Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 25, 2016

PAT jumps on bandwagon Estranged ally Dr Tahirul Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) has been reconciled with his erstwhile comrade-in-struggle Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Only a few days earlier, Imran Khan had in his characteristic style whaled into the good doctor. But politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows. Through the good offices of Sheikh Rasheed, that ‘one man demolition squad’ as Imran Khan describes him, mediatory efforts have borne fruit and the PAT has decided to let bygones be bygones and join the PTI in its ‘lockdown’ drive in Islamabad on November 2. Their mutual differences first blew open after the unsuccessful joint venture of the 2014 sit-in. Since then, relations went into a steady nosedive. Now, however, mutual interest seems to have trumped past ruction. This mutual interest revolves around their discrete discontents with the incumbent government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Whereas for Dr Qadri, the issue of his workers’ killing in Model Town Lahore in cold blood by the police, allegedly on the orders of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, still rankles as no redress has been available, for Imran Khan the anti-corruption drive against Nawaz Sharif is paramount. He wants the prime minister to resign or present himself for accountability in the Panama Papers case. The government on its part, after its desultory dismissal of the affair initially, seems to have left the fate of the matter in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is to hear petitions on the issue on November 1, just one day before the PTI planned ‘invasion’ of Islamabad on November 2. Imran Khan has guardedly welcomed the apex court being seized of the matter, but in the next breath expressed his lack of confidence in receiving justice from even this august judicial forum. Meanwhile, another group that has jumped onto the sit-in bandwagon is the Lal Masjid brigade. Whether this is a welcome addition to the ranks however is a moot point. Politically, the incendiary Lal Masjid brigade’s embrace of Imran Khan could well turn out to be the ‘kiss of death’. Besides, how the Barelvi-Deobandi divide will be reconciled atop the container if both Dr Tahirul Qadri and Maulana Abdul Aziz are seen strutting their stuff atop it remains to be seen. Unfortunately for Imran Khan’s best laid plans, something or the other tends regularly to queer the pitch. In the present instance it is the horrendous tragedy in Quetta of the attack on the Police Training College in which about 60 cadets were killed and over 100 wounded. Imran Khan of course has in his inimitable style interpreted this pattern as proving Nawaz Sharif a ‘national security risk’. The argument put forward is that there is a sinister ‘collaboration’ between the ‘embattled’ prime minister’s difficulties and the distractions provided by clashes on the Line of Control or terrorist actions like the one in Quetta. Even for the most imaginative mind, the connection seems inexplicable. Just to ensure that no one takes Imran Khan’s visit to the victims of the Quetta carnage as a sign of weakening resolve, he has underlined that come what may, November 2 will happen, and continue until either of the two desired outcomes are obtained. The government for its part has made preparations, including pre-emptive arrests, but is keeping its powder dry until the Supreme Court has spoken. Sensible minds agree on the right of peaceful protest in a democracy, but part ways with the extreme position implied in the statement of intent that the PTI protestors will resist, violently if necessary, any attempt by the government to prevent the sit-in. That position tests the credentials of both sides. One only hopes that wisdom and better sense prevail and both protagonists exercise maximum restraint. There are too many examples in our history of how any other scenario ends to prevent sleepless nights at the thought.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Business Recorder Column Oct 24, 2016

Afghan peace talks reset? Rashed Rahman Speculations regarding new moves and developments in the stalled Afghan peace process have been triggered by the visit of a Taliban delegation to Pakistan. The three-member delegation comprises former Afghan Taliban ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan Maulvi Shahabuddin Dilawar, Maulvi Salam Hanafi and Jan Mohammad, the latter two having served as cabinet ministers during the Taliban rule. The visit follows meetings in Qatar between Afghan intelligence and US officials and Taliban leaders based in their political office in Doha, which all parties are at pains to deny or at the very least refrain from confirming. If these reports are correct, the visit of the Taliban delegation to Pakistan would be the first contact after the breakdown of Islamabad-brokered talks between Kabul and the Taliban in May this year as a result of the killing of Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour in a US drone strike in Balochistan. As to the purpose and agenda of the Taliban delegation, spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid was quoted as saying the delegation would discuss some major issues with the Pakistani leadership, including the arrests of some Taliban leaders and Afghan refugees and the repatriation of the latter to Afghanistan. The statement rejected any suggestion that the peace process would be up for discussion, but it is difficult to imagine the opportunity for reassessing the situation would be passed up. This is borne out by the admission by another, unnamed Taliban leader that the possible revival of peace negotiations would be the main talking point of the delegation’s visit. As to the arrests of Taliban leaders alluded to, the authorities raided a madrassa in Quetta for the second time in the past two months and picked up a Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Samad Sani in the second foray. Reports say the mini-crackdown on Taliban commanders is part of Pakistan’s pressure to return to the abortive peace talks. This pressure is also credited with producing the delegation’s visit. Interestingly, while the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal seemed aware of the developments, our Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz did not have a clue about the delegation’s arrival. Coupled with his statement the other day that Islamabad had not received any positive response from the Afghan Taliban regarding the peace talks despite its best efforts raises the question who the Taliban delegation has come to see. Logically, they would not want to waste their time and would prefer to talk to the real decision makers vis-à-vis the Afghanistan imbroglio. The perception that Pakistan’s growing pressure on the Taliban has evoked the Qatar delegation’s visit is borne out by the list of their leaders arrested in recent days. They include Maulvi Ahmadullah Muti, alias Mullah Nanai, the Taliban intelligence chief under slain leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour; Suleman Agha, the Taliban shadow governor for Daykund province; Mullah Sani, aka Samad Sani, the latest detention of the head of a madrassa and well known trader, and Hamas, a leader of the Haqqani network. In the murky world of engagement amongst the protagonists, deniability, whether plausible or not, forms an intrinsic part of this shadowy and intricate minuet. Hence the confirmations and denials of such contacts flow thick and fast from discrete corners. This is the pattern for all the actors in this conflict. Engagement is indispensable, since outright military victory is unlikely for either side, the recent Taliban attacks and advances in Kunduz and Lashkar Gah notwithstanding. However, wading through this minefield of obfuscation reveals the increasing tendency of the US, Afghanistan and India to leave Pakistan (and China) out of the peace loop. This effectively means the Quadrilateral Group, which brought together Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and China to find the path to peace is all but dead in the