Thursday, December 29, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 29, 2016

Zardari’s ‘surprise’ Former president and co-chairman PPP Asif Ali Zardari’s return to the country after a self-imposed exile of a year and a half set tongues wagging as to what the return portended. Zardari added fuel to the fire by announcing on his arrival in Karachi that he would deliver some ‘good news’ at the commemoration of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Larkana on December 27. All eyes were therefore on him amidst heightened expectations of some ‘surprise’. However, the way things transpired, the ‘surprise’ turned out to be a damp squib. If there were expectations that Zardari would, in the light of his blood curdling cries against the government on his return, endorse Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s call for a long march on Islamabad after the deadline of December 27 had passed since the government had turned a deaf ear to the party’s four demands, these expectations were in for a disappointment. Instead of an all out agitational assault on the government as the long march proposal implied, Zardari pulled two rabbits out of his hat, announcing that both he and Bilawal would enter the National Assembly through by-elections on seats held by the PPP in Nawabshah and Larkana respectively. While the announcement was unlikely to set the house on fire, some conclusions can already be drawn from it. First, there is the speculation, unconfirmed, that some discreet agreement was reached on the eve of Zardari’s address in Garhi Khuda Buksh on December 27 between him and the government, which led to a ‘postponement’ of the long march proposal and instead, Zardari opted for carrying on his ‘struggle’ in parliament and, if necessary, outside it. Second, the former president’s decision to enter parliament was a message to the establishment that he could not be kept out of politics indefinitely despite his close colleagues and friends being targeted by the Rangers in Karachi, the latest episode of which occurred just hours before his touching down in Karachi. Third, it could be a signal that Zardari was positioning himself in the run up to the 2018 elections. Fourth, analysts are reading this development as Bilawal being relegated to the position of a ‘political intern’ to learn the art of parliamentary politics, meaning he will continue to play second fiddle to his father in a reversal of the recent trend where Bilawal seemed to be asserting himself in a militant fashion against the government. Last but not least, there may be hopes that Zardari’s entry into parliament will help lift the dwindling morale of his party workers. It appears now that the shape of the PPP’s political strategy in the run up to the 2018 elections is premised on avoiding a direct clash with the government while keeping up the pressure inside parliament and, if necessary, outside it for ‘consideration’ being extended to the party’s concerns and complaints. The all out assault option is probably considered too risky for the still fragile democratic system, in which all parties with a presence in parliament have a stake. This consideration draws a line of demarcation between the PPP and the PTI, since the latter has shown in its agitational mode in recent years a recklessness towards the fate of the democratic system. Does this mean no alliance is possible between the two main opposition parties? This conclusion may be premature since Imran Khan has indicated he could contemplate such an alliance. The government on its part has ‘launched’ its not-so-secret-weapon in the shape of Maulana Fazlur Rehman to mediate between the government and the PPP and thereby prevent any alliance between the PPP and PTI emerging. It remains to be seen whether Asif Zardari’s gambit will yield the results expected from it. If not, the option of agitation, or at least the threat of it, could once again be trotted out. We must wait and see.

Business Recorder editorial Dec 28, 2016

Time for a rethink New COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa’s third visit to Balochistan since taking over command last month has yielded little that is new. His busy day attending various events in Quetta gave him the opportunity to address the issues that have plagued the province for long years. However, his touching on them left many questions unanswered. Stressing as he did the undoubted importance of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), General Bajwa repeated the arguments about the project’s importance. However, his stress on the benefits CPEC will bring to the province are likely not to convince those in Balochistan with long memories of past experience. The natural resources of Balochistan, whose abundance the COAS stressed, have not benefited wholly or sometimes even in part the people of the province themselves. Balochistan’s inherited underdevelopment remains unaddressed almost 70 years since independence. That and the denial of the rights of the Baloch people over their resources have fed into historically received grievances. Every generation in Balochistan has rebelled against these anomalies, the current nationalist insurgency being the fifth during the last almost 70 years. If today some or all the nationalist insurgents have veered towards separatism, this should be viewed as a cry from the heart born of frustration. CPEC is certainly important, but its results cannot be hoped for complacently while its major route through Balochistan and the critical port of Gwadar are located in a troubled province. The special security force being raised to guard the CPEC will be stretched to secure the entire length and multiple routes of the corridor. While the induction of Baloch youth into the military, paramilitary and law enforcement agencies may be appropriate, one should not be lulled thereby into thinking that this will deter the appeal to youth of the nationalist insurgency. The COAS pins the blame for all the troubles in the province and hurdles to its development on ‘enemies’. For the sake of argument if this logic is accepted, what is the way out of this long running quagmire? Is the present (and repeated) sole reliance on military force to quell the rebellion a sufficient condition for the desired outcome of peace and development? With respect, the history of this nationalist insurgency of some 70 years standing (punctuated by brief periods of seeming peace) as well as similar insurgencies elsewhere suggests that military solutions to such conundrums are the exception. The rule is