Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Saudi pressure again? Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Defence Muhammad bin Salman paid a flying visit to Islamabad en route to East Asia on the invitation of the Pakistan government, during which he had one-to-one meetings with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif. This visit and interaction can be seen within the context of Saudi concerns regarding the security situation in the region, particularly the series of setbacks the Saudis have suffered in their intervention in the Yemen civil war and the emerging trend of the US carrying out a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia’s rival Iran. Pakistan and the Saudis appear to have been more circumspect and diplomatic this time round, at least judging from the bland, generalised communiqué issued at the end of the two-day visit. This is certainly an improvement on the last time the Saudis and their Gulf allies approached Pakistan to militarily support them in Yemen. Pakistan already had, and has, its hands full with the struggle against terrorism at home and was obviously reluctant to get bogged down in the Yemen quagmire, which also has denominational overtones because the Saudis and Iran are backing opposite sides in the civil war whose divide is tinged by sectarian hues. Pakistan’s interests lay then and continue to lie in steering clear of the sectarian passions that are tearing the Middle East apart, from Yemen to Syria and beyond. It is also in Islamabad’s interest to retain and develop good relations with Iran, whose dividends are tantalisingly poised for realisation in the wake of the Iran-US nuclear deal and restoration of relations. These dividends beckon in the shape of the long stalled Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline, overland trade, economic cooperation, etc. Last time round, when Islamabad found itself on the horns of the dilemma of refusing the Saudi request for military assistance on its side in Yemen, the civil and military leadership deftly handled the situation by referring the issue to parliament where, after weighing the pros and cons, including the consideration of putting Saudi and Gulf states’ critical economic assistance at risk, parliament turned down the Saudi request. This produced consternation and even unprecedentedly undiplomatic ire across the Gulf, led most belligerently by the UAE. By now, tempers appear to have cooled amongst our Gulf friends and the fortunes of war turning increasingly against the Saudis in Yemen have produced a more nuanced and discreet approach. It needs to be noted in this context that the Saudi intervention in neighbouring Yemen has brought the war home to Saudi soil, as such interventions tend to do, manifested in almost daily attacks, shelling, etc, across the Yemen-Saudi Arabia border, producing in the process its deadly crop of casualties amongst Saudi citizens in the border’s vicinity. Hence, perhaps, the increasingly dire situation has induced more circumspection in Saudi Arabia’s approach to its friend and ally Pakistan. The thrust of Pakistan’s policy stance then was that it remained committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and defence of Saudi Arabia and protection of Islam’s holiest sites. It should be noted that whenever threats have emerged within the four corners of this policy stance in the past, Pakistan has not hesitated to come to Riyadh’s aid. Various such episodes regarding the threat from extremist elements challenging the Saudi regime on the basis of so-called ‘true’ Islam ended when Islamabad sent troops and succour and helped crush all such uprisings, including an attempt to capture the Ka’aba some years ago. Even now, Pakistan has some 1,000 military advisors stationed in Saudi Arabia, and Islamabad would not hesitate to beef up its presence if and when required. The defence of Saudi Arabia, however, is a very different kettle of fish from fishing in troubled waters in the neighbourhood at Riyadh’s behest. That should remain Pakistan’s position even now, and it should be put to the Saudis as gently and diplomatically as possible to avoid a repetition of the ruction of the recent past.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Lahore’s ruin at Shahbaz Sharif’s hands Rashed Rahman The Lahore High Court (LHC) has struck a blow for the preservation of the Punjab capital’s heritage and against the incremental tendency of the province’s PML-N government, and especially Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif’s penchant for big infrastructure projects that have proved politically and electorally beneficial to the rulers at the expense of the historical character, culture and way of life of Lahore. I refer of course to the LHC’s verdict on Lahore’s Orange Line Metro Train (OLMT) project. Now in his third term as Punjab CM, Shahbaz Sharif has not outgrown his personal political agendas on display during his earlier tenures. In fact ‘success’ on this score in earlier tenures has if anything given the CM even more confidence and belief that he can do, and get away with, anything that pleases him. In his first, interrupted tenure of 1997-99, Shahbaz gave early warning of his tendencies. Lahore’s traditionally verdant boulevards, roads and streets were suddenly treated as though they were located in a Gulf desert kingdom. Dwarf palms, a necessity in cities like Dubai because of climate, water scarcity, etc, suddenly sprang up to line our main boulevards. The incongruity did not strike Shahbaz Sharif as odd. Also during this tenure, Shahbaz acquired a black mark as a CM inclined to give our brutal police carte blanche to conduct so-called ‘encounters’ (actually extra-judicial killings). The cases lodged against him on this score withered on the barren vine of our dysfunctional judicial system, and nothing has been heard of them since. In his second tenure, 2008-13, all the disturbing tendencies of CM Shahbaz Sharif as a ruler recklessly riding roughshod over the city and its people’s wishes and interests were in evidence with a vengeance. First and foremost, Shahbaz made no effort to reverse the long standing practice by successive rulers of concentrating development resources on Lahore to the detriment of the rest of Punjab, particularly its southern reaches and rural areas. Having inherited Musharraf’s prime (earlier finance) minister Shaukat Aziz’s opening up vehicle lease-purchase, which at its height brought 1,500 new cars/vehicles onto Lahore’s roads per month, Shahbaz sought the solution to the city’s growing traffic gridlock by widening roads. This meant the cutting of hundreds of trees along the main thoroughfares. Green, flourishing, shade and oxygen-giving trees were replaced by poor cousin shrubs and faux decoration that grated on the citizen’s aesthetic. In the case of one main thoroughfare, the Canal Road, burdened with the exponential growth of traffic serving the new colonies and businesses sprouting like mushrooms to the city’s south, a legal battle similar to the one now waged against the OLMT project by civil society groups and concerned citizens first promised a glimmer of hope that the wholesale massacre of trees to allow widening of the road would be halted, only to end in bitter disappointment when the Supreme Court allowed continuation on the basis of the doctrine of balance of convenience (saving the fait accompli of sunk capital investment). Whether the LHC’s OLMT verdict ordering a halt to construction within 200 feet of 11 heritage sites along the route will suffer a similar fate when the Punjab government implements its declared intent to appeal the LHC verdict, only time will tell. Without intending to cross the line of possible contempt of court even before the appeal has been lodged, one can say that the reasoning of the LHC verdict and the references to various national and international laws and conventions on the preservation of heritage leave little room to demur from the excellent verdict of the LHC. Consider that the Antiquities Act, 1975 and UNESCO conventions to which Pakistan is a signatory, clearly forbid any construction within 200 feet of protected heritage sites. In the case of the OLMT, the route passes perilously close to and threatens the preservation of 11 such sites, examples of which are: seven feet from Lakshmi Building, 33 feet from Shalimar Gardens (whose system of water fountains/cisterns was ruined by being paved over by a road by CM Shahbaz Sharif in an earlier tenure) and 39 feet from Chauburji (the Punjab government tried to justify the last by arguing it was improving the visibility of the monument from the windows of passing OLMT trains!). The OLMT route has uprooted thousands of low income families from their homes and businesses. Meagre compensation, which cannot replace these properties at current market rates, has only been available to those who could produce property ownership documents. Those missing out on even the crumbs from the government’s compensation table were low income denizens unable to produce satisfactory documents because either the record was lost in the mists of time or many victims had lived in these properties after migrating during the turmoil and horror of partition. How bitter that those who sought a new homeland in 1947 were turfed out onto the roads 69 years later. The petition before the LHC did not argue the uncompensated or inadequately compensated victims’ case, although concerned citizens connected to the heritage petition were vocal in their advocacy of justice for the people arbitrarily ground into the dust under the wheels of the OLMT juggernaut. The purpose behind rushing ahead pell mell with the OLMT, obliterating all obstacles in its path, is not hard to discern. As with the earlier Metro Bus project, the CM’s eye is fixed on the future election. The Metro Bus in the CM’s perception won him the 2013 elections. It has never caused even a crease on his forehead that for the money spent on the Metro Bus, which requires a considerable subsidy in perpetuity for each passenger ride, some 6-8,000 buses could have been introduced onto Lahore’s roads in an integrated mass transit plan that would have had the following benefits: not depriving the city of precious road space (as the Metro Bus lanes have done), coverage of public transport needs citywide, and avoidance of the heavy subsidy required throughout its life for the Metro Bus. The original plan for the OLMT, framed during Chaudhry Pervez Elahi’s chief ministership under the Musharraf regime, was an underground train to be financed by JICA (Japan’s aid agency) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It would have taken longer, but avoided the damage done to Lahore’s heritage, damage that persuaded the LHC to call a halt to the rape of the 11 identified heritage sites under threat. Merely because it was a political rival’s brainchild, the underground aspect was rejected, which led to the withdrawal of JICA and the ADB. Shahbaz had done the same thing to the Gowalmandi Food Street created by Pervez Elahi and which had become an international tourist attraction. The Gowalmandi Food Street did have some health and sanitation issues, but instead of improving things on that front, the whole project was sacrificed on the altar of political enmity. The loss for Gowalmandi has proved profitable for the Lahore Fort area’s new, flourishing Food Street, of course with the CM’s blessings. The OLMT not only suffered a similar fate, it was deliberately taken above ground so it would be ‘visible’ and visibly help Shahbaz’s electoral prospects in 2018. Of such stuff are our rulers made. Political expediency and interests trump public welfare (ironically, in the name of the poor travelling public) and waste huge resources because of the brutish manner in which the CM has attempted to impose another fait accompli on Lahore’s troubled citizens, proud of the traditions, culture, way of life, and last but certainly not least, their city’s rich heritage and history. Shahbaz sahib needs to read the excellent LHC judgment, educate himself in these matters, and learn the wisdom that there are more things under the heavens than mere electoral vote counts. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, August 27, 2016
