Saturday, November 18, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Nov 18, 2017

Culturally acceptable phenomenon? There is much one can find distasteful about the US military’s presence in Afghanistan. But last year’s report in The New York Times on bacha bazi (child sexual abuse) in the country and the US military’s attitude to it appears to hit a new low. The story alleged that the Pentagon prevented US troops from reporting on Afghan police and militias’ sexual assaults on children and punished US troops when they reported the abuse. The Pentagon at the time rejected the story but US lawmakers were sufficiently incensed to instruct the Pentagon’s Inspector General to investigate and report to Congress on the issue. The findings of the Inspector General, far from reassuring anyone have exacerbated concerns about the attitude and conduct of the US military in Afghanistan. The Inspector General’s report says US troops were told to ignore child sexual abuse in Afghanistan as a “culturally acceptable phenomenon”. However, the report goes on to say that a review of “cultural-awareness training” did not lead to specific command or policy guidelines that expressly discouraged military personnel from reporting incidents of child sexual abuse. In some cases, US military personnel were told “nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation”. Further, military personnel were informed it was not a priority for the US command to discourage such practices and it was best “to ignore the situation and to let local police handle it”. The Inspector General’s report goes on to say the US army and air force training does not discuss paedophilia in Afghanistan but that of the navy and marines does. The navy training manual advises readers to control and overcome any frustration that they may experience during their deployments. The marines manual on the other hand advises to be mentally prepared to encounter this ‘attitude’ and to move on. Similarly, several current or former service personnel told investigators they were told to ignore such behaviour. If they witnessed child sexual abuse, they were to let local officials and police know and not interfere with the locals. An interviewee said the reason given was that this would ensure continued cooperation with the Afghans. Another said the chain of command didn’t care until the NYT report. A more damning indictment of the US military’s ‘policy’ would be hard to find. Many of those involved in this sordid business are powerful, well-armed warlords and police and militia commanders. For its expedient reasons, the occupying power either ignores the former or advises its personnel on the ground to report such incidents to the latter! Considerations of Afghanistan’s sovereignty did not stop the US invading and occupying (continuing since) Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11. Nor did ‘culturally acceptable phenomena’ impede subsequent efforts to improve women’s rights in Afghanistan, with some success. In response to the NYT report and the controversy it sparked off, the Martland Act was mooted to not condone child sexual abuse on any US military base or abroad, whether the perpetrator was American or foreign. However, it appears that in practice that remains a dead letter. One tragic consequence of the US command’s preference for its soldiers to ‘look away’ when confronted with child sexual abuse was the suicide of a soldier subsequent to hearing the screams of a child being sexually abused in an adjacent room and his inability to intervene. Some military personnel have been punished for reporting such abuse in answer to their conscience. The US is very fond of lecturing the world on human rights and the highest values of its enlightened, democratic society. What the Pentagon Inspector General’s report lays bare however is the hypocritical dark underbelly of the purported carrier of these values. Shame.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Nov 15, 2017

