Sunday, August 30, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 31, 2015

ECP in hot soup On Saturday, August 29, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), flush with its three ‘victories’ before the Election Tribunals (ETs), held a consultation of its top leadership at its secretariat in Lahore. Following the confab, the PTI’s chief Imran Khan addressed the party workers and announced that if the four provincial members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) did not resign, and if the Chief Election Commissioner did not take a decision in this regard within one month, the PTI would hold a sit-in in Islamabad before the ECP’s office. Imran Khan asserted these provincial ECP members had no moral grounds to continue in office after the findings of the Judicial Commission and the ETs, which converged on the irregularities and lapses in the conduct of the elections, for which the provincial members are being held responsible. Further, he said they had even less grounds to continue after 21 parties accused them of ‘rigging’ in the 2013 elections. Now this may be Imran Khan’s usual penchant for exaggeration, since the count of parties actually accusing the ECP members of ‘rigging’ are few, certainly not 21. One of those that have belatedly come out in opportunist fashion to join the ‘rigging’ bandwagon is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). It now says fair polls are not possible under the present four provincial incumbents of the ECP. The party says it had only accepted the results of the 2013 elections in the interests of the continuity of the democratic system despite reservations about the outcome of the polls. Not only has it now added its voice to the PTI’s demand for the resignation of the four provincial members of the ECP, it has announced that it is abandoning the ‘reconciliation’ policy it had been following since 2008. The argument of the PPP is that while the reconciliation policy had strengthened the democratic system, it had grievously damaged the party. The PPP now seeks a political alliance of all other parties except the PML-N. Whether this has anything to do with the current spate of arrests or the threat of more arrests of top leaders of the PPP in Karachi or not cannot be ascertained. It is of course the right of any party to reconsider and even reverse its policies. But with due respect, if the PPP deludes itself that its woes are owed only to the erstwhile reconciliation policy, this will not serve its purpose of finding its way back to its former glory. There are deeper reasons than the conciliatory policies of the past that explain the party’s decline in its fortunes. First and foremost, the abandonment (even in Benazir’s time) of the party’s founding pro-poor ideology in favour of the fashionable neo-liberal paradigm and its subsequent marginalisation under Asif Zardari of its committed workers are the two sides of the same coin that explain the party’s decline. Competing on the terrain of the neo-liberal paradigm has rendered the PPP toothless and directionless. Although Imran Khan has declared, despite his demand for the resignation of the four provincial members of the ECP, to take part in the upcoming by-polls on the three seats upended by the ETs (perhaps four?) as well as the impending local body polls in Punjab and Sindh, he has asserted in his usual abrasive style that the PTI will install cameras in every polling station and train its cadres to ensure fair and free polls. A word of caution: monitoring the polls is the right of every party, but interference in the workings of the ECP is not. If the import of this statement is to ensure elections according to the PTI’s whims and wishes, this would defeat the perfectly credible purpose of ensuring fair polls. As it is, there are rumours of three of the four provincial members of the ECP considering resigning amidst the furore over their handling of the 2013 elections. The ECP is meeting today (Monday) to consider the situation. If the three or even four provincial members do resign, the whole programme of the by-polls and local bodies elections will once again be thrown up into the air. To avoid a long hiatus, new members must then be appointed to replace any outgoing ones as soon as possible so that the country can embark once more on the road to completing the electoral tasks.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 30, 2015

Cross-border firing In the bloodiest escalation since cross-border firing across the Line of Control (LoC) and Working Boundary started months ago, eight Pakistani civilians were killed and 40 wounded in Sialkot and other villages in the area. India on the other hand claimed three civilians were killed in Indian-held Kashmir by Pakistani fire. Both sides claimed the other opened fire first. The context of this latest bloody exchange is the high state of tensions after the cancellation of the National Security Advisors’ talks. Within this context, some reports are inclined to ascribe the timing of the incident to the 50th anniversary of Operation Gibraltar in 1965 that led to the war between Pakistan and India that year. The actual incident was triggered by what Pakistan claims was the use of an excavator on the Working Boundary by India without following the standard operating procedures. Whichever of these explanations comes closer to the truth, the fact remains that the cross-border firing from both sides has targeted civilians, which is tragic. As has become routine of late, the Indian High Commissioner was summoned to the Foreign Office and a strong protest against the incident lodged. The details available of what may have triggered the exchange of fire points to a yawning gap in the arrangements for the commanders of either side on the ground to be in communication precisely to prevent such outbreaks of violence. While the Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force commanders are expected to meet in New Delhi on September 9, and the increasingly frequent exchange of firing will top the agenda, the meeting would be well advised to address any gaps or lacunae in the ‘hot line’ the local border security forces are supposed to maintain between themselves. Concerns have been expressed at this development by many actors and concerned friends. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has instructed the Foreign Office and Defence authorities to talk to their Indian counterparts on the issue with a view to defusing the tensions. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, in a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in London expressed regret over what he saw as India’s unwillingness to reciprocate Pakistan’s desire for peace and good neighbourly relations. The British Foreign Secretary expressed his concern over the suspension of the Pakistan-India dialogue process, hoping it would restart soon. The US too has expressed its disappointment and disapproval of the collapse of the process and urged the re-engagement of the two sides. UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon has also added his voice to the demand for a resumption of the dialogue. Analysts and commentators are pointing to the familiar pattern into which Pakistan-India interactions have fallen over many years. They are broadly critical of the lack of spadework before or after the Ufa, Russia, agreement between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi for the NSAs’ meeting. The result of this lapse was the falling out and eventual cancellation of the talks over the issue of Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz meeting the Kashmiri Hurriyet Conference leaders in New Delhi and India’s refusal to include Kashmir in the agenda. As a result of this debacle, neither side has come out smelling of roses. Critics point to the domestic political compulsions of both sides not to appear weak or compromising at a time when neither government can be accused of good governance and appears to lurch from one controversy to the next at home. This produces negative pressures to go for grandstanding in the media rather than serious preparation and discreet diplomacy between interlocutors locked in conflict and tension over the decades. Ironically, and despite all the hostile rhetoric that follows such incidents as the cross-border firing, both sides seem compelled by the logic of geography, history and the international environment to gravitate again and again back to the negotiating table. Perhaps the post-Ufa debacle can teach both sides to explore better more discreet interaction that avoids media hype before and falling out after such interaction is planned.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 29, 2015

Back to the electorate Amidst the triumphalism of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) after the three election tribunal verdicts unseated the federal Minister for Railways, the Speaker of the National Assembly and another MNA, the ruling PML-N was in somewhat of a quandary. Although it hit back at the PTI claim that ‘rigging’ had been proved in these three constituencies by pointing out that the tribunals only identified irregularities and lapses in the election process as grounds for ordering re-polling and did not uphold the PTI’s accusations, the PML-N was left scratching its head on the way forward. The option that the Minister of Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique had chosen, i.e. getting a stay order from the Supreme Court (SC) against the election tribunal’s verdict and continuing in office under its umbrella, could obviously help neither the unseated Speaker Ayaz Sadiq (for political/constitutional/moral reasons) nor MNA Siddique Baloch whose degree was found to be fake. After consultations amongst the top leadership of the PML-N, they have chosen what is perhaps the best path. That path is a return to the electorate in the by-elections in at least NA-122 and NA-154, while the case of NA-125 would be discussed after Khwaja Saad Rafique returns from abroad. The party would perhaps like a uniform approach towards contesting the by-elections in all three constituencies. There are rumours however that Khwaja Saad Rafique may not be very happy with having to fight a by-election despite the SC’s stay order. In NA-122, the PML-N’s strong candidate Ayaz Sadiq will run again, and given the conundrum that his rival in 2013, PTI chief Imran Khan may not want to give up his Rawalpindi NA seat for the risky contest in NA-122, this may further improve Ayaz Sadiq’s chances. Depending on how quickly the by-poll in NA-122 is conducted, the vacant Speaker’s slot can be kept open till the NA’s next session. Even if a Speaker is elected in his place to fulfil the constitutional requirements of the house, it cannot be ruled out that Ayaz Sadiq may return to the seat kept warm for him by a ‘temporary’ Speaker. As to NA-154, Siddique Baloch being beset with disqualification problems because of his fake degree, the PML-N will have to plan to field a strong candidate against Jahangir Tareen. If the PML-N is able to mobilise the party machine and the advantages of incumbency to win all three seats, that would constitute a big blow to the already deflated, temporarily restored prospects of the PTI. The latter is meeting today (Saturday) to chalk out its strategy in the light of the latest developments. In any democracy worth the name, the people are sovereign, who elect their representatives to parliament to serve them. Theoretically that is the way it is supposed to be. Of course, nothing in life is perfect, and democracies exhibit a wide array of standards that either approach or stray away from the ideal. First and foremost though, and given Pakistan’s chequered history of elections, the irreducible minimum requirement is that the electoral process, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion. Only than can a credible parliamentary democracy be erected on firm foundations. Pakistan’s elections have almost always (the 1970 elections being an exception that led to other tragedies) been dogged by controversy and charges of rigging. In most cases there was weight to the accusations of the losing side. Because of the ups and downs and discontinuity attending the history of democracy in Pakistan, serious reform of the anomalies, shortcomings and lapses of the electoral process has gone abegging. Whether one agrees with Imran Khan and the PTI’s approach to politics generally and democracy in particular or not, the party can take some credit for focusing attention on the shortcomings of the election system, even if its allegations of rigging did not pass muster on the touchstone of evidence and proof. For the moment, the balance of convenience lies with continuing with the present Election Commission of Pakistan and venturing onto the fraught terrain of the electoral process with heightened focus on the irregularities and lapses pointed out by the election tribunals and the Judicial Commission. However, we cannot remain forever sanguine about these flaws. The electoral reform process must sooner rather than later be prioritised to put to rest the coloured history of elections and their almost inevitable denouement of charges of hanky panky and the crises these engender.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 21, 2015