water. Kabul has pulled off a coup by reconciling Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, although he has few forces at his command but is still a name to reckon with. President Ashraf Ghani’s strategy has shifted subtly to direct (whether admitted or not) negotiations with the Taliban to try and find a political solution to the long running Afghan war. Irrespective of success or failure in these efforts, the gambit also helps sow confusion and differences amongst the fractious Taliban ranks. Fifteen years and billions of dollars later, the truth of Bush’s adventure in Afghanistan is reaffirmed. The west cannot defeat the Taliban. Kabul cannot defeat the Taliban. Obama’s premature withdrawal put paid to whatever residual hopes there may have been to bring the Afghanistan venture to a successful conclusion. The Taliban have the strategy, time and patience to continue to bleed Kabul and its western supporters, even though they may not be able to roll over the Afghan army completely. There seems no way out of the strategic stalemate except a political solution, with its concomitant painful concession of some sort of power sharing with the Taliban. Pakistan persisted with its dual policy for far longer than was healthy or wise. By the time a shift occurred, Islamabad had accumulated so much mistrust in Washington and Kabul as to render even its sincere peace efforts suspect. Nevertheless, if the powers that be in Pakistan have seen the light finally, the difficult but not impossible peace process must be pursued irrespective of setbacks and roadblocks. Pakistan needs peace within and peace without. The two are inextricably linked because of reliance on proxies to achieve foreign policy goals in the region. Time to recognise where Pakistan’s true long term interests lie. Another manifest failure of the western occupation’s failure is their inability to wipe out or at least restrict opium production. Afghanistan now provides 90 percent of opium and its derivative heroin to the world market. The trade, which the Taliban had banned during their stint in power, is now taxed by them to finance the insurgency. The other source of funding continues to be reactionary Arab monarchies. The counterinsurgency strategy of the US-led NATO forces was doomed without such sources of funding being cut off. Pakistan, through recent steps against ostensibly recalcitrant Taliban commanders on its soil and the declared intent to attend the Heart of Asia-Istanbul ministerial conference in the first week of December in Amritsar despite tensions with India, is trying to reinsert itself into the peace efforts from which it is threatened with ‘expulsion’. At the same time, deteriorating relations with Kabul have persuaded the authorities to ‘lean’ on the Afghan refugees, forcing an estimated half a million to begin or prepare to begin their long trek back home to their devastated country. International aid agencies are struggling to cope with this growing wave of humanity crashing onto Afghanistan’s bleak shores. The long sojourn of these Afghan refugees in Pakistan has inevitably led to inter-marriages between Pakistani men and women and their Afghan refugee counterparts. The Afghan spouses, female first and foremost but male too, are suffering CNIC blocking and other problems that reflect the present official attitude to the refugees. Expelling refugees against their will, whether officially acknowledged as a policy or not, violates international law. Separating or causing difficulties for long time Afghan refugee residents in Pakistan who have contracted marriages here and raised families is a human tragedy compounding all the tragedies already heaped on the heads of the Afghan people over the last four decades. Is our conscience and humanity dead? rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 22, 2016

Continuing cross-border tensions The tensions on the Line of Control (LoC) have now spilled over to the Working Boundary (WB) in the Sialkot sector. Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said Indian troops resorted to firing along the WB on October 21. It said the Rangers befittingly responded to the unprovoked firing without suffering any loss on Pakistan’s side. The ISPR statement characterised the Indian claims of hitting or killing any Pakistani soldier or Rangers during the day on the LoC and WB as false. ISPR also said Indian troops resorted to unprovoked firing across the LoC in the Karela sector in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Pakistani troops responded in befitting manner, it said. At 9:55 pm, the Indian forces starting firing again in this sector and the Pakistani troops were responding. According to media reports, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) resorted to unprovoked mortar shelling on villages in the Bajwat and Shakargarh sectors along the Sialkot WB. Punjab Rangers officials said the shelling on Shakargarh villages began at 9:00 am and continued for 30 minutes. In Bajwat, shelling and automatic weapons fire began at 2:30 pm and lasted 15 minutes. This was the first ceasefire violation on the Sialkot WB for several months and reflected an attempt by the Indian forces to expand and intensify the clashes continuing on the LoC for some months. A section of the Indian media claimed that seven Pakistani Rangers were killed in retaliatory firing by the BSF in the Kathua area of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Further, that the BSF neutralised a militant trying to infiltrate into the Indian side of the LoC. While the sabre-rattling and jingoistic war hysteria of the past few months has subsided, reflecting a cooler appreciation by India of the risks of continuing tension and clashes, it seems New Delhi is bent upon keeping up the military pressure. Normalisation of relations, despite lip service, therefore remains as distant as ever. On the contrary, the briefing the new defence secretary gave Senators the other day included the revelation that India had moved an additional army division to the LoC and fighter jets to a forward base. The defence secretary apprised the Senators that India had violated the ceasefire 58 times at the LoC since last month’s attack on an Indian army base in Uri, in which 18 Indian troops were killed. On October 20, the Pakistani Foreign Office summoned the Indian Deputy High Commissioner to lodge a protest over the unprovoked ceasefire violations. It may be that India thinks it can ‘milk’ Pakistan’s economic vulnerability through these frequent cross-border ceasefire violations, which naturally have an economic and human cost. Continuing tension or even escalation on the eastern border could force a redeployment of troops from the western border to the east, with its concomitant negative effects on the war on terror. The global powers that be should take note of this possibility and persuade India to hold its hand. Tensions were exacerbated after the Uri attack, which India tried to pin the blame for on Pakistan. On the other hand, the Director Generals Military Operations (DGMOs) of either side have been in communication throughout, as have the National security Advisers (NSAs). These channels must of course be kept open to prevent the frequent clashes along the LoC and WB from spiralling out of control. Even more importantly, the suspended comprehensive dialogue between the two countries must be restarted as soon as possible. The difficulty in moving to this restart point has been Pakistan’s insistence that Kashmir must be central to the discussion in the light of the uprising in IHK and its bridal suppression by India, while New Delhi wants ‘terrorism’ to be the main point on the agenda. With tact and goodwill, these seemingly disparate positions could be reconciled at least to the extent of making talks possible. And if the perception that the Modi government may be using anti-Pakistan rhetoric and tensions to divert domestic political attention from the make-or-break election it faces in UP has any weight, this would be a risky and counterproductive gambit that may not yield any political dividends at home and cast the Modi government in an unflattering warmongering hue abroad.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 19, 2016