MQM at turning point The extraordinary developments surrounding the MQM since its founder-leader Altaf Hussain’s diatribe on August 22 have left the party facing a turning point. Altaf Hussain’s speech was incendiary, anti-state, and incentivised violence and rioting against the media for not carrying his speeches. What followed was mayhem. That proved a speech too far for the governments in the Centre and in Sindh as well as the security establishment. While cases and arrests of those responsible for the riot on August 22 continue, the authorities have taken the decision to demolish or seal around 200 offices of the party in Karachi and conduct similar actions throughout Sindh. The justification being presented for these actions is that these offices were encroachments on state land. This is disputed by the MQM, which argues that not all these offices were encroachments and no notices were issued, as would be the normal legal procedure. To some this may appear too fine a point or quibbling after what transpired on August 22, but that could arguably be construed as a knee-jerk response or taking advantage of the MQM’s present difficulties to impose a fait accompli while the going is good. No one can dispute that the MQM’s rise to power owed not a little to its strong arm, criminal and even terrorist actions in Karachi over the years, which produced a climate of fear that the party rode to dominance. But this is only one side of the picture. The MQM still enjoys massive political support amongst the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi and throughout Sindh. It was to save the party and its constituent community that Dr Farooq Sattar took the unprecedented step of distancing MQM Pakistan from Altaf Hussain and the London Committee perceived to control the militant wing of the party. Sattar distanced himself from Altaf Hussain’s anti-state diatribe and the militant past of the MQM, stopping just short of a denouncement for tactical reasons. Now speculations are rife whether this represents a permanent or (as so many times in the past) temporary sidelining of Altaf Hussain, pending his perceived need for medical professional help and treatment. How long the mercurial leader would continue to eat humble pie and not reassert himself remains in the realm of conjecture. In the meantime, Farooq Sattar is poised on the horns of a dilemma. If he appears still loyal unreservedly to Altaf Hussain, he and his party may not be spared the unwelcome attention of the authorities. His attempt is to reposition the MQM as a law abiding mainstream party. This is an enterprise, despite its risks and potential pitfalls, which should not be dismissed lightly. For it to succeed, which appears to be in the interests of the MQM as well as the country, he needs to be cut some slack. Also, from the point of view of the state, the temptation to steamroll over the MQM in the favourable climate for it at this conjuncture notwithstanding, there is a need to proceed cautiously, circumspectly, and within the four corners of the law and constitution. Only thus can the state retain the moral high ground and help persuade the MQM’s considerable vote bank that their best option is going with Farooq Sattar and company and dumping Altaf Hussain and his London cohorts. Even if some or all of the MQM offices being demolished or sealed were illegitimate encroachments, surely this is not a fact that has suddenly come to the attention of the authorities. Most of these offices are decades old and were allowed to exist because military dictators backed the MQM and civilian governments chose expedient mollycoddling of the party to keep it from reverting to its worst avatar. Revenge should not appear as the motive for actions against the MQM, but rather the belated and long overdue re-establishing the writ of the state and the rule of law. The latter in particular will not be helped by actions deemed arbitrary. Ironically, while the demolition/sealing of MQM offices and the arrests of those suspected of being involved in the violence of August 22 continue, the federal and Sindh governments are playing ping-pong with who is responsible for these actions against the party. If legitimate, lawful actions against MQM were the order of the day, perhaps these governments would feel less hesitant, if not confident, of acknowledging their ownership. Legitimate actions would also help isolate Altaf Hussain and the London Committee further, establish the credentials of Farooq Sattar and MQM Pakistan, and help wean the Urdu-speaking community away from the men of violence and into the arms of a reinvented, acceptable MQM.
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
IHK continues to bleed The wave of unbridled repression let loose by the Indian troops in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) since the July 8 killing of militant commander Burhanuddin Wani and the consequent mass youth uprising shows no signs of abating. On August 23, Indian troops opened fire on protestors demanding an end to Indian rule in the southern Shopian and northern Bandipore areas, wounding at least 14 people to add to the mounting casualty toll in the troubled state. In Shopian, police claimed the troops fired after villagers pelted them with stones while they were clearing roadblocks set up by protestors in about half a dozen villages. Local residents however, said the clashes erupted after troops fired tear gas indiscriminately to intimidate the villagers while moving through their area. The agitated villagers retaliated with rocks, and were met by a hail of bullets and shotgun pellets. Clashes were also reported from at least two locations in the Bandipore area, where a woman was injured. This has become a pattern since the largest protests in IHK since the 2010 intifada broke out after July 8. Unarmed civilian protestors throwing stones and rocks or whatever is at hand are brutally killed and wounded by bullets and shotgun pellets fired directly at the defenceless crowds. At least 65 protestors have been killed and thousands wounded in this manner. Two policemen have been killed and hundreds of security personnel injured in the clashes. These figures are alarming enough, not to mention the horror of unrestricted use of live ammunition and pellets against unarmed protestors. The shotgun pellets fired indiscriminately at crowds and even passersby have resulted in thousands losing their eyesight or suffering horrendous wounds to the face and eyes. The Modi government seems to believe it can indefinitely keep up these atrocities in a continuing attempt to forcibly retain the people of Kashmir within India’s fold with the liberal use of the knout and at the point of a bayonet. History may not be on Modi’s side in this unremitting cruelty, but until it delivers its final verdict, the pain inflicted on the long suffering people of Kashmir has attained unprecedented heights. Not only is IHK continuing to bleed at the hands of Modi’s butchers, constant curfews and harassment of citizens going about their daily business, not to mention the gagging of the media in IHK, has made the life of IHK’s denizens miserable (the rest of the Indian media, with a few honourable exceptions, continues its long standing practice of turning a blind eye to the atrocities being perpetuated on defenceless people or toeing New Delhi’s line of denying the problem is indigenous and dumping it all in the basket of ‘terrorism’ or militancy allegedly being ‘exported’ from Pakistan). Regrettably, the voices of dissent in India from this cruel policy are still all too few and far between, the increasing disquiet and criticism of India’s opposition parties notwithstanding. Brave individuals such as writer and activist Arundhati Roy are charged with sedition for daring to challenge India’s officially certified truth in IHK. An Indian movie actor and onetime Congress MP Ms Ramya is similarly charged for contradicting Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s description of Pakistan as ‘hell’, based on her recent visit to our country. Even respected human rights watchdog Amnesty International is roped into the sedition fold for critiquing the bloodshed. Sadly, neither the UN nor the international community has shed even a crocodile tear for the blood of innocent youth being butchered without mercy in IHK. One fruit of New Delhi’s attempts to pin the blame for the troubles in IHK on Pakistan is the impact on bilateral and South Asian relations. Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has skipped the SAARC finance ministers’ meeting in Islamabad, sending the finance secretary in his place. In the current climate, the chances of Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry’s invitation to his Indian counterpart to discuss Kashmir seems unlikely to bear fruit. The Modi government is playing with fire by brutally suppressing the people of IHK and stubbornly refusing to engage in a dialogue with Pakistan or the people of IHK. Perhaps they need to heed the words of Arundhati Roy, whose subtextual meaning is that no people can be free if it oppresses another people. The clampdown on dissent over Modi’s IHK policy is living proof of that wisdom.
