Thursday, December 24, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Dec 25, 2015

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

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