Our neighbourhood If one were to glance at the state of Pakistan’s relations with its neighbours and the effect these are having on its diplomatic friendships further abroad, one could be forgiven for some alarm. On August 19, a flurry of diplomatic activity dictated the state of play. First the Afghan Ambassador was summoned to deliver a protest against the “hate campaign” emanating lately from Kabul and the firing by Afghan forces on August 16 and 17 that killed three FC personnel. In turn, our Ambassador in Kabul was summoned to lodge a protest against Pakistani artillery fire across the border into Kunar province that killed eight policemen. This state of blame and counter-blame represents a negative turn in relations after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani reached out to Pakistan to facilitate a political settlement of the Afghan conflict. But recent attacks in Afghanistan, including a truck bombing in Kabul that killed 50, soured this initiative and persuaded President Ghani to blame Pakistan’s hand behind these attacks despite it hosting the first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree. President Ghani has since focused on the continuing safe havens enjoyed by the Taliban on Pakistani soil from where, Kabul alleges, they orchestrate their attacks inside Afghanistan. Pakistan has condemned the attacks, ascribing their authorship to “spoilers and detractors”, but this has not proved sufficient to allay Kabul’s concerns and complaints. On the same day, a busy Foreign Office (FO) also summoned the Indian High Commissioner (HC) to complain about the continuing violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Control and Working Boundary. The FO said at least two civilians were killed and four injured in the unprovoked firing. On the same day, the Pakistani HC in India was summoned to lodge complaints of a similar nature against Pakistani unprovoked firing. Meantime the Hurriyet Conference Kashmiri leaders have been invited to a reception by the Pakistani HC to meet National Security Adviser (NSA) Sartaj Aziz on August 23, the very day he will be having a meeting with his Indian counterpart. It may be recalled that last year India cancelled foreign secretaries’ talks after a similar invitation to the Kashmiri leaders riled New Delhi. Although this time it seems the NSAs meeting will proceed, the agenda for the meeting is still undecided. The meeting was supposed to discuss terrorism, but now it seems it will be an open agenda, which means either side can raise its concerns. Whether that will mean the two sides talking to or at each other remains to be seen. Lest anyone think this toing and froing of ambassadors being summoned is the only development of note, it should be registered that the US administration has refused to certify to Congress that Operation Zarb-e-Azb has damaged the Haqqani network, thereby blocking the next tranche of the Coalition Support Funds to Pakistan. This development will cast a shadow over Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s visit to Washington in October. Pakistan’s relations wit the UAE have soured somewhat after we refused to lend ourselves to the Yemen conflict at the request of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. India’s PM Modi has been quick to exploit this cleavage by visiting the UAE (the first Indian prime minister to do so in 34 years) and swing lucrative deals with the Gulf state. India also enjoys an opening with Iran through the Chabahar port that will give access and an alternative route out to landlocked Afghanistan, freeing it of its dependence on Pakistan to some extent. This brief survey would not be complete without mentioning that our all-weather friend China, despite its continued commitment to Pakistan’s welfare and development, harbours concerns about the Uighur movement that has found support amongst the terrorist movements in Pakistan’s tribal border regions. Islamic State (IS) is another worry for the region and the world, and continuing conflict in Afghanistan, combined with IS’s ingress into the region, could spell spillover troubles ahead for Pakistan too. All this points to Islamabad’s parlous relations with most if not all its immediate neighbours and even its distant friends. If one factor were to be identified to explain what is common to all these travails, it is the hangover of Pakistan using proxies to project power and conduct foreign policy in the region. A decisive break with this past, the induction of a full time foreign minister, and efforts to settle matters with neighbours and friends, near and far, is the only way Pakistan can avoid falling into the pit of isolation, a state no country can afford in today’s interconnected world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 20, 2015

Godil attacked Four attackers on two motorcycles ambushed and critically wounded Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) MNA Abdul Rashid Godil in Karachi on the morning of August 18. His driver was killed in the attack whereas his wife remained mercifully unharmed. Godil received five bullets from a nine mm pistol that apparently was never before used in any previous similar attack to make forensic tracing difficult. The attackers seemed to have excellent intelligence on Godil’s schedule and movements. The attack came while Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) was at the MQM’s nine zero headquarters for talks with the party’s leadership to try and woo them back to the Assemblies from which they had resigned en masse recently. The timing set off speculations whether the attack on Godil may have been meant to sabotage the talks, which seemed to be making progress. It may be recalled that the MQM had resigned from the Assemblies quoting a host of demands and concerns, the main one being their assertion that the Karachi operation by the Rangers was targeting the party alone. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, talking to the media after the incident, praised the MQM’s restrained response to the provocation, revealing that the MQM leadership would continue the talks in Islamabad in the next few days. What was notable indeed was the MQM’s restrained reaction to the attack on Godil, a senior leader and parliamentarian of the MQM, who had until Farooq Sattar took over, been the parliamentary leader of the party in the National Assembly. No claim of responsibility was available, nor were the police and investigating authorities clear on who might be behind the attack. Meanwhile Godil is still critical in hospital after emergency surgery, although the hopeful sign is that he is now off the ventilator the doctors had put him on because of breathing difficulties due to the bullet wounds in his chest. However, the doctors still say the next 24 hours are critical for the injured MQM parliamentarian. While the attack on Godil is a serious blow to the claims of the authorities that peace has been by and large restored in Karachi due to the Rangers’ operation, the mystery of who and why they carried out the dastardly attack remains unsolved so far. There have been of course the usual outpourings of condemnations and sympathy across the board, but given the climate of tragedy after tragedy on Pakistan’s soil, including the assassination by a suicide bomber of Punjab Home Minister Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada the other day, these fail to satisfy or even apply any soothing balm to the country’s festering wounds. Although there is no claim of responsibility so far or even any clue about the suspects, it may bear keeping in mind that the al Qaeda chief in Karachi was killed earlier the same morning along with an accomplice in a shootout with the security forces that also took its toll of the life of a security agency officer. The operation was an intelligence-led effort. Whether there is any link between the taking out of the al Qaeda Karachi chief and the attack on Godil is not known. However, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. After all, who would be interested in sabotaging the talks to bring the MQM back to the Assemblies or attempting to destabilise Karachi? Normally, whoever carried out the attack on Godil would have expected, at the very least, a complete shutdown of Karachi, as has been the pattern of the MQM reaction to similar incidents in the past. Perhaps it is a mercy that the MQM is under pressure and has its hands full trying to cope with the Rangers’ operation in Karachi. Its restrained reaction and willingness to continue the dialogue with Maulana Fazlur Rehman may owe something at least to this factor. The nature of asymmetrical warfare is such that it relies on surprise, unexpected attacks in unexpected places and on unexpected targets. If under pressure by the army’s counter-insurgency operations in FATA, it is almost inevitable that the terrorists will seek to ease the pressure and put the authorities on the back foot by striking soft targets elsewhere throughout the country. The two attacks in recent days, the one that killed Khanzada and the one that critically wounded Godil, may well belong in this sphere. That only underlines the protracted and complex nature of the war against the terrorists, an enterprise that requires the forging of a united will of all the people and forces of Pakistan for this crucial task.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 19, 2015

After Attock While Shadi Khan village, along with the rest of the country, mourns Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada, the suicide strike that killed him in what many may have considered a peaceful and secure area of Punjab has focused minds finally on the fact that the terrorists are no respecters of our pre-conceived notions about them. Southern Punjab may have been considered in the popular imagination to be the place where a combination of madrassas and the headquarters of terrorist and sectarian organisations were confined. However, that was always a myth with a big hole in it. Devastating as the attack that killed Khanzada was, it was by no means the first in the other parts of Punjab. Not only that, one line of speculation now has it that the level of information the attackers had on Khanzada’s movements could not be possible without insider involvement. How near or distant from the slain minister such elements may have been is not known at this juncture. However, reports now filtering out of the area point to the proliferation of madrassas in the vicinity of Shadi Khan, some of whom thought poorly of Khanzada’s strong statements against them and their ilk. That is not to suggest we jump to conclusions about such madrassas’ culpability, only that no line of possible inquiry can be ignored at this stage. The prime minister presided over a high level meeting on security in the aftermath of Khanzada and others’ assassination by a suicide bomber, after which he directed the authorities to expedite operations against terrorists in Punjab. Along similar lines, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif not only held a special condolence reference of the Punjab cabinet for Khanzada, he stated his determination to eliminate terrorism, going so far as to assert that he would lead the war against terrorism. This newfound determination to uproot all semblance of terrorism from Punjab is a welcome change from the complacency and even neglect of the past. Condolences and messages of support continue pouring in from all over the world, with the latest missives coming from the UN Secretary General, the EU and the US. The latter has even offered help if asked in the investigation of the attack. Lahore’s citizens paid their tribute to the fallen leader, while even the Punjab Opposition expressed its solidarity and support to the anti-terrorist struggle. This coming together of all shades of opinion bodes well for the future. The military meanwhile has pounded the terrorists in the Shawal Valley of North Waziristan and parts of Khyber Agency, reaping a toll of some 65 terrorists killed, including some foreigners. Official spokesmen were reluctant to comment on whether these air attacks were in retaliation for the Attock attack. Nevertheless, clearly it is a response of one sort to the atrocity. Once the passion for revenge and giving it back to the terrorists subsides, it will be time to go back to the drawing board to reappraise and reprise the anti-terrorist strategy. Although some progress has been made in constructing an anti-terrorist architecture, in which Shuja Khanzada’s contribution to creating the Punjab Counter-Terrorism Department must be counted as very important, the present state of partial ability to pre-empt and hurt the terrorists may be sufficient to win battles, but not necessarily the war, which by its very nature promises to be a protracted one. Questions are being asked about the lax security around Shuja Khanzada in his native village, despite his receiving threats. Deference to higher ups may have interfered with a professional standard operating procedure to safeguard the minister. The discernible pattern of reacting to such events by beefing up security (albeit temporarily) soon tends to give way to inertia and back to business as usual. This is precisely what the terrorists rely on. They wait for the authorities to let their guard down sooner or later and then choose an appropriate moment to strike. While only intelligence information can aid pre-emption of such attacks, the standard protocols need to be revisited with an eye to overcome the laxity that eventual inertia brings naturally and which provides the terrorists the opening they need for their dastardly work. Pakistan is at war. Laxity cannot be allowed even for a minute. Constant vigilance is the price to be paid for victory.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 17, 2015