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Altaf Hussain’s political hara-kiri The dizzying events in Karachi on Monday and Tuesday shook the country and left the political actor at the heart of what evolved into a major crisis, the MQM, reeling. First, a recap. MQM had mounted a hunger strike before the Karachi Press Club in protest at the alleged ‘disappearance’ of dozens of its workers at the hands of the security agencies, some of whom, according to the MQM, have been tortured or extra judicially killed. The pressure on the federal government first and foremost as the controller of the Rangers leading the operation in Karachi reached a critical point when the health of some of the hunger strikers, including parliamentarians, deteriorated. Islamabad then dispatched Information Minister Pervez Rashid to Karachi to hold talks with MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar and his colleagues. At the end of their deliberations on Monday, it appeared as though a breakthrough had been achieved when the minister revealed that he had heard the MQM and conveyed to them the message of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that an MQM delegation should visit Islamabad to see him and that the government would try to redress their grievances. After this announcement, it was stated from the MQM side that the hunger strike had been ended. What followed surprised all and sundry. Altaf Hussain, whose incendiary speeches from London have been banned from being broadcast on the electronic media, spoke to the to-be-dispersed hunger strike camp and delivered a broadside to beat all his previous efforts. Not only did he castigate Pakistan in terms that have been construed as treasonous (a case under Article 6 has reportedly been lodged against him and others), he instigated the hunger strikers to ‘attend’ to the media houses that were refusing to broadcast his speeches. Unfortunately for them, two media houses in particular were located near the Press Club and therefore were on the receiving end of the unwanted attentions of the angry MQM workers, led by women. Not only were the offices and studios of these media outlets trashed and staff attacked, clashes with the small contingent of police on the spot resulted in one death and about a dozen wounded. A police motorcycle was set on fire and many cars and vehicles smashed. Eventually, a heavier contingent of police arrived, along with Rangers, to quell the violence. The incident was condemned from all sides, including the prime minister. COAS General Raheel Sharif instructed the DG Rangers in Karachi to arrest all those involved in raising anti-Pakistan slogans in response to Altaf Hussain’s instigation and perpetrating violence against the media. In the evening. Farooq Sattar and other MQM leaders who arrived to conduct a press conference at the Press Club were arrested and taken away by the Rangers but then later released. MQM workers were arrested all over the city, all the party’s offices, including its headquarters Nine Zero, were sealed and some 13 workers allegedly guilty of the Monday violence were sent on police remand by an anti-terrorism court. The following day, Tuesday, Farooq Sattar held a press conference in which he made the startling announcement that henceforth, decisions of the MQM would be made in Pakistan (i.e. Karachi) and not in London. This effectively meant sidelining the MQM supreme leader Altaf Hussain and his London Committee, although Farooq Sattar and other MQM leaders cautiously tried to ‘balance’ the distancing from the supremo with ritual declarations of Altaf Husain still being the leader of the party. Farooq Sattar also distanced himself and the MQM Pakistan (as it is now being called) from the anti-Pakistan slogans authored by Altaf Hussain as well as violence in any form or for whatever reason. Sattar’s ‘caution’ was visible in his reluctance to answer journalists’ questions at the press conference. Clearly, Farooq Sattar has attempted damage control aimed at preventing the MQM being banned, as is being advocated by many quarters. He may also have had an eye on Karachi’s mayor and deputy mayor elections due today, in which the MQM obviously has a big stake. Sceptics though are wondering out loud whether this ‘distancing’ between Karachi and London is tactical or permanent, voluntary or establishment pressure-driven, and the final imposition of the ‘minus-one’ formula vis-à-vis Altaf Hussain. Of course the answers will only be available over time, and perhaps even over the next few days. Much will depend on Altaf Hussain’s reaction. This is not the first time Altaf Hussain has embarrassed his party on the ground in Pakistan by making outlandish speeches/statements. Each time it has been left to the likes of Farooq Sattar to pull the leader’s chestnuts out of the fire lit by his own hand for the sake of the survival of the party. Farooq Sattar’s attempts to present the MQM as a legitimate, moderate, parliamentary party were constantly undermined by Altaf Hussain’s ravings. Sattar was even ‘punished’ (verbal and physical abuse) in the past for allegedly defying the supremo’s orders or not following them to the letter. Farooq Sattar always attempted to put a brave face on this mistreatment and attempted to soldier on for the sake of the MQM’s survival. This time however, it seems Altaf Hussain has gone too far. Even his most ardent admirers and defenders in the MQM leadership have thrown up their hands if not thrown in the towel on this mission impossible. What follows could decide the fate of the MQM and therefore also of Karachi and the politics of mohajir ethnicity that has been the leit motif of the MQM for the last 32 years. Altaf Hussain may yet survive this crisis, but his penchant for committing political hara-kiri seems to have impelled him in the direction of one speech too far.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Panama commission conundrum Finance Minister Ishaq Dar seems to have mounted a fresh effort to persuade the opposition, the PPP in particular, to cooperate in getting the stalled inquiry commission on the Panama leaks off the ground. In this regard, he reportedly recently met Asif Zardari in Dubai and has now followed that up with a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly (NA) Syed Khursheed Shah. To end the stalemate on the commission and its Terms of Reference (ToRs), Dar asked Khursheed Shah to agree a date for the meeting of the parliamentary committee to prepare mutually agreed ToRs for the inquiry commission. Khursheed Shah circumspectly responded by saying he would give his response in a day or two after consulting the Senate Leader of the Opposition Aitzaz Ahsan and other opposition allies. Aitzaz has been the party’s leading light in insisting that the probe must begin with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his family. Dar later addressed the media to say that the meeting with Khursheed Shah had been on the one-point agenda of discussing the draft of the government’s bill, The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 2016, in view of the opposition’s demand for a specific law under which the commission would investigate those owning offshore companies. The new Act is meant to replace the existing Inquiry Commissions Act 1956, which the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Anwar Zaheer Jamali categorised as “toothless” while rejecting the government’s proposed ToRs and asking for new legislation to empower the proposed commission. While this response of the CJP strengthened the opposition’s hand as it endorsed their demand for fresh legislation, Dar advocated the new and improved draft of the proposed bill. Dar also explained that since there was no convener of the 12-member parliamentary committee that has equal representation of the treasury and opposition, the government had to approach the Speaker NA or the opposition leader to agree a date for the meeting. The parliamentary committee has not met since June when, after a series of its meetings, the opposition decided not to hold further negotiations after the government’s refusal to accept its ToRs. Last month, the Speaker NA’s intervention had produced an agreement to meet on August 9, but it had to be postponed because of the Quetta attack on August 8. The main sticking point in the ToRs has remained the insistence of the opposition that the Panama probe must begin with the prime minister and his family. After the deadlock, the opposition parties separately have moved references before the NA Speaker and the Election Commission of Pakistan seeking the disqualification of the prime minister and his family for allegedly concealing assets abroad and details of taxes. The government’s fresh effort to break through the logjam on the Panama affair seems motivated by a number of developments after the negotiations broke down. First and foremost, the government wants to wean the PPP away from its recent flirtation with the PTI. The PPP in the past, especially during Imran Khan’s months-long Islamabad sit-in, had stood by the government’s side on the basis that they were defending the democratic system. But of late the PPP has been alienated by the government’s actions against and statements about the party and its government in Sindh, particularly Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s railings against the party’s leadership. Although the PPP’s attempt to sail in the same boat as the PTI and the rest of the opposition has not been smooth, it seems to have finally dawned on the government that the costs of alienating the PPP far outweigh any actual or perceived benefits. Second, now that Imran Khan has once more embarked on a series of protest rallies and sit-ins and intends to move the Supreme Court against Nawaz Sharif, it becomes even more imperative for the government to once again win back the PPP to at least a defence of democracy, which in the obtaining situation obviously helps the ruling PML-N. Whether the fresh government initiative will succeed or not only time will tell. But there now seems no escape from a Panama leaks inquiry after the necessary legislation is passed and provided the two sides of the political divide agree on what have proved contentious ToRs.