that they are usually resolved politically. Former chief minister Balochistan Dr Abdul Malik’s efforts to talk to the insurgents made shipwreck on his lack of power to implement any commitments. His successor Nawab Sanaullah Zehri seems to have abandoned the talks option altogether. Since it is obvious that the military calls the shots in Balochistan, only it can with authority and credibility engage the rebels. At present, if we read between the lines of the COAS’s remarks, only the option of unconditional surrender is on offer. That is unlikely to persuade the core of the insurgency to lay down arms without their grievances being heard and addressed (albeit within the four corners of the constitution and law). The COAS has correctly pointed to the global geopolitical and geo-economic environment evolving in a manner that has brought our region into focus. This is precisely why a dynamic, forward-looking policy is needed to prevent the exploitation of local grievances by any inimical regional or global power, salivating at the prospect of Balochistan’s strategic location. A politically negotiated solution to the Balochistan insurgency would help cut the ground from under any such power’s ability to fish in troubled waters.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Business Recorder Editorial Dec 24, 2016

Zardari’s return Co-chairperson of the PPP and former president Asif Ali Zardari ended his self-imposed 18-month exile by returning to Karachi on December 23. Zardari had hurriedly left the country after delivering a hard-hitting speech against the military establishment and the then COAS General Raheel Sharif on June 16, 2015. Some analysts therefore are linking his return to the change of military command. If so, the establishment seems to have sent a message through its raids on the offices of close friend of Zardari Anwar Majeed in Karachi, which yielded a claim from the raiding Rangers that they had seized some illegal arms, sensitive documents and five suspects. The message is read as underlining that there is no change in policy despite the change in military command and the Rangers’ actions against alleged illegal arms and corrupt persons will continue as part of the continuing Karachi operation. Not unexpectedly, the Sindh government has termed the raids “revengeful”, while the raided company has issued a denial of culpability and asked for an independent investigation into the matter. It should not be overlooked that the timing of the move, mere hours before Zardari landed in Karachi, has given rise to such interesting speculation. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar briefed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad regarding the raids, and reportedly assured him that the action was not politically motivated but based on solid evidence. This has not convinced the PPP or its supporters, and even many analysts are buying the PPP’s line that the prime minister and his controversial interior minister are conducting a ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine in the light of the fact that the former had publicly welcomed Zardari’s return just one day before. Be that as it may, Zardari addressed a big crowd of his party workers and supporters at the airport, underlining that he had returned with a message of hope not despondency. He argued that the PPP came to power after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007 despite anomalies in the electoral constituency boundaries, amongst other obstacles. Having completed its full term, the PPP handed over power peacefully to the PML-N, the first time such a transition through the ballot box had occurred in the country’s history, despite reservations about Nawaz Sharif’s mandate. This was to strengthen democracy and ensure its continuity. He argued that it did not matter who was in power today, as with the support of the people, the PPP would once again come to power and form the government. He promised some ‘good news’ to his audience at the December 27 commemoration in Larkana of Benazir’s ninth death anniversary. Speculations are rife vis-à-vis the role of Zardari in the party now. One school of thought believes the PPP has decided that Bilawal will remain the public face of the party and continue with his aggressive anti-PML-N stance in Punjab, the stronghold of the ruling party and the critical province for any party’s electoral hopes. Zardari’s role will be that of the party’s ‘patriarch’, which means using his undoubted abilities in wheeling-dealing and cobbling together alliances with other political forces. This modus operandi will be especially focused on the smaller provinces, which translates as ensuring the consolidation of the PPP’s grip on power in Sindh while enhancing its strength in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the run up to the 2018 general elections. Meanwhile Bilawal is said to be exploring an alliance of progressive political parties to challenge the PML-N lion in its Punjab den. How this ‘division of labour’ between father and son works out in practice only time will tell. Nevertheless the challenges for the party remain formidable, both in its stronghold Sindh as well as the ambition to break out if its south Punjab straitjacket and make inroads into the Sharif home ground in central Punjab and Potohar. Certainly Asif Zardari’s return has introduced a new and consequential factor into the political landscape. This space needs careful watching for its implications for the polity’s future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 21, 2016

Musharraf’s indiscretion Once again, former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf has shown his penchant for shooting from the lip. In an interview with a television channel, Musharraf claimed that the Nawaz Sharif government had been pressurising the courts in the cases against him and recently retired COAS General Raheel Sharif came to his rescue. According to Musharraf, General Raheel played a role in having this alleged pressure relieved from behind the scenes. Once that happened, the courts allowed him to go abroad for medical treatment. In the same interview, Musharraf also claimed that his differences with Nawaz Sharif started because the prime minister wanted him to fire two major generals, which he refused to do. In response, the government, adopting discretion as the better part of valour, issued a mealy-mouthed statement rejecting the major generals charge, while remaining enigmatically silent on the issue of General Raheel Sharif. The government was