Predictable fall The furore over Mushahidullah Khan's interview to BBC Urdu Service regarding an alleged plot to overthrow the government has ended as expected by the former Climate Change minister being asked by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to return to the country from The Maldives where he had gone to attend a conference and submit his resignation. The minister has duly obliged by submitting his resignation by email and returning without attending the conference. Mushahidullah has said he has not been summoned by the prime minister and would submit an explanation if asked to. He did add, albeit too late to make any difference, that he had not personally heard the tape. That makes his reliance on the story even more unacceptable when he was holding a cabinet post. Federal Information Minister Pervez Rashid has poured cold water over any expectation of clarification, saying there was no need for the prime minister to summon the errant minister or ask for any explanation since the interview in question clearly showed that Mushahidullah had spoken irresponsibly. As though to reinforce the government's refutation of the whole story, including denying that any purported tape existed indicting former ISI chief Lt General Zaheerul Islam for supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek's agitation against the government last year, ISPR has called it totally baseless, unfounded, farthest from the truth, irresponsible and unprofessional. There is little doubt that the interview embarrassed the government and fed fevered speculation regarding the civil-military relationship, constantly under scrutiny for any hint of tension. It once again exposed the fragile balance between the civilian elected government and the powerful military. That relationship has been steadily tilting against the government since last year, in what some have described as a 'creeping coup'. Perhaps to bring to a grinding halt the rumour mills, Pervez Rashid has attempted to reassure everyone that the civil government and military were totally one in fulfilling the critical task of combating terrorism. All institutions, he reiterated, were performing their role in accordance with the constitution. In answer to a question from reporters, he underlined that there would be no compromise on the Karachi operation. This question and the minister's answer can be located in the context of one set of speculations that the whole Mushahidullah fracas was an attempt by the government to bring pressure to bear for an easing of the Karachi operation in order to facilitate bringing the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) members of parliament who had resigned back to the Assemblies. It is good the information minister has categorically refuted any such kite-flying that could potentially have fed into perceptions of the civil and military sides diverging on the ways, means and objectives of the Karachi operation against terrorism and crime. With the resignation of Mushahidullah Khan, it would not have been unreasonable to expect that the matter would be laid to rest. However, given that the story, even if untrue, casts the PTI in a poor light as collaborators in subversion of and a coup against an elected government, their spokespeople are now demanding a commission be set up to investigate the allegations. This is pie-in-the-sky since the government would dearly like to close this chapter to avoid any further friction with the military, which too has been besmirched by the allegations. It was no surprise therefore, that Pervez Rashid rejected the suggestion out of hand. The veracity of the story retold by Mushahidullah Khan had never been established. He stands accused therefore of an error of judgement so serious as to have cost him his cabinet seat. Irrespective of the story not holding water, however, the whole affair has once again cast the spotlight on the perceived shift in the balance of power towards the military in foreign policy as well as some domestic areas. The government is under pressure because of this. All the more reason that its ministers adopt the policy of discretion being the better part of valour rather risking upsetting the whole apple cart by adventurous statements.

Daily Times Editorial Aug 18, 2015

Terrorist riposte The assassination of Punjab Home Minister Colonel (retd) Shuja Khanzada and 17 others by a suicide bomber at his village of Dera near Attock, tragic as it is, should not surprise us. Mr Khanzada was leading the counter-terrorism fight in Punjab since he took over the Home portfolio in October 2014. A brave man, he did not let the obvious dangers that his task entailed deter him. However, given that officials and his son have revealed that he had been receiving death threats of late, it seems the security arrangements at his native home were not up to the mark. The suicide bomber (or bombers?) managed to sneak in close enough to detonate a huge bomb with such devastating effect that the building in which Mr Khanzada was receiving people totally caved in and buried all those under it who were present. Unfortunately, because the place of occurrence was a relatively remote village, by the time a rescue operation could be mounted, Mr Khanzada was dead along with the other victims. An outpouring of grief, condemnation and resolve not to allow the martyrdom of such a brave soldier deter us from the task of eliminating the terrorists was seen from almost all political leaders and the military. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while reiterating the country’s resolve to win against the terrorists, ordered the security agencies to develop a pre-emptive strategy. Colonel (retd) Khanzada was an obvious target since he was leading the fight against the terrorists in Punjab. He had also handled the security of the Zimbabwe cricket team on its visit to Lahore and the Pakistan Cricket Board expressed its condolences as well as appreciation for his role. Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, while expressing his grief at the loss of a colleague, announced three days of mourning for the martyred minister. While grief and resolve are the right mix of response to the tragedy, some sober reflection may also be called for. The killing of Shuja Khanzada is the first high profile loss of the PML-N. Other parties, particularly the PPP and ANP have suffered the loss of many prominent persons in the past. Even the PTI has lost some of its people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, Punjab, some terrorist incidents in the past notwithstanding, was by and large considered secure. Critics were wont to ascribe this seeming calm to the tolerance shown to the terrorists, particularly in southern Punjab, by the PML-N, but this was always denied. Now however, after this tragic incident, it is time to reflect. The strike against a sitting minister in his native village in the north of the province suggests the reach of the terrorists is not, if it ever was, confined to southern Punjab. The informed perception that they have sleeper cells all over the province and that arguably Punjab offers many terrorist outfits a safe haven and headquarter had been mooted, but never properly taken up. One report says some 57 discrete terrorist and sectarian groups have a presence on Punjab soil, a number that may well have grown by now to 95. With their leadership ‘safe’ in Punjab, these groups have spread and are active all over the country. If true, this means the head of the snake will have to be scotched in Punjab. Shuja Khanzada’s death may or may not be retaliation for the recent killing of Malik Ishaq, the head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but some such motivation, in collaboration with other groups such as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, cannot be ruled out. As to the prime minister’s capital suggestion of a pre-emptive strategy, we have consistently argued for this in this space, pointing out that success in counter-insurgency in FATA will inevitably evoke retaliatory terrorist actions in the rest of the country, and to meet this challenge, intelligence-led police operations will be required in the cities and urban areas. But for such operations to reach pre-emptive efficiency, a centralised organisation and data base are a sine qua non if the fight is to be taken to these enemies of humanity.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 16, 2015