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Addressing NAP lacunae In the third meeting of the top civilian and military leadership in the last six days, the final touches have apparently been administered to rejig the National Action Plan (NAP). The move comes after the military expressed concern about the lacunae and gaps in the implementation of NAP, reiterating on Monday, the day of the meeting, that failure to address the weak or unimplemented parts of NAP would make the consolidation of the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb difficult, if not impossible. In the wake of the August 8 Quetta carnage, the government seems finally to be moving to allay the military’s concerns. National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt-General (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua has been named to lead the new body constituted to oversee the implementation of NAP. Apart from the NSA, the body will include the military’s Director General Military Operations (DGMO), the Interior Secretary, DG National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), the provincial Chief Secretaries, Inspector Generals (IGs) Police, Home Secretaries, an Additional Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and representatives of the intelligence agencies (civilian and military). The decision to appoint NSA Nasser Janjua as the head of the new NAP implementation body reflects a ‘compromise’ on the original provisions of NAP, which saw NACTA in the role of the coordinating centre for implementation of NAP. But that plan fell foul of the tug of war between the prime and interior minister over who NACTA would report to, as well as the opposition of the military’s intelligence agencies to be answerable to civilians. NACTA therefore never took off. The new body will fill the void under NSA Nasser Janjua who, being a former General, seems to have proved acceptable to the military and its intelligence agencies. While this may allay some of the military’s concerns regarding NAP, that is not the whole story. The military seems concerned also about the uncertain future of the Protection of Pakistan Act (PoPA), liable to lapse if not renewed in January 2017 because of the two-year sunset clause slipped into it by parliament. Parliament had also wisely thought to limit the arbitrariness at the heart of the military courts set up under the Act to summarily try terrorism suspects by keeping their verdicts open to judicial review by the higher courts. In practice, this has led to many death and long prison sentences handed down by the military courts being suspended by the superior judiciary on the touchstone of due process and fair trial. And this in spite of the endorsement of these military courts verdicts by COAS General Raheel Sharif. At the time of writing these lines, reports speak of his endorsement of the death sentences by military courts of another 13 alleged terrorists, perceived as the military’s ‘answer’ to the Quetta atrocity. It remains to be seen, however, whether their fate will be any different from all the other military courts verdicts so far. Apart from the fate of PoPA, the military harbours reservations about the reluctance of the political leaderships to allow special powers to the Rangers in Punjab and the whole of Sindh, issues regarding preventive detention of terrorism suspects, and poor prosecution of terrorism cases. As far as the military’s concern about raising new wings of the Frontier Corps (FC) is concerned, a beginning towards eventually raising 73 new wings has been made by announcing the establishment of 29 new wings this year. The prime minister himself has promised all necessary funding and support for counter-terrorism. In addition, the Finance Ministry and the State Bank have been instructed to take action on terrorism financing. Another top level meeting is expected this week to be attended by all the provinces’ chief ministers. Further legislation that may be required and investing the new NAP implementation body with the authority it needs will also be dealt with. A mechanism for intelligence sharing amongst federal and provincial authorities and the intelligence organisations and other departments will be strengthened to plug this major coordination gap. Action is planned against proscribed organisations functioning under different names and the provinces will be provided more funds for the anti-terrorism drive. All this represents a new found resolve to plug the loopholes left over in the implementation of NAP. The response of the civilian authorities after the Quetta attack is to be appreciated, even if it is a case of better late than never. It may also serve to smoothen the rough edges and worries of the military regarding the tardiness so far of the civilian authorities to do the needful and ensure the full implementation of NAP. The struggle against terrorism requires nothing less than the complete and unhindered cooperation and coordination of all state stakeholders to ensure the success of the national endeavour to root out and eliminate the existential threat posed by terrorism.
Monday, August 15, 2016
NAP in the doldrums Rashed Rahman Another Independence Day came and went with little beyond the ritualistic commemorative events and statements. Although there were references galore to the Quetta carnage on August 8 that left over 70 dead and many others wounded (the toll including a preponderant weight of lawyers), what was missing perhaps was an announcement by the government/s to hold a national level one minute’s silence as a mark of respect to the victims. Instead, from the day of the blast at Quetta’s Civil Hospital, we have been inundated with the narrative that such incidents are the product of outside powers’ malign and inimical intent towards Pakistan. India and its intelligence agency RAW have in particular been singled out for blame. All this means that the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ thesis has been granted a fresh lease of life. Is the ‘foreign hand’ narrative completely without basis? It is difficult to say since there is a long history of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and India conducting covert activities against each other. The narrative cannot therefore be dismissed out of hand. However, what is disconcerting about the repeated accusations by the two countries (and Afghanistan for good measure) is the lack of supporting evidence to back up these claims. In Pakistan, the media has not only failed to critically interrogate these claims of both civilian and military leaders, it has joined the chorus without a second thought or any attempt to present some clinching evidence. Pakistan says it has presented a dossier to back up its accusations against India as being behind the terrorism in Pakistan to the UN. Fine, but no details are available to date about what the dossier contains. Scepticism about the belated initiative is deepened by the lack of response to the dossier by the UN or the global powers-that-be. Why is this demand for persuasive evidence to substantiate the allegations of the ‘foreign hand’ being responsible for terrorism in Pakistan important? First, as Pakistan’s feeble diplomatic efforts at the UN and bilaterally with the global powers shows, dossiers and statements seem so far to have failed to persuade anyone of Pakistan’s ‘case’. No effective support for Pakistan therefore can be expected in the near future. Meanwhile such repeated accusations raise the temperature of hostility and confrontation between neighbours in our part of the world, with two at least of the countries concerned being nuclear-armed (Pakistan and India). Second, the knee-jerk fashion in which every terrorist incident is immediately blamed on the ‘foreign hand’ serves to distract from the critically needed focus on domestic non-state actors directly responsible for terrorist atrocities. This is the major failure of the National Action Plan (NAP) agreed with consensus by the political class and unreservedly backed by the military. Let us examine the reasons for this failure. First, some context. It may be recalled that soon after the May 2013 elections that brought the PML-N to power, the government gathered all the political parties to discuss the issue of terrorism afflicting the country. After long deliberations, the political class arrived at the consensus conclusion to give peace a chance by conducting talks with the terrorist outfits, particularly the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). That initiative soon came a cropper because of the terrorist attack on Karachi airport in June 2013. The military’s response was to mount Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA to root out the terrorists from their safe havens and main operating base inside the country. The operation achieved great success in uprooting the terrorists from the area. But the adjunct NAP agreed to, again by consensus, by the political class that was meant to deal with the expected ‘blowback’ from the military operation in FATA, fell short of effective implementation. Six of the 20 points agreed to in NAP were never implemented because of a lack of government focus, perhaps contributed to further by the expected blowback taking longer to arrive than expected. They were: inaction on madrassa reforms, banned organisations, terrorism financing, FATA reforms, bolstering the operational capacity and efficiency of the civilian law enforcement agencies and updating criminal laws to take account of the new challenges posed by terrorism. It has been reported that during the last two months during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s illness and absence from the country, nothing at all has been done on these continuing lacunae in the implementation of NAP. Now, in the wake of the Quetta tragedy, a two-day consultation amongst the top civilian and military leadership has produced the intent to establish a panel to oversee the execution of NAP. The new body (which could have been created earlier since Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar seemed incapable of taking up this task satisfactorily) will include senior security officials of the federal and provincial governments, although the exact composition is still to be decided. In passing, it should be recalled that this was precisely the mandate of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) according to NAP, but this umbrella coordination and centralised implementation organisation was left to wither on the vine. In the wake of the Quetta carnage aimed at, and to a considerable extent successful in, decapitating an articulate and aware section of Balochistan’s intelligentsia wedded