Monday, June 29, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 30, 2015

The Khan factor The Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood Jan, has reportedly agreed reluctantly to meet a Balochistan government delegation in London where he has been in self-imposed exile since 2006. The Khan, like many of his Baloch friends and even other astute observers of the Balochistan scene, has serious reservations about the mandate of such a delegation as well as the prevailing situation in the province. In addition, the Khan said before meeting the delegation he would consult the Grand Baloch Jirga that had sent him abroad after the killing of Nawab Akbar Bugti to seek the restoration of the historical Kalat State through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN. Although it is not known what if any efforts the Khan of Kalat has put in to that end, there is no visible evidence that either the ICJ or the UN have taken cognizance of the case of Kalat State. Prince Mohyuddin Baloch, a son of the late Khan of Kalat Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, is in London since some weeks to persuade the present Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood Jan, to return and play a role in resolving the conflict in Balochistan. The delegation proposed to meet the Khan is likely to include members of the Balochistan Assembly. The biggest reservation the Khan harbours is that the Balochistan government of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has no authority to take any decision relevant to the prevailing ground situation in the province in the grip of a nationalist insurgency, a military operation against the insurgency through the Frontier Corps (FC) in different areas of Balochistan, target killings, the ‘kill and dump’ policy and missing persons. Meanwhile reports from Kalat speak of the looting of precious artifacts from the Khan’s palace by a group of armed men who crashed through the gates of the palace and whisked away the items in their vehicles. While the authorities feign ignorance about the incident, locals report the looting did take place. Intriguingly, the Khan’s son, Prince Mohammad has claimed the items were taken from the palace with the consent of his parents. He denied it was a theft and added that he had ‘preserved’ the precious items. There are reports about a move by the powers that be to install Prince Mohammad as the Khan of Kalat in the absence of his father. Although Prince Mohammad has denied the speculations, the sinister move is not without precedent in Balochistan’s chequered history. Prince Mohyuddin has expressed regrets at the reported looting of Kalat palace and the rumoured move to install Prince Mohammad in place of his father, saying such moves would spoil the reconciliatory efforts. Senior Balochistan Minister Sanaullah Zehri has confirmed the incident of looting and called it contrary to Baloch traditions. He has expressed his dismay to the Khan on the telephone. The Kalat State emerged in the eighteenth century as a tribal confederacy. Historically it remained a tributary state of successive monarchies in Afghanistan and Iran. However, it became the symbol around which Baloch resistance to encroaching British colonialism was waged throughout the nineteenth century. Only when a treaty was signed between the British crown and the Kalat State confederacy towards the end of the nineteenth century did relative peace come to prevail. During the independence struggle in the subcontinent, Kalat State sought to convince the British crown that it was a treaty state that did not fall into the category of other princely states in colonial India. To argue Kalat’s case, the Khan of Kalat then, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, engaged one of the most distinguished constitutional lawyers in India, Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah to plead Kalat’s case upto and including the Privy Council. However, the events of partition and independence overtook these consultations and Balochistan was eventually formally annexed to Pakistan in 1948. Rebellions since have been the intermittent norm in Balochistan ever since, with the present conflict the fifth in the relatively short history of the country. The late Khan, Mir Ahmed Yar Khan, despite having signed the instrument of accession, was himself incarcerated in the 1958 Ayub coup. Although he was ‘rehabilitated’ later and even served as Governor of the province under Mr Bhutto, it is questionable today whether the present Khan, even if he were by some stretch of the imagination to come to an agreement with the present Balochistan government to resolve the conflict in the province, be able to persuade other tribal leaders and non-tribal elements waging the insurgency to lay down their arms. Without addressing long standing Baloch grievances centred on rights and resources, even the Khan of Kalat can do little to change the ground situation of a war between the state and Baloch dissidents.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Daily Times editorial June 29, 2015

Blame game on Chairperson PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari returned from Dubai and straightaway plunged into the vortex of the heatwave deaths in Karachi and interior Sindh. His first interaction was with Chief Minister Sindh Syed Qaim Ali Shah, who briefed him on the Provincial Disaster Management Agency, Sindh government, PPP, other political parties and NGOs’ efforts to set up relief camps and heatwave treatment centres. In Karachi, the chief minister said 40 such centres have been set up. While Bilawal chose to tread the by now familiar path of blaming others for the crisis, in this case the federal government and K-Electric, he instructed the chief minister to conduct awareness campaigns and double the relief efforts. He also taunted the PML-N on its campaign promise to end load shedding in six months after coming to power. Two years later, what price those claims, Bilawal asked. He also reminded the PML-N of the hue and cry it raised while in opposition about the Nandipur project and circular debt. Where, he asked, did the PML-N stand on these matters today? He accused the federal PML-N government of incompetence, bad governance and corruption regarding the ongoing load shedding crisis, which has led to over 1,250 deaths in Sindh, the vast bulk of these in Karachi, which has also been struggling with a water shortage, a combination that has made the effects of the heatwave even worse. Bilawal asked the chief minister to ensure that ministers of the Sindh government visit the relief camps and hospitals regularly to assess the relief and treatment efforts. He also suggested that the Expo Centre and marriage halls could temporarily be converted into relief camps/heatstroke centres. He underlined the need for CM Qaim Ali Shah to contact the federal government and KL-Electric for immediate steps to improve power supply to the province. Last but not least, Bilawal congratulated the Punjab PPP for staging protests against the tragedy in Karachi/Sindh. Bilawal was not alone in placing blame on others. PTI’s Imran Ismail is bending his back to get an FIR registered against the Sindh government for murder of the heatwave victims through criminal negligence. Federal Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif too has dumped the blame on the Sindh government by saying Karachi was not within the federal government’s mandate (as though it was no longer part of Pakistani territory!). PPP Punjab president Mian Manzoor Wattoo, who played a central role in gathering 26 opposition parties on one platform to protest against the load shedding and deaths in Karachi and Sindh said the PML-N was standing on the wrong side. It could not govern without the support of the opposition. Pakistan’s history showed that when the opposition united against a sitting government, its days were numbered. While the blame game and shifting responsibility remains in full flow, the plight of the dead and dying in Karachi and Sindh barely finds mention or priority in these statements. Both the Sindh PPP government and the PML-N federal government appear unmoved by the criticism of other political parties or sections of society regarding their poor handling of the crisis. Now we hear Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has decided to finally visit Karachi. Is this not something he should have done earlier, before the tragedy had assumed such horrific proportions? Amongst the victims of heatstroke, the poor, street dwellers and those without means to fend off the scorching heat have been amongst the greatest number of the dead. Unclaimed victims’ bodies have perforce had to be buried unclaimed by the score, given the heat, overcrowding in mortuaries, and the incessant load shedding making preservation of remains impossible. The blame game may be the concerned governments’ only defence against criticism of their performance, but it does not help matters a tot. What should have happened as soon as the heatwave hit Karachi was a concerted, combined effort by the federal and Sindh governments to come to grips with the problem on a war footing. Perhaps only then could the horrific death toll have been controlled and minimised. Paralysis at the federal and provincial level, while spotlighting once again the incapacity of the bloated bureaucracies of the National and Provincial Disaster Management Agencies in any emergency, also underlined the ‘confusion’ that has resulted from the devolution under the 18th Amendment. Inadvertently, it has left gaps in the matter of responsibility and combined efforts to combat emergencies. While they struggle to bring the heatwave crisis under control, both the federal and Sindh governments, as well perhaps as the Council of Common Interests, need to put their heads together to learn the appropriate lessons from the crisis and devise ways ad means to prevent such falling between two stools.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 28, 2015

Terrorism rash Friday, June 26, 2015 may well come to be remembered as a day when terrorism demonstrated, if that was still needed, its reach across continents and borders. A suicide bomber killed 25 people and injured over 200 in an attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait during Friday prayers (a favourite target of Islamist terrorists). More than 2,000 of the faithful were at prayer when the bomber struck. The Shias constitute a minority of 30 percent in the predominantly Sunni kingdom. They have lived in peace and harmony with their neighbours of other denominations till now. This is the first attack of its kind in the country, and signals the arrival of the religious fanatics on its doorstep. Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility. It may be recalled that IS recently targeted two Shia mosques in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and has been attacking the Zaydis, a derivative Shia denomination, in Yemen. The Kuwait government has vowed to protect prayers and mosques. In Tunisia, a gunman killed 37 tourists and wounded six by pulling out a weapon hidden in an umbrella and tossing an explosive at a seaside resort hotel. This was the second major attack on tourists following the Tunis Bardo museum incident when gunmen killed 21 foreign visitors. The first gunman was eventually shot dead by police, while a second one was reportedly captured. There is no claim of responsibility so far. Whoever is responsible knows the importance of tourism to Tunisia’s economy. It contributes seven percent of the country’s GDP, most of its foreign exchange revenues and more jobs than any other sector except farming. Tunisia was the home of the first Arab Spring uprising, and although it has done better than other Arab countries in making the transition from dictatorship to democracy, the upheaval allowed ultra-conservative mullahs to take control of the mosques to spread their message. Several thousand Tunisians are believed to be fighting with the jihadists in Syria, Iraq and Libya, amidst fears that the training camps they have set up will produce many jihadists who will return home to spread terrorism. In the Syrian theatre, IS has launched a suicidal attack on Kobani, the city recently liberated by the Kurdish YPF forces. In one of the worst massacres by IS in territory it controls or contends for, it killed 145 people. If IS’s aim was to spread terror in the area, it succeeded admirably, as 60,000 people fled for their lives to join the sea of refugees and internally displaced people as a result of the Syrian civil war. In a separate assault on the northeastern city of Hasaka however, the aim appeared to be to take the divided town controlled by Assad’s forces and the YPG. All this appears to be the IS’s concerted bid to try and roll back the advances of the YPF in recent days. As if all this was not enough, a horrific beheading and blast were reported at a French factory. The perpetrator was reportedly a deliveryman radicalised by jihadist ideas. Italy in the meantime reported the arrest of a Pakistani al Qaeda suspect involved in a massive bombing at home and harbouring a probable terrorist planning an attack in Italy. What is significant about these seemingly disparate events in a number of discrete countries is that they occurred on the same day, thereby wonderfully focusing minds on the meaning of this proliferation of terrorism. French President Hollande hit the nail on the head when he said these events point to the fact that there is a common enemy. However, it must be said with regret, while the enemy is common, the countries of the world are not working together to combat this universal threat. France is believed to be on the receiving end of terrorism because of its involvement in the wars in the Middle East. By that criterion, not many western countries are exempt. The biggest power amongst them, the US, has issued an alert after these events. Pakistan cannot afford to be complacent either, given that our homegrown terrorist movement may be down but certainly not out, and the global terrorist forces such as IS seem to be muscling in to our region. The world, Pakistan amongst the countries most affected, needs to recognise the nature and reach of the terrorist threat, give up supporting jihadist proxies for expedient reasons that later turn into nightmares, and unite the civilised world against the jihadist existential threat to all we hold dear in religion and society.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 27, 2015

