would be a tough nut to crack. The fact that this did not deter them could perhaps be explained by what their motives or aims may have been. Of course this is conjecture at best, but here goes nevertheless. First and foremost, the terrorists may have wanted to send the message that they were still alive and kicking and had operational capability across the border from their safe havens in Afghanistan. Second, they may have wished to demonstrate their ability to attack even heavily guarded military facilities. Had the defenders' response not been so quick and efficacious and the attackers had managed to penetrate deeper into the base, the loss of life and perhaps Air Force assets can only be imagined. While the entire country is praising our martyrs and condoling their loss with their families, sober reflection suggests what we have repeatedly stressed in this space. The state and society must be prepared for a protracted war against the terrorists, particularly since they now enjoy safe rear bases across the border. This fact suggests 'dealing' with their alleged hosts in Afghanistan, i.e. the Haqqani network, rumoured ironically to be close to our security establishment. Also, efforts to gain Afghanistan's cooperation in cross-border security issues must be redoubled, which includes getting the Kabul-Taliban stalled talks back on track, especially now that the succession issue that divided the Taliban in the aftermath of the revelation of Mullah Omar's death seems to be over. Protracted wars, or any wars for that matter, are inherently full of twists and turns, advances and retreats, defeats and victories. That should not deter us from seeing through the sacred task of freeing Pakistan of the terrorist threat once and for all.