to the struggle against terrorism, i.e. lawyers, the military appears upset with the civilian government for its manifest failure to fully and effectively implement the NAP entire. It has been joined in this criticism by MNA Mahmood Khan Achakzai, an outspoken interrogator of the officially certified truth despite his party, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, being part of and a major beneficiary of the coalition government in Balochistan with the PML-N. However, Achakzai’s blast included the intelligence and security agencies for their demonstrated ineffectiveness and failure in the face of the terrorist challenge. Since speaking truth to power is not without risk in Pakistan, Achakzai has been rounded upon by many rascals posing as ‘super patriots’, accusing him of all sorts of ‘crimes and misdemeanours’, including treason. Lest the impression is gleaned that the failures in the anti-terrorist struggle belong entirely on the civilian side, it should be noted that the military’s triumphalist claims of having crushed the TTP and other terrorist groups in FATA through Operation Zarb-e-Azb were premature, misleading, and liable to (and did) have the unintended consequence of complacency creep. The fact is that the terrorist problem, far from being eliminated by Operation Zarb-e-Azb’s undoubted successes in cleansing and denying the terrorists their longstanding safe havens in FATA, merely succeeded in ‘exporting’ the malady. The TTP (and other terrorist groups) have reportedly found safe havens across the border inside Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, hosted and facilitated by our so-called ‘boys’, the Haqqani network. That development should have immediately changed the triumphalism in the wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb into alarm and staying on our toes for the expected riposte in the form of terrorism. The fact that this riposte did not arrive immediately, as expected, meant that the TTP and other terrorist groups took time to regroup, reorganise and activate their cells throughout Pakistan, the lull before the storm contributing to complacency and letting our guard down through sheer inertia. Lessons of course need to be learnt by all sides, civilian and military, from the weaknesses and lapses of the past regarding implementation of NAP as the critical counter-terrorism aspect of our strategy. The fact that ‘combing’ operations were ordered in Quetta and elsewhere in the wake of the August 8 suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital indicates a major inertia aspect. Counter-terrorism, just as counter-insurgency, cannot afford to be reactive. Unless the strategy is proactive, the state would surrender the initiative to the other side, which already enjoys the advantage of choosing the time and place for strikes. Without the strategic advantage, the battle against terrorism is all but lost. This implies not reactive actions after each incident but a planned continuous intelligence-driven campaign that attempts to eliminate terrorists before they attack rather than after they have plied their bloody trade. firstname.lastname@example.org rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Talks impasse Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed opposition leaders on August 12 in New Delhi at a meeting called to discuss finding a political solution to the ongoing unrest in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). His remarks regarding Pakistan’s role as a peace partner in the matter however, seemed to rest more on provocation than a sober approach to solving the IHK conundrum. He said India would like to discuss human rights issues with expatriates from Balochistan and Azad Kashmir living in exile in different countries. The first mentioned, a province of Pakistan, was obviously referred to in a crude attempt to equate Pakistan’s criticism of the ongoing repression in IHK with the situation in Balochistan, on the spurious ostensible ground of IHK being a part of and internal matter of India. The latter reference was in line with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s long standing and often reiterated stance that the only discussion New Delhi wanted with Pakistan was on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (i.e. Azad Kashmir) and its ‘return’ to India. His opposition audience though, seemed unimpressed by Modi’s posturing and told him to heal the shattered hearts of the people in the Kashmir Valley first. In an eerie echo of the dominant narrative in Pakistan since the horrendous Quetta blast, Modi ascribed the unrest in the disputed region to cross-border terrorism, ignoring in the process the toll of 50 people killed and 5,000 injured in the clashes between Kashmiri protestors and the Indian security forces since July 8, when unrest erupted over the killing of Burhan Wani. While the opposition backed the BJP government’s attempt to restore peace in the Valley, they demanded immediate confidence building measures be initiated such as discontinuing the use of pellet guns against the protestors that have led to at least 100 people being blinded and many others injured. They also suggested discussions with all groups in IHK and asked for the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act to be lifted from civilian areas. In reply, the BJP government said it would consider the opposition’s suggestions, including sending an all-party delegation to IHK but only after the ground situation improves. Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz in the meantime proposed to India a dedicated dialogue on Kashmir since New Delhi was dragging its feet on a comprehensive dialogue. This proposal has followed the Pakistani envoys’ conference in Islamabad recently. The logic seems to be to try and nudge forward the dialogue frozen since 2014 (the year the BJP came to power). An agreement to revive the talks reached during Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore in December 2015 could not materialise because of the Pathankot airbase attack. The current uprising in IHK has added further strains to the troubled Pakistan-India relationship. Realistically speaking, and especially in the light of the New Delhi meeting mentioned above between the Indian government and opposition and the former’s hardline stance, it is unlikely that the offer of a dialogue dedicated to Kashmir will receive a positive response from New Delhi. Nevertheless, while Pakistan attempts to mobilise international opinion on the ongoing repression in IHK through the upcoming UN General Assembly session or by approaching Muslim countries, the perfectly sound and welcome initiative squarely puts the ball in India’s court. If it fails to respond to the proposal or rejects it, that will raise questions about India’s commitment to finding a solution to the long standing Kashmir dispute and its inability to deal with Kashmiri grievances of long standing and increasing intensity. Embarrassed or not by this exposure, the BJP government should heed at least the words of its own opposition leaders in reaching out to the alienated and angry Kashmiris in IHK so as to show, as former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh put it, a caring heart. An internal settlement with the Kashmiris in IHK can only facilitate a final solution of the problem amongst Pakistan, India and the people of Kashmir.
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Russia-Turkey ties reset Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has embarked on his first trip abroad after the failed coup of July 15. It is logical that his first port of call is Russia, specifically Saint Petersburg, the hometown of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In these salubrious surroundings, Erdogan tried to reset his country’s strained relations with Russia. These relations have historically been anything but straightforward. But after the downing of a Russian fighter by Turkey last November on the Syrian border, relations plunged to an all-time low, with a furious Putin imposing a raft of sanctions on Turkey. Cooperative and strategic projects were put on ice, trade between the two countries plummeted by 43 percent in January-May 2016 to $ 6.1 billion and Russian tourist numbers, on which Turkey’s tourism industry critically depends, plunged 93 percent. The ice was finally broken in June 2016 following a letter of regret over the downing of the Russian plane from Turkey, which Russia accepted as an apology. In their press conference after the meeting, Putin said they had lived through a very complicated moment and want to overcome their difficulties but this would take painstaking work and some time to return to business as usual. Erdogan echoed these sentiments, stressing how important Putin’s support after the coup was. This contrasts sharply with Erdogan’s complaints against the US for ‘harbouring’ his ‘nemesis’, Fethullah Gulen, and against the European Union as well for allegedly showing more concern about Turkey’s post-coup crackdown than the attempted putsch itself. Russia itself has strained relations with the west currently, centred on Ukraine but also differences over Syria. The convergence between Turkey and Russia therefore seems natural, albeit worrying for the west since Turkey is a key NATO ally. Russia and Turkey in the past did not let their rivalry over influence in the Black Sea region and the Middle East (particularly Syria, where they are arraigned on opposite sides) stand in the way of mutually beneficial trade and economic relations. With this visit, these cooperative relations seem poised for revival. One of the first fruits of Turkey’s expression of regret over the downing of the Russian plane and now the visit has been Russia’s lifting the ban on package holidays in Turkey by Russian tourists. Moscow has indicated it will now end measures against Turkish food imports and construction firms. What is likely to follow is the revival of strategic projects such as the TurkStream gas pipeline to Europe and a Russian-built nuclear power station in Turkey. The normalisation of cooperative relations between Turkey and Russia is being viewed in the current climate of strained relations with the west as a zero sum game by western capitals, largely because they have ‘taken on’ Russia since the Ukrainian crisis and its intervention in Syria on the side of Bashar al-Assad. This can only lead to weakening influence and fewer and fewer options or room to manoeuvre for the west in the region and beyond, as the outcome of the west’s proxy interventions in Ukraine and Syria are proving. While the west’s post-cold war triumphalism has translated into trying to prevent Russia’s recovery to its erstwhile superpower status and adventurous attempts to nibble away at its ‘near abroad’, its relations with its ostensible NATO ally Turkey have not panned out well in recent times either. On the one hand, the US is dependent on Turkey’s Incirlik airbase for its air campaign against Islamic State in Syria. On the other hand, Turkey’s policies in the region have clearly, at least until it suffered reverses, been at odds with the west’s. The mess in Syria is one fruit of these ill-considered and divergent policies of the NATO allies. Turkey, in the aftermath of the failed coup, finds more purchase in mending fences with its near or immediate neighbours such as Israel and Russia, rather than keeping faith with a Washington that appears unsympathetic to its present travails, or a Europe not being able to see the wood for the trees, at least in Turkish eyes. This fluid, shifting scenario in the region is reminiscent of similar trends in other parts of the world, where the traditional hegemony of the US-led west is declining and regional actors are reconfiguring their relations in the light of their own perceived interests. Verily, the geopolitical map of the world is undergoing tectonic shifts that may well come to define the shape of a new world order in the not so distant future.