obviously caught in an unenviable position on the second issue, as it risked being damned if it did and damned if it didn’t. It was left to Minister for States and Frontier Regions Lt-General (retired) Abdul Qadir Baloch on another television programme to render a ‘half-confession’ by confining himself to regretting Musharraf’s indiscretion regarding the former COAS without clearly refuting the charge of intervention in the judicial process. Legal and other circles have expressed their outrage at Musharraf’s maligning the institutions of the judiciary, army, and the latter’s recently retired COAS. They have demanded the Supreme Court take suo motu notice of a statement that amounts to contempt of the judiciary as an institution. Musharraf has been basking in the glow of his escape and freedom abroad. Despite commitments to the courts that he would return to face all the cases against him after his treatment, there is no sign he will make the same mistake again of returning to the country when treason and murder cases dangle over his head. As to the reasons for his falling out with Nawaz Sharif, who does not know the real reason? It was the ill thought through, badly planned and generaled ‘secret’ adventure in Kargil that queered the pitch between the two. Nawaz Sharif was busy mending fences with then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee while Musharraf in his megalomania was not only sabotaging that historic effort through the Kargil war, but dreaming of subjugating India in Indian Held Kashmir by cutting off the Indian army’s supply lines in the disputed state. We also know how that adventure ended in a debacle, visiting nothing but ignominy on Pakistan. It should not be forgotten that the Kargil adventure came just one year after both India (again) and Pakistan (for the first time) had tested nuclear bombs. The risk of the Kargil conflict escalating into a full fledged war, with its concomitant nuclear weapons danger, was only avoided by international pressure. Musharraf clearly had no concern for the danger he potentially was pushing the country towards. Could there be a more irresponsible act by a COAS? Having said that, and with the greatest respect to the judiciary as an institution, Musharraf’s allegations may find resonance with those who have not forgotten the chequered history of the judiciary’s role in our past. When Musharraf sent 82 superior courts judges home because they refused to accept the PCO, many other judges stepped up to fill the void and served the dictator faithfully till the whole jing bang lot was dumped. That was only the last amongst the ‘sins’ of the judiciary in upholding military coups and extending legitimacy to military usurpers in our past. Hopefully those sordid days are behind us. A rejuvenated, independent judiciary that adheres to the constitution is one of the best guarantees against the man on horseback in future. Meanwhile, the authorities should find ways and means to compel Musharraf to return and face the music.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 20, 2016

Commission reports Former judge of the Supreme Court Justice Javed Iqbal had an interesting day with the Senate Standing Committee on Interior on December 19. Justice Iqbal headed the Abbottabad Commission set up to probe the US Navy Seals raid that killed Osama bin Laden in a compound cheek-by-jowl with the Pakistan Military Academy, Kakul. He is also the chairman of the Commission on Enforced Disappearances. There was an interesting exchange between Justice Iqbal and the members of the committee on the work of both commissions. As far as the Abbottabad Commission is concerned, Justice Iqbal told the committee that despite the passage of three years since the Commission’s report was submitted to the prime minister, it has yet to be made public or its recommendations implemented. He lamented that the shelving of commission reports after every important incident had left the impression that commissions are set up merely to ride out the immediate storm and their reports left to collect dust while the public forgets the issue. It turns out that one version of the Abbottabad Commission’s report was leaked by an international media organisation in 2013. However, one commission member, Ashraf Jehangir Qazi told the Senate Committee on Defence in 2013 that the leaked report was a first draft and not the final version. Reportedly, the final copy was a watered down version of the leaked draft, which was highly critical of the armed forces, particularly the ISI, both for its failures and stymying the growth of civilian intelligence agencies. The final report also reportedly carried a 40-page strongly worded note of dissent by Qazi, as well as Justice Javed Iqbal’s observations on the note. Qazi and another commission member, Lt-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed wrote separate first drafts in the light of differences that cropped up among the members over fixing responsibility. It was left to Justice Iqbal to ‘reconcile’ the two drafts, but Qazi disagreed with the Justice over attempts to ‘play safe’, a disagreement that was reflected in Qazi’s dissenting note. The phrase “collective failure” was reportedly inserted in the report on Justice Iqbal’s suggestion since he did not want particular individuals or institutions blamed. The attempt was to show that all institutions of the state shared the ignominy that culminated in the May 2, 2010 debacle. On the missing persons issue, Justice Iqbal stretched credulity to the breaking point by claiming there were only 96 such persons in Balochistan, and most of them had fled to Afghanistan or Geneva. He pooh-poohed the figures of thousands of missing persons in Balochistan as “highly exaggerated”. This assertion was based on the premise that the commission had repeatedly asked all stakeholders to submit lists of the names and addresses of the alleged thousands of missing persons but no such list was ever given to the commission from any quarter. To add the icing on this cake, the committee chairman, Senator Rehman Malik made the absurd statement that Indian RAW agents were killing and dumping the dead bodies of people all over the province to destabilise Pakistan while camouflaging themselves in the uniforms of the FC or law enforcement agencies. On the first count, Justice Iqbal was taken to task by the Baloch members of the committee by pointing out that even reporting a family member missing was not free of risk in Balochistan. Hence the absence of ‘lists’. Only Rehman Malik however can explain how