IK and CPEC Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has taken pains to assure the Chinese Ambassador Sun Weidong in a meeting at his Bani Gala residence that the party’s ongoing accountability movement against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not meant to sabotage the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Nor is the movement intended to derail the present government and the system or create chaos in the country. Imran Khan emphasised that there was no threat to the diplomatic community from the shutdown the PTI intended to impose on Islamabad on November 2. The only purpose of the movement, he underlined, was to force the government into accepting a result-oriented investigation into Panamagate. On the very day the Chinese Ambassador was meeting Imran Khan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thundered once again that Imran was hindering the government’s development plans. The prime minister and various ministers have been accusing Imran Khan for some time of impeding CPEC projects and of forcing the cancellation of the CPEC-related Chinese President’s visit in September 2014 at the time of the PTI dharna (sit-in). PTI’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak in the meantime continues to rattle on about the Centre and Punjab depriving the other provinces of their just share of CPEC investment and projects, including the western route issue. Their political rivals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Awami National Party, also have been chiming in on the necessity of giving priority to the western route, which is naturally of crucial interest to their province. All this to and fro between the ruling PML-N and the PTI and other opposition parties has so muddied the waters that the Chinese are now concerned. Earlier this year, the Chinese embassy, in an unprecedented step, called on the political forces in Pakistan to resolve their issues regarding the CPEC. Naturally a climate of uncertainty such as that attending the PTI-PML-N fracas and controversies swirling around the CPEC have the Chinese worried whether the $ 46 billion they have committed to the CPEC will be implemented smoothly and with the minimum of fuss. And then there is the question of attracting industrial and commercial investment to populate the CPEC routes with islands of development and prosperity. No investor would like to enter a market riven by political controversies and conflict. This is where the gap between the potential benefits of the CPEC and the roadblocks on the ground appear glaringly obvious. The uncertainty is compounded by developments related to Panamagate. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is poised to hear petitions on the matter. The bill to settle the Terms of Reference for the commission of inquiry into Panamagate still gathers dust in parliament. The November 2 lockdown of Islamabad looms. Taken as a whole, the assurances of Imran Khan notwithstanding, the scenario points inexorably in the direction of destabilisation, possible violence and bloodshed, and the very outcome Imran Khan says he wants to avoid: the wrecking not only of the government but of the entire democratic edifice. Its discontents notwithstanding, Pakistan in particular, given its history of praetorian interventions, needs the democratic system to continue and consolidate itself. That is a historic responsibility that rests not only on the shoulders of the opposition to conduct itself responsibly, but also on the those of the incumbents by addressing our discontents and proving in practice that democracy is the least worst of all the theoretical options on the table.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 18, 2016

Do or die? Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has revealed a change of date for the party’s sit-in in Islamabad from the original October 30 to November 2. Imran Khan put forward a rather lame explanation that the date had been changed in deference to the wishes of prominent lawyer and a leader of the party Hamid Khan who had conveyed the concern of the lawyers’ fraternity regarding the Supreme Court Bar Association elections on October 31. But the more plausible explanation appears to be the PTI’s revised thinking that the original date of October 30 falls on a Sunday and the weekly off day may dilute the impact of the PTI’s threatened shutdown of the federal capital. Imran Khan reiterated his stance that the sit-in and lockdown would continue until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif either resigns or submits himself to accountability in the light of the Panama papers revelations. The question is, if the first option is not acceptable to the government, how is the second one to be exercised? It would be useful to recall that the government’s initial response to Panamagate was to approach the Chief Justice of Pakistan to conduct an inquiry into the matter under the 1956 Inquiries Act. The honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan threw the ball back into the government’s court by characterising any inquiry under the 1956 law as ‘toothless’, and asked the government to enact a new law to empower any commission of inquiry to be constituted for the purpose. The roadblock has been the lack of consensus between the treasury and opposition benches on the Terms of Reference (ToRs) of the inquiry. Whereas the opposition wanted central focus on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (and his family), the government objected that the prime minister’s name had not figured in the Panama leaks, therefore he should not be the main focus of the inquiry. Instead, the bill drafted by the government widened the scope of the inquiry tremendously to include matters such as written off bank loans, etc. In the opposition’s view, this would so widen the scope as to take the focus away from the Panamagate issue and lengthen the inquiry to a point where it would be rendered endless and therefore useless. Many meetings between the government and opposition negotiators later, no meeting of minds has emerged. The opposition has introduced its own bill along the lines it prefers. There the matter stands at present. PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi in a television show the other day suggested that if the government were to cooperate in passing the opposition’s bill, thereby starting the process of inquiry, the dire consequences feared from an attempt to lockdown the federal capital and keep it paralysed indefinitely could be avoided. Without reading too much into it, this could be viewed as a proffered ‘carrot’, in contrast with the bloodcurdling ‘stick’ Imran Khan continues to beat the government with. There are real concerns that if the government decides to pre-empt the sit-in by arresting the PTI leader/s or prevent entry into Islamabad or tries to uproot the sit-in, in all three scenarios the prospect of violence (and perhaps bloodshed) looms large. The fallout from an all out confrontation between the PTI and the government may produce uncertain and far reaching results. Hence the need for cooler heads. The best option that presents itself in the present scenario is for both sides to return to a dialogue in and through parliament to settle on a bill that satisfies both substantially enough to make compromise and consensus possible. If and when the bill is agreed and passed, it will set in motion the Panamagate accountability process, rendering the need for street agitation superfluous and unnecessary. Such a development would also answer Imran Khan’s continuing castigation of institutions of the state for failing to address the issue meaningfully. If such a positive turn can be brought about, it would be good for the country as well as the still precarious democratic system.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Business Recorder Column Oct 18, 2016