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
The curious case of M C Barrett Matthew Craig Barrett is a US national married to a Pakistani woman, reportedly the daughter of an Islamabad lawyer, with two sons, and had been living in Pakistan some years ago. After being deported from Pakistan in 2011, ostensibly on suspicion of snooping around and photographing sensitive military (nuclear?) installations not far from Islamabad, Mr Barrett made what turned out to be a dramatic re-entry into Pakistan the other day despite being on a blacklist, a development that sent sections of the media and politicians into a frenzy of speculation regarding his motives and intent. Without adding more fuel to that raging speculative fire, it is nevertheless useful to recap some of the known facts about Mr Barrett. He flew to Islamabad with a valid four-year multiple entry visa issued by our Consulate in Houston. He was initially cleared by FIA Immigration and allowed to proceed but then, according to sources, another layer of checking discovered his name on the blacklist. A frantic chase and eventual arrest by the FIA followed (Keystone cops anyone?). Curiouser and curiouser, it turns out that Sub-Inspector FIA Raja Asif Raza and his son Constable Ehteshamul Haq were on duty when Barrett was initially cleared for entry. Since a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been set up to investigate how Barrett obtained his visa in Houston and how Immigration cleared him initially, the FIR in this regard has named the father and son as culpable. The father has obtained interim pre-arrest bail until August 15 from a Special Judge Central (FIA). The son’s fate is that he and Barrett have been detained and a four-day physical remand of both ‘accused’ has been obtained by the FIA Immigration Cell. The father’s counsel’s plea in court was that the Immigration officers saw that Barrett had a valid visa but when they entered his name into their data base to ascertain routinely whether his name was on the blacklist, the system cleared him. The fault therefore on the human side was unintentional, and on the machine side, a systemic error. He did not go on to explain why the second check with the same system produced a contrary result to the first time. Our penchant for and obsession with conspiracy theories notwithstanding, the circumstances of the Barrett case are even stranger than fiction. Barrett has told the FIA that he was here on a scouting mission because he wanted to move to Pakistan (a somewhat different ‘scouting’ mission than the one for which he was deported five years ago). Fair enough, but the unanswered questions just won’t go away. How did he manage to obtain a four-year multiple entry visa in Houston? Is it the usual case of some under the counter hanky-panky? Why did he enter a wrong address on his disembarkation card? Given his earlier track record, Barrett appeared to be playing with fire. In 2011 when he was arrested, incriminating maps of the sensitive installations he was allegedly photographing were recovered from him. His visa at that time was curtailed and he was asked to leave the country in the climate of heightened suspicion after the Raymond Davis affair and Osama bin Laden raid. Instead, he went into hiding but was arrested days after his curtailed visa expired. The spreading ripples of the affair now have enveloped FIA Assistant Director (Immigration) Nadeem Zafar too. The officer has been suspended for allegedly clearing Barrett. Zafar was reportedly also suspended in 2009 for alleged links with foreigners while he was an Inspector in the FIA. He reportedly moved to the UK on ex-Pakistan leave and rejoined the FIA on his return in 2013. This curious cast of players is headed by none other than our doughty Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Despite the speculative furore, the minister has attempted to play down the ‘spy’ angle, presumably to spare the government’s blushes. However, what is still missing from the usually loquacious minister’s statements is some clarification regarding Barrett’s expulsion five years ago. Instead the usual umbrage and blame being heaped on junior officials is on display. Surely the minister must realise in the context of the security situation of the country and the current anti-terrorism drive that this incident has badly exposed the possibility of either corruption in our immigration setup or systemic failures or both. Can a country in the middle of trying to implement an anti-terrorism National Action Plan afford such glaring mistakes, glitches and loopholes? A rhetorical question if ever there was one.
Monday, August 8, 2016
Erdogan’s counter-coup Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), including the opposition (except for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party), turned out for a ‘Democracy and Martyrs’ rally in Istanbul on Sunday, August 7 to celebrate the overcoming of an abortive coup by a faction of the military on July 15. Similar, albeit smaller rallies were also held in the capital Ankara, tourist destination Izmir in the west of the country, Antalya in the south and Diyarbakir in the Kurdish southeast. These rallies bring to an end the daily manifestations of support for democracy and against the foiled coup for the last three weeks. Although no one in their right mind in today’s day and age would support the ‘Man on Horseback’ syndrome, the failed military coup that claimed at least 273 lives, including 34 coup plotters, has spawned even uglier consequences than the condemnable putsch itself. The reasons for the attempted overthrow of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government are not hard to seek. In power since 2002, Erdogan must be credited with transforming Turkey into a modern economic powerhouse. And this was achieved during his two stints as prime minister while allaying apprehensions about his and the AKP’s Islamist roots by adopting a moderate stance that would not disturb Turkey’s fundamental status as a secular state. However, signs of trouble began appearing after Erdogan was elected president three years ago. Observers noted his increasing bent towards authoritarianism, with accompanying expressed intent to shift power from the prime minister, hitherto the chief executive, to the presidency. The coup attempt may have been triggered by such trends. The main suspect behind the coup attempt in Erdogan’s eyes was self-exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, now residing in the US. Turkey insists Gulen must be extradited from the US to face trial at home, but has yet to move a formal request for the same since that would require substantiation and evidence for the charge. Gulen also stands accused of earlier trouble making through the alleged influence of his followers in the police, bureaucracy, judiciary and the media. Ironically, till 2013, Gulen was an ally of Erdogan against Turkey’s traditional secularism and to clip the military’s wings. After they fell out over Gulen’s criticism of Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies and the latter’s suspicion that Gulen was behind leaks on the social media linking Erdogan’s family and colleagues to massive corruption, many police, prosecution and intelligence officers were sacked, but this purge was small compared to the ongoing wholesale witch-hunt. What has cut little ice with Erdogan is the denial of responsibility and condemnation of the coup attempt by Gulen. The collapse of the putsch by a section of the armed forces (the conspirators did not even have the backing of the entire military) has been followed by a wide-ranging purge that has alarmed even Turkey’s friends. US Central Command chief General Joseph Votel had the ‘temerity’ to suggest the other day that the turmoil surrounding the coup bid and the subsequent round up of dozens of Generals could affect US military cooperation with Turkey. Despite Erdogan taking umbrage at this statement, was this an idle thought? Turkey’s critical position as a member of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS) in Syria and the strategic Incirlik air base from which strikes against IS are launched cannot but be affected by the purge of 150 Generals and Admirals, nearly half of Turkey’s High Command, not to mention 10,000 members of the armed forces. Add to these the sackings and arrests of 9,000 policemen, 2,475 judges, 21,000 private school teachers, journalists and other alleged ‘Gulenists’, including 1,700 education ministry, 1,500 finance ministry officials and 1,500 university deans being forced to resign. Amnesty International has reported the beatings, severe torture, rape of the accused coup plotters in detention. This does not behove a democracy wedded to the rule of law. The media has received more than its due share of unwanted attention too, including the shutting down of 130 media outlets amongst whom can be counted 45 daily newspapers and 16 TV channels. Besides this, arrest