BBC report fallout In the wake of the sensational BBC report of the MQM receiving funding and training from India, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed concern and anguish in almost equal measure. The prime minister has asked federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar to get to the bottom of the affair through thorough investigations. On the other hand, he has expressed his disappointment that if the reports are true, it erodes his desire for better relations with India, which could only be brought about on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation. Chaudhry Nisar has met the British High Commissioner Philip Barton to request help in ascertaining the facts behind the BBC report. He will also be writing a letter to the UK government in this regard. The matter is sensitive and requires careful handling, not the least because a major political party’s name and reputation are at stake, not to mention the foreign policy implications. While Chaudhry Nisar has committed to carrying out a thorough investigation, the matter of the ‘authoritative’ Pakistani source quieted by the BBC as having revealed that MQM members had under interrogation told the British authorities of the India connection, apparently remains off the interior minister’s radar. Is it not of vital importance to trace who this ‘authoritative' source is and how the person/entity concerned knew of the revelations to the UK authorities? If the source turns out to be a government official, that could prove embarrassing most of all for the government itself. Chaudhry Nisar has added a cautionary note, albeit in contradictory fashion. On the one hand he advised not to jump to conclusions before the allegations are investigated. On the other hand, he offered the priceless advice that the MQM as a whole should not be seen as sullied by the allegations since the majority of its members were patriotic Pakistanis! Is this not pre-emptive, to put it mildly? But then our worthy interior minister is not famous for consistency in his frequent statements. Altaf Hussain has rejected the allegations in one of his famous addresses to his followers on the telephone, mixing defiance with an attempt to advise Chaudhry Nisar to investigate money laundering by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and a warning to Defence Minister Khwaja Asif not to go too far or else… In addition, Altaf Hussain also questioned whether the government intends to trace out the ‘authoritative’ source that has set the cat among the pigeons. The only really credible part of Altaf Hussain’s emotional diatribe was the MQM’s intention to seek legal recourse against the BBC. That is advice being proferred by a number of parties, though not always for altruistic reasons. Clearly, the BBC report, whatever its credibility, has put the MQM in a lot of trouble. It is not enough for the party to adopt either an aggressively dismissive posture or reject the allegations as a repeat brew of past reports in similar vein. For its own sake, the MQM must explore the legal options open to it, in Pakistan as well as in the UK. Clearing its name of the serious charges of what amounts to treason is critical to the continued existence and health of the party. During this period of efforts to clear its name however, the MQM will find the going uphill at home. PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi could not resist twisting the knife (two ways) by asking the PPP whether it still intended to go through with its reported contemplation of inviting the MQM to join the Sindh government again. The PPP of course has its own hands full with the perceived tightening of the net around its leadership on corruption allegations. The top leadership is reportedly conferring in Dubai, away from the prying eyes and ears of the powers that be, to formulate a strategy to fend off what appears to be a concerted campaign against it too. The PPP therefore may not be in a position at present to stick its neck out to ‘save’ its erstwhile coalition partner in Sindh. Both the PPP and the MQM seem to have been targeted by powerful actors with an agenda that borders, according to some analysts, to a ‘creeping’ coup against the civilian political class, or at least certain sections of it at present. What that portends for the Sindh government and indeed the democratic dispensation as such, remains the subject of much speculation and, indeed, some anxiety.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 26, 2012

Serious charges A shocking BBC report has claimed that the MQM is receiving funding from India and its cadres are being trained there for the last 10 years. The report quotes an ‘authoritative’ Pakistani source that officials of the MQM have made these revelations to the UK authorities. This sensational story has seen the light of day against the background of continuing investigations in the UK against the MQM regarding the murder in London of former senior MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq. That investigation since 2010 led to suspicions of money laundering and weapons purchase/smuggling by the MQM. The former charge emanates from the discovery of Pounds 500,000 from the MQM’s offices and Altaf Hussain’s residence, the latter because a list of weapons along with their prices was discovered in an MQM property. The MQM has dismissed the story as one that has been aired in the past and repeated many times over the years. Naturally, it vehemently denies its contents and sensational charges. The Indian authorities too have rejected the charges as “baseless”. The BBC account claims before 2005-6, a smaller number of middle ranking members of the MQM received training in weapons handling, etc, in India, whereas after that a larger number of relatively junior members were trained in camps in north and northeast India. It may be recalled that in April 2015, a police official, Rao Anwar, had claimed two MQM men in custody had confessed to travelling to India via Thailand for training. Mr Anwar now feels vindicated by the BBC story. The BBC is a reputable media organisation and the reporter who broke the story, Owen Bennet-Jones, is no stranger to Pakistan, having been a BBC reporter here for years and retaining an interest in this area despite leaving the BBC and now working as a freelance reporter, including for his former mother organisation. However, there are some aspects of the whole affair that leave unanswered questions and raise concerns regarding the veracity of the account. In the first place, Owen Bennet-Jones’ story suffers from the major flaw that it relies almost exclusively on one ‘authoritative’ Pakistani (official?) source (unnamed of course) and Pakistani media reports that, as he puts it, “the BBC believes to be accurate”. Now in recent days we have seen a major investigative journalist of the calibre of Seymour Hersh ‘break’ a story about the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan relying on one unnamed American source, and suffering a mauling in the wake of the story being published in the London Review of Books. A reporter of the standing of Owen Bennet-Jones, whose experience in Pakistan is considerable, should have known that a story based on an ‘authoritative’ Pakistani source alone (or even Pakistani media reports) would come under questioning, if not fire. Even if we ignore the MQM’s accusation of the bias (if not obsession) of Owen Bennet-Jones against it, one cannot but wonder how he could have gone along with such a version from such a source without applying a critical mind to it. Also, how could the BBC risk its own credibility and reputation by taking such a questionable story from (according to the description ‘authoritative’) such a dubious source? Even if bias is not at work here, the suspicion lingers of professional sloppiness. Why, readers may ask, such reservations regarding the BBC and its freelance reporter? This question can only be answered if politically astute and informed observers keep in mind the climate that is seen to be emerging on the political firmament of late. There appears to be an almost knee-jerk tendency visible to ascribe everything that is wrong with Pakistan to the Indian intelligence agency RAW. In this illustrious list are included terrorism (the TTP), the Baloch nationalist insurgency, and any and every dissident voice that dares to challenge the officially certified truth. It all seems too easy and pat: give a dog a bad name and hang him, in the process escaping critical scrutiny of the methods used or any human and legal rights violations along the way. It is not possible to say at this point whether Bennet-Jones’ source is credible or not. But as a knowledgeable and experienced reporter on Pakistan, he could at the very least have taken note of this ‘RAW is responsible for everything’ mounting chorus and been more critical (and circumspect) not to be subjected to spin. Having said all this, no one should be misled into thinking that it implies the MQM are angels. Indeed, they have a lot to answer for. Whether these charges legitimately belong in that long list only the MQM can answer. In its own interest of course, the MQM should accept the advice being proffered to it from many quarters to prove its protestations of innocence by legal recourse against the BBC and Bennet-Jones.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 24, 2015