Mushahidullah’s gaffe Federal Climate Change Minister Mushahidullah Khan has caused quite a stir by saying in an interview with BBC Urdu Service that former ISI chief Lt. General Zaheerul Islam conspired against the government and military leadership during the dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) last year. According to the minister, the conspiracy came to the fore when the Intelligence Bureau recorded a telephone conversation of General Islam issuing instructions to spread anarchy and occupy the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) House. The minister claimed Nawaz Sharif played the tape of this recording to COAS General Raheel Sharif in a meeting on August 28, 2014. The latter was astonished and asked the then ISI chief to come to the meeting. After replaying the tape, General Raheel Sharif asked him if that was his voice, to which General Islam said yes. The COAS then asked him to leave the meeting. The chief target of the conspiracy, the minister asserted, was not only the government but also General Raheel Sharif. Part of the conspiracy was to pit Nawaz Sharif against General Raheel Sharif, making the former so nervous that he would attempt to move against the COAS. This would then be thwarted by certain personnel waiting to move in and overthrow the government. Although the government jumped into action to deny the claims immediately, and the army’s ISPR too issued a denial, the affair set alarm bells ringing and speculations mushrooming about what this may mean for civil-military relations. The government also said it had asked the minister for an explanation of his statement. In an attempt at clearing the air, Mushahidullah Khan said he had only repeated various rumours and reports he had read or heard. The skittishness engendered by the affair speaks volumes for the state of the state of Pakistan. Alarmists are already jumping to the conclusion that the PML-N government has once again shot itself in the foot, scored an own goal, upset its own applecart, etc. Unease in the military has been reported, with dark portents hinted at for the stability of the sitting government. Admittedly it is our past that evokes such nervous responses. Otherwise how to explain the brouhaha over claims that have appeared previously in the media on the same lines? Or is it that it is because no less a personage than a cabinet minister has repeated these stories? We need to get hold of our senses before jumping off the deep end at every spurious statement/claim. Logically, how is it that after confronting his ISI chief with the purported tape (whose very existence is belatedly being denied by the government) and receiving confirmation from General Islam that it was indeed his voice on the tape, the COAS saw no cause for disciplinary action against him and he was allowed to complete his tenure and retire gracefully? Is that plausible? The Pakistan military is famed for its discipline. How could an errant (nay, rebellious, according to the account) General be let off the hook for such a serious misdemeanour? Second, in previous accounts of the episode, another former chief of the ISI, Lt. General Pasha was named as the mastermind of the dharna (the so-called ‘London plan’), an allegation that was scotched by General Pasha offering himself for an inquiry into the matter. The matter should have been laid to rest there and then, had the Climate Change minister not resurrected this dead body of another kind of ‘change’. Obviously there are lessons here for all and sundry. First and foremost, the government’s ministers appear to have a penchant for shooting off at the mouth without thinking through the implications of their utterings. Defence Minister Khwaja Asif by now has accumulated an unenviable record of such loose talk where the military is concerned. Others too have a habit of setting off unnecessary controversies which, before they die their deserved death, create waves for the sitting government. Ministers of all people should be more circumspect about sensitive matters. The conspiratorially minded may ascribe this seeming anomaly between what ministers say from time to time and the subsequent damage control by the government to a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine. But what benefit does the government conceivably derive from such controversies? Matters related to the military and its intelligence arms should be dealt with in a more sensitive and wiser manner. These are not ordinary matters in the middle of a war against terrorism. The PM should perhaps consider a gag order on such issues for his ministers in the habit of shooting from the lip.

Daily Times Editorial Aug 15, 2015

I-Day reflections On the 69th Independence Day of Pakistan, without in any way wanting to dampen the enthusiasm for celebration (some of which suffers from overkill and hype in the midst of the serious problems that face the country), it is not inappropriate to reflect on how we have fared as a state and society in the last 68 years. The 1857 First War of Independence, in which all communities fought against the British irrespective of ethnic or religious backgrounds, ended in defeat and the dismantling of the already immeasurably weakened Mughal empire. Unfortunately the subsequent reprisals by the British (India having fallen into the control of the British crown after the infamous East India Company was abolished) fell most heavily on the Muslim elite, associated most closely in the colonialists' minds with the defunct Mughal empire. This repression left not only the Muslim elite but even the Muslim masses marginalised and rudderless. While the Muslim community drifted in directionless manner, an emerging Hindu middle class embraced English education and the opportunities it offered, the intelligentsia this gave birth to producing, amongst other schools of thought, a revanchist Hindu nationalist strain. Late attempts in the face of the dire circumstances Muslims found themselves in in the latter half of the 19th century spawned reformist movements such as that of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to embrace English education and catch up with their Hindu counterparts. Despite this disparity between the two communities and the Hindu nationalist revanchist strain, they were united in their struggle against British colonialism. This fact can be ascertained if the emergence, first, of the Indian National Congress and later the Muslim League and their close collaboration in the early years of the independence struggle are taken into account. Some historiography ascribes the later divide between the two communities to the British policy of 'divide and rule'. While the role of this insidious colonial policy cannot be denied, the real factor that queered the pitch for a united independence struggle was Gandhi's insertion of, and reliance on, religious culture, tradition and beliefs as a mass mobilisation tool. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a secular nationalist leader dubbed the 'Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity', objected to the introduction of religion into politics for the sound reason that it would inevitably lead to a religious/communal divide in India's diverse and complex mix of religion and ethnicity. For this perceived 'insult' to the wisdom of the Mahatma, Mr Jinnah was hooted out of Congress (at that time the close collaboration of the Congress and Muslim League was reflected in the fact of dual membership). Mr Jinnah's disillusionment with the new, and in his view (and as subsequent developments bore out the prescience of) dangerous trend of using religion expediently for political purposes, persuaded him to leave the practical political field and repair to Britain. It was only years later, when events showed a virtually leaderless Muslim community floundering in the majoritarian climate promoted by Congress, and at the urging of towering personalities such as Iqbal, that he was persuaded to return and lead the Muslim League in its struggle for independence and the rights of the considerable Muslim minority. Unfortunately, the very trend Mr Jinnah had fought against earlier was now so entrenched that he too had no choice but to lean on religion as a motivating and mobilising tool. This of course had the unforeseen consequences of deepening the religious divide and leaving the door ajar for the Muslim struggle to be hijacked after independence by the religious lobby that had overwhelmingly been opposed to the Pakistan demand on the basis of opposition to territorial nationalism. Meanwhile the incapacity of Congress to sensitise itself to and address the concerns of the Muslim minority, and the sabotage of the Cabinet Mission Plan (which Mr Jinnah had accepted in an effort to keep India united) by Nehru and Patel made partition inevitable. In fact partition meant the division on religious lines of just Punjab and Bengal, with its horrendous attendant communal massacres and uprooting of millions on both sides. Pakistan therefore was born in fire and blood and the events of partition and the Kashmir war that followed soon after left scars that have yet to heal, even after all this time. The perceived threat from bigger neighbour India helped shape the security state paradigm that still echoes in our national narrative. That milieu provided the inherited postcolonial state with its structures intact, of which the military and bureaucracy were the best organised and most powerful, over and above the political leadership or parties, the opening to dominate national life incrementally, ending up in periodic military dictatorships. This development had enormous deleterious effects on the aspirations of the people for democracy and a fair federal state structure. It is not without importance therefore to remember that despite these adverse post-independence circumstances, the people of an ethnically and religiously diverse country have struggled consistently for, and made strides towards, these aspirations. If today we harbour discontents with our democracy, that is partly our impatience at years of missed opportunity because of the overweening role of the establishment, partly the perceived (and in some respects real) failure of successive elected civilian governments to perform up to the people's expectations. Such discontents must impel us towards perfecting an imperfect democracy, not once again, as voices from many corners are increasingly inclined to do, return us to the failed and damaging flirtation with autocracy and dictatorship that has extracted such enormous costs in the past.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Daily Times Aug 14, 2015

Witch-hunt Strange are the ways of the workings of the Islamic Republic. On the one hand, successive governments since the 1990s, including the PML-N ones in the past and the current one, never tire of talking about the need to privatise state-owned white elephants that are swallowing up public money relentlessly and without let up year after year. Prominent examples of such enterprises are the Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) and PIA. The former is virtually closed down, but is again seeking a bailout of Rs five billion from the government, with no guarantee this too will not disappear down the sinkhole the PSM has been reduced to because of rank mismanagement and corruption over the years. The latter, once the pride of the country and one of the leading airlines, has been pummelled into the position of a basket case for similar reasons. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the other day that both of these state-owned white elephants would be privatised within the next seven months. The same would be the case with LESCO and FESCO. Now contrast this intent with the harassment and vilification being carried out against the Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB), one of the most successful privatisations in the country’s history. A relentless campaign by state institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and sections of the media based on half-truths and innuendo seeks to find fault willy nilly with a bank that is one of the leading banks of the country, having been turned around since privatisation from sliding into bankruptcy to the status of a market leader in the country and with a record of opening the door to foreign investment of considerable proportions. One of the leading banks of Malaysia, Maybank, bought 20 percent of the shares of MCB for $ 850 million, which flowed into the country in the form of foreign exchange. MCB is the only Pakistani bank listed on the London stock Exchange. Since privatisation, it has paid more than $ one billion in taxes into the treasury. It has expanded its countrywide operations and provided employment to thousands. Quite apart from these obvious successes, MCB has emerged since privatisation as one of the leading lights of the Pakistani banking industry, with credibility and market capitalisation that should be the envy of any rival. When such a financial institution is vilified for no good reason through sections of the media that are irresponsible or perhaps motivated by ulterior and hidden motives, and at the same time hauled over the coals by NAB at the hands of officials with little or no knowledge of banking but illogical zeal to find fault even where there is none, the results are predictable. Banks are sensitive financial institutions and such propaganda does no bank any good. The whole business of banking rests on the confidence of its customers and the market. Casting unnecessary doubts or allegations against one of the leading banks makes no sense from any angle. NAB’s efforts to prove some preconceived notion about the bank is not only inexplicable, it is also patently illegal. Starting with the Economic Reforms Act of 1992 and through to the Privatisation Ordinance of 2000, the law clearly states that any state-owned entity privatised will not be taken over by any government for any reason whatsoever. Not only that, the Ordinance provides that any privatisation case can only be questioned/investigated within one year of its privatisation being completed and forbids reopening privatisation cases beyond that. When MCB was privatised 25 years ago, all challenges to the decision were defeated through the courts soon after. How then has NAB taken it upon itself to reopen the privatisation of MCB now, and that too on the watch of a government that was in power when the privatisation took place? It seems the government’s left hand does not know what the right hand is doing and it is unaware or recklessly ignoring the impact of its actions on its privatisation plans for other state-owned enterprises, not to mention the destruction of confidence of both domestic and foreign investors who cannot be guaranteed that a closed transaction will remain closed. Can the country afford such a message being put out? The country’s economy, despite the rosy picture being presented and swallowed hook, line and sinker by the IMF and other international financial institutions, needs investment, domestic and foreign, desperately in a milieu where the problems of terrorism, law and order, energy deficit and cost of doing business has resulted if anything in a flight of capital from the country. The government needs to wake up to the inconsistencies in its approach to the economy, particularly on disturbing successfully privatised enterprises needlessly.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 13, 2015