Writ of the state For over a week now, some 2-3,000 protestors of the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) have blocked traffic between Islamabad and Rawalpindi through a sit-in protest at Faizabad Interchange. This has made the lives of the residents and commuters of the twin cities miserable since people cannot get to work, children and students cannot get to their educational institutions and even the sick and elderly are deprived of medical attention. The protestors are demanding Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s head for a mistake in the wording of the Elections Act 2017 regarding Khatm-e-Nabuwat, which was corrected soon after. But that did not satisfy the firebrands of the TLYRA, who have sworn to continue their lockdown of the capital until their demand is met. Not even the formation of a parliamentary committee under Senator Raja Zafarul Haq to probe the matter has cooled the anger of the TLYRA, which claims the mistake was a deliberate attempt to water down the clause regarding belief in the finality of Islam’s Prophet (PBUH). Actually this ‘anger’ and charges of deliberate attempts to water down the provisions of Article 260 of the Constitution appear to be motivated by anything but an adherence to the truth and facts. In fact they smack of another agenda altogether: using the sensitivities around the anti-Ahmedi constitutional provisions and the blasphemy law to browbeat the government and all those who do not subscribe to the TLYRA’s extremism. The government has been treating the disruption of life in the capital with kid gloves, perhaps fearing the fallout of the use of force to remove the recalcitrant blockers. Ministers from Ahsan Iqbal to Talal Chaudhry have been blowing hot and cold for days, trying in one breath to persuade the protestors to come to the table for talks and threatening the government has the means to clear the road within half an hour in the other. This flip-flop performance has done little except make the government look weak and ineffectual and embolden the extremists to continue their defiance of the writ of the state. The illogical and irrational stubbornness of the TLYRA defies all norms of conduct allowed by the constitution, law and civility. Citizens have a right to protest peacefully on issues that concern them. But such concerns must rest on the facts, not imagined conspiracies when the mistake has already been corrected. Second, one citizen’s right to protest ends where another citizen’s nose begins. By blocking access to Islamabad, the protestors have deprived thousands of citizens of the right to a normal life, freedom to travel about their business and not be accosted by stick-wielding, stone-throwing violent extremists who do not hesitate to beat up citizens attempting to gain passage through their blockade or policemen deployed to maintain law and order. Complaints of violent beating of citizens, attacks on and kidnapping of law enforcers and ratcheting up the nuisance factor are multiplying. If the TLYRA are not open to reason and civilised conduct, there appears little recourse except to establish the writ of the state by whatever means are necessary. A clear message needs to be delivered to the protestors: their rights stop where others’ begin. This might also have a salutary effect on their ravings elevating Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Salmaan Taseer, to the status of a ‘saint’ and attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill to fulfil their sinister agenda of browbeating all and sundry into submission to their warped vision.

Business Recorder Editorial Nov 14, 2017

Abandoning confrontation Two back to back meetings in Lahore of the PML-N high command in Lahore on November 12 and 13, 2017 reviewed the party’s strategy for the cases the Sharifs are facing in the courts and in the run up to the 2018 elections. The two issues are linked since the aggressive stance of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz since his disqualification has raised concerns about its effects. After deliberations, the meetings laid out a policy of non-confrontation with state institutions (the army and judiciary) and stepped up preparations for the coming elections by means of restarting Nawaz Sharif’s mass contact campaign to mobilise the party’s electoral support and its workers. It was left to former information minister Pervaiz Rashid to brief the media after the deliberations. He offered a mea culpa regarding the aggressive response to Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification by arguing that criticism of the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict/s in the Panamagate case was the inherent right of citizens, let alone the aggrieved, and did not constitute confrontation with the judiciary. He pointed out that even eminent jurists have raised serious questions over the judgement, particularly comments such as ‘Godfather’, ‘Sicilian mafia’, etc, which reflected emotion rather than legal points. In reply to a question about the seasonal birds amongst the PML-N ranks chafing to fly the coop (a phenomenon well known from the PML’s past whenever its leadership is in trouble), Rashid said they would not be able to be elected without Nawaz Sharif’s umbrella. He went on to reveal that it had been decided in principle that Nawaz Sharif would lead the election campaign since there was no other candidate for prime minister. On the surface this seems to have dealt a body blow to Shahbaz Sharif’s ambitions for the top slot. But Rashid left that door open a crack by adding that if the party won in 2018 (and Nawaz Sharif remained disqualified), it is Nawaz who will pick the prime minister (like he did Shahid Khaqan Abbasi after disqualification). About the fear of some unconstitutional or extra-constitutional actions aimed at winding up the present setup before the Senate elections in March 2018, Rashid was of the view that the PML-N’s opponents, particularly the PTI, were aiming for this. The stakes in this regard as much as in the coming general elections could not be higher for the PML-N. With regard to the Senate elections, the PML-N is poised to gain a majority in the upper house. The general elections, all other things being equal, is an even juicier fruit, low hanging so far since the PML-N’s vote bank in Punjab seems intact. Disqualification, Rashid argued, had made Nawaz Sharif even more popular. Therefore if there was no interference with the electoral process, the PML-N will win. Last but not least, Rashid dealt with the perception of rifts within the Sharif family. In a carefully worded response, he said Shahbaz, Maryam and Hamza Shahbaz gave their opinions in the meetings but once Nawaz Sharif takes a decision, all will follow his directions. It seems cooler and wiser heads in the PML-N have finally prevailed to avoid any untoward development vis-à-vis the party’s stakes in the democratic system. It now appears that the party has internalised the argument that it must not provide any excuse or justification to inimical forces to abort or otherwise subvert the path to parliamentary success, perhaps the best option under the prevailing circumstances. Now that the issue of delimitations for the 2018 elections appears to have been resolved to the PPP’s satisfaction in the Council of Common Interests, the path to elections on time seems to be in hand. Meantime the ‘engineering’ on display via the short-lived MQM-P and PSP alliance/merger, the efforts to revive the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal and mainstreaming some of the newly formed religious extremist parties all seem to have hit various roadblocks. With the Karachi Rangers chief denying his organisation’s role in the MQM-P and PSP fiasco, the idea seems to have died a natural death. It is in the PML-N’s interest to stay the course to parliamentary success in as cool and measured a manner as possible since this is the best way to overcome its present difficulties. However, given the paralysis of governance because of its travails, particularly in the Finance Ministry because of Ishaq Dar’s absence, the government should seriously and post-haste appoint at least an acting finance minister to tackle the economy’s urgent issues.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Business Recorder Column Nov 13, 2017