Death and agony Karachi is suffering an unprecedented heatwave which, along with the effects of massive load shedding, has so far claimed at least 400 lives (some estimates put it as high as 1,000). This is a human tragedy far worse than the Tharparkar deaths because of drought and famine that caused such an uproar against the Sindh PPP government not so long ago. Karachi’s mortuaries and graveyards are under immense pressure because of the arrival of hundreds of bodies. That pressure has necessitated burying unclaimed bodies in order to make room in the mortuaries for the unrelenting flood of dead bodies. People have been forced by this situation to make informal arrangements in their neighbourhoods for administrating the last rites to the dead and burying them post haste in the blistering heat. Karachi is experiencing temperatures of 43-44 degrees Celsius, reflecting that the city by the sea is receiving hot continental air rather than the normal cooling breezes from the water. An emergency has been declared in the city as the electricity supply has crashed and dead bodies are stacked up in the morgues. Every city hospital has similar reports on the crisis: dozens of dead bodies and heatstroke victims crowding every hospital. A large part of the city has been hit by outages, causing rage amongst the populace that has lit bonfires in protest in many localities. The heatwave only relented partially and temporarily to some light rain in some parts of the city. But the showers could not dispel the stifling heat for long. The Meteorological Office predicts that the monsoons are on their way, but they may arrive tragically too late for those who have or will succumb to Nature’s cauldron. K-Electric is under fire for the heavy load shedding, offering the mea culpa that Ramzan and the weather have not only caused a surge in demand but also an epidemic of illegal hook connections that have served to worsen the shortage. The uproar amongst citizens in Karachi was echoed in the National Assembly when the opposition walked out in protest against the misery inflicted on the people of Karachi and other parts of the country. The PPP has demanded calling a meeting of the Council of Common Interests to discuss the crisis. The PTI made the case that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it leads a coalition government, produces excess electricity yet is deprived of its needs. Long pending royalties on hydel power owed to the province could have provided the funds to set up more electricity generation projects, they argued, but the province has been unjustly denied its legitimate share of these royalties for many years. PPP co-Chairperson Asif Zardari has written a letter to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif asking for help in overcoming Sindh’s load shedding woes. Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali was at pains to prove that the federal government had no control over K-Electric. His senior minister, Khwaja Asif, says if people pay their bills there would be no crisis. Thereby he is rubbing salt into people’s wounds since the government and its ministries and departments are well known as the biggest defaulters of power dues. Circular debt, which is a symptom of the energy affliction, and which the government unwisely early in its tenure tried to retire through a payment of Rs 500 billion, has risen once again to Rs 600 billion according to some reports. This was inevitable since the government’s misplaced priority in this regard addressed the symptom, not the disease itself. That disease is none other than the complacent and arrogant behaviour of the government bureaucracy in not feeling accountable for paying electricity dues, thereby resurrecting the mountain of circular debt again and again and causing the whole country to be caught in the grip of energy deprivation. We have cautioned the federal government repeatedly in this space to take steps to overcome the crisis lest it suffer the political fallout of the citizens’ ire, but all to no avail. Except excuses and homilies, the government has had little to offer in the way of balm on the people’s smarting wounds. It would perhaps be an exercise in futility to remind the government of its tall claims to overcome the energy deficit within weeks if not months of coming to power. The government’s tune has changed of late to moving this deadline to years, if not beyond the ability of human beings to count. Criticism of the government for its misplaced emphasis on roads and transport infrastructure when the country is groaning from energy shortages in the middle of Ramzan and the hot weather could damage the government grievously unless it wakes up.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 22, 2015

Poor governance The government's claims of no load shedding at Sehr, Iftaar and Taraveeh prayers on the eve of Ramzan have fallen spectacularly flat on their face. Despite the government's announcement that industry would have to forego electricity at these times, the citizens are being tormented by 18 hours of load shedding all over the country. Violent protests against this torture in the middle of the heatwave that is sweeping the country are spreading. Such manifestations have broken out in Peshawar, Karachi, Hyderabad, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Sahiwal, Multan and other cities. The geographical spread of these protests belies the conspiracy theory being peddled by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is being singled out to make the PTI provincial government look bad. If this theory is correct, then all the provincial governments, including the PML-N's own in Punjab, are suffering the same fate! The government stands indicted not only for the failure to fulfil the promise of no load shedding during critical timings for Ramzan, but also for the duration of power cuts, far from decreasing, have actually increased. No power also affects water supply, the absence of which in this sweltering heat is beyond the capacity of citizens to bear. The citizens' anger at the authorities has found expression in attacks on electricity distribution companies' offices, with in some instances such offices being ransacked and then burnt to a cinder. The power distribution workers in such offices have escaped the wrath of the protestors by a whisker, but some serious fallout in the shape of injuries and casualties amongst such staff could occur unless the problem is dealt with post haste. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, showing his concern over the situation and citizens' suffering, summoned the Water and Power Secretary Younas Dagha to the Prime Minister's House on Saturday to be briefed on the crisis. Dagha, in true 'Yes Prime Minister' mode, laid the blame for the situation on increased demand because of the heat and Ramzan. If so, we're these two factors not known before hand? Dagha told the prime minister that demand currently had risen to 21,000 MW, against supply of 15,500 MW, leaving a shortfall of 5,500 MW. Despite this, Dagha claimed, 75-80 percent of the country was provided uninterrupted electricity on the first day of Ramzan. This is a patently absurd statement, given that no part of the country was receiving 'uninterrupted' electricity even before Ramzan and the heatwave. Not for nothing then did the prime minister reprimand the secretary for this obviously untrue report" expressing his displeasure at the situation, the prime minister instructed the secretary to address citizens' complaints at the earliest. Dagha's absurdity was only bettered by Minister for Water and Power Khwaja Asif's tall tale that 93 percent urban and 86 percent rural areas are being supplied uninterrupted electricity. When by his ministry's own admission there is a shortfall of 5,500 MW, how can this even claimed, let alone believed? The best litmus test of these attempts to throw dust in the eyes of a suffering public is the empirical evidence on the ground itself. People, having lost patience with the authorities' dissembling are expressing themselves with unprecedented anger at their perceived tormentors. Not only are electricity distribution companies' offices being trashed and burnt, there are reports of desperate people breaking water mains in Karachi to get some relief from the heat and even drinking water, an escalation of the ongoing water crisis in the city. Khwaja Asif has also resurrected the bogey of the 650 MW being supplied to Karachi despite the agreement to do so having expired. On the one hand the minister wants to claim the credit for this act of humanitarian kindness towards the denizens of Karachi, and on the other shift the blame for load shedding in the metropolis onto the shoulders of K-Electric, which by the way has broken all records of exaggeration by claiming there is no load shedding in Karachi! Either these top officials take the people of Pakistan as dumb driven cattle who can be fed any potpourri of fabrications if not outright lies, or they are seriously delusional. One can only sympathise with the prime minister for being so poorly served by such ministers, bureaucrats and officials.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 21, 2015

PPP’s retreat After co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s adventurism, the PPP has been forced to retreat, always an uncomfortable and embarrassing exercise. Putting away the ‘guns’ that Asif Zardari had whipped out to whip the military establishment, the PPP is talking ‘peace’ with the army, emphasising that it has the greatest respect for COAS General Raheel Sharif and that Zardari’s remarks were aimed at past military chiefs who had imposed draconian dictatorships. This ‘charge’ in retreat is being led by two former information ministers of the PPP, Sherry Rehman, recently elected a Senator, and Qamar Zaman Kaira. Retreats from exposed positions are always tricky. The two articulate former information ministers, despite all their eloquence and way with words, are not having an easy time of making sense of what Zardari spouted or dress it up to disguise the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. Kaira tried to spin Zardari’s remarks as an attempt to define a line in civil-military relations. While there is little doubt the fracas has focused attention once again on this ticklish subject, the real issue (and context) is the campaign by the Rangers in Karachi against big fish allegedly involved in corruption, crime, and even terrorism. This campaign has the explicit support of the military. The dragnet is slowly but surely widening to bring within its fold officials and others allegedly linked to Sindh’s ruling PPP. Having stuck his neck out a mile with his intemperate remarks, Asif Zardari is in danger of having it metaphorically lopped off. There has been nothing but adverse reaction across the board to Zardari’s vitriol. Fearing isolation if not worse, the co-Chairperson attempted to gather the leaders of other political parties at his Iftaar dinner in Islamabad. Unfortunately, the gambit only partially succeeded. The ANP, MQM, PML-Q and JUI-F attended; PTI, JI and the PML-N ignored it. Chaudhry Shujaat of the PML-Q, in remarks to media after the dinner said the statement should be withdrawn and that the ‘consultation’ with political parties should have preceded the issuance of such a statement. The PPP spokespersons however, knowing what a loss of face that would be to add to the initial disaster, refused to countenance its withdrawal. Meanwhile the PPP is said to be mulling over a counter-strategy to the campaign against it by the Rangers and the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). A legal recourse is being considered, which includes approaching the courts as well as passing a law by the Sindh government that the Rangers and NAB be bound to ask the chief minister Sindh for prior approval before arresting any bureaucrat or high profile figure. Even if the Sindh government manages to pass such a law on the basis of its majority in the Sindh Assembly, such an unprecedented restriction on the functioning of the law enforcement agencies is likely to be legally challenged and even struck down by the courts. Even to contemplate such a course shows the panic and desperation permeating the PPP leadership in the face of being targeted for alleged corruption and worse. A close friend of Zardari, real estate tycoon Malik Riaz too is said to be having kittens these days and unable to have access to the powers that be to fend off any adverse action against him. All does not appear well within the ranks of the top leadership either. At the very moment when the PPP Central Executive Committee was endorsing Zardari’s statement, two former prime ministers, Yousaf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf reportedly tendered their resignations from top slots within the party. This annoyed Zardari and is being treated as rebellion. Zardari’s leadership of the party is increasingly coming into question, implicitly if not openly. Meanwhile the Sindh government has suddenly woken up to an army application for forest land to be allotted to the families of military martyrs near Shikarpur, a request lying pending since 2001. Whether such a ‘sop’ will extricate the PPP’s chestnuts from the fire remains to be seen, but given the present mood and determined pressing of the campaign against corruption and other misdemeanours in Sindh, it may not be enough. The best advice Zardari and the PPP have received lately is the view of the Iftaar guests to return to the policy of reconciliation. Whether this is still possible remains an intriguing and open question.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 20, 2015