Che Guevara’s death anniversary Rashed Rahman October 9, 2016 was the 49th death anniversary of Ernesto Che Guevara, murdered by the Bolivian army with the US CIA’s advice and support in 1967. Born in Argentina in 1928 into a comfortably middle class background, Guevara’s revolutionary trajectory was fashioned first and foremost by his youthful travels through Latin America, documented in his Motorcycle Diaries. The universal and widespread poverty, misery and injustice that characterised the continent awakened the young Guevara to what would become his lifelong aspiration to transform the lives of the people through revolutionary means. His travels took him to Guatemala, where in 1954 he got his first taste of political activism (and armed resistance) when the CIA overthrew the left-nationalist Arbenz government. Within a couple of years, he encountered the exiled Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Mexico, and joined his Granma expedition to sail to Cuba and overthrow the Baptista dictatorship. The invading party of 62 fighters were ambushed soon after landing in Cuba and literally cut to pieces. Twelve survived and managed to make their way to the Sierra Madre Mountains. Amongst them were Fidel and Che. Over the next two years, guerrilla struggle in the mountains and clandestine actions in the cities finally resulted in the triumph of the revolution. Che acquired a high profile during the guerrilla struggle and in the new revolutionary government after the victory. However, within the next five years, he began to chafe under the tactical considerations of a revolution threatened by the US just 90 miles away and main ally the Soviet Union that retreated after the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. By now, his treatise Guerrilla Warfare had appeared, which argued against the received wisdom of the time that armed struggle could not, or should not, be launched by a revolutionary movement until all peaceful political means had been exhausted and the revolutionary moment had ripened. Instead, Guevara argued, the guerrilla army could act as a catalyst for a general uprising and revolutionary victory. Of course the treatise owed a great deal to the Cuban experience. But it tended to raise to the level of a universal principle the idea of the guerrilla army as catalyst, ignoring in the process the development of the political (and later armed) struggle that led to the universal vilification of dictator Baptista and his eventual ouster. Indeed when Che tried to implement in practice his ideas in the Congo in 1965 and Bolivia in 1966-7, he failed and was killed in the latter country. The reasons for these failures are diverse and worthy of treatises on their own. Suffice it to say that in neither case were the objective conditions or the subjective forces of the struggle at a point on the path to victory. The concrete therefore trumped the seductive conceptual. Perhaps Che should not be blamed too much for these failures. His commitment to and martyrdom for the revolutionary cause has enshrined his status as a revolutionary icon. What he (and many others at the time) were seduced by was the idea of the guerrilla as the warrior of the poor and oppressed who was able through a brilliant strategy to overcome and defeat a far superior enemy. ‘Guerrillaism’ therefore was rife in the 1960s, particularly because of the array of guerrilla struggles being waged in Asia, Africa and Latin America (the Third World). National liberation and revolutionary armed struggles were centre-stage. Che was not the only one to be seduced by the idea of the guerrilla as invincible warrior, who traded time and space to erode (politically and militarily) a far superior foe. A whole generation of 1960s youth in revolt worldwide, inspired first and foremost by the heroic Vietnamese people’s armed resistance against the US, secondarily by the guerrilla struggles mushrooming on all three continents of the Third World, took to the idea like a duck to water. Lin Piao even elevated this phenomenon to a global theory of the cities being encircled from the countryside and eventually conquered, based on the experience of the Chinese revolution. Instead of the ‘cities’ he posited the metropolitan (developed) countries and instead of the ‘countryside’ the Third World. However, the 1960s generation learnt at great cost (as had previous generations) how these formulations were overstated, simplistic, and failed to point to the concrete circumstances in which armed struggles had succeeded (and perhaps even more important, failed). Even the national liberation and revolutionary armed struggles that succeeded in capturing power, soon ran aground in a world still dominated by capital, with the socialist camp unable to provide the resources for the rapid development required to consolidate the revolution and incrementally improve the people’s lives. Such regimes were eventually overthrown by right wing forces backed by the west or succumbed to the dictates of a capitalist-dominated globe. The revolutionary-socialist ambitions of these Third World countries therefore ended largely not with a bang but a whimper. The period of the 1980s was one of retreat and defeat of the revolution worldwide. It culminated in 1991 with the implosion of the Soviet Union and the wrecking of the socialist bloc. Surviving socialist/communist regimes have either willingly (and enthusiastically) embraced capitalism or cut their cloth according to a triumphalist capitalist system’s dictates. The exception is North Korea, but that is a country still at an undeclared war and under siege. All over the former Third World, the period of guerrilla struggles (and their dialectical antithesis, military dictatorships) gave way incrementally and haltingly, and not without hangovers from the past, setbacks, twists and turns, to democracy. Nowhere was this more dramatically in evidence than in Latin America, where the former revolutionary guerrillas changed tack to engage in open political struggle. They participated in electoral politics, emerging with credit to elect many left wing governments throughout the continent. But these moderate left wing governments too ran up against the same set of problems as their revolutionary predecessors: how to survive, let alone prosper, in a world still dominated by capitalism. If the revolutionary enthusiasm of the 1960s generation got the better of them and induced generalised theories of revolution culled from, but not acknowledging, specific experiences, the subsequent generations’ reformist illusions too ran aground in the face of a ruthless and triumphant capitalism led by the west. Today’s ‘revolutionary’ youth may be better informed than past generations, but they still have to answer the puzzle of how to bring about efficacious change that fulfils the necessary condition of overcoming the domination of the global capitalist system. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 15, 2016

Corps Commanders’ Conference Corps Commanders’ conferences are normally routine affairs, but in the present circumstances, they have added importance. Thus the Corps Commanders’ Conference on October 14, presided over by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif, was seized of the challenges on the external defence and internal security fronts. The external context focused on the prevailing environment on the Line of Control (LoC) and operational preparedness of the army to defend the country against the full spectrum of threat. The top commanders warned the enemy that any misadventure would evoke a telling response. Full spectrum includes direct and indirect, conventional and non-conventional threats. The Conference rejected the Indian claim of having carried out surgical strikes on this side of the LoC as an attempt to divert the world’s attention from the brutalities being committed by the Indian army and security forces against the people of Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). India initially trumpeted its ‘surgical strikes’ as an ostensible response to the attack on the Uri Indian army base in IHK in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed. India had tried to pin the blame for the Uri attack on Pakistan. Hence the so-called ‘surgical strikes’ riposte. However, this whole farce has by now had the wind taken out of its sails because of India’s inability to produce any evidence of the ‘surgical strikes’ to satisfy not only the world, but even its