Games some people play Rashed Rahman Although electioneering season has not been officially or formally declared open, the political landscape increasingly resembles a period leading up to next year’s scheduled general elections. Political rallies, engineered hastily and as rapidly collapsing alliances, efforts to resurrect some other lapsed alliances and mainstreaming the religious extremist parties sums up the menu on offer. First the abortive Muhajir Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) merger/alliance. The latter party’s head Mustafa Kamal has spilt the beans after the euphoric announcement of an alliance possibly leading to a merger collapsed within 24 hours. Kamal accused the MQM-P and its leader Farooq Sattar of playing the establishment’s game. In actual fact, as he half admitted later, both parties are creatures of the same establishment. Why was there an interest in and efforts to bring the two surviving Muhajir parties together? Probably the calculation was that it would consolidate the Muhajir vote bank in Karachi and the other cities of Sindh and thereby create room for the establishment to weaken the PPP in its home province and last bastion of electoral strength. The spectacular collapse owed itself to disquiet within the ranks of the MQM-P about its leader’s post-haste decision to join hands with the PSP, particularly over the latter’s rejection of the name ‘MQM’ on the grounds that it was tainted by founder Altaf Hussain’s imprimatur. The next (simultaneous) alliance to see the light of day and then prove stillborn at birth was the 23-group platform announced by former dictator Pervez Musharraf. The man has to be given a medal for cheek. An absconder from justice (he faces murder charges in the killings of Benazir Bhutto and Akbar Bugti and a treason case), he continues to live in the fantasy never never land of his ‘popularity’. Having tested the waters last time he returned to the country, one would have thought he would have learnt the lesson that his so-called Facebook popularity had no reality on the ground and for good measure was hauled up on serious charges (this may have been one factor in the souring of civil-military relations). The fact that the institution he belonged to reportedly got him off the hook and arranged for his departure from the country would be enough for most mortals. But the commando general has always been long on chutzpah and short on wisdom. As to mainstreaming the religious extremists, two moves can be discerned in recent days. First, the street agitation by the Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) on the omission of the anti-Ahmedi clause in the Election Reforms Act 2017, calling for Law Minister Zahid Hamid’s head, threatening ministers’ families if their demand is not met and threatening to close down the entire country has been treated with kid gloves by the government, fearing a crackdown might provide an excuse for its downfall. Apart from its ongoing Khatm-e-Nabuwat campaign (assisted by the Sunni