Showdown intensifies Under pressure from the military establishment, distanced from the ruling PML-N and some other political parties and under attack from various quarters rising to the defence of the military and Rangers after co-Chairperson Asif Zardari’s broadside against the military, the PPP has gone into damage control mode. PPP leader Qamar Zaman Kaira is leading the effort, trying to present Zardari’s remarks as having been misinterpreted, torn out of context, and viewed unsympathetically despite the PPP’s support to the military in the past and its patience even when its leaders were martyred or suffered at the hands of military dictators. Additionally, the PPP is reaching out to the other political parties by inviting them on Friday to an Iftar dinner. However, the invitation was declined by some parties. On the other hand, Asif Zardari has reached out to MQM leader Altaf Hussain and the two parties have decided to forget their differences and join hands against the perceived attack against them from the establishment. It may be mentioned here that the two main suspects in the Imran Farooq murder case have been arrested in Chaman, ostensibly while trying to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan. The credibility of this claim is questionable in the light of the past statements by the authorities, including federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, that these two suspects were in custody for years. Irrespective of this reservation, the bringing forth of this claim now reflects a decision to target the MQM too, which, by the way, has denied the two detainees have anything to do with it. That may provide the basis for the new declared closeness between the PPP and the MQM. The PPP is also reported to be preparing a strategy to counter any possible move to impose Governor’s rule in Sindh after changing the present gubernatorial incumbent. On the other hand, the military and Rangers have reiterated their determination to continue the crackdown in Karachi to improve the security and law and order situation in the metropolis. That crackdown has so far yielded the arrest of the Vice President of the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Qamar Siddiqui amongst others. Mr Siddiqui has been sent on remand by an anti-terrorist court for 90 days after the Rangers told the court he was involved in extortion, target killing, kidnapping, land grabbing, arms smuggling, assisting terrorism, and abetting Lyari’s gang war with millions of rupees collected from Karachi Fish Harbour. He is also accused of sending 70 percent of the funds collected from such illegal activities to Bilawal House, Karachi, the PPP’s headquarters. The Chairman of the Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, Nisar Murai is said to have fled abroad after multiple corruption cases were registered against him. Other important figures are also being targeted in a concerted drive against the corrupt mafias afflicting the city. It would be interesting to see how the trial of these people proceeds, what is revealed if not proved, and how far the long arm of the law will then reach to even bigger fish perhaps. Objections to the role of the Rangers in matters considered beyond their mandate aside, it is a development to be noted that the Sindh High Court is being approached by various petitioners whose loved ones have been whisked away by the security forces in Karachi and neither their whereabouts are known nor have they been produced in a court of law. While it may not be possible to keep the bigger fish out of the spotlight and therefore they are being produced before the courts, ordinary citizens appealing to the Sindh High Court seem to be victims of their family members being ‘disappeared’ as has been going on in Balochistan and even peripherally in Sindh for some time. It must be stated that no crackdown, no matter how critical or important for the country, can hope to succeed in the long run unless it remains within the ambit of the law and resists the temptation to take shortcuts like extrajudicial disappearances and perhaps worse. Last but not least, there is a theory doing the rounds that Asif Zardari’s coming out guns blazing against the establishment is not a sudden rush of blood or resentment against the arrests of close associates, as is being generally perceived, but may be a subtle strategy to revive the PPP. Certainly Asif Zardari’s speech has had opposite receptions from the hitherto estranged jiyalas (committed workers) and leaders of the PPP. While the latter have objected to this adventurism in open or muted fashion, the former are delighted at what they perceive is the return of the party to its traditional anti-establishment militant stance. True or not, what is being perceived in some circles as the de facto takeover of the functions of the Sindh government by the Rangers offers food for thought for the parties ruling other provinces, not excluding the PML-N itself. Talk of a ‘soft’ coup to describe the increasing role of the military establishment in national affairs may now have to give way to speculations about a ‘creeping’ coup that may not spare any of the political class.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 18, 2015

Zardari's ire Co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari is associated in the public mind with many things, but apoplectic anger is surely not one of them. To everyone's surprise therefore, Mr Zardari came out swinging in an unprecedentedly aggressive speech while addressing an oath taking ceremony of the PPP's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa office bearers in Islamabad on Tuesday against the military and peripherally the PML-N government. He warned the military to stay away from politics and not interfere in matters beyond its domain. He went on to say army chiefs come and go every three years, but the political leadership is here to stay. Asif Zardari did not end his broadside there but went on to threaten that if the (alleged) defamation campaign against him and his party does not stop, they are quite capable of bringing the entire country from north to south to a grinding halt, which will then not be reversed without his say so. Further, he warned the military not to push him to the point where he feels compelled to expose the list of Generals accused of wrongdoing since the creation of Pakistan. In that case he argued, they would be giving explanations for a very long time to come. Turning to former dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, he said he spent five years in prison during his regime (and three more during the previous government of Nawaz Sharif) but the ex-commando could not even withstand three months in jail. He said if the PPP moves, everything will be jolted as he and his party know how to wage war. He added that he did not want to weaken the institution of the military, which was facing a three-front situation with India's threats, internal terrorism and the Baloch insurgency. His party, he said, had always stood by the military in moments of crisis. Having vented his spleen against the military, Zardari turned on the PML-N to remind it of the debt it owed the PPP for standing by the government during the PTI's sit-in in Islamabad last year instead of resigning along with the PTI, which would have brought the government down. He said he was watching the political game and moves and waiting for the right time (to act, presumably). The normally mild-mannered and smiling Mr Zardari certainly seems to have a very angry bee buzzing in his bonnet. To go so far as to threaten the military directly and the PML-N government indirectly with retribution unless the alleged 'campaign' against Zardari and the PPP ceases is both unprecedented and a turn away from the policy of 'reconciliation' enunciated by the late Benazir Bhutto before her return from exile and subsequent assassination in 2007. Zardari reminded everyone of the patience exhibited by him after her assassination when he helped quell the violent agitation and protest against her murder with the slogan: Pakistan khappay (Pakistan will live). But now, he said, he was running out of patience. The question on everyone's mind is what is it that has wrought this transformation in the co-chairperson of the PPP? One line of reasoning ascribes this sudden turn to a series of events following the revelation of a report by the DG Rangers Karachi that some Rs 230 billion was generated through illegal activities such as corruption, land grabbing, smuggling Iranian oil, extortion, etc, from the city and used for supporting terrorism and crime. The report alleged a major political party was involved. Most people assumed the evasive reference was to the MQM, the party most people associate with Karachi's plethora of troubles. However, it now appears the MQM, despite heading the cast of usual suspects, is not the only party in the dock. What may add weight to the finger of suspicion pointing towards the PPP may be the fact of a Rangers raid on the offices of the Sindh Building Control Authority's offices in Karachi, in which records were seized and according to strong rumours, Zardari's associate Manzur Qadir Kaka was arrested. If Mr Kaka was a prop that has been knocked away from under Zardari, this might explain his reaction. But his diatribe spells trouble for the Sindh PPP government, and by extension perhaps, the entire democratic dispensation.

Daily Times Editorial June 18, 2015

Zardari's ire Co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari is associated in the public mind with many things, but apoplectic anger is surely not one of them. To everyone's surprise therefore, Mr Zardari came out swinging in an unprecedentedly aggressive speech while addressing an oath taking ceremony of the PPP's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa office bearers in Islamabad on Tuesday against the military and peripherally the PML-N government. He warned the military to stay away from politics and not interfere in matters beyond its domain. He went on to say army chiefs come and go every three years, but the political leadership is here to stay. Asif Zardari did not end his broadside there but went on to threaten that if the (alleged) defamation campaign against him and his party does not stop, they are quite capable of bringing the entire country from north to south to a grinding halt, which will then not be reversed without his say so. Further, he warned the military not to push him to the point where he feels compelled to expose the list of Generals accused of wrongdoing since the creation of Pakistan. In that case he argued, they would be giving explanations for a very long time to come. Turning to former dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, he said he spent five years in prison during his regime (and three more during the previous government of Nawaz Sharif) but the ex-commando could not even withstand three months in jail. He said if the PPP moves, everything will be jolted as he and his party know how to wage war. He added that he did not want to weaken the institution of the military, which was facing a three-front situation with India's threats, internal terrorism and the Baloch insurgency. His party, he said, had always stood by the military in moments of crisis. Having vented his spleen against the military, Zardari turned on the PML-N to remind it of the debt it owed the PPP for standing by the government during the PTI's sit-in in Islamabad last year instead of resigning along with the PTI, which would have brought the government down. He said he was watching the political game and moves and waiting for the right time (to act, presumably). The normally mild-mannered and smiling Mr Zardari certainly seems to have a very angry bee buzzing in his bonnet. To go so far as to threaten the military directly and the PML-N government indirectly with retribution unless the alleged 'campaign' against Zardari and the PPP ceases is both unprecedented and a turn away from the policy of 'reconciliation' enunciated by the late Benazir Bhutto before her return from exile and subsequent assassination in 2007. Zardari reminded everyone of the patience exhibited by him after her assassination when he helped quell the violent agitation and protest against her murder with the slogan: Pakistan khappay (Pakistan will live). But now, he said, he was running out of patience. The question on everyone's mind is what is it that has wrought this transformation in the co-chairperson of the PPP? One line of reasoning ascribes this sudden turn to a series of events following the revelation of a report by the DG Rangers Karachi that some Rs 230 billion was generated through illegal activities such as corruption, land grabbing, smuggling Iranian oil, extortion, etc, from the city and used for supporting terrorism and crime. The report alleged a major political party was involved. Most people assumed the evasive reference was to the MQM, the party most people associate with Karachi's plethora of troubles. However, it now appears the MQM, despite heading the cast of usual suspects, is not the only party in the dock. What may add weight to the finger of suspicion pointing towards the PPP may be the fact of a Rangers raid on the offices of the Sindh Building Control Authority's offices in Karachi, in which records were seized and according to strong rumours, Zardari's associate Manzur Qadir Kaka was arrested. If Mr Kaka was a prop that has been knocked away from under Zardari, this might explain his reaction. But his diatribe spells trouble for the Sindh PPP government, and by extension perhaps, the entire democratic dispensation.