Minorities’ plight On Pakistan Minorities Day, the date chosen to commemorate the day Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah delivered his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, both the National Assembly and Senate passed resolutions to pay tribute to the members of the minority communities who sacrificed their lives in the war against terrorism and to celebrate their contributions in various fields of life. The issues raised in both houses regarding the minorities included forced conversions and forced marriages (often together), the misuse of the blasphemy laws, and passing the Hindu Marriage Act according to the findings of the Supreme Court. Since the Act only relates to the Islamabad Capital Territory, demands were voiced for extending it to the provinces, particularly Sindh, where the bulk of Pakistan’s Hindus reside. Speeches during the discussion on the minorities’ issue delineated the pattern of discrimination against members of faiths other than Islam, starting from schools and going all the way up to parliament. School curricula and teaching either ignore minorities or portray them in a derogatory way. This is particularly true of Hindus and Christians. Others underlined the difficulties members of the minorities face in even utilising their five percent quota of government jobs. Parliamentarians called for the better implementation of the quota and its extension to the educational field and other sectors. Outside parliament, the issue of flawed representation of the minorities under the present electoral system has been debated increasingly of late, whereby minority members are elected at the will and whim of the parties in any Assembly on reserved seats. This deprives them, it is argued, of the right to directly elect their representatives, thereby making them answerable to their constituents, something missing from the present indirect system of election by the members of each Assembly. The country’s flawed blasphemy laws in particular have been very harsh on the minorities, and even dissident Muslims. Two prominent victims of these laws have been Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, both belonging to the PPP. It was Shahbaz Bhatti's initiative to declare August 11 National Minorities Day and PPP’s Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah appreciated the PML-N government’s continuing the tradition. Over the years, the minority Shia, Christian, Ahmedi, Hindu communities and even Muslims critical of the blasphemy laws or falling foul of them for dubious reasons have been persecuted (often to death). Parliament echoed on the day with demands that Mr Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947, in which he stated unequivocally: “You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed, that has nothing to do with the business of the state” be included in school curricula and taught to every child so that the founder father’s vision of a tolerant society and religion-neutral state may be inculcated. How far we have strayed from Mr Jinnah’s vision does not need great explication. Starting with General Zia’s manipulation of religion for political purposes, state and society have become increasingly polarised, intolerant and violent on the basis of the ‘othering’ of faiths other than mainstream Sunni Islam. The repeated abuse of the blasphemy laws for purposes as far removed from religion as it is possible to imagine has, despite the failure of attempts to repeal or reform the laws, finally begun to percolate into the consciousness of parliament’s members. There is therefore talk of bringing in safeguards against false accusation of blasphemy by punishing such motivated false accusers as severely as the law enjoins for blasphemy (death). Whether the parliamentarians will succeed this time when their nerve gave out last time after Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti’s murders remains to be seen. But there is no getting away from the urgent need to recast Pakistan’s state and society away from one bogged down in confessionalism and towards the kind of open, democratic and tolerant country Mr Jinnah envisaged, and in which endeavour we have failed him miserably so far.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 12, 2015

MQM’s troubles The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is going through hard times these days. Ever since the Karachi operation was launched, the party feels beleaguered and somewhat at a loss. On August 10, the MQM took its case of extrajudicial killings and disappearances of its workers to the forums of the Senate, National Assembly(NA) and Sindh Assembly (SA), albeit in contrasting styles. In the SA, a rumpus ensued when the MQM tried to sneak in a resolution against Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan as a retaliatory move against the resolution adopted by the house against Altaf Hussain’s speeches against the military and Rangers and invitations to foreign powers, including India, to intervene and ‘save’ the Muhajirs. Also, the issue of an MQM worker Mohammad Hashim’s murder was raised with much passion. Hashim had disappeared in May and his body was found in Jamshoro the other day. The rumpus took an ugly turn when the enraged MQM workers, denied permission to raise the issue out of turn by the Speaker, advanced threateningly towards the chief minister’s bench. Although they were thwarted in this purpose by a phalanx of PPP members, the whole scene quickly descended into a fish market. Two walkouts later, the MQM was roundly condemned for unparliamentary behaviour before the house was finally adjourned. In the NA, the same issue of the dead MQM worker was sought to be agitated but the Speaker refused to allow it for being a provincial subject. This obviously displeased the MQM, which walked out. In the Senate, Nasrin Jalil of the MQM made an emotional speech on Hashim and other MQM workers’ disappearance and/or extrajudicial killings since the Karachi operation began. She warned the powers that be to impose only such cruelties as they themselves would be able to bear, a thinly veiled threat of retaliation. Meanwhile both the Balochistan and Sindh Assemblies have adopted resolutions against Altaf Hussain’s provocative speeches, the former house asking for the MQM chief's extradition and trial under Article 6. A strike call by the MQM in Sindh was taken back on the assurance of the Rangers Director General (DG) to look into the Hashim case. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar offered balm for MQM’s smarting wounds in the NA by holding out the olive branch of a dialogue. He revealed that he had intervened to instruct the Rangers DG not to arrest MQM parliamentarians without his clearance and to avoid lodging FIRs against them without his say so. At the same time he regretted that Altaf Hussain’s speeches were muddying the waters and making it difficult to manage the situation in a calm manner. His thrust was that every time there is dialogue with the MQM leaders, Altaf queers the pitch with one of his diatribes. He offered, if asked, to explain why the MQM headquarters 90 was raided by the Rangers. Meanwhile operations to net MQM workers allegedly involved in extortion and target killings continue in Karachi, with six more being arrested in this context on August 10. Chaudhry Nisar’s reiteration on the floor of the NA that the Karachi operation was not MQM-centric may be correct, but it has failed to convince MQM parliamentary leader Farooq Sattar, who reminded the house that the operation was initiated at the MQM’s request but has now turned against the MQM exclusively. While this to and fro of charge and counter-charge is likely to continue, there are concerns that the authorities should take on board. First, the repeated assertions of the Karachi operation not being aimed at targeting one party alone should translate into actions that prove the case. For instance, in contrast with the figure of 150 workers the MQM says have been arrested and disappeared, how many from other parties have been netted should be made public knowledge to establish the bona fides of the operation being non-discriminatory. Second, charges of ‘disappearance’ should be answered by presenting the arrested in the courts of law and letting the law take its proper course. Extrajudicial killings are never acceptable in any civilised society, justifications on the basis of the inefficacy of the judicial system notwithstanding. The obvious failings of the judicial system should be corrected on a war footing if the operation against terrorism and crime is to retain credibility and legitimacy. To continue on the present course in the present manner risks a bigger conflagration.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 11, 2015

Peace talks There is a noticeable spike in violence by the Afghan Taliban since the death of Mullah Omar was revealed. Thus, for example, a suicide attack on a check post at Kabul airport on August 10 killed five people. Another suicide attack in Khanabad district of the northern Kunduz province on a militias’ security meeting on August 9 killed 29 people, including 25 militiamen. The latter attack reflects the expansion of the Taliban’s activities from their traditional bases in the south and southeast of the country to its northern reaches for at least the last two years. A wave of attacks on the Afghan army, police and US special forces in Kabul has killed at least 50 people and wounded hundreds. On August 8 a truck bombing in a heavily populated district of the capital and an hours-long battle at the base used by the US special forces accounted for most of the toll. While the violence mounts, the peace talks are stalled after one round hosted by Pakistan in Murree because of the uncertainty surrounding the succession process after Mullah Omar was declared having passed away two years ago. But lest anyone be under the misconception that the current spike in violence is only due to the clouds lowering around the heads of the movement after their founder leader’s demise, it needs recalling that according to a UN report, 50,000 civilians have been killed or wounded in just the first half of 2015. This upsurge in violence dovetails neatly with the final departure of the US-led NATO forces at the end of 2014. If any optimist had any hopes that the Taliban would be weakened by an internal leadership struggle after the revelation that Mullah Omar was no more, those hopes have been dimmed by the increased level of attacks and their intensity. Amidst the echo of guns and suicide bombs, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the telephone to discuss, amongst other things, the security situation in Afghanistan in the light of these developments. It may be recalled that President Ashraf Ghani has made it a point since coming to office, unlike his predecessor former president Hamid Karzai, to reach out to Pakistan and China in the effort to find a peaceful solution to Afghanistan’s long running conflict. The first round of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Murree hosted China and the US as participants/observers/facilitators. Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz has expressed the hope that a resumption of the stalled talks would help lower the level of violence in evidence of late inside Afghanistan. However, although he was hopeful this would happen soon, he added the rider that resumption may only be possible after the Taliban leadership problem is resolved. Mullah Mansour, declared elected as Mullah Omar’s successor, and considered until now pro-talks, has under pressure of the challenges to his legitimacy and credibility as the new Taliban chief been persuaded to take a harder line and support fighting more than talking. Although Afghans are once again pointing accusatory fingers at Pakistan as being responsible for the recent surge in violence in their country, Sartaj Aziz denies this, arguing that there are all kinds of militant factions active in Afghanistan, making it difficult to determine who was behind these actions. He did, however, condemn the attacks, saying Pakistan is sincerely trying with Kabul’s cooperation to restrict cross-border movement of militants. He reiterated that Islamabad is saying to the Taliban that it is better to talk than to fight since fighting never leads to any solution. If that is the advice Sartaj Aziz has offered the Taliban, it appears they have not heeded it and are embarked on a fighting first and talking later (if at all) path. Clearly, the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death has befogged the whole horizon and made unclear just how the endgame in Afghanistan will now play out. Naturally, what happens in Afghanistan affects neighbouring Pakistan profoundly, therefore it is in Pakistan’s interests to persist with the role of peace broker, using its influence with the Taliban and its improved relations with Kabul to bring about a rapprochement between the old foes of a long divided Afghan society.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 10, 2015