bullet-riddled dead bodies dumped all over the province can be explained by the ‘uniform’ ploy, since the perpetrators of such extrajudicial killings don’t exactly hang around to have their bona fides checked. In Pakistan the routine has been that commission reports are seldom made public, let alone their recommendations implemented. The mother of such reports, the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on East Pakistan’s breakaway has still to officially see the light of day, and what little we know of it is through the good offices of a leak by Indian media some years ago. Needless to say, when a commission report is suppressed, it is reasonable to assume that no lessons have been learnt, recommendations remain unimplemented, and we are condemned to repeat the same mistakes ad nauseam. It is time to reverse this opaqueness. The public has the right to know what the findings of such reports are, and then to assess whether the authorities have carried out their recommendations in the interests of state and society.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 19, 2016

Census at last At long last the much delayed national census seems poised to see the light of day. It took a suo motu notice and order by the Supreme Court to compel the government to carry out the decennial exercise that should have been conducted as a matter of course. Now the Council of Common Interests has met and decided to go ahead with the census starting from March 15, 2017. According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Council of Common Interests, which brings together the federal government and provincial leaderships, decided that the housing count and population census would be carried out in one go. The census will be conducted in two phases, each simultaneously in all the provinces and in close coordination with the respective provincial governments. The Council of Common Interests discussed the operational difficulties of the exercise and set up a committee comprising the secretary of the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics and the four chief secretaries to address all such issues. The house listing will begin March 15, 2017 and be completed in 30 days. This will be followed by the census operation that will also be completed in 30 days. A total of 207,000 personnel will be involved, including 42,000 from the armed forces to provide security throughout the exercise. In the light of the huge task, international experts on enumeration supported the two-phase idea. A census is the primary long term planning tool. While the house listing exercise provides data on the actual number of houses, the population enumeration provides the comparison between dwellings and people, throwing up in relief the housing deficit. Needless to say, development planning is reduced to guesswork in the absence of current, accurate data on the size of the population, demographic spread, etc. These figures feed into a judicious sharing of national resources by different provinces and regions. What should be a routine task every 10 years according to the constitution has a chequered history in our past. The first census was conducted in 1951 and the next according to schedule in 1961. The 1971 census was delayed by a year because of the war but the 1981 one was conducted on time. The 1991 census was delayed by seven years and only conducted in 1998, reportedly for political reasons. From thereon the exercise was derailed. The due date for the next census was 2008 but did not materialise. An abortive exercise in 2010 had its results rubbished for unreliability. In violation of the constitution and in the absence of knowledge about the exact number of citizens, the estimate of the population in 2015 was 191.17 million souls. The house listing and population count is likely to reveal the landscape of how the country has changed. Not only has the population grown enormously since the 1998 census’ population figure of 130 million (plus another five million in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan), the last 18 years have seen rapid urbanisation (the highest rate in South Asia), which meant the exponential expansion of cities, rural-urban migration, and enormous changes in the patterns of life and work. Planning in the dark has probably created undiscovered pools of deprivation and gaps in delivery, exacerbating economic and social problems and conflict. In the case of the upcoming 2017 census, however bad a light it throws on the inability of our leaders to carry out this constitutionally binding task out of fear and uncertainty surrounding the implications of the number and distribution of the population for political representation and the distribution of national resources, the only polite way to view the ‘breakthrough’ is to fall back on the old adage: better late than never.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 14, 2016

Hate crime The incident on December 12 in Dulmial village, 35 kilometres from Chakwal, of a mob numbering about 1,000 people that attacked an Ahmedi place of worship, has a sickeningly familiar ring to it. The mob fired at the Ahmedis inside, occupied the premises by force and set fire to books, fans, carpets and other items. The thinly deployed police contingent was initially overwhelmed by the mob. Later, heavier deployments of police and Rangers allowed the vacation of the premises from the occupiers, the rescue of 40 Ahmedis trapped inside, and the control of the worship place passing into the hands of the authorities, who sealed the place. Two people died and dozens were injured. Although the alacrity of the administration and law enforcement forces after the arrack is praiseworthy, the initial response to a looming threat of violence reeked of too little, too late. The district administration had been approached by both sides, Muslim villagers and some outside hate preachers on the one hand, and the fearful Ahmedi community on the other. The former filed an application to have the place of worship turned over to them or they would be forced to take extreme measures. The latter pleaded for security in the face of impending attack and forceful occupation of the place of worship. The administration appears to have taken the warning signs of a build up of potentially violent action against the Ahmedis a trifle too lightly, relying on the assurances of the Muslim community and their hate mongering preachers (local and outsiders) that the procession celebrating Eid Miladun Nabi would not change its route and pass by the Ahmedi place