Daily Times Editorial June 19, 2015

PPP-military ruction The PPP has attempted to defend itself against what is perceived to be the military establishment’s campaign against it. Both the Chief Minister Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, and party co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar have criticised the Rangers in Karachi for going beyond their authority/mandate in raiding the Sindh Building Control Authority’s (SBCA’s) offices the other day. Their argument revolves around the deployment of the Rangers under Article 147 of the constitution and Clause one, sub-section three of section four of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 to combat terrorism, not involve themselves in matters connected with land allocations and related issues. This may be correct according to the letter of the law, but the legalistic defence misses the point. The PPP has been in power in Sindh continuously since 2008. During these years, the situation in Karachi has gone from bad to worse as far as security and law and order are concerned. The DG Rangers put the cat among the pigeons with his report to the apex committee of Sindh that Rs 230 billion illegal funds were being generated from Karachi every year and political parties’ personages were diverting some of these funds towards supporting terrorism and crime. If that argument is accepted, the raids to arrest top officials allegedly involved in corruption whose funds are then finding their way into unsavoury quarters theoretically gives the Rangers carte blanche to conduct the actions they are. Following on the SBCA raid, reports speak of other top officials being taken into custody. This continues to feed into the agitation voiced by the PPP co-Chairperson the other day, endorsed and supported now by the loyal Central Executive Committee of the party. The issue of such corruption has been building for some time and has now come to a head since the provincial apex committee came into existence to tackle terrorism and law and order. The military’s preponderance in the deliberations of these committees is the stuff of urban legend by now. If the PPP and its Sindh government now find themselves on the receiving end of the Rangers’ unwanted attention, they have no one to blame but themselves for ignoring the warnings, both signs and explicit, that they should get their act together. The complacency reflected in the PPP Sindh government’s functioning in business as usual mode has now come back to haunt it. Rumours are flying that the incumbent Governor Ishratul Ebad of the MQM may be replaced by an ex-General to lend sinew to the Rangers’ campaign against corruption and other such misdemeanours. Whether this would be the preliminary step to imposing Governor’s rule in the province is not yet clear, but the winds blowing in from the Arabian Sea seem ominous. Despite putting up a brave and defiant face while at the same time attempting damage control vis-à-vis Asif Zardari’s more vitriolic remarks against the military, the PPP now finds itself isolated in the political firmament. The ruling PML-N has not only criticised Zardari’s outburst, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif cancelled a meeting with Zardari. The PTI has decided not to attend Zardari’s iftar dinner. The military itself more mildly, and its myriad ‘defenders’ more vociferously have come crawling out of the woodwork to lambast Zardari and the PPP for its diatribe against the military at a time when it is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with terrorism in Operation Zarb-e-Azb and counter-terrorism operations. This ruction between the PPP and the military has certainly clouded the political horizon and dark clouds now lower over not only the civilian dispensation in Sindh, but contain the promise of similar moves against other political parties long in the line of fire but remaining relatively untouched till now. For example, the two suspects in the Imran Farooq murder who we were told are in custody for years have miraculously been arrested at Chaman while trying to slip into Afghanistan. Perhaps the chickens of the past are finally on the way home to roost. Where this will eventually lead remains the unanswered and intriguing question on the tip of the tongue. If the PPP’s Sindh government and the MQM are about to be roasted on the spit of accountability, where will this ball stop? Could it roll on to engulf the entire civilian dispensation? This may not be an idle question for the political class as a whole to keep in mind as the drama unfolds.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 17, 2015

Ordinance extended The National Assembly passed a resolution extending the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Ordinance 2015 for another 120 days starting from June 25 amidst rowdy scenes, protests and walkouts by the opposition, led first and foremost by the MQM. The Ordinance in question was adopted earlier this year in the wake of the Army Public School Peshawar massacre of students and faculty and as a follow up to the 21st Amendment. It empowers the military to set up courts to try civilian terrorism suspects. It also allows these military courts to decide whether the proceedings will be held in open court or in-camera. Given the security sensitivity of such trials, protection is available for judges, lawyers and witnesses. The problem arose when Defence Minister Khwaja Asif was invited by the chair to move a resolution for the extension of the Ordinance after suspending the rules. The MQM members objected to this procedural departure, incurring in the process the rather unparliamentary castigation of the resolution’s mover, who accused the objectors of being fearful that the Ordinance would bring them to book for their wrongdoings. Naturally, this raised the temperature unnecessarily. All the efforts of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar to calm down the opposition by pointing out that the resolution was only an attempt to save the Ordinance from lapsing went in vain after Khwaja Asif’s inflammatory rhetoric. The opposition’s other complaint was that a bill should have been moved instead of a resolution to extend the life of the Ordinance for another 120 days. The treasury benches did not disagree with the notion, but said this would follow. The scenes in the National Assembly point to a number of lessons from the episode. One, a relatively simple matter is escalated to a clash by the intemperate behaviour of ministers who cannot seem to keep things in perspective. From a procedural objection, because of the insulting attitude of Khwaja Asif, the matter became an unnecessary clash. Two, the government’s reference to or reminder of the unanimity that attended the passing of the original Ordinance only served to underline that things have changed within the space of a few months since those days when in the aftermath of the Army Public School Peshawar incident, few could resist the mood of seeing effective action against the terrorists. It may be recalled how Raza Rabbani and Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan at that time expressed their reservations and reluctance to pass the 21st Amendment, but felt they had no recourse except to go along with the expressed sentiment of anger at the time. Now it seems that earlier ‘unanimity’ has frayed at the edges and the opposition is less willing to give the government and the military carte blanche for military trials of suspects. Despite the argument by the treasury benches that it is parliament’s failure to pass a bill that has necessitated reviving the Ordinance, the actual buck stops with the treasury benches who have failed to push the urgent legislation through the house. The expedient and all too easy resort to a resolution to keep the Ordinance alive, albeit temporarily, was not the wisest course on this touchy subject. The government it seems was as usual caught with its pants down and had no other alternative to buying another 120 days for the Ordinance. Now that the anger and atavistic responses to the Army Public School Peshawar massacre have cooled, this was the time to conduct an open and reasoned debate on the issue of military courts set up under the 21st Amendment and this presidential Ordinance for two years (the ‘sunset clause’). Instead of allowing the free play of views, both for and against the whole scheme of military courts, about which reservations and even rejectionist views still abound, the government has been lazy, incompetent and unnecessarily rude. Some leading treasury members need lessons in parliamentary etiquette. Others need to wake up to the need for doing things in timely fashion to avoid having to fall back on expedient but controversial devices to get their way. The opposition too needs to base its critique of military courts not merely on procedural details but on the substance of the issue. By their very nature, military courts violate due process and the right to a fair trial and defence. Even with a sunset clause, they will always be an aberration as far as the rule of law is concerned, without which no society can claim to be civilised.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 15, 2015

Sindh budget Sindh Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah presented a Rs 739.3 billion budget for 2015-16 amidst uproar and protests by the opposition, most of whom walked out twice, the second time not to return, on the basis that none of their proposals had been considered in the budget. The only exception was the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which listened quietly to the finance minister’s budget speech but later it transpired that they were not as sanguine as they appeared. The MQM gave a strike call for Sunday against what they called an anti-people budget that had nothing for the poor, but which on closer examination turned out to be what they perceived to be an anti-urban areas bias in the budget. The strike lasted half a day, Sunday being a closed holiday, and must have come as a relief to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who only the other day underlined the need to stop frequent strikes in Karachi that negatively impact the economy. No amount of pleading by the Speaker of the Sindh Assembly for patience in the house nor the arguments of the finance minister regarding allocations for the urban areas, particularly Karachi, succeeded in overcoming the almost universal opposition parties’ condemnation. As to the budget itself, a total outlay of Rs 739.3 billion falls short by Rs 12.73 billion from the total expected receipts of Rs 726.57 billion. The Annual Development Plan (ADP) envisages an outlay of Rs 214 billion, financed by Rs 177 billion from provincial resources, federal transfers and grants Rs 9.6 billion, and foreign project assistance of Rs 27 billion. Given Sindh’s security and law and order problems of long standing, especially in Karachi, it comes as no surprise that the allocations for the police and Rangers are up to Rs 61.84 billion and Rs 2.448 billion compared to last year’s Rs 50.915 billion and Rs 2.22 billion respectively. There is a proposal to recruit 10,000 policemen to improve the police-citizen ratio, particularly in Karachi. Education and health receive 7.6 percent and 32 percent more this year at Rs 144.67 billion and Rs 57.49 billion compared to last year’s Rs 134.37 billion and Rs 43.48 billion respectively. The security and law and order allocation may be a necessity, but the attention to the social sector reflected in these figures deserves mention and appreciation. Electricity receives Rs 25.9 billion, but the horrifying fact is that Rs 25 billion of this is earmarked to clear the electricity outstanding dues of various government departments! And then we wonder why the power sector is in crisis and beset with recurring cycles of circular debt. The electricity allocation in the ADP is Rs 16.5 billion, most of which will go to renewables (mostly solar) and whatever is left over to the (still in the seeming doldrums) Thar coal power projects. Roads and irrigation receive Rs 8.5 billion and Rs 17.685 billion respectively. Government employees’ basic pay has been increased by 10 percent, medical allowances increased by 25 percent, and the minimum wage aligned with the Centre and Punjab at Rs 13,000 per month. Karachi’s transport, water supply (a major crisis currently), sewerage and waste management get Rs 49.73 billion but this seems to have been dismissed by the MQM as ‘peanuts’. The biggest problems besetting the provinces after the 18th Amendment is that they have been transferred many new subjects, but without necessarily the requisite transfer of resources or provincial capacity to take on these responsibilities. The National Finance Commission (NFC) Award has yet to be updated, transfers from the Centre are either lagging in practice or even, as in the case of Sindh this year, slashed to Rs 9.6 billion from Rs 22.457 billion last year, an unprecedented reduction of 57.2 percent. This is hardly likely to induce the provinces to seriously take up capacity building and management of all the new subjects transferred to them from the concurrent list as a result of the 18th Amendment. The Centre and the provinces need to come together on the pending issue of the NFC Award and federal transfers, in order to allow the provinces to manage their finances and affairs better.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 14, 2015