New controversy Where Pakistan-India relations are concerned, there is never a dull moment. Now a new controversy has arisen regarding the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) to be held in Islamabad from September 30-October 9. India has stated categorically that it will boycott the CPC if the Speaker of the Indian-held Kashmir (IHK) Assembly is not invited. The Indian stance flowed from a meeting of the Indian State Assemblies that insisted on the IHK Speaker being invited to the CPC. Pakistan, however, has taken the position that it does not recognize the IHK Assembly as legitimate, therefore its Speaker cannot be invited. Besides, as stated by National Security Advisor (NSA) Sartaj Aziz the other day, any such invitation would compromise the principled stance of Pakistan regarding the Kashmir issue, which is still a disputed territory. Even the expected NSAs’ meeting scheduled for August 23-24 in New Delhi has got entangled in the disagreement of what the agenda of the meeting should be. Reservations have been expressed by Islamabad that if the meeting focuses only on India’s desire to pin blame on Pakistan for allegedly sponsoring terrorism inside India, the talks may not even get off the ground. It may be recalled that the NSAs’ meeting was agreed between Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi when they met on the sidelines of a conference in Ufa, Russia. Sartaj Aziz has now said that Pakistan is preparing its own agenda for the talks and once it is finalised, it will be conveyed to New Delhi. For good measure, he has also thrown in the alleged interference of India in Balochistan, Karachi and the tribal areas of Pakistan. That sounds increasingly like the usual stalemate on agenda and procedure even before any substantive discussion. The likelihood looms therefore that the moot may not take place as scheduled. What characterises Pakistan-India interaction over many years is the knee-jerk tit-for-tat approach of both countries to each other’s actions and words. If India blames Pakistan for terrorism inside the country, Pakistan retaliates by accusing India of interfering in its internal troubles. If India claims a militant captured alive in IHK has admitted (in what circumstances can only be imagined) that he is from Pakistan, Islamabad trots out a claim that three RAW agents have been captured inside Pakistan. If cross-border firing is initiated from one or the other side, the protagonists, true to script, blame each other for starting the firefight without provocation. This danse macabre has gone on for so long that it is no longer a surprise, let alone interesting or even credible. Neither side comes out of these bruising encounters, real or verbal, with any credit or credibility intact. Are there no wise or visionary heads left on either side of the divide? Who does not know that both nuclear-armed neighbours can no longer contemplate all-out war because of the threat of mutually assured destruction? (Of course that has not precluded below nuclear threshold probing of each other’s patience and restraint through provocative moves and words.) Things have never been as bad as after the advent to power of the Modi government in India. Mr Modi’s credentials as a potential peacemaker between the two countries that cannot change their geography are marred by his track record in the Gujarat massacre (despite being let off the hook by India’s Supreme Court), his infamous remark about feeling pain if even a pup is killed let alone Muslims in India, and his belligerent attitude of ‘inflicting unbearable pain’ on Pakistan for any real or perceived slight or hurt. Despite claiming the mantle of his illustrious predecessor Mr Vajpayee, the two men could not be more unlike. Domestic political compulsions and preconceived biases and prejudices may inform Mr Modi’s policies towards Pakistan, but one can only hope as the gloss on his election campaign promises to the Indian people incrementally rubs off, wiser counsel will prevail. Equally, our side’s penchant over many years for crowing over India’s difficulties with terrorism that has burst the bounds of the Kashmir terrain, can only bring ignominy bilaterally and internationally. Conventional wars are a no-no after nuclearisation, asymmetrical warfare is dangerously provocative and uncontrollable beyond a point, and the simple fact of having the liberty to choose one’s friends but not one’s neighbours should inform both sides’ attitude to each other and their responsibility to their own peoples and history.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 8, 2015

Pur Aman Balochistan Presiding over an apex committee meeting in Quetta, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif approved the plan presented to him for a Pur Aman (Peaceful) Balochistan. Although not much detail of the plan has been revealed, the generalised comments made by the PM regarding the situation in the province indicate the thrust. Basically, there is little new in what has been stated. The PM instructed the authorities in the province to reach out to the angry Baloch, make the people partners in the province’s development and provide full security to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The PM went on to underline that Balochistan was the cornerstone of Pakistan’s future development and would be the principal beneficiary of the CPEC. Nawaz Sharif directed the planning and execution of infrastructure and communication networks for utilisation of the potential of the resources of Balochistan. Gwadar Port, one of the key elements of the CPEC and the end point of the Corridor in its southern reaches, would be connected by rail and road with the Central Asian Republics, the PM stated. Given its location and importance, the PM asked the authorities to prepare a strategy for building Gwadar Port City and the port itself as an economic hub that could attract foreign investment. The briefing the PM received in the meeting pointed to a decline in incidents of terrorism and heinous crimes. The security plan for the CPEC and lasting peace was also presented. While expressing his satisfaction with all this, PM Nawaz Sharif promised incentives for those who laid down their arms and surrendered. Echoing the PM’s sentiments, Chief Minister (CM) Dr Abdul Malik Baloch told newsmen after the meeting that the Pur Aman Balochistan package would persuade the angry Baloch to return to the mainstream as it was an unusual measure. With due respect to the worthy participants of the apex committee’s meeting, what was new about what was said or planned? We have been hearing similar remarks and claims since the federal and provincial government came to power after the 2013 elections. If the formulations sound like they are stuck in the same groove, it bears thinking about. Admittedly, at least as far as reported incidents are concerned, the nationalist insurgency does not seem as active as it once was. This may be ascribed to successful military operations against the insurgents as well as arguably reports of their internal disunity and lack of mutual cooperation. A divided insurgency obviously helps the paramilitary and other law enforcement agencies. However, as far as the outreach to angry Baloch leaders, whether in the mountains or in exile abroad is concerned, it can only be termed a resounding failure so far. Of late, there were reports of wooing the Khan of Kalat to return and play his role in finding solutions to the province’s troubles, but that too seems stillborn. The insurgents and exiled leadership do not take the government of CM Dr Abdul Malik Baloch seriously since they are persuaded that it has no power to take decisions as far as the province’s political issues are concerned. That privilege seems to lie almost exclusively with the military-backed Frontier Corps, leading the fight against the insurgents. On the issue of terrorism, the province, and especially the capital Quetta suffered horrible bombings and attacks on the Shia Hazaras at the hands of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) until recently. The death of Malik Ishaq, their leader, in a suspicious shootout while in police custody may have rocked the LeJ back on its heels. It remains to be seen whether it will be able to operate again with the virtual impunity it seemed to have acquired over the years. These may be good developments from the law enforcement agencies’ perspective, but the elephant in the room remains the issue of reconciliation with the insurgents and exiled leadership, which can only be brought about if a serious dialogue on their grievances is conducted. Since there is no sign of any such development in the foreseeable future, the seeming ‘peace’ in Balochistan may only be a lull between storms. The CPEC is no doubt a potentially game changing project, but despite the security plans being devised for it during construction, it remains a moot point whether such an economic initiative can fulfil its objectives in the midst of a restive local populace. A salutary lesson can be learnt from the fate of the previous PPP government’s Aghaaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan (beginning of giving Balochistan its rights) package that was touted at the time as the answer to the province’s problems. It does not need much effort to recall that it sank without a trace. The apprehension is that in the absence of a political solution to the province’s grievances of long standing, the Pur Aman Balochistan package too may suffer a similar fate.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 7, 2015