of worship. But that is exactly what they did and the use of firearms, arson and violence indicated prior preparation. The simmering tension in the area has not abated despite the police guarding Ahmedi homes and the Rangers on alert in the village. In any case the Ahmedi families have fled their homes, fearing retaliation. The dispute over the place of worship dates from the early 20th century, when some members of the dominant Malik caste in the village converted to the Ahmedi faith. The mosque predated this development, having been constructed in 1860. It later became an Ahmedi place of worship, contested by some amongst the Muslim community. A case filed for giving the place of worship to the Muslims was dismissed by the Lahore High Court in 1997. But the dispute never flared into violence until now. The facts indicate a conscious mobilisation by some outside clerics of the mob involved in the attack. The Ahmedi community lives in fear in Pakistan since they were declared non-Muslims in 1974. Over the years since, they have been subjected to targeted assassinations, attacks on individuals and communities, and violent assaults on their places of worship. Being declared non-Muslim has not deprived Ahmedis of their rights as citizens. Such hate crimes against them cannot be tolerated by any civilised society, let alone one that overwhelmingly adheres to Islam, the religion of peace. The incident in Chakwal is said to have followed the naming by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of a physics centre in Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, after Dr Abdus Salam. Dr Salam has been ostracized and ignored because of his Ahmedi faith, despite his enormous contributions to science (including the nuclear programme) in Pakistan. The prime minister rightly tried to reverse this shameful behaviour by symbolically honouring one of the brightest scientific minds Pakistan has produced, and whom the world has not just recognised, but honoured with a Nobel Prize. For us not to celebrate the achievements of such a son of the soil because of his faith smacks of extreme bigotry. Whether there is a link between the Dr Salam centre in Quaid-e-Azam University and the Chakwal incident or not, state and society in Pakistan have to remain vigilant against the hate crimes being committed against the persons and properties of Ahmedi citizens by religious extremists and fanatics.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 11, 2016

Merit-based appointments The newly appointed Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Bajwa has initiated what looks like a major reshuffle amongst the top commanders of the army. Of course it is the privilege of any incoming COAS to have his own team in place. But what is significant about the current crop of promotions/appointments is that there can hardly be a finger pointed at ignoring merit in these changes. Part of the reshuffle became necessary when four Generals were superseded while appointing General Bajwa as the new COAS. As is the tradition, all four superseded Lt-Generals have decided to retire. Seven Major Generals have been promoted as Lt-Generals. Amongst them, Lt-General Nadeem Raza, the Commandant of the Pakistan Military Academy Kakul, has been posted as Commander of the important 10th Corps, headquartered in Rawalpindi and responsible for the Line of Control sector. His predecessor, Lt-General Zafar Iqbal, has been shifted to Director General Joint Staff Headquarters, a position that fell vacant upon the retirement of superseded Lt-General Najib. Lt-General Nadeem Raza brings to his new command field experience, having served as a commanding officer on the Line of Control. Lt-General Sarfraz Sattar, promoted to a three-star General in September this year and awaiting appointment, has been posted as Commander 2nd Corps, based in Multan, in place of Lt-General Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed, who has belatedly decided, along with Bahawalpur Corps Commander Lt-General Javed Iqbal Ramday, to seek early retirement on being superseded. Three star vacancies in the top military command opened up with the promotion of General Zubair Hayat as Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, General Qamar Bajwa as COAS, and the retirement of the four superseded Generals. General Bajwa has now embarked on building the team of his choice. He has replaced the Karachi Corps Commander and the military secretary. This signals an even bigger reshuffle. Significantly, the crucial post of the Chief of General Staff is still vacant. The promotions notified so far superseded at least 24 Generals. How many amongst them may seek early retirement remains to be seen. As an aside, the unseemly, inappropriate, motivated campaign by sections of the religious lobby to paint some of the three star Generals shortlisted for elevation to COAS as Ahmedis was a typical obfuscatory effort by such elements to falsely muddy the waters and keep the dominance of reactionary ideas alive and dominant. Professional merit, not religious beliefs, has been the leit motif of the military. General Bajwa has not only adhered to and kept this tradition alive by ignoring the obscurantists, he has taken bold decisions while promoting and posting officers of the top command, based entirely on merit. Now that the military appears to have returned to its institutional principle of merit-based promotions and appointments, thereby leaving behind the deviations of the past (e.g. Generals Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf and Kayani), the civilian side should learn the appropriate lessons from this turn towards unalloyed professionalism and merit and emulate this example in its own sphere as far as promotions and appointments to high office of state are concerned.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 7, 2016