Punjab budget In a first, Punjab’s budget 2015-16 has been presented on Friday by a woman. The development should not be celebrated as pure tokenism since Punjab Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha is a redoubtable economist in her own right and needs no ‘positive discrimination’. Dr Pasha has presented a Rs 1.45 trillion balanced budget. Provincial revenues are estimated as Rs 256.07 billion, of which taxes are expected to contribute Rs 160.59 billion and non-tax sources Rs 95.47 billion. The Annual Development Plan receives Rs 400 billion, 15.9 percent more than last year. Current expenditure is estimated at Rs 735 billion. Relief measures for government servants include a raise in salaries and pensions of 7.5 percent, medical allowances 25 percent, minimum wage in line with the federal budget of Rs 13,000 and the ad hoc relief in 2011 and 2012 being merged in the basic pay scale. Allocations for education pan out at Rs 310 billion, health Rs 166 billion (14.5 percent of the total outlay), agriculture Rs 144 billion and law and order Rs 106 billion (including Rs 94 billion for the police). Ten more services have been brought into the tax net, comprising public relations services, chartered accountants, auditors, corporate law consultants, air travel and cargo, chartered flights, machinery and equipment hiring, debt collection, supply chain management, photography and sponsorship. Women’s development has been given Rs 32 billion, human rights and minorities Rs one billion, and the disabled Rs two billion. Specialist doctors get Rs 1.5 billion, clean water schemes Rs 11 billion, rural roads Rs 150 billion, livestock Rs eight billion, health insurance Rs 2.5 billion, chief minister’s rozgar (employment) scheme Rs two billion, Metro Bus Multan Rs 26 billion, Safe City Programme Rs four billion, Punjab Education Foundation Rs 10 billion, Punjab Education Endowment Fund Rs two billion and the courts Rs 18 billion. The Punjab government intends to continue the Ashiyana Housing Scheme, Daanish Schools, Orange Line Lahore and the Apna Rozgar Scheme. Small farmers will receive 25,000 tractors at prices that will cost the provincial government a subsidy of Rs five billion. The Punjab government has started work on three projects that will produce 2,620 MW of electricity by end 2017. They comprise the Solar Power Project Bahawalpur, Sahiwal Coal Power and the Pind Dadan Khan energy project. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, after attending the budget session, told media persons that his government’s emphasis was on the rural areas, southern Punjab, education, health, infrastructure and the social sector. Earlier the Punjab cabinet had rejected the proposals to impose sales tax on the internet and an infrastructure development cess, a decision that speaks well of the cabinet’s appreciation of the importance of encouraging modern tools like the internet and not burdening the people further regarding development. Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha during her budget speech had attempted to delineate the strategy thrust of the Punjab government’s policy. Since private sector investment is shy because of the energy crunch, policy deficiencies and security concerns (reflected in the shortfall of investment last year of a hefty Rs 105-110 billion, 30-32 percent of the target), large public infrastructure projects are being pursued to escalate economic growth to 7-8 percent by 2018, which will assist in achieving the target of creating one million jobs per annum for youth, and in the process attempt a doubling of private investment by 2018. Ambitious as this sounds in the light of the missed last year’s target, the elimination or at the very least rolling back of terrorism and protection of the lives and property of the masses are a sine qua non for persuading a reluctant private sector to put its money where its mouth is. The Punjab government’s budget 2015-16 reflects its emphasis on power, roads, urban transport and water. Reservations about the relative size of the allocations for these and the social sector notwithstanding, these are clearly the areas for the provincial government to concentrate on, even if the label of an ‘election budget’ has been latched on to by the opposition.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 13, 2015

Nawaz speaks After the shrill exchanges between Pakistan and India in recent days, calm and sense were finally restored on our side by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sober and well considered address at the Envoys Conference of SAARC and ECO regions. The basic thrust of his remarks was directed at India to ‘behave’ itself. He said he had been dismayed by the recent irresponsible and imprudent statements by the Indian political leadership, which vitiate the atmosphere for the goals of regional peace and stability. He said Pakistan would not abandon the moral high ground or its quest for peace, but this should be reciprocated and our overtures for dialogue acknowledged. He made it crystal clear at the same time that Pakistan would protect its vital interests at all costs, something any self-respecting state would be expected to do. The prime minister reiterated the current received wisdom that externally sponsored terrorism and extremism posed grave threats to a secure and prosperous Pakistan. Dilating on the long standing Kashmir issue, he underlined Pakistan’s traditional stance that the UN Security Council resolutions be implemented, something he had also urged on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Tajikistan on the sidelines of an international conference. The prime minister outlined once again his dream of connectivity in the SAARC and ECO region, bringing in its wake prosperity and development for the whole of these regions. It was in this framework that he located the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, arguably the greatest game changing project in recent memory. While the prime minister was busy trying to lower the rising temperature of recent days between Pakistan and India through his sensible stance, both houses of parliament carried on with the other script and adopted unanimous resolutions condemning India’s recent statements with the usual underlining of determination to defend the country, etc. Surrendering to the fashion, former dictator General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the architect of Kargil who sabotaged the Nawaz-Vajpayee rapprochement, could not resist the temptation to add his two cents, belligerently asking for a tit-for-tat response to India (as though we have not had enough of that already in the past days). While these contrasting statements were emanating from within Pakistan, Bangladesh’s Information Minister Hasanal Haq Inu produced a new twist in defending Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi by arguing that Bangladesh had declared independence on March 26, 1971 and therefore India was only coming to the aid and succour of an independent country Bangladesh in its conflict with another country, Pakistan. The argument may be convenient for making the case for defending Modi's indiscreet remarks in Dhaka but it does not stand up to scrutiny in the light of the facts from history. March 26, 1971 was the date of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s public rally at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, at which many observers expected him to announce the independence of (then) East Pakistan. But Suhrawardy’s protégé refused to fulfil such adventurist ambitions, much to the disappointment of some of his supporters. Despite this restraint, the military regime of General Yahya Khan launched a military crackdown that night in which intellectuals and university teachers were the first victims of what became a genocidal bloodbath. Pakistan suffered for this attempt to deny the 1970 electoral mandate received by an autonomy-seeking Awami League through military force. The rest, as they say, is history. Interestingly, in India itself, the opposition Congress Party has slammed Modi’s aides for immature and jingoistic statements that embarrass neighbours and threaten the peace of South Asia. For its pains, the Congress has been dubbed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as speaking Pakistan’s language. Who says Pakistan has a monopoly on immaturity and jingoism? When the dust of the present spat between Pakistan and India settles (hopefully soon), soberer minds will be needed on all sides to remind their peoples of the dangers of such verbal gymnastics in a nuclear-armed subcontinent. While the 1998 nuclear explosions by India and then Pakistan were supposed to have ruled out all-out war between the two rivals permanently, it gave rise instead to the exploration of low intensity warfare that continues to this day, dangerously teetering on the edge always of escalation beyond any side’s ability to control. The sobering reminder of the shadow of the mushroom cloud that looms over Pakistan and India should give pause to all ‘super patriots’ on all sides to weigh their words carefully in a fraught neighbourhood.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 12, 2015

Dangerous escalation Pakistan and India seem to have descended once again into one of their periodic bouts of provocative statements met by equally fierce responses. The current round of tit-for-tat statements and actions seems to have started with the Indian defence minister’s statement of countering terrorism (allegedly emanating from Pakistan) with terrorism. Then Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a visit to Bangladesh freshened old wounds by boasting in Dhaka about his personal role in helping the Mukti Bahini fighting for the liberation of Bangladesh. As if all this was not enough, the Indian minister of state for information and broadcasting made reference to a claimed Indian military raid into Myanmar to inflict significant casualties on rebels fighting for autonomy or separation from India as retaliation for an ambush last week that inflicted the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers, as a message to Pakistan and other countries that India would retaliate at a time and place of its own choosing against terrorism directed against it. As a consequence, both Islamabad and New Delhi have also revived their time honoured practice of visa denial to each other’s citizens, including an official deployed at the Pakistan High Commission in India, ostensibly for alleged links with an intelligence agency, and tit-for-tat denial of visas to each other’s sportsmen. As the track record shows, neither country is above sinking into retaliatory mode at the slightest provocation or for the most spurious reasons. This time around, the Pakistani civilian and military leadership has come out all (verbal) guns blazing and warned India against any misadventure, which in the words of our leadership across the board, would be met with an adequate response (or worse). There is no denying the fact that the present round of aggressive statements has been started by India, and it bears thinking about why the Modi government has chosen this tack of late. First and foremost, it must be emphasised that Modi is no Vajpayee. The latter brought to the office of Indian prime minister a wise vision of making peace with Pakistan, normalising relations between the two neighbours and allowing the people of both countries to breathe a sigh of relief in a less tense atmosphere than periodically assails relations between the two subcontinental neighbours. However, from Vajpayee and India’s perspective, the Kargil war that followed his outreach to then prime minister Nawaz Sharif was seen as a stab in the back and may have soured opinion in India against any rapprochement with Pakistan. Certainly, since Vajpayee’s day, the Mumbai attacks did not help matters and still rankle in New Delhi because there has been no satisfactory closure of the case. Having said that, the kind of response that Islamabad has mounted to India’s provocations can only be described as meeting belligerence with even more belligerence. Whether this is the wisest or most statesmanlike way to respond to obvious provocation can be questioned. From Sartaj Aziz to Khwaja Asif to Chaudhry Nisar, not to mention the army top brass, everyone has jumped into the fray separately and jointly. Perhaps the most appropriate response would have been a considered, cool riposte to India’ s provocations, setting out Pakistan’s position that it desires peace but would not be bullied by threats or belligerence. That may have helped better than anything else to pour cold water over the Modi government’s obvious attempts to ratchet up tensions. While we wax indignant about Modi’s crowing in Dhaka about his and his country’s role in the separation of Eat Pakistan, it may be salutary to reflect before we contemplate going to international forums such as the UN or the International Court of Justice (!) that our own culpability in the crisis of 1971 is likely to be raked up during such attempts. Pakistan has consciously decided long ago to let sleeping dogs lie as far as the events of 1971 are concerned. If now we take up the gauntlet on the basis of perceived hurt, we could well end up getting hurt even more on the touchstone of international opinion regarding the events of 1971. Some day Pakistanis may be able to deal with the wounds of that fateful year in a more objective fashion. Right now, the lack of information amongst current generations and even self-serving disinformation may cloud our vision with the fog of time, distance, and enmity for a neighbouring country that under Modi seems determined to roll back all the hopes for peace and normalisation while continuing a dialogue on the issues that divide us. Let us rise above, not fall into Modi’s trap in a mature, well considered, cool manner. That is likely to get more traction in the world today than even the most apoplectic indignation.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 9, 2015