Military courts A 17-member full court bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has validated by an 11-6 majority the setting up of nine military courts under the provisions of the 21st constitutional amendment and the amendments to the Pakistan Army Act to try civilians charged with terrorism offences. By a 14-3 majority the SC also dismissed petitions challenging the 18th amendment as it relates to the procedure for appointment of judges of the superior judiciary. Chief Justice-designate Justice Jawwad S Khwaja and other judges recorded dissident notes to the majority judgment. The verdict implies that the stay against execution of six militants sentenced to death by the military courts is now vacated, as well as for subsequent death sentences. However, it is not clear how this will play out since the SC has retained the right of judicial review of trials by military courts and the sentences imposed by them, provided evidence of violations of due process and fair trial can be produced in appeals by the accused under Article 199, implying the normal jurisdiction of the High Courts and SC. The majority view, as enunciated in a short order by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk, holds there is no limitation on the powers of parliament to amend the constitution and such amendments cannot be challenged on any grounds in any court of law. On the contrary, CJ-designate Justice Khwaja has argued that the 21st amendment is liable to be struck down since parliament has limitations on its power to amend the constitution, which flow from the provisions of the constitution itself. The other learned judges have dilated the majority and minority view from different angles, discussing in the process the basic structure theory and the Objectives Resolution, neither of which, in the majority view, provide grounds for annulling constitutional amendments. While retaining the right of judicial review, the majority has upheld the sovereignty of parliament and a virtually untrammelled power to amend the constitution. The verdict has dismayed and disappointed many within the legal fraternity and society generally. It is being viewed (at least on the basis of the short order and without yet having perused the detailed 900-page judgement) as opening the door to a parallel judicial system that does not answer to the demands of fair trial and due process. The SC Bar Association is meeting on August 12 to consider a review petition against the verdict. While Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the floor of the house hailed the verdict as a ‘historic’ judgment and one that upholds the supremacy of parliament, the interior ministry is reportedly finalising 43 cases out of the 600 referred to it by the provincial apex committees and the military to add to the 12 cases already underway in the military courts. The prime minister went on to say that reservations shared by all the political parties on the setting up of military courts notwithstanding, they were a bitter pill necessitated by the struggle against terrorism. Extraordinary situations, he argued, require extraordinary steps. While the verdict will strengthen the war on terrorism and demoralise the terrorists, he stressed, all political parties must bend their backs now to strengthen parliament. The description ‘historic’ used by the prime minister for the verdict is valid, but perhaps for reasons other than what he adduced. It is ‘historic’ in the sense of the implied recognition of the failure of the judicial system, including the anti-terrorism judicial structure, to combat criminal and terrorist activities. There has been talk that the sunset clause regarding military courts’ shelf life till 2016 provides a breathing space to fix the failure. However, so far there is no evidence that the government is even contemplating, let alone seized of this huge task. The will of parliament has been upheld by the majority view of the SC verdict, but arguably that ‘will’ as expressed in these amendments, is inherently flawed, opens the door for unforeseen consequences that may entail the consolidation of an increasing tendency in state and society to seek short cut solutions for the terrorist phenomenon over and above the rights of the accused to an adequate defence, violate due process and fair trial provisions of the constitution itself, and may end up paving the way for a totalitarian dispensation. And who, in the light of the failure of the judicial system per se and no sign of the necessary reforms in the next two years, can guarantee that come 2016, voices will not be heard justifying the extension of these draconian provisions?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 6, 2015

Afghan talks While presiding over a Corps Commanders Conference, COAS General Raheel Sharif has reiterated that the talks between the Afghan government and Taliban are the only credible way to achieve peace. The conference expressed its satisfaction at the noticeable change in the overall security situation of Pakistan. The COAS underlined that the detractors and spoilers of the peace talks were against the settling down and prosperity of Afghanistan and the entire region. The last statement comes amidst considerable uncertainty regarding the Murree process that appears stalled for the moment after the postponement of the second round of talks. Adding to the uncertainty is the news that Tayyab Agha, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, Qatar, has resigned. He has issued a statement to the effect that he is not taking sides in the internal rifts that have surfaced within the Taliban’s ranks after the news of Mulla Omar’s death and the election of Mulla Mansour as his successor. He further stressed that he would not be part of any future statements or talks. He has called keeping the death of Mulla Omar secret and announcing a new leader outside the country ‘historic mistakes’. Tayyab Agha is not an inconsiderable figure in the Taliban hierarchy. He had remained close to Mulla Omar during and after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. In 2009, he was named as head of the Qatar political office. He has been credited with taking the Taliban back to talks with the international powers. In June this year, he represented the Taliban at the Oslo Forum in Norway. He was also the main force behind the eventually successful prisoner exchange with the US, securing the release of five Guantanamo inmates in return for the US soldier Bowe Bregdahl. He is considered independent of Pakistani influence. It is also believed that all but Agha at the Qatar office support Mulla Mansour. This development highlights the real fissures that have opened up after the news of Mulla Omar’s death was released. The new leader, Mulla Mansour, is considered close to Pakistan and pro-peace talks. Although others, including the group that has coalesced around Mulla Omar’s son Yaqoob, are opposed to the talks and favour continuing the armed struggle till final victory, the pro-talks group too is not united. They have differences over who should lead the talks, the Qatar political office, considered less amenable to Pakistani influence, or the Quetta-based Mansour faction. Afghanistan and its infant peace talks process therefore have entered a period of extreme uncertainty. That effect has already been seen in the postponement of the talks. The peace process now faces a great many challenges and may prove extremely difficult. At this juncture, it cannot be ruled out that nothing may emerge from the talks even if they resume. The alternative is a continuation of the war in Afghanistan, with its possible spillover effects on Pakistan, just breathing a sigh of relief at the rollback of its own Taliban movement. The great dilemma is that the Taliban may well splinter into many groups, as has happened under stress to the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan’s ability to influence a fractured Afghan Taliban movement and keep it wedded to the peace talks process may face an uphill task as a result. One other possible fallout of such a development would be the opening of the door to the further ingress of Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, with disgruntled Taliban elements flocking to the banner of the ruthless IS. It is Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s mutual interest to keep themselves above the internal Taliban fray and stick with the peace partners led by Mulla Mansour who favour a negotiated political settlement of the Afghan conflict. Spoilers and detractors of the peace process notwithstanding, all stakeholders will have to stay the difficult course if Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region, not to mention the world, are to turn the leaf on an Afghanistan perpetually at war within.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 5, 2015

Conspiracy theory The wags have it that conspiracy theory is the only growth industry in Pakistan. Levity aside, there is some weight in the comment. Despite the opening up of the media and so many sources of news and information now available to citizens like the internet and social media, fanciful and subjective accounts of events and developments proliferate. On the other hand, the very proliferation of news and information sources may have led to a situation where doubtful accounts gain traction without rhyme or logic. Take for example Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s refutation of any conspiracy within the military's ranks or at the behest of the government to replace COAS General Raheel Sharif. While fulsomely, and deservedly, praising General Raheel Sharif for being a thoroughly professional soldier and the architect of Pakistan’s successes against terrorism, Chaudhry Nisar reiterated the confidence the General commands in the country and with the government on the basis of his track record since assuming the command of the army. The minister’s refutation left people scratching their heads why he found it necessary to do this. The clue came not too long after. Brigadier (retd) Samson Sharaf of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had apparently said in a television talk show that the party had been in touch with the ISI before (and perhaps during?) the PTI’s months-long dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad. He went on to assert that the PTI hoped the continuing dharna would so unsettle Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that he would in panic dismiss General Raheel Sharif, thereby causing a rupture in civil-military relations and possibly leading to the demise of the PML-N government. Brigadier Sharaf, otherwise known as a man of probity, then went on to assert that the prime minister in a meeting with the COAS had the tape of a telephone conversation between former ISI chief General Zaheerul Islam and the PTI played in which, it was asserted, it became clear that the ISI was backing the dharna against the government. Brigadier Sharaf then went on to assert that General Raheel Sharif summoned General Islam and asked him in front of the prime minister whether he had asked the ISI chief to do this. The answer, according to the good brigadier, was no. This, the account maintains, cemented confidence and the relationship between the incumbent COAS and the government. Of course Chaudhry Nisar has dismissed the entire account as ‘baseless allegations’. Many questions arise from the account that triggered the controversy and the response of the interior minister. Why did the brigadier find it necessary to come out with this version of events at this juncture? Placed in the context of reports in the media in recent days that former ISI chief General Pasha was the mastermind behind the rise of the PTI from relative obscurity and the dharna and that General Islam was a supporter of the sit-in, Samson Sharaf’s starling version of events has attempted to further muddy the waters. General Pasha has demanded an inquiry to clear his name, while his successor General Islam has so far maintained a discreet silence. Speculations in the media regarding the role of former or serving ISI chiefs in the whole dharna episode aside, it is difficult to disagree with Chaudhry Nisar’s pointing out that the country is at war and therefore such kite-flying is inappropriate (if not downright dangerous). All players should understand the sensitivity of the current conjuncture, the delicacy of speculative assertions about civil-military relations, and refrain from casting doubts and stirring up the pot unnecessarily to destabilise the situation when all energies need to be directed towards the ongoing struggle against terrorism. A sense of responsibility is required, which in the instant case, seems to have escaped the notice of the author of this latest brouhaha. Being a former military officer and that too of a senior rank, Brigadier Sharaf Samson should have known better than to throw up so much dust just for spurious political gains or point scoring. But the interior minister too, in his zeal to underline the excellent state of civil-military relations, perhaps ended up tilting at a windmill that could easily have been relegated to the dustbin all conspiracy theories eventually end up in.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 4, 2015