warrants have been issued for nearly 50 former staffers of the Zaman newspaper. Earlier, 42 arrest warrants were issued for journalists, 16 of whom have been detained. Amidst the wider crackdown against Gulen’s alleged or actual supporters, the witch-hunt in progress seems to be Erdogan and the AJK government’s seeing an opportunity to purge Turkey of all political rivals, dissidents and the critical media. Although Erdogan in his paranoia has rounded harshly on General Votel for his remarks, his crackdown promises the opposite of what is intended: further polarisation of Turkey amidst the country’s backsliding on human rights, the right to information, imposition of a state of emergency, partial withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, and contemplation of the restoration of the death penalty. The Euro three billion migrants deal with the EU may unravel amidst the latter’s reservations regarding Turkey’s present course and Erdogan’s accusation that his country has only received one third of the promised amount. Even the Pak-Turk 26 schools educating 10,000 children in Pakistan are threatened with closure because of Ankara’s linking them with Gulen. The shock of the attempted coup notwithstanding, nothing justifies this response and this trend. No democratically elected ruler/s, no matter how solid their majority and the demonstrated support against the attempted coup by even the opposition, can simply throw all restraint to the winds and ride roughshod over the rights, even existence, of all dissident opinion. Turkey, beset by a full plate of problems with IS turning its guns on its erstwhile covert supporter, the war against the Kurds escalating in the southeast and now the attempted coup, is not being well served by Erdogan’s turn towards what increasingly is looking like a ‘fascist’ state. For that matter, in the long (or perhaps not even that long) run, neither are Erdogan’s own interests or future, particularly because of his increasing public attacks on the US for being behind or at least complicit in the abortive coup and on the west generally for allegedly being more sympathetic to the coup plotters than his regime. email@example.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com
Saturday, August 6, 2016
US-India convergence There are indications in the air that Pakistan’s worst nightmare scenario may be unfolding. This development sees the US and India converging in terms of interests as well as a shared vision of their partnership in today’s world going into the future. The bigger picture of course, internationally and regionally, shows Washington increasingly drawing closer to India, both as a counterweight to China and as a country with which the US is comfortable in terms of commonalities of political system (democracy) as well as opportunities for trade, economic cooperation and so forth. Perhaps the US’s support to India in the nuclear field despite India having set off the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent can be read as part of this changing dynamic of relations between Washington and New Delhi. Thus, for example, the US signed an agreement on nuclear cooperation with India during George Bush’s tenure and the outgoing Obama administration is still bending its back to get India concessions from the Nuclear Suppliers Group amongst other favours, ignoring in the process Pakistan’s genuine concerns and apprehensions at ‘rewarding’ India in this manner. One other factor that has, at least since 9/11, caused a gulf of mistrust and suspicion between Washington and Islamabad is Pakistan’s continued policy/stance (unstated or otherwise) on terrorism and proxies. On the heels of the Pentagon deducting $ 300 million from the Coalition Support Fund money owed to Pakistan because of the condition attached by the US Congress that the Defence Secretary must certify that Pakistan is acting against the Afghan Haqqani network before such funds are released, the US State Department spokesman has reiterated Washington’s urging Pakistan to strive for closer cooperation with India in the anti-terrorism fight, close all safe havens for terrorist groups, and ‘do more’ by shedding its discriminatory policy of targeting only groups perceived to be harmful for Pakistan in favour of targeting all groups, even those not inimical to Pakistan’s interests but posing a threat to its neighbours. In other words, the US still sees Pakistan as practicing a duality of policy informed by the ‘good/bad’ Taliban binary. This perception of duality extends to groups fighting in India Held Kashmir or attacking India on that basis. While acknowledging Pakistan’s actions in recent days against some terrorist groups and their safe havens (Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA) as positive and having contributed to regional security at the cost of Pakistani lives, it is the ‘selectivity’ practiced by Pakistan that rankles with Washington’s establishment. To soften the Coalition Support Funds blow, the State Department spokesman did point to the fact that it had released aid to Pakistan, including some security aid. But this reassurance effort does not negate the bad vibes being generated by the denial of Coalition Support Funds and the pressure being exerted by Washington on Pakistan to dump all its remaining proxies to west and east and contribute with immediate neighbours Afghanistan and India respectively against all proxy groups operating from Pakistani soil. As a token of encouragement to the partial shift in Pakistan’s policy under pressure of circumstance, the spokesman welcomed the emerging quadrilateral anti-terrorism group of China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan as the path for the future. Whether the State Department statements and the bad outcome of the SAARC conference in Islamabad come together to engender the perception of the US and India ‘teaming up’ against Pakistan in a coincidental, incidental, accidental or more significant mode can be concluded or not, the fact remains that on the global, regional and bilateral stage, Pakistan’s foreign policy woes multiply by the day in the direction of isolation. Whether the Pakistani envoys in important capitals of the world’s conference in Islamabad the other day will translate into concrete measures to tackle this trend or remain futile talking points alone depends crucially in our establishment’s revisiting its long standing reliance on proxies for projecting power and interests in the neighbourhood. That strategy’s sell-by date has long passed. It is now a matter of the establishment’s doing a correct reading of the tea leaves.
Wednesday, August 3, 2016
Affirmative action and quotas The Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice discussed the other day the Bill moved by Senator Babar Awan for elevating women judges to the Supreme Court (SC) according to a fixed quota. Senator Awan’s Number of Judges (Amendment) Bill 2016 sought to reserve one-third or six seats in the 17-judge SC specifically for women. A previous Bill on the same lines was rejected by a standing committee on the basis that there could not be a quota for women judges in the SC, as judges were elevated to the SC from the High Courts. However, there is no bar on the appointment of women judges to the SC per se, as affirmed to the committee in writing by Minister for Law and Justice Zahid Hamid, citing the provisions of Article 177 of the Constitution that does not make any distinction on the basis of sex. The sense of the committee discussion was that the idea of a quota is in any case premature as there are not enough women in the judiciary. The National Commission on Status of Women secretary’s contention that women must be made part of decision making as there was a great deal of violence against women, while unexceptionable in principle, seemed logically misplaced as most such cases are adjudicated at the level of the lower courts and rarely find their way to the SC in appeal. On the other hand MQM MNA Dr Nikhat Shakeel Khan’s fresh Bill to be introduced for the elevation of women judges to the Islamabad High Court makes sense since it is only by reversing the paltry proportion of women judges in the High Courts of 5.8 percent that the situation can be improved. It is a fact that no woman has been elevated to the SC or appointed the Chief Justice of a High Court to date. The Supreme Court Bar Association president Ali Zafar however opposed the very concept of quotas as the antithesis of merit, which should, in his opinion, be the only criterion for appointment or elevation of judges, up to and including the SC. The idea of affirmative action to encourage the historically received disadvantages of marginalised and deprived groups or communities is good in principle. This is the logic of reservation and quotas for disadvantaged groups or communities. It has been practiced in India in the case of scheduled (considered backward or underdeveloped) castes and tribes. In Pakistan, it has manifested itself in reserved quotas in jobs and education on an ethnic-urban-rural divide basis in Sindh and in the reservation of seats in the Assemblies for women, technocrats, specialists, experts and special interest groups such as labour. However, the quota in Sindh has caused and continues to cause much resentment and heartburn on the ground of being anti-merit. As far as reservation of seats in the Assemblies to encourage the participation in political life of women and other under-represented and marginalised groups is concerned, in practice it has proved to be a process at the mercy of the ‘mother’ political parties that have complete say in the candidates put forward for such seats, thereby fundamentally negating the idea of affirmative action and trumping it through patronage. Provincial quotas for jobs at the federal level and educational opportunities in the best institutions too ignore merit under the umbrella of an overarching provincial quota. If we take Punjab as an example, it is obvious that any quota it enjoys will unduly favour a city like Lahore at the expense of citizens from smaller cities and towns, not to mention a rural milieu. One possible cure for this historically received ‘natural’ bias in favour of more developed areas, groups and communities may be to recast such provincial quotas by fixing them at the district level while allowing various districts to compete for scarce opportunities to balance the concern for the less developed with some element of merit.