Balochistan conundrum Balochistan’s bloodletting shows no signs of ending. On Sunday, five more Hazaras were shot dead in an attack on two shops in the commercial hub of Quetta, Bacha Khan Chowk. The assailants got away scot-free despite the police and Frontier Corps (FC) being deployed barely 300 yards away from the incident. Markets closed in response to the atrocity, traffic went off the roads, and a belated police sweep of the area yielded 33 of the cast of usual suspects, many of whom will probably be eventually freed since these arrests are clearly barking up the wrong tree. A crowd of the Hazara community came out on the streets with the coffins of the victims and as they have done in the past, refused to bury the dead till the perpetrators were caught. On Sunday night, the Balochistan administration and the protestors were still in talks to vacate the sit-in. There has been no claim of responsibility so far but if the past is any guide, the killings bear all the hallmarks of the author of previous such murders, i.e. the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has never been shy of such claims and may still come forward to claim the ‘prize’. Unfortunately, the security forces in Balochistan, led from the front by the FC, have failed to protect the Hazaras or lay their hands on the self-confessed killers of the LeJ. Disconcertingly, the LeJ operates almost openly in Punjab but has never been laid hold of there either, with their leader Malik Ishaq freed by our flawed justice system. The Hazaras have been crying hoarse since the spate of killings of their community began that they are being subjected to genocide, but the response of the state has been less than satisfactory, if there has been any response at all. The pattern of killings is by now well established, and the response by groups such as Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and Hazara Democratic Party too predictable. The former has called for five days of mourning and a strike on Monday (yesterday). The latter has called for three days of mourning. These calls have been supported by almost all the parties of Balochistan. Unfortunately the response of the federal and Balochistan governments too is all too predictable and inadequate. Mere condemnations and compensation to the families of the victims does not quite cut it. Ironically, Chief Minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik Baloch was in Lahore on Sunday attending a meeting of his National Party. At almost the same moment as he was boasting of having improved the law and order and security situation in his province, the five Hazaras’ light was being extinguished. To his credit, the chief minister did argue in his address in Lahore that what was needed for the province was to persuade the Baloch, especially those estranged, angry, in the mountains or abroad, with love, negotiations, mainstreaming, not mere reliance on force or even development projects. This is of course correct and logical, and the chief minister must be appreciated for at least stating this view consistently, even if he is unable to do much about it because his hands are tied, the approach to the nationalist insurgency is dictated by the security forces and not the elected provincial government he heads, and therefore his credibility and ability to deliver even if some of the insurgents agreed to talk to him have big question marks over them. Unfortunately, of late a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to terrorism and the Baloch nationalist insurgency has seen both the civilian and military leadership dump everything into Indian intelligence agency RAW’s basket, obliterating thereby the important distinction between terrorism fuelled by fanatics not amenable to reason, and the nationalist insurgents struggling for a political cause of long standing that revolves around deprivation of rights, the separatist sentiment that has flourished because of the authorities’ hardline approach notwithstanding. Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch is from and a man of his people. His words should be listened to with far more seriousness than has been accorded them to date. But to make the paradigm shift to what he advocates, i.e. a political solution through negotiations of the Balochistan conundrum, he has to be empowered in principle and practice before he can cut anything but a sorry and helpless figure whom the insurgents do not take seriously.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 8, 2015

Defending the budget Finance Minister Ishaq Dar is discovering in his third foray into budget making that it is easier to present the budget, much more difficult to defend it. This so irritated the minister during his press conference on Saturday that he snapped and growled at any and every awkward question. Hardly the demeanour expected of a man who portrays himself as in complete control of the country’s finances and confident of having marshalled his arguments to perfection. Dar seems especially irked by the chorus of the budget’s critics that it is pro-rich and anti-poor. He has tried to argue the opposite, but there are few takers for this version. The gist of his argument was that only the rich have been taxed in this budget and the poor helped by not raising the prices of daily use items or POL products. The problem is that even if the first half of the statement is true, there is no guarantee that the combined impact of the budget measures will not lead to inflation led by core food inflation in the weeks and months ahead. As for the latter half, need we remind the minister that the government jacked up POL prices just one week before the budget? Dar went on to argue that the budget was pro-development and would strengthen the economy. This would be fine if we were discussing a five year plan, but the budget is only intended to lay out the policy prescriptions for the economy for one year. The dichotomy between the government’s confidence that in the long run it will succeed in its economic development agenda and all the people have to do is wait for that hallowed day to arrive ignores the very real and immediate distress people are in because of unemployment, inflation, energy and water shortages and a whole host of other afflictions that the government totally ignores. The government must realise in its own interest that it needs to strike a balance between the long term needs of economic growth and the immediate sufferings of the people. If the perception takes hold, as it appears to be doing, that the government is heartless, uncaring and callous about the people’s current sufferings and wants them to grit their teeth until it delivers its promised land, this would eventually translate into disillusionment with the government and may cost it heavily come the next elections. In any case the examples marshalled by Dar to prove his budget being pro-people do exactly the opposite. All he could quote were Rs 102 billion for the BISP, 30,000 solar tube wells and support packages for widows. On the one hand the BISP continues, but according to Asif Zardari, its Waseela-e-Rozgar and Waseela-e-Haq programmes have been quietly shelved, depriving poor people of the opportunity to acquire skills and start their own small businesses. On the other, these sops to the poor and marginalised, while good in themselves, represent only a drop in the sea of poverty and deprivation that characterises the vast majority of the people. Dar’s budget has found more than its share of critics amongst the political opposition too. Apart from Zardari, Imran Khan, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi and a host of others have all arrived at the same conclusion: the budget is anti-poor, anti-farmers and workers, does not address the concerns of the middle class, and only privileges the rich. This is a damning consensus but one that has taken three years of the government to gell. Now that it has, Dar should read the writing on the wall and attempt to meet his critics at least halfway to assure them and the people at large that the government is contemplating, within the resource constraints, measures to alleviate the people’s miseries. Not to do so can only harm the government itself and its future prospects. People were initially prepared to be patient with the PML-N government’s promise of future prosperity, but the failure to make even a dent in the people’s problems means patience with the government’s future pie-in-the-sky may be wearing thin three years into its tenure.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 7, 2015

Budget 2015-16 No one could possibly accuse the PML-N government of being anything but business-friendly. This perception arises both from the social origins of its leadership as well as their worldview and also reflects their track record in office in the past. It is therefore no surprise that the government’s budget this year (as in the last two years) reflects its priority to offer concessions to the rich, industrialists and traders, i.e. its ideological and actual constituency while throwing little if any sops to the poor and marginalised sections of society. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar tried hard in his budget presentation to make the argument that his government saved the country from default in the first year, stabilised the economy in the second, and was now poised to move towards growth in the third. There was however no dearth of sceptics and critics of these claims, both inside parliament as well as amongst the economic analysts community. The critics’ consensus is that the Finance Minister has been presenting in his previous two as well as this third budget a far rosier picture than can be justified by reference to the facts, numbers and ground realities. The Economic Survey shows growth is sputtering, with skewed policy priorities that disadvantage the real economy. Industry and agriculture are struggling, with the flight of capital and low investment in the country’s economy reflecting continuing lack of business confidence. Admittedly the inherited negativities of the security situation and the electricity deficit impinge on this outcome, but three years down the road, the government has yet to convincingly demonstrate that it is getting on top of these roadblocks. The budget outlay this year is Rs 4,451 billion, to be met from resources of Rs 4,168 billion. Current expenditure is estimated at Rs 3,482 billion, which significantly includes an 11 percent rise for defence to Rs 780 billion and debt servicing of Rs 1.3 trillion. In contrast, development is allocated Rs 969 billion, of which Rs 700 billion is the federal development expenditure and the rest goes to the provinces, a division of the development budget that could yet again give rise to frictions between the Centre and the provinces. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor gets Rs 151 billion, but this can only be regarded as initial seed money for the huge infrastructural projects anticipated under this head. Borrowing from banks is estimated at Rs 282.94 billion, an area that has become more and more controversial since the lowest interest rates in 42 years are helping the government to rely on this source in the absence of the meaningful reforms of the direct taxation system agreed with the IMF. This government-banks nexus is reflected on the other side of the coin by the fact that the banks prefer to invest largely in zero risk government paper, thereby crowding out private sector borrowing. That decreased borrowing that fell significantly from Rs 335 billion to Rs 201 billion is reflected in private sector investment decreasing from 10 percent of GDP to 9.7 percent out of a total investment of 15.1 percent, up marginally from 15.0 percent the previous year. In the main sectors of the real economy, borrowing by manufacturing and agriculture fell from Rs 208 billion to Rs 88 billion, and from Rs 21 billion to Rs 14 billion respectively. It is not surprising then that large scale manufacturing investment declined from an already low 1.5 percent of GDP to 1.2 percent. Public sector investment did go up from 3.4 percent of GDP to 3.9 percent, but most analysts are inclined to ascribe this to the Rs one trillion the government borrowed from the banks and spent on showcase infrastructure projects while ignoring the real and pressing needs of the people in the social sector. This track record hardly justifies the appellation “inclusive growth” that the finance minister tried to spin. Whatever schemes for the poor may be on the cards (or at least on paper), it is clear that the government not unsurprisingly remains wedded to the free market paradigm, implying a reliance on the discredited ‘trickle down’ theory to bring relief to the masses. The soaring rhetoric of the finance minister has failed to convince in this regard despite the raising of the minimum wage by Rs 1,000. The targets set by this year’s budget follow the prescriptions of the past budgets in pitching unrealistic targets for growth of 5.1 percent when last year’s targets all fell short and growth came in at 4.24 percent, marginally above the previous year’s 4.0 percent. Realism would have been in order after that denouement, rather than relying on hope over reality. The budget expects foreign exchange reserves to rise to $ 19 billion by this fiscal year’s end and investment to grow three percent of GDP to 16.5 percent. How this is to be accomplished is the glaring omission in the budget. Public sector development, especially the China Pakistan Economic Corridor seem to be the main hope of the government for achieving this year’s growth target, which still leaves the question of the private sector’s contribution unresolved. Perhaps these factors may make the targets this year viable, but unless industry and agriculture are pulled out of the stagnation they are stuck in, such growth will be temporary, not inclusive, and unsustainable over the medium and long run. On tax reform, the government seems to continue to rely on new or enhanced indirect taxes, to the detriment of the ordinary citizen and reflecting the failure to implement the direct tax reforms that need to target the rich. Rising borrowing, sluggish revenues and misplaced sectoral priorities constitute a poor foundation for the inclusive sustainable growth the budget touts. Inflation did fall from 12 percent to 4.6 percent last year, but how much of this is due to policy and how much to the windfall decrease in international oil prices is open to question. The fiscal deficit too was brought down from a high of 8.8 percent to 5.0 percent, but whether this year’s target of 4.3 percent can be adhered to remains to be seen. The neo-liberal free market paradigm offers little if any hope for relief and betterment for the masses. Poverty, unemployment and inflationary pressures on their breadbasket seem to be their divinely ordained fate. In the absence of a people’s movement to raise these concerns and demands, successive governments in recent years have been able to get away with ignoring the poor. How long this ‘honeymoon’ will last is difficult to say, but the increasing resort to legitimate protest by many sectors of society, including but not confined to poor farmers and workers and encompassing even slightly better off segments like doctors, nurses, etc, are indicators of the shape of things to come. In each such manifestation, our rulers have little to offer except vague promises and homilies about addressing the woes of the people. The invisible finger of accountability of our complacent rulers and the rich may be hovering over the wall to inscribe new words that could portend great social and political upheavals. Better for the ruling elite to take heed and steps to head off the storm before it arrives rather than continuing to live in the illusion that such deprivation and inequality can persist peacefully forever.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 4, 2015