Altaf’s latest Altaf Hussain of late seems to have gone off the rails. In his latest gaffe, he has addressed by telephone the MQM’s annual convention in Dallas, the US, asserting that the party’s workers should protest before the UN, NATO headquarters and the White House against alleged atrocities against the party and demand they send their troops to Karachi. Further, he castigated India for cowardliness since it was just watching the spilling of Muhajirs’ blood without doing anything about it. Inevitably, these remarks provoked strong condemnation across the board by the government and almost all political parties. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar not only questioned Altaf Hussain’s patriotism and good sense, he said the government was preparing a legal reference to be sent to the British government regarding the MQM leader’s attempt to wage war against Pakistan by inviting foreign forces to intervene in its internal affairs. The minister once again defended the operation by the Rangers in Karachi as being conducted without discrimination against criminal and terrorist elements and not aimed at any one party. Chaudhry Nisar pointed to the improved law and order situation in the metropolis, saying kidnapping for ransom had almost completely been eliminated and everyone, including MQM, was satisfied with the situation except criminal elements within the party. The real reason Altaf Hussain was frothing at the mouth in this manner, the minister argued, was because the noose was tightening around him as a result of the two cases instituted against him by the British police, i.e. the murder of Imran Farooq and the charge of money laundering. The interior minster was followed by universal condemnation of Altaf Hussain’s fulminations by all the provincial Assemblies, the PPP, Jamaat-i-Islami, PTI, Baloch and Sindhi nationalist parties and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The universal demand was to bring Altaf Hussain back to the country and try him for violating Article 5 of the constitution, which, according to the PPP’s Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, demands total loyalty to Pakistan. Amidst this latest brouhaha created by Altaf Hussain’s increasingly bizarre utterings, the MQM’s Farooq Sattar tried to defend the indefensible by placing his leader’s statement in the context of the alleged victimisation and targeting of only MQM’s workers in the Karachi operation. What, if no one was listening to their cries, Farooq Sattar asked, could the MQM do? Even if it is conceded that there is some weight in the MQM’s assertion that MQM is bearing the main brunt of the Karachi operation, this is because MQM’s terror-laden monopoly on Karachi’s life is of such long standing that any operation against criminals and terrorists would inevitably come down hardest on the party harbouring the biggest number of such undesirable elements. Despite all the signs that this time the operation would spare no one, including the MQM, the party made no effort to distance itself from criminal and wanted elements within its ranks. So much so that the Rangers’ raid on MQM headquarters 90 yielded a rich crop of such persons and weapons. We have yet to see any introspection on the part of the party to come to terms with its past and chalk out a roadmap for the future. Failure to do so, exacerbated as it is repeatedly by Altaf Hussain’s unwise speeches, has raised serious questions regarding the MQM’s future. Some analysts are openly asking whether the party would be allowed to function as in the past, even if it is not banned. At the time of writing these lines, a high level meeting chaired by the prime minister was expected to be convened to discuss the issue. Unfortunately for the government and the law enforcement agencies, they may get more purchase out of actions on the ground in Karachi than any ‘legal reference’ to the British government. Here, London is accused in some circles of having a vested interest in the past in offering asylum and even citizenship to Altaf Hussain despite his controversial record. Whether the Pakistan government’s legal reference will change that soft corner for Altaf Hussain, the cases against him in Britain quoted by the interior minister notwithstanding, or will the whole furore die down once again as it so often has in the past, only time will tell. For the moment at least, Altaf Hussain has succeeded once again in roiling up the national scene and sparking off all kinds of speculations about his and his party’s fate in the days ahead.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 3, 2015

The IS threat Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s flying visit to Islamabad on his way back from Indonesia gave him and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif an opportunity to exchange views on a number of subjects, but the most significant may turn out to be their agreement to cooperate in the fight against Islamic State (IS). Turkey has lately upped the ante in the fight against IS, but also struck Kurdish militias battling the group in northern Syria and Iraq. Ankara has vowed to crush all ‘terrorist’ challenges to its territory and sovereignty after IS carried out a suicide bombing near the Syrian border on Kurdish sympathisers gathered to provide aid and succour to the Kurdish militia YPG, which is battling successfully against IS advances in the area. In retaliation for the killing of their sympathisers, Kurdish militants carried out an attack on Turkish policemen, killing two of them. These incidents persuaded Ankara to shift its policy vis-à-vis IS, but also opened the door to it striking YPG and the PKK, the Turkish Kurdish group based largely in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. The US has welcomed Turkey’s apparent jettisoning of its reluctance to act against IS, critics having accused Ankara of turning a blind eye to the dreaded terrorist group’s using Turkish soil to transition to Syria. Both sides have agreed to create an IS-free zone on Turkey’s southern border. This seems fine in principle but in practice the bulk of Turkey’s air strikes over the past week have targeted the YPG and PKK more than IS. The YPG said it was targeted four times in the past week, while the PKK claims 260 of its fighters have been killed in Turkish air raids. The bombing has been so intense, the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region’s President Barzani has asked the PKK fighters to withdraw from civilian areas to prevent further civilian casualties. The YPG on the other hand has directed a question at Washington to clarify whether it supports Ankara’s targeting the Kurds under cover of the campaign against IS. While Turkey’s belated turn from ignoring the threat from IS, not the least to itself too, in its blind zeal to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is welcome, the manner in which the campaign is being carried out raises some troubling questions. Ankara seems to have directed most of its wrath against the Kurds, whose Syrian component, the YPG, is being assisted by the US for its heroic successes against IS, the retaking of Kobane being the prize in this crown. So on the one hand the US is helping the YPG against IS, and at the same time agreeing with Turkey to fight IS together while ignoring Turkey's actual anti-Kurdish thrust. But the confusion in policy in a complex situation is not confined to Washington. The real centre of the confusion resides in Ankara, which cannot see the need for united action of all the forces opposed to IS. It seems Turkey is more concerned about the successes and growth of the YPG as it fears its example could strengthen the hand of the PKK, which has been struggling for independence/autonomy/Kurdish rights for the last 30 years. Although PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s capture some years ago finally yielded talks for a political solution of the Kurdish question within Turkey, those talks too may have suffered because the recent Turkish elections have denied the ruling party a majority and pushed it to contemplate (horrors!) a coalition with a pro-Kurdish party. War against the Kurds in the name of fighting IS or waging a struggle against terrorism therefore may be serving both Ankara's domestic political and foreign strategic purposes. However, Ankara’s inability to see the wood for the trees and recognise the real menace IS presents to Iraq and Syria today (including in the latter the IS threat to all the so-called ‘moderate’ Islamist opposition), and arguably could present to Turkey tomorrow, may bring it grief. Reaching out to Pakistan in this context, albeit in a brief encounter, cannot make a dent in the ground situation nor can it obviate the need for Turkey to revisit its Assad obsession and misdirected actions against the Kurds and recognise the principle contradiction: the danger IS’s rise poses to the region as a whole, including Turkey.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Aug 2, 2015

Taliban kaleidoscope Just two days after the news broke of Afghan Taliban leader Mulla Omar’s death, another bit of startling news about the passing away of Jalaluddin Haqqani, formidable fighter and commander during the anti-Soviet resistance and the founder of the dreaded Haqqani network, has come to the surface. But just like the news of Mulla Omar’s death was followed by contradictory reports confirming and denying the news, with the controversy only being laid to rest by an official confirmation from the Taliban and the election of a new leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani’s news has also evoked contradictory responses. While Taliban sources assert he is dead, some family members dispute this and say he is ailing but very much alive. Both instances point to the shadowy existence and functioning of the underground Taliban and Haqqani organisations. Whereas the question of the successor to Mulla Omar has raised quite a bit of dust despite the Taliban leadership having announced that Mulla Mansour had been elected as leader of the faithful, there would not be any similar ruction over Jalaluddin Haqqani’s successor if the news of his death is finally confirmed since he had already effectively handed over control of the organisation to his son Sirajuddin Haqqani, who has now also been elected a deputy to Mulla Mansour. The news of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s passing away nevertheless has evoked considerable interest since the network he created is much feared for its spectacular suicide attacks in Afghanistan against American targets, a raid on Kabul’s top hotel, the assassination attempt on former president Hamid Karzai and the suicide bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul. The Haqqanis are widely believed to be close to Pakistan’s ISI. Jalaluddin Haqqani graduated from the school of resistance to Sardar Daud’s Islamist forces’ suppression in the early 1970s to the struggle against the Afghan Communist Revolution and later the Soviet invasion from his base in North Waziristan. He made his reputation in the field even then as a formidable foe. When the Taliban took power in Kabul, he switched sides and became a minister in Mulla Omar’s government. The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11 saw him retreat once again to his happy hunting ground in North Waziristan and from there he organised with the help of his son Sirajuddin, the revival of the Taliban insurgency against the US and NATO forces. During these wars, Jalaluddin Haqqani is said to have lost two sons, two wives, numerous grandchildren to his enemies, mostly the western forces in Afghanistan. One son, Nasiruddin, reputed to be the Haqqani network’s fundraiser, was killed in Bara Kahu near Islamabad in mysterious circumstances. Meanwhile the dust raised by the announcement of Mulla Omar’s death two years ago and the election of Mulla Mansour as his successor has still to die down. Reportedly, some factions coalescing around Mulla Omar’s son Yaqoob are said to have walked out of the leadership meeting deciding the succession. This group is now said to be contacting other commanders for cooperation to form their own faction. Should that transpire, there is no ruling out conflict between the rival Taliban factions now or in the future. This kaleidoscopic forming and reforming of the Taliban ranks has thrown up questions about the fate of the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The Murree Peace Process, as it has been dubbed after the location of the first round of talks in Pakistan, has been variously described by analysts as dead in the water, postponed, or awaiting the dust swirls to settle before resuming. Only time will tell which of these possibilities finally emerges. One sign of the complexity of the situation is the report from BBC’s Kabul correspondent that Mulla Mansour has attempted to distance himself from the public perception of him being a pro-Pakistan peace talks supporter. The report quotes an audio message by the newly elected Taliban leader purportedly denying any rifts within the Taliban and dismissing reports of him being a supporter of the peace talks as enemy propaganda. This is surprising since he was widely regarded as pro-talks. However, there may be more to this than meets the eye and Mulla Mansour may simply be trying to bolster his militant credentials by denying his image of a ‘peacenik’. The test of this, or any opposite proposition, lies in the early or later resumption of the talks process, and his stance on it then. Truly, the Afghan Taliban scenario resembles nothing better at present than a shifting kaleidoscope.