Sunday, December 20, 2015
Daily Times Editorial Dec 21, 2015
Crisis deepening? Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has warned of the long term and serious consequences of imposing Governor's rule in the province. Speaking to reporters at the Sindh University convocation in Jamshoro on Saturday, the chief minister claimed that the Rangers were satisfied at the restricted powers they have been mandated with in the wake of the Sindh Assembly's resolution on the issue the other day, and would continue the operation as mandated. In the presence of a democratic dispensation, he argued, there was no need for Governor's rule, nor did the federal government have any authority to impose it in Sindh or any other province. He dismissed suggestions that the Rangers' powers had been clipped, despite the fact that the term "sectarian killings" has been substituted for "terrorism" and the Rangers' ability to put people in preventive detention, as happened in Dr Asim Hussain's case, has been made contingent on the chief minister's prior approval while raids on the Sindh government's offices has been made subject to the chief secretary's prior approval. In a lighter vein, he pointed out that the chief minister was intended to be the operation's captain, whereas it appeared that the head was still there but the cap had been knocked off. On a more sober note, he claimed that the prime minister and chief of army staff's attitude to Sindh was "better" towards Sindh and they would not resort to any precipitate action like Governor's rule. It is pertinent to point out that in recent months, the Sindh government has been accusing the Rangers of overstepping their authority, particularly in the case of the raid on the office of the Sindh Building Control Authority and the arrest of Dr Asim Hussain. The provincial government had brought up its concerns with the federal government and the prime minister repeatedly, but without any satisfactory response. It is also necessary to recall, as former PPP prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has done, that it was the PPP-led government that called in the Rangers in 1989 to control lawlessness in many parts of Sindh. The province was at that time afflicted with ethnic strife and dacoits. The Rangers subsequently got special powers after amendments in the Anti-Terrorism Act that authorised them to probe cases of suspected terrorist financing. The issue of their powers became fraught in recent days because of the perception of the Sindh government that the Rangers had gone beyond their mandate. It appears that the chief minister on the one hand is warning of the fallout of dismissing the elected Sindh government in favour of (federal) Governor's rule for the democratic dispensation as a whole, resting as it does on the consensus of the political parties, particularly the PPP and the PML-N, on defending the system against any authoritarian moves to destabilise it, as has so often happened in the past. At the same time,t chief minister seems to be putting his eggs in the basket of hoped for wisdom in this regard on the part of the prime minister and chief of army staff. However, despite his claim the Rangers are satisfied with their restricted mandate ('discipline', i.e. following the Sindh government's instructions), it appears all is still not smoothed out. One indicator is the Rangers' approaching the Sindh High Court against the provincial government's changing the special public prosecutor in Dr Asim Hussain's case, albeit an unsuccessful bid. The second is the rash of protests against the restriction of the Rangers' powers by various trade and other groups in Karachi, ascribed by some circles to being orchestrated by the Rangers. The Sindh opposition too has become active to forge a grand alliance against the provincial government. The bottom line appears to be that the federal government and the establishment should refrain from any precipitate moves that may destabilise not only the Sindh government but the democratic dispensation per se. Precisely in such a dispensation, differences can and should be sorted out through dialogue, not finger wagging, threats, or a return to practices from an authoritarian past.