APC on Mastung An All Parties Conference (APC) in Quetta on the Mastung massacre in which 22 passengers were pulled off two buses and killed by armed men, unanimously passed a resolution condemning the incident and vowing to eliminate all those committing such acts. So far, so good. But from here on, there are only questions, no answers. The national narrative on incidents like Mastung has been confined of late to blaming local elements collaborating with enemy foreign forces to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Mastung is being subsumed within that narrative, if the address of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif at the APC and separate statements by Advisor for Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar are perused. While underlining the improvement in security and law and order in Balochistan, the PM did leave room for further improvement. Such improvement can only be achieved if the terrorist sectarian groups active in the province against Shias in general, and Hazara Shias in particular, are taken to task. While such groups as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), self-confessed perpetrator of the massacres of Hazaras and other Shias, are left untouched within Balochistan and elsewhere in the country, particularly Punjab, considered their ‘home’ base, the virtually total focus of the security forces is on the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan. Critics of this policy ascribe this anomaly to an attempt (dangerous, as experience shows) to use groups such as LeJ against the nationalist insurgents. As far as the latter are concerned, one of the difficulties of trying to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table to seek a political solution to the strife in the province is their fractured nature. Take for example the Mastung massacre. The United Baloch Army (UBA) claimed responsibility for Mastung, arguing it was in retaliation for alleged civilian deaths in the security forces’ recent operation in Kalat. This is a patently absurd justification at many levels. First and foremost, killing innocent bus passengers, even if in retaliation for innocent civilians’ deaths in Kalat, cannot be justified by any means. Killing one set of innocent civilians to avenge the alleged death of another set of civilians is tantamount to arguing that two wrongs make a right. Second, the Mastung victims were almost exclusively Pashtuns, which raised fears of the old Pashtun-Baloch divide in the province once again rearing its ugly head. Fortunately, the combined wisdom of the Baloch and Pashtun moderate leaders as well as the families of the victims scotched any such fallout even before it took off. Third, targeting innocent civilians may seem the easiest way to hit back by some insurgents, but arguably it only damages their own cause. No cause, no matter how just in the eyes of its protagonists, can hope to succeed if it loses the moral high ground. In this case, as in other such targeting of innocent people of ethnic identities other than Baloch, it is the perpetrators and their cause that is ultimately the final loser. Fourth, all the other nationalist insurgent groups, some ironically reversing themselves on targeting innocents, condemned the Mastung massacre. If this be belated wisdom, it is welcome. Whether the victims are Punjabi and Sindhi labourers or Pashtun travellers, no movement can possibly justify their coldblooded murder. Having said that, it is disconcerting and worrying to see how conveniently and easily all Pakistan’s troubles are by now being dumped into the ‘foreign hand’ basket. Not only is this a familiar and tired script from our past, the fact that the dominant ‘foreign hand’ is now ascribed to India and its intelligence agency RAW is feeding into Pakistan and India’s current (periodic) bouts of verbal sparring, with implications of the war of words escalating into actual sparring. If the national narrative in Pakistan has slipped back into the convenient and all too easy recourse to blaming India for terrorism and the Baloch nationalist insurgency, Indian commentators are not helping by making warlike noises about paying Pakistan back in the same terrorist coin. Indian Defence Minister Parrikar put the cat among the pigeons by declaring India would fight the terrorist fire with similar fire. This has raised a storm of protest on this side of the subcontinental divide, with the prime and other ministers latching onto this foolish statement to cry triumphantly: “See, we told you so!” While such convenient labelling and dumping of all problems in the India basket may ease the conscience of those at the helm of affairs for their share of responsibilty in bringing the country to this pass, it is questionable on many grounds. First, where is the evidence for all this bandying about of the ubiquitous RAW hand? This agency must be quite chuffed at being credited with turning our homegrown terrorists, springing from our own adventures with proxies, into their cat’s paws. Quite an achievement, considering these terrorist johnnies are even more virulently opposed to Hindus than what they consider deviant Muslims. As for the Baloch nationalist insurgency, this charge echoes every such claim in every insurgency in that benighted province since Pakistan came into being (this being the fifth such ruction). In Pakistan, it seems, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Or in Einstein’s classic formulation (and with due apologies to the great man), perhaps we are wedded to the insanity of doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 3, 2015

KP ruction The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Local Government (LG) elections continue to hit the headlines with charges and counter-charges of rigging and mismanagement, putting the role of the KP Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) into the spotlight. First and foremost, the arrest of ANP secretary general Mian Iftikhar Hussain on charges of being responsible for the killing of a PTI worker in Pabbi has taken a new twist, with the father of the slain worker deposing in court that he had been ‘pressurised’ to name Mian Iftikhar in the case. There is no clarity from the reports who pressurised him, but the statement has given rise to more suspicions that Mian Iftikhar is being politically victimised in the matter. Leaders of political parties and even the prime minister have condemned the arrest. Latest reports say Mian Iftikhar has been bailed out of police custody, but the bitter aftertaste of what is looking increasingly like a manipulated victimisation of a political rival will not quickly or easily go away. The police have added to the confusion surrounding the affair by claiming it whisked Mian Iftikhar away into protective custody to save him from an angry mob baying for his blood. If this is so, why was he then charged with murder and his physical remand obtained from the court? The police have some explaining to do regarding their inexplicable and unacceptable double facedness. And let us not forget in this context Imran Khan’s repetition ad nauseam that the KP police are autonomous. Neither, it seems, will the blame game between the ECP and the PTI government go away so easily. Each is blaming the other for the violence that attended the polling. The ECP says law and order remains the responsibility of the provincial government while LG elections are held, while Imran Khan and Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak are passing the buck onto the ECP, claiming they had ‘surrendered’ the police and therefore security and law and order to the ECP. The correct position is probably what the ECP has delineated, that this is a joint responsibility. If that argument is accepted, it seems fair to apportion at least part of the blame to both of the two protagonists. Imran Khan has done well to suspend the basic party membership of provincial minister Ali Amin Gandapur for interfering with and disrupting polling in his home district of Dera Ismail Khan. Mr Gandapur first tried to pull a ‘scarlet pimpernel’ act on the police by disappearing through a back door of his house while the police waited in front to arrest him, but was later persuaded by the chief minister to surrender to the police. He is now under arrest and charged with the election misdemeanour. Complaints about rigging and mismanagement meanwhile continue to flow in thick and fast from Peshawar and other parts of KP, including the recommendation of the returning officers to hold re-polling in 26 Peshawar stations. The ECP has responded to the massive questioning of the polls process by announcing it will set up one election tribunal for each district, to be headed by a retired district and sessions judge, which will have to dispose of all complaints within 45 days. Many parties, including the PPP, ANP, JUI-F, QWP, PML-N, and even the PTI’s coalition ally Jamaat-i-Islami have complained and protested against rigging allegedly carried out by the PTI government. Whatever the outcome after the event of the to and fro accusations between the ECP and PTI regarding responsibility for the violence on polling day, now that the voting hurly burly is done, what excuse can the PTI government offer for the continuing violence between political rivals and their supporters to date? The massive exercise of holding LG polls in the troubled KP province has indeed been completed, but the manner of their holding leaves much to be desired and raises serious questions about the coming Punjab and Sindh LG elections. The ECP’s contention that it had recommended a phase-wise holding of the LG polls in KP, which it says the PTI government rejected, may by now be seen as the only way to avoid a similar ruction in the LG polls in Punjab and Sindh, both bigger and more thickly populated than KP.