own sceptical domestic public opinion. The coup de grace to the stillborn claim was finally rendered by India’s home minister, who confessed to German diplomats that the whole thing was a “bluff”. The entire episode has left Modi’s government with more than a little egg on its face. As to the internal security imperatives, COAS General Raheel Sharif called for sustained efforts to defeat all hostile attempts to reverse the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. This counterinsurgency offensive in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) had either wiped out or forced any surviving terrorists to retreat across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Although reports speak of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) being hosted in eastern Afghanistan by the Haqqani network and making the occasional attempted foray across the divide, the force deployment in the area seems sufficient to contain and minimise all such efforts. However, the twin requirement of a counterterrorism campaign still leaves something to be desired. There are still lingering questions about coordination between the civilian and military sides of the equation, as well as between the federal government and the provinces. What makes this inherently complicated structure more prone to shortcomings is the absence of a coordinating centre, housing a comprehensive intelligence data base and the mandate to ensure all the component parts of the required intelligence-based anti-terrorist operations, civil and military, federal and provincial, click together like a well lubricated machine. This role was theoretically envisaged for the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), but this organisation has by now been instead subsumed as just another component of the National Action Plan (NAP), without the clout or ability to carry out its originally conceived role. Hopefully the experience of counterterrorism actions since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb has accumulated enough wisdom to overcome this lacuna and make the counterterrorism effort more effective. Last but not least, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) issued a statement that the issue of the Dawn story that led to its staff member Cyrus Almeida’s name being placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) had been discussed in the Corps Commanders meeting. The commanders expressed serious concern over the feeding of a false and fabricated story about an important security meeting and viewed it as a breach of national security. Now logically a ‘false and fabricated’ story cannot produce a breach of national security precisely because it is untrue. The military cannot have it both ways. Either the story had the veracity to breach national security since it was true, or it did not because it was not. Nevertheless, the military’s concern about ‘leaks’ regarding such sensitive meetings is understandable. Fortunately, Almeida’s name has been now taken off the ECL, but the continuing investigation, as emphasised by federal interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, means we may not have heard the last of this furore just yet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 12, 2016

Press freedom under threat For those within the media and without concerned about the increasing trend of threats to press freedom, the episode concerning Dawn and its Assistant Editor Cyril Almeida will only reinforce these fears. The journalist in question has had his name placed on the Exit Control List (ECL) after Dawn published a story the other day by him regarding a discussion in a high-level national security meeting. The basic content of the story related how the civilian side briefed the meeting about the threat of Pakistan’s isolation internationally as a fallout of the persistence of support to armed proxies operating from Pakistani soil in neighbouring countries Afghanistan and Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). The military side of the meeting was cautioned about the results of Pakistan’s diplomatic offensive in top world capitals and the UN to argue our case on Kashmir, which ran aground everywhere on accusations of the continuation of a duality of policy vis-à-vis armed groups operating from Pakistan. There was also an element in the story about Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s objections to the security establishment ostensibly working at cross-purposes with the civilian counter-terrorism effort in his province. The contents of the story are not things that have not been around or in the air for some time. Discerning observers and analysts have been saying more or less the same thing more and more. So why despite Dawn’s responsible publication of the government’s refutations of the story twice has the Prime Minister’s Office described the contents as “fabricated”, “speculative” and posing a risk to sensitive national security interests, persuading the government to threaten strict action against the journalist? The editor of Dawn has responded in the paper by pointing out that the story was checked, cross-checked and fact-checked before being published. As the gatekeeper, it is the editor the authorities should have spoken to rather than resorting to the arbitrary, draconian, and arguably illegal step of putting the journalist’s name on the ECL. In the event that the government was not satisfied by its conversation with the editor, they had available, as the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) has pointed out, recourse to the Press Council and ultimately the courts to seek redress. CPNE has been joined in its objections to the action by media and human rights bodies, all of whom have condemned the step as a throwback to censorship, intimidation and stifling of freedoms of the press, expression and speech that characterized much of Pakistan’s existence but which most people believed were things of the past. They have also questioned whether due process has been applied in the punishment of the journalist and the attempts to harass and intimidate him and his paper. Ironically, the security establishment has clarified after the punishment that they had nothing to do with it and had only demanded that the government identify the source of the leak of the proceedings of a sensitive meeting. It is obvious that the story could not have emanated from other than an inside source. And as Dawn has editorialised on October 12, history shows how sensitive stories that challenged the status quo or received wisdom proved in the end to be critical to redefining national interests in an objective sense rather than according to the changing expedient needs of this or that government. Shooting the messenger, as the government seems to be bent upon, is hardly sending out a good or healthy message. Governments must by now learn to bury the draconian and repressive censorship and intimidatory practices of the past vis-à-vis the media. The fourth estate is now more than ever part and parcel of the democratic project, for which Pakistan’s polity has struggled and sacrificed for long years. The present dispensation too should recall its own bad experiences at the hands of dictatorship and understand that their, and the country’s best interests, lie in consolidating the democratic system, with a free media as one of its necessary conditions. The ECL nonsense should be reversed, and if the government still has a grouse, it must follow the dictates of the law and constitution for any redress it seeks.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Business Recorder Column for Oct 11, 2016