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Hindutva’s bitter fruit India’s Gujarat state’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Chief Minister (CM) Anandiben Patel has resigned after the state has been rocked since last month by protests against atrocities and attacks on Dalits, the lowest in India’s caste hierarchy. The protest on July 31 in the state capital Ahmedabad seems to have finally tipped the scales against the incumbent CM when thousands of Dalits, joined, some reports say, by Gujarat’s hard done by Muslims, blocked roads and attacked buses. This was an unusual show of militancy by the discriminated against but generally quiescent Dalit community. What has incensed the Dalits to the point where they have taken militant protest action is a series of incidents since the BJP government came to power in 2014 in which Hindutva offshoots of the BJP have been taking vigilante action against cow slaughter in many states across India. These attacks have led to beatings, torture and deaths at the hands of hardline ‘gau rakshak’ (defenders of cows) Hindutva vigilantes. In Gujarat the protests erupted in July when four Dalit men in the city of Una were tied to a car, stripped and flogged by Hindutva vigilantes for allegedly skinning a dead cow. The incident was recorded on video and went viral, was eventually picked up by TV channels and enflamed the community beyond endurance. This latest atrocity against Dalits came as the culmination of a series of incidents in which Dalits (and even some Muslims) were attacked on accusations of cow slaughter or eating beef. Slaughter of cows, considered holy by orthodox Hindus, is banned in most Indian states, including Gujarat. Landless Dalits earn a livelihood (as do some Muslims) by skinning cows and buffalos that have died naturally. The protests and their fallout in the shape of the resignation of the Gujarat CM come at a particularly sensitive time for the BJP, which faces a state election there next year, as well as in UP, which has also seen some spillover of the Dalit protests. The BJP is desperately casting around for a replacement for Anandiben Patel, a longtime confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed her as his successor in his home state in 2014. Having ruled as CM Gujarat for 13 years, Modi is credited with the state’s rapid industrialisation on his watch, a model the BJP pitched successfully as the path forward to prosperity for India’s 1.3 billion people and which won Modi the prime ministership in 2014. Anandiben Patel’s relatively brief tenure was full of caste-driven strife, first by the peasant-entrepreneurial powerful Patel upper-caste community, whose agitation brought the Gujarat government to its knees and forced it to concede job and education quotas to the relatively well off Patels. The BJP had barely had time to digest the outcome of that agitation when its young leader, Hardik Patel, was released from prison and greeted by thousands of supporters. If the possibility of that upper-caste agitation being revived were not troubling enough, the provocations of Hindutva hardliners against Dalits has now confronted the BJP with a lower-caste protest movement that has taken its toll of its sitting CM because of inept handling of the troubles. It should be recalled that Modi rose to national prominence after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat when he was CM. If those atrocities helped Modi electorally then, 2016 presents an entirely different scenario, with aggrieved Muslims in Gujarat joining hands with the Dalits in a joint movement against the BJP. The BJP’s troubles, brought on entirely because the Hindutva brigade hardliners are attempting to impose their religiously motivated ideology on India’s diverse religious, ethnic and caste reality, could translate into political disadvantage in state elections and even take the shine off its development promises. Quick to take advantage of the opportunity, the Aam Aadmi Party’s leader and CM of New Delhi Arvind Kejri has claimed Patel’s resignation is because of the challenge the rise of his party poses for the BJP. He adds that the government is arresting his party’s MLAs to harass them, and warns he may be killed by a BJP that has lost its composure. Whatever the weight of these assertions, the irreducible fact remains that the very hardline atrocities against Muslims and Dalits that brought the BJP to power are now turning against them. The BJP is discovering just how bitter the fruit of being hoist by its own petard may prove.
Monday, August 1, 2016
Draconian Cybercrimes Bill Rashed Rahman The Cybercrimes Bill 2016 has been unanimously passed by the Senate after incorporating about 55 amendments in the draft received from the National Assembly. It will now be sent back to the National Assembly for consideration. The National Assembly had discussed the Bill in committee earlier but failed to pass it before the deadline for the Bill expired. Although the Senate version of the Bill was passed unanimously after the Senate’s deliberations, disquiet and reservations regarding its provisions and the punishments prescribed remain. For one, Minister of State for IT Anusha Rehman’s claims of all stakeholders, civil society, etc, being consulted and taken on board after public hearings do not stand up to scrutiny, since these groups continue to criticise the fact that their views and objections to the draconian thrust of the Bill have not been taken into account. Even in wider society, apprehensions abound regarding the purposes and workings of the legislation. The government claims cyber crime, terrorism and various social ills such as women’s harassment or child pornography online pose new challenges that require a special law to control and regulate the complex and rapidly evolving world of cyberspace. While there is weight in the argument that misuse and abuse of the unprecedented freedom and outreach of the internet for terrorist, hate and other crimes is a fact of life, seemingly harmless online activity such as simply sharing memes lampooning politicians to downloading your favourite movie or TV show could also attract the penal clauses of the Bill, with varying punishments up to 14 years imprisonment and fines up to Rs 50 million. Also, the authority to manage this prosecution (persecution in some cases?) will be a body under the executive. An attempt has been made through the amendments introduced in the Senate to provide parliamentary and judicial oversight but critics are not satisfied this will be sufficient to prevent recurring abuse of the law. Other criticisms of the Bill revolve around its nebulous, overly generalised language, opening the doors to the possibility of endless abuse by overzealous guardians of Pakistan’s cyber frontiers. These critics argue that misuse or abuse of cyberspace, if they cause tangible harm, can and should be dealt with under the existing penal codes. Second, it has been argued that the legislators who passed this Bill know very little about the possible consequences of what they have proposed. The Bill has been rushed through while going through the motions of a public and parliamentary debate. Even its authors admit it is not ‘perfect’. Why the hurry? What was the pressing rationale for not allowing experts in the field (far more to be found outside rather than in parliament) to have their say, thoroughly debate the provisions and implications of the Bill, and come to a sensible consensus that would have weighed the inalienable right of freedom of speech against the purported concerns of the movers of this legislation? As it stands, the Bill has not satisfied its critics that it is not fundamentally skewed against the constitutional democratic right of freedom of expression. Again, critics are not prepared to concede in the matter of this Bill that it is ‘democratic’ merely because it bears the imprimatur of parliament. Rather, in their eyes it bears the stamp of a ‘fascist’ piece of legislation that can and may be used against dissident opinion in our society of all shades and hues, but particularly of the progressive and liberal variety. Can the exploitation of cyberspace by terrorists and hatemongers be prevented by such legislation? It seems a tall ask, if not a virtual impossibility. Perhaps our legislators should have occupied themselves more usefully in crafting the missing counter-narrative to the terrorists and intolerant elements in our society and discovering, amongst other means, the methods of disseminating it through the internet and cyberspace. The internet and cyberspace are new worlds inadequately understood by most people. In this unenlightened category must now regretfully be added the worthies who inhabit the hallowed halls of our parliament. Democracy is desirable, but if our elected representatives fail to uphold the collective wisdom of society through their own pooled wisdom, where is the aggrieved citizen to turn? As it is, the much needed continuation of democracy notwithstanding, our elected representatives have not covered themselves with legislative glory and on occasion, crocodile tears notwithstanding, attracted heaps of ignominy on themselves (e.g. the 21st Amendment that conceded the setting up of military courts). What our legislator worthies have failed to grasp is that the internet inherently, by its very design, cannot be controlled or regulated. One has only to cast one’s eye back on the farce of the ban on YouTube, which was almost immediately breached by our incredibly smart, tech-savvy youth, to realise that our parliamentarians are on a Quixotic mission of tilting against windmills. Nowhere in the world, despite concerns about cyber security, terrorist recruitment and the like, have governments attempted to control the internet world and cyberspace by throwing the baby of the unprecedented freedom associated with the new technology out with the bathwater of concerns about security, terrorism and morality. So what after all is the real purpose behind an exercise that is more than likely to end in a futile chase after shadows? It is precisely the lack of control and inability to regulate the world of the internet and cyberspace that terrifies a ruling elite that has succeeded in ‘taming’ the old mainstream media. It is the new media of the future that this elite wishes to bring under its putrefying thumb. In this endeavour, however, it may find the Myth of Sisyphus a good source to predict how this will end: not with a bang, but a whimper, repeated endlessly until ennui overtakes us all. firstname.lastname@example.org