No longer missing Wahid Baloch’s case is typical of the rash of people going ‘missing’, mostly in Balochistan, but now increasingly in Sindh too, but with one important difference. Wahid is back safe and sound with his family after four anxiety-ridden months from the moment he was whisked away by security officials off a bus on the outskirts of Karachi on July 26. When he ‘disappeared’, the police initially refused to register an FIR, government agencies proved unable or unwilling to help trace him, and human rights groups took up his case. All this is a sickeningly familiar routine. The social activist, writer and publisher was widely believed to have been targeted by the security agencies because of his advocacy of the Baloch cause. Despite the long period of his secret incarceration, no charges were brought against him, he was never presented in a court of law, and there was no official acknowledgement that he was in custody. Happily though, his nightmare ended well. He is one of the lucky ones. While Wahid Baloch is free, many are still missing, untraced and untraceable. But at least their families can still hope that one day their loved ones will return to them, unlike those ‘disappeared’ whose bullet-riddled bodies continue to turn up all over Balochistan and of late even in Sindh. Even the intervention of the Supreme Court and the setting up of a judicial commission has failed to resolve the conundrum. One does not know if Wahid Baloch owes his good fortune to the recent change of military command or it is purely coincidental or circumstantial. But it is high time the powers that be revisit the growing practice of handling suspected militants by extrajudicial means. The arguments against the practice carry a great deal of weight. Not only is ‘disappearing’ people against the law and constitution, the lack of any checks on such clandestine measures means they are open to great abuse and injustice. In effect they deprive the state of any moral high ground, feeding into resentment and grievances and thereby hardening attitudes in the community targeted, leading to an exacerbation of the very security problems they are intended to deal with. There exists a controversy on the number of missing persons related to Balochistan. Activists claim the figure runs into thousands, human rights groups say they are not so many but still considerable, the state (including the Supreme Court set up judicial commission) unofficially concedes only a small number. This controversy is meaningless on the touchstone of the law, constitution and citizens’ rights. One missing person is one too many. Whatever the actual number, the problem has by now acquired intractability, fuelled existing Baloch grievances and arguably sustained the insurgency with hardened attitudes amongst the targeted community. For insurgencies such as the politically motivated Baloch one, there is no purely military solution. Unfortunately the establishment only views the problem through security lenses. About Balochistan in particular, its proximity to Afghanistan and Iran and its extended sea coast lends the province a geostrategic importance and sensitivity all its own. The India factor too impinges on the present approach to the problem. If for the sake of argument, the security establishment’s view that the insurgency is supported by India is accepted, the counter logic suggests that if we put our house in order, that would cut the ground from under any foreign interference, including India’s. The only way that is possible is a negotiated political solution to the Baloch insurgency, an endeavour that would be immeasurably helped by adherence to the tenets of the law and constitution, due process, and if found not guilty of any crime, reuniting all missing persons with their long suffering families.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 6, 2016

Death of a popular icon The passing away of 68-year-old long serving Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram on December 5 evoked among her supporters the expected tsunami of grief. She had been ill in hospital since being admitted with a fever in September. Hundreds of people had mounted a round-the-clock vigil at the hospital since she was admitted. This crowd of supporters swelled on December 4 as her condition worsened. It was left to her party, the AIADMK, to mournfully announce the sad news that the “Iron Lady of India…beloved…Amma, is no more.” Jayalalithaa was known popularly in her home state as Amma (mother). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences. Jayalalithaa started her career as a popular Tamil cinema heroine. She was introduced to politics by her cinema screen partner M G Ramachandran, also an actor-turned-politician, and went on to serve as chief minister of Tamil Nadu five times. She enjoyed a god-like stature with her people, with her ministers on occasion prostrating themselves at her feet. The reclusive leader was said to run her party with an iron hand and has failed to leave any clear line of succession to govern the South Indian state that is home to major auto and IT outsourcing businesses. In the emotive atmosphere following her demise, some analysts fear the uncertainty surrounding who will inherit her mantle could lead to violence. Jayalalithaa during her long political career garnered the loyalty of many voters in Tamil Nadu through a series of highly popular schemes, including the well known “Amma canteens” providing lunch for just Rs three. She was also one of the most polarising figures in Indian politics, accused of being dictatorial and even being jailed for corruption. Her conviction in 2014, overturned later on appeal, evoked such emotion that several of her supporters resorted to self-harm and even reportedly some suicides amidst widespread mass protests. Jayalalithaa combined in her person the melding of art and politics, in both of which she was a high achiever. Her devoted supporters dismissed the corruption charges against her as the motivated work of rivals. In their eyes, Amma could do no wrong. This conviction sprang from her pro-people policies and welfare steps. As to corruption, the obsession with the issue by our Imran Khan notwithstanding, it appears inherent in politics, if not in human affairs generally. There is no cure for the malady except systemic erosion of all avenues for such wrongdoing, which must include the rule of law and a prosecution and justice system that works efficiently. In South Asia generally, and all over the world, such systems present a mixed picture at best. But such systems, despite flaws and warts, can only improve themselves and the situation over time if continuity in the political process and democracy are ensured. There are no short cuts in this endeavor, so long as greed and material acquisition define the human condition. In Jayalalithaa’s case, the charges of corruption were washed away by the adulatory worship she evoked amongst her supporters for all she had done for them in her repeated tenures. After all it was not for nothing that they kept returning her to high office again and again. In that respect therefore, the people’s welfare orientation trumped the corruption taint, whether deserved or not. Tamil Nadu is a highly educated state, but that did not prevent the extraordinary love reminiscent of worship she evoked in the hearts and minds of her diehard supporters. There may never again be the like of Jayalalithaa Jayaram on the political horizon of Tamil Nadu, India, or indeed the wider world. Her charisma fed off the Hindu cultural penchant for anointing deities with gifts of gold and other precious commodities. Whether that culture was at the heart of her alleged corruption is an enigma she takes with her to the funeral pyre. Love her or hate her, there is no denying the giant stature of Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who for so long defined her state and shone on India’s political firmament.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Business Recorder Column Dec 6, 2016