Day of the proxies over? Rashed Rahman The uprising in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) that erupted more than three months ago in the wake of Kashmiri militant leader Burhanuddin Wani’s killing has set off ripples that have profoundly affected the region and exposed the risks emerging for Pakistan on the global stage. Although the uprising was clearly an indigenous Kashmiri outburst of protest at Wani’s killing, further fuelled by India’s heavy-handed repression of unarmed protestors, New Delhi attempted the usual tactic of dumping responsibility onto Pakistan. Although initially India found it hard going to convince the world of this diversionary gambit, the attack in Uri that killed 18 Indian soldiers just days before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s address to the UN General Assembly proved a setback for Pakistan’s attempts at reaching out to the world community to highlight the longstanding Kashmir problem and India’s obdurate unwillingness to contemplate a resolution of the conflict. The Uri attack shifted global attention from the bloody repression by India against the Kashmiri protestors to cross-border ‘terrorism’ and Pakistan’s role in continuing the strategy of using non-state proxies for foreign policy goals in its neighbourhood, east and west. The US, our love-hate ‘ally’, had been sending signals of its unhappiness at this continuing stance for some time, but it was not being taken as seriously as it deserved. The penny finally dropped when Islamabad attempted to reach out to world capitals and the UN in a diplomatic offensive aimed at putting India in the dock vis-a-vis Kashmir and garnering support for Pakistan’s position. The diplomatic offensive proved a spectacular failure. Everywhere Pakistan’s ambassadors and special representatives attempted persuasion, they ran up against a brick wall of scepticism and questions about Pakistan’s continuing reliance on non-state proxies in IHK and Afghanistan. Groups such as the Hafiz Saeed-led Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Masood Azhar-led Jaish-e-Mohammad in the IHK context and the Haqqani network in the Afghanistan context proved insurmountable obstacles to a sympathetic hearing for Islamabad’s envoys. These developments seem to have persuaded the PML-N government to go on the political offensive at home to drive home to the security establishment the by now undeniable truth that the day of the proxies is done. Unless there is a change in the longstanding policy of using proxies for foreign strategic reasons, the argument goes, Pakistan will not be able to avoid international isolation, if it is not there already. Whether the media reports (and their subsequent denial by the government) of some blunt talking between the civilian and military sides of the equation on this reality are accurate or not, the old adage of no smoke without fire may apply. What is being ‘debated’ between the two components of the civil-military divide is of course of long duration and a logical outcome of the persistence of the proxies strategy far beyond its sell-by date. Consider. The world changed beyond recognition after 9/11. Prescient observers were predicting since that fateful day in 2001 that these changes would profoundly affect Pakistan. However, complacency and policy inertia meant the warnings were not heeded. One, it was obvious that Musharraf, despite saying ‘yes sir’ to the US’s war on terror after a threatening phone call from Washington, had decided Pakistan’s strategic stakes in Afghanistan dictated a duality of policy whereby the blood-lust in the Americans’ eye would be satisfied by moving against al Qaeda while saving the fleeing Afghan Taliban by providing safe havens on Pakistani soil for a rainy day. The calculation may have been that like all invaders and occupiers of Afghanistan in the past, the Americans would eventually tire of an endless war and Pakistan and its Afghan Taliban proxies would be back in business. But then US President George W Bush ‘gifted’ our security establishment the Iraq diversion in 2003, opening the door for an incremental uptick in the sputtering Afghan Taliban insurgency. This produced incremental irritation in Washington, summed up in the ad nauseam repetition of the ‘do more’ mantra, which essentially translated as denying the Afghan Taliban the safe havens on Pakistani soil from which they could operate with impunity. Two, informed opinion had been warning since 9/11 that the unprecedented attack on US soil would expand the terrorism ‘basket’ to include all movements worldwide composed of non-state forces waging armed struggle, irrespective of the political context or aims of such movements. That unfortunately included the armed struggle in IHK that had been begun in 1989. Islamabad failed to heed the warnings about the long-term alienation of Washington because of the duality at the heart of our Afghan policy and our blithe ignoring of the perils of continuing to allow Kashmiri militant groups to operate from Pakistani soil or Azad Kashmir. The result was policy paralysis that locked Pakistan into the proxies box without any serious review of the pros and cons of the strategy in the light of the changed geo-politics of the post-9/11 world. The chickens of that policy inertia/paralysis are now coming home to roost. Pakistan may or may not be ‘isolated’ (the saving grace perhaps being Washington’s perceived need to retain Pakistan as a strategic ally despite its discontents), but unless it changes course in revisiting the costs and benefits of persisting with its armed proxies strategy on both its eastern and western borders, that looms as the almost inevitable outcome. Truly then, the day of the proxies may be over, and the sooner our civilian and military leadership forge a consensus on how to respond to the international, regional and neighbourhood emerging realities, the better for the future of Pakistan. In today’s world, isolation, whether a reality or looming risk, is the antithesis of what all countries need in today’s globalised reality: to be connected and march in step with the world in the light of our true interests rather than the persisting shibboleths of another time and context that may no longer be in our fundamental interests. Pakistan and its people have yearned for peace within and without for decades in order to offer their present and coming generations a chance at a different, better future that beckons. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Business Recorder editorial Oct 8, 2016

Balochistan’s lingering crisis Twin remote controlled blasts targeting the Quetta to Rawalpindi bound Jaffer Express have killed seven people, including two personnel of the Bomb Disposal Squad travelling on the train, and injured 20 at Ab-i-Gum in the Bolan Pass 70 kilometres from the provincial capital on October 7. The first blast, believed to have been remotely triggered, caused severe damage to a passenger bogie, while a second bomb exploded below another bogie just as the passengers were disembarking from the by now stationary train. The Baloch Liberation Army claimed responsibility, justifying the attack as being aimed at military personnel who use the train for journeys to Rawalpindi. The incident evoked the usual statements of condemnation from the prime minister to the federal railways minister and the chief minister of the province. Political leaders, including Bilawal Bhutto, chimed in. Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafiq announced compensation of Rs one million each to the heirs of the dead and Rs 300,000 each to the injured. Train services were suspended on the line for a few hours while the destroyed track was repaired. The injured were rushed to the nearest hospital at Mach. Meanwhile the Baloch Liberation Front, another nationalist insurgent group, killed a Zikri spiritual leader Syed Mullah Akhtar Mullai in Kech district on October 7 for going back to working against the Front after being captured and then released by it earlier with a warning to cease his activities against the group. Also, on September 20, Zikri places of worship and homes in Panjgur were set on fire by unknown miscreants, evoking criticism from the Pakistan Muslim Zikri Anjuman regarding the security arrangements to safeguard the lives and properties of minorities in Balochistan. It appealed for sectarian harmony. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has called upon the authorities and religious parties to stop faith-based violence and bloodletting in Balochistan. It condemned the Panjgur violence and the killing of four Hazara women in Quetta the other day. In another incident, a correspondent of Aaj News was attacked and injured in Pishin on October 6. Taken by themselves, it may appear that these are not that significant in a large province like Balochistan. That, however, would be a mistaken perception. The province has been wracked by a nationalist insurgency, sectarian and religious violence for years. Notwithstanding the security forces’ claims of improvement in the law and order situation, such incidents highlight once more that the surface relative calm in Balochistan masks some serious concerns regarding the province’s lingering crisis. Ritual statements of condemnation of such incidents by political leaders and monetary compensation to the victims do not quite represent an adequate response to the situation. Unfortunately, since the change of command from former nationalist chief minister Dr Abdul Malik to Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, even the halting and ultimately unsuccessful overtures for reconciliation to the insurgents by the former appear to have been given up by his successor. The implication is a switch to a policy of using just force and repression in trying to quell violence. This is not an intelligent strategy. The complex interplay of the nationalist insurgency and sectarian and extremist terrorism needs a nuanced policy of dealing with disparate groups in a wiser manner. The sectarian terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have enjoyed virtually a free hand in Balochistan with the authorities turning a blind eye to their deadly trade. On the other hand, the nationalist insurgency, which arguably calls for continued attempts at a political resolution, seems to have been relegated to being combated by force alone, with its concomitant horrible crop of disappearances and bullet-riddled bodies being dumped all over the province. Such an approach can only deepen bitterness and harden the resolve of the nationalist insurgent groups to continue their armed struggle. As to the implied justification for such tactics underlined by the charge of Indian support to the insurgents, even if true, can only be overcome through reconciling the nationalists by addressing their genuine accumulated grievances within the four corners of the constitution. Insurgencies are seldom overcome by military means alone. The parallel track of political reconciliation must not be abandoned, no matter what the difficulties.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 5, 2016

Imran’s inexplicable politics Imran Khan has stunned allies and critics alike by announcing a boycott of the joint sitting of parliament on October 5 to discuss the current tensions with India on the Line of Control. Reportedly, the decision did not come without heated debate and considerable dissent in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) meeting on October 4. PTI members of parliament were vehemently opposed to the boycott decision, both because it was tantamount to giving up a platform from which to argue the party’s case as well as the possible negative fallout in media and public perceptions. But Imran Khan, with the backing of unelected members of the party leadership, overruled the dissenters. It should be remembered that the boycott decision came just one day after Shah Mehmood Qureshi led a PTI contingent to the multiparty conference on Pakistan-India tensions. The argument presented by Imran Khan in a press conference after the decision was that PTI would boycott parliament until such time as Nawaz Sharif resigned in favour of some other individual from the ruling PML-N as prime minister and offered himself for accountability in the Panamagate scandal according to the opposition’s Terms of Reference. Media reports say Imran and those supporting him in the boycott decision had reservations regarding indirectly providing Nawaz Sharif legitimacy by attending the joint session hosted by him. The fact that just a day earlier the PTI had attended the multiparty meeting hosted by the same Nawaz Sharif either did not appear to the authors of this decision as contradictory, or served to persuade them that the participation was a mistake that should not be repeated. Their logic appears to be that the iron is hot and therefore maximum pressure should be kept up on the government without too much concern about media or public perceptions. This strange logic appears to fly in the face of common sense that shows parties that do not ‘care’ for public opinion suffer the political consequences. Perhaps this overblown confidence in the power of the street as opposed to parliament owes more than a bit to the hubris that seems to have overtaken the ‘militants’ within the party after the PTI’s successful Raiwind rally the other day and its stated plans to continue this momentum by a march/rally on Islamabad. The fact the Imran Khan vowed at the Raiwind rally to shut down Islamabad and make it impossible for Nawaz Sharif to rule raises the spectre of violence and even bloodshed. While the constitution and democratic principles allow peaceful protest in a democracy, the bloodcurdling cries and threats from Imran and his party militants are disconcerting, to say the least. The PTI’s ally and junior coalition partner in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, the Jamaat-i-Islami, has expressed its astonishment and disappointment at the PTI’s boycott decision. The opposition parties, ranging from the PPP to nationalists from Sindh and Balochistan have all expressed shock and surprise, summed up in the term ‘incomprehensible’. The PPP has criticized Imran Khan’s resort to a ‘solo flight’ once again, seemingly not having learnt any lessons from the past. While the boycott appears to most observers as unfortunate, inopportune and lacking reasoning at a time when the country has united to face any threat on the western border, to Imran Khan it appears the best course to rock the consensus at the multiparty conference (PTI included) and return the party to the path of extreme steps in the hope of reaping political dividends. Imran Khan’s virtually exclusive focus on the rulers’ alleged corruption (from which charge, none, not even some PTI worthies have escaped unscathed) pitches him less as a political leader and more as someone aspiring to be the nation’s conscience or a moral crusader. While there is nothing wrong with such aspirations in principle, exclusive obsession with this issue at the expense, arguably, of all the other afflictions that bedevil state and society erodes Imran Khan’s political credibility. That credibility has been dealt another blow by the boycott decision. If he were to follow the logic of his present course, Imran Khan could end up painting himself as little more than an ambitious agitator with very little positive to offer the polity or the people.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 4, 2016

Musharraf’s self-serving interview Former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf has never been known to be short of chutzpah. The fact that his exaggerated self-belief inevitably leaves him with blind spots regarding himself and his role in public affairs should surprise no one. In his latest foray into the public domain, in an interview at the Washington Ideas Forum on September 29, the former dictator unburdened himself of his unleavened and self-serving views on democracy, civilian elected governments, the army and the constitution in terms that showed the leopard had not changed its spots despite his spectacularly failed attempt to enter politics on his return from being let out to pasture abroad after leaving power. In words reminiscent of past military dictators’ argument that democracy did not suit the ‘genius’ of the people of Pakistan, Musharraf stated that democracy in the country had not been tailored in accordance with the dictates of the environment. And how does he see that ‘environment’? According to his lights, Musharraf believes the constitution does not offer any systemic checks and balances against misgovernance by elected civilian governments. That void, in Musharraf’s view, produces the phenomenon of a ‘stampede’ by opposition politicians to the Chief of Army Staff’s (COAS’s) door, beseeching him to intervene and take over. In an obvious but clumsy attempt to justify therefore the repeated