Heartburn at Heart of Asia Conference Rashed Rahman Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz did the right thing by attending the Heart of Asia Conference in Amritsar, India, despite the tense state of relations between Pakistan and the host country. Because the series of Heart of Asia Conferences since 2011 are focused on ways and means to restore peace in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s presence was necessary. Besides, absence was tantamount to shooting oneself in the foot. For better or worse, the world recognises that the goals of the Heart of Asia Conference cannot be reached without the participation of Pakistan. As expected, the issue of safe havens on Pakistani soil for the Afghan Taliban remained the main bone of contention. Both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani criticised Pakistan on this count, with the former painting the issue in more general terms regarding combating all forms of terrorism to include India’s complaint of being on the receiving end of such activities in Indian Held Kashmir. Sartaj Aziz could not hold a press conference in Amritsar after the Heart of Asia Conference, ostensibly for security reasons. He therefore had to wait till he got back to Islamabad on the night of December 4. At the belated press conference in Islamabad, the Adviser expressed ‘serious reservations’ about Modi and Ghani’s remarks and attitude at the Heart of Asia Conference. He sought comfort in the fact that the final Amritsar Declaration of the Conference included in the list of the usual (and some new) suspects responsible for terrorism in the region, the name of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. However, that may prove cold comfort given that the list also included the Afghan Taliban, Islamic State, the Haqqani network, al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Jamaatul Ahrar, Jundullah and “all other foreign terrorist groups”. Pakistan finds itself in the dock for hosting currently or in the past all these with the notable exceptions of Islamic State and al Qaeda. It was predictable but counterproductive for Sartaj Aziz to dump Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s critique of Pakistan’s undeclared proxy war against his country in the Indian basket. Growing Afghanistan-India ties have the Pakistani authorities worried that the long investment in and costs of the Afghan wars may end up with a ‘coup’ to oust Pakistani influence in Kabul in favour of India. But this outcome is a self-inflicted wound. Pakistan began its long involvement and intervention in Afghan affairs in 1973. Sardar Daud’s Afghan nationalist (pro-Pashtunistan) anti-monarchy coup in that year caused a flutter in Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government. Bhutto feared Daud would support the Balochistan insurgency and the NWFP militant resistance that emerged after Bhutto dismissed the Sardar Ataullah Mengal ministry in Balochistan. He therefore gave the Islamist professors and students of Kabul University fleeng Daud’s expected repression under Naseerullah Babar’s wing for training and launch as the embryonic Mujahideen. By the time of the Communist coup in 1978, the humble beginnings of the Mujahideen had bloomed into a full blown armed resistance. The coup de grace was delivered by the Soviet invasion in 1979 that brought the US-led west in to bleed the Soviets in Afghanistan. For Gorbachev, the Afghan adventure proved too much to sustain and the Soviets withdrew in 1989. An intra-Mujahideen civil war erupted soon after, with the irreconcilable rival factions marginalised by the 1996 Taliban takeover (Naseerullah Babar reportedly nurtured this second avatar of Afghan fundamentalist extremism too). Al Qaeda queered the pitch by abusing the Afghan Taliban’s hospitality in attacking the US on 9/11 as part of a global jihad. The US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan should have given Pakistani policy makers pause for thought regarding the heightened risks of supporting extremist groups in Afghanistan in the teeth of US (and western) hostility to any such continuing adventure. But Musharraf in his infinite wisdom plumped for a duality of policy: give the Americans al Qaeda to satisfy their desire for revenge, save the Afghan Taliban (by now safely ensconced on Pakistani soil) for the rainy day when the US occupiers, like many before them, would tire of the ‘endless’ nature of Afghan wars. That dual policy continues till today. Not only did the Pakistani masterminds of the Afghan proxy wars not take account of the changed circumstances post-9/11, they invested heavily in the guerrilla struggle that had broken out in Indian Held Kashmir after the 1989 rigged election in the state. Secular nationalist leading group in the Kashmiri armed struggle, the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, bore the brunt of the Indian repression and the cold shoulder of the ostensibly supportive-of-the-Kashmiris Pakistani authorities. The latter’s penchant for supporting fundamentalist groups in the Kashmiri struggle instead (inspired no doubt by the ‘victory’ against the Soviets in Afghanistan) resulted in the collapse of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front’s armed struggle and, after splits and what have you, its reinvention as an open party struggling in the constitutionally sanctioned political sphere. The Kashmiri struggle in the meantime veered almost completely into the hands of the fundamentalist groups, where it nestles even today. Pakistan not only failed to correctly read the portents of a post-9/11 region and world, it remains committed to two proxy wars against its neighbours, west and east. One consequence of the hosting of all sorts of foreign militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas during the anti-Soviet struggle in Afghanistan was the presence of Uzbek, Uighur and other Central Asian extremist groups, who used their base in Pakistan to conduct their struggles back home. The Uighurs in particular caused embarrassment in our relations with close friend China, but until Operation Zarb-e-Azb exported the problem across the border into Afghanistan (where all these johnnies, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, are hosted by ‘our boys’ the Haqqanis), the Pakistani authorities did not even blush on this account. The long gestation and development of all these foreign groups on Pakistani soil, with additional nudging by al Qaeda, led to the spread of the fundamentalist extremist worldview and example to the Middle East and further abroad. Thanks to the post-Cold War triumphalism of the west’s interventions and regime overthrows, an arc of destabilisation has emerged, stretching from South Asia through North Africa into Europe. Where memory serves, the role of Pakistan as one of the ‘original sinners’ remains imbedded in the narrative, the others (the west in particular) having changed their spots after 9/11. That is why, “simplistic” (Sartaj Aziz’s formulation) or not, Pakistan is viewed more or less globally today as the ‘mother’ of all terrorism, particularly since it has failed to tack its sails to take account of the changed international geopolitics since 9/11. The only surprise then is the ‘surprise’ on Pakistani officials’ faces when the country is castigated for supporting terrorist proxies in its neighbourhood and reportedly in such hot wars as Syria and Iraq (thankfully we were spared a risky involvement in the Yemen sectarian quagmire). As far as the Afghan imbroglio is concerned, Pakistan has painted itself into a corner with few options except to continue to allow safe havens to the Afghan Taliban on its soil. It is either unable or unwilling to nudge these ‘guests’ towards peace talks with Kabul to turn the corner towards a political settlement in Afghanistan, the only feasible solution on the table. Until it revisits the policy of supporting proxies in its neighbourhood, an enterprise increasingly reaping diminishing returns, Pakistan should be prepared to invite the kind of critique its Adviser had to listen to in Amritsar.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Dec 3, 2016

PPP at 49 As the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gathers the faithful to celebrate the 49 years of its existence and 50th Founding Day in Lahore where the party was born, there is much to reflect on. Looking at Pakistan’s political history in this period through the PPP’s prism is not without merit. In many ways, the party has been at the heart of great and momentous events during this time. It may be a reflection of the party’s trajectory that the Founding Day celebrations are being held in Bilawal House, Bahria Town, and both the venue and host of the founding moot, Dr Mubashar Hasan’s house in Gulberg, do not even merit mention. In any case Dr Mubashar and almost all of the left wing intellectuals who joined hands with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) in 1967 to create a new party have either passed away or are no longer within the fold of the party. The PPP came into existence after ZAB was sacked by Ayub Khan from the office of foreign minister as a result of differences arising from the 1965 war and the subsequent Tashkent Declaration. After casting around for an alternative from the existing political parties, ZAB was attracted to the ideas and programme proposed by the group of left wing intellectuals mentioned above. The result of their coming together was the formation of a party espousing a radical agenda of reforms, including among other measures the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy (thereby knocking out with one blow the infamous ‘22 families’ that had monopolised the country’s industrial and commercial wealth under Ayub) and land reforms to weaken feudalism and benefit the landless and poor peasants. Ostensibly Islamic socialist, then and later when in power the party was clearly espousing populist politics (e.g. its slogan of roti, kapra, makaan – bread, clothing, housing). None of the PPP’s ambitions could have been realised if circumstances had not favoured it. The 1968-69 revolt against Ayub was sparked and led by the Left, but a belated entry by ZAB allowed him to hijack a revolutionary upsurge in the direction of populism. The events before the PPP’s advent into power are too well known to bear repetition. But what ZAB and the PPP inherited in 1972 was a broken, defeated and demoralised Pakistan. Promising to pick up the pieces, ZAB started well by an inclusive approach to the opposition and consensus building around a new constitution. However, he soon turned on his adversaries as well as the left wing in his own party. It was to prove a fatal flaw as it led eventually to his overthrow and hanging by General Zia. The rest of the party’s history since that seminal event in 1979 revolved around the struggle against the Zia dictatorship, accompanied by a transition of leadership to his daughter Benazir Bhutto (BB). While justification could be found then for the succession to be confined to the Bhutto family given the circumstances, it became the harbinger of a dynastic culture in which her husband Asif Ali Zardari and then her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari have inescapably been accepted as the only ones meriting the mantle of leading the party. Along with these sea changes in the political culture of the party came, incrementally, the watering down of the PPP’s erstwhile radical left wing programme, leaving its committed workers out in the cold. Bilawal’s foray into Punjab to revive the PPP’s lost main base can only succeed if he can translate the presence of the sea of workers who came to see and hear him once more into the tidal wave of revolutionary enthusiasm that once characterised the PPP culture. Unless the PPP returns to its radical roots, it will remain just another middle-of-the-road mainstream party largely indistinguishable from, and therefore unable to effectively challenge, its rivals. The sine qua non for such a rebirth though is for Bilawal to become his own man and extricate himself from the shadow of his father. Whether he is prepared or willing to do this the days ahead will determine, but without a break from the culture and politics of the recent past, the PPP’s reinvention aspirations must be looked at askance.