military coups in Pakistan’s history (including his own in 1999), he describes the pull exerted on the military thereby to get involved in politics. While Musharraf describes the military as his ‘constituency’, this description can only embarrass the present high command, given the fact that the military’s standing suffered grievous blows during his nine year stint in power because of the association with his frailties and blunders. It has taken eight years and two succeeding COASs to overcome that taint and restore the prestige and respect of the army. To refute Musharraf’s ‘wisdom’ is not a hard task. His track record in and out of power speaks for itself. The architect of the Kargil war in 1999, which brought Pakistan and India to the brink of a nuclear conflict, and his subsequent (unsuccessful) suing for peaceful resolution of all issues with India after his seizure of power (a profound refutation of his Kargil adventure), point to the contradictions in the man’s personality. After the coup in October 1999 that overthrew Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s elected government, the Supreme Court, in the time-honoured (in Pakistan’s history at least) manner of the superior judiciary’s endorsement of military takeovers, not only gave its blessings to Musharraf’s violation of the constitution and his sworn oath to protect it, it went out of its way in ‘generously’ allowing Musharraf to amend the constitution. This one-man power conferred on him to amend the basic law of the land did not persuade the all-powerful dictator then, despite this amendment power being available for three years, to bring in the ‘systemic checks and balances’ he now bemoans the absence of. Nor does he care to explain why a COAS ‘besieged’ by calls for a takeover cannot resist such clearly motivated unconstitutional demands. Musharraf’s record in power shows his arrogant penchant for riding roughshod over opposition and fuelling unnecessary conflict (e.g. the egregious killing of Akbar Bugti). His second ‘coup’ of 2007 regarding the Chief Justice of Pakistan and later the removal and detention of dozens of judges of the superior judiciary hardly merits comment. In that same year, having realized the limitations of the King’s Party he created and bribed or coerced politicians into, Musharraf expediently and arguably illegally promulgated the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that not only let accused politicians and others off the hook on charges of corruption, etc, but was just another vain attempt to perpetuate his hold on power. He used the MQM in Karachi as his ‘strong arm’ against all comers while allowing it a free hand in killings, kidnappings and extortion. The list of Musharraf’s sins of omission and commission is too long to adequately cover in this space. In sum, Musharraf’s arguments in favour of military coups out of ‘necessity’, critique of democracy, the constitution and elected civilian governments, whatever their shortcomings and flaws, does not stand up to scrutiny in principle or against the touchstone of his own shenanigans in office. Democracy may have its discontents, but the only cure for its failings is more democracy and the strengthening of state institutions, not looking towards self-anointed arrogant saviours such as Musharraf.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Oct 1, 2016

Let better sense prevail After a period of sabre rattling from India and a determined response from Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership, better sense appears to be taking hold in New Delhi. According to media reports, India has conveyed through discreet channels to Islamabad that it does not want any further escalation of tensions on the Line of Control (LoC). While the message is positive, it does not yet appear to have travelled down the line to the Indian forces who conducted another cross-LoC violation of the ceasefire on the morning of October 1. This is the second instance of cross-LoC firing/artillery bombardment in recent days after the so-called ‘surgical strike’ the other day, which Pakistan dismissed as anything but ‘surgical’ or even a ‘strike’. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the initiator of the belligerence against Pakistan in the wake of the youth uprising in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) after the killing of young militant commander Burhanuddin Wani about three months ago. To distract attention from the brutal repression let loose by the Indian security forces against unarmed and peaceful protestors, including the use of pellet guns that blinded and injured the eyes of hundreds of youths, Modi embarked on a series of provocative statements, starting from an attempted equivalence between Pakistan’s problems in Balochistan with India’s in IHK (which failed to fly in the face of the former being an internal matter while Kashmir remains a bilateral and international dispute). All of Modi’s and other Indian ministers’ war mongering statements against Pakistan failed to divert attention from the horrendous situation in IHK, where an almost continuous curfew is in place since the uprising broke out, without it or the unfettered repression being able to quell the spirit of the Kashmiri protestors. Nor did the attempt to shift the blame for the situation in IHK onto Pakistan’s shoulders succeed. The attack on the Uri military base that led to the killing of 17 Indian soldiers too could not be pinned on Pakistan despite unsubstantiated allegations by India. The ‘surgical strike’ referred to above seems to have been apiece with Modi’s calculated belligerence against Pakistan for a domestic audience. Modi’s popularity is suffering a dip, both because of his failure to deliver on his election pledge of rapid economic development and his exposure as a leader unable to transcend his Hundutva leanings despite elevation to the highest elected office in his country. His party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), faces two crucial looming state elections in his home state Gujarat and UP. The prospects for the BJP do not look good. Modi has no one to blame but himself for losing the confidence and support of a wide swathe of Indian political opinion because of his bigoted, exclusivist and hate filled attitudes towards Muslims, minorities and even Hindus who disagree with him. Pakistan bashing, therefore, seemed the time-honoured tactic of blaming an external ‘enemy’ to overcome domestic political troubles. Its failure in the current context is now manifest. Hence India’s suing for de-escalation after raising the stakes to a near-war situation between the two (let us remind ourselves) nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours. If the reports of India reaching out to Pakistan for easing tensions or at the very least not allowing the escalation of the recent days to spiral out of control are true, it can only mean that the costs of the present course are beginning to outweigh any real or perceived advantages in domestic politics. Naturally the shrill pitch of government statements and media coverage in India has proved disconcerting for the global community. Unfortunately, not all our political leaders and media have exercised the maturity and restraint required in the face of obvious provocation, but by and large Pakistan’s posture of not being intimidated by Indian threats while underlining Islamabad’s continuing desire for settling issues peacefully through talks has ensured a better global audience response. It is being reported that the US has played a mediatory role in persuading New Delhi to step back from the brink of what inherently is the danger of nuclear conflict in the subcontinent since at least 1998. China, Russia, the west generally and the UN have all stressed to both India and Pakistan to seek a peaceful resolution. World opinion may not matter too much to Modi and his ilk, but his dream of India becoming a world power cannot be pursued through such shrill belligerence. India’s domestic political audience too is increasingly restive regarding Modi’s present aggressive course. All this notwithstanding, it is a welcome development if better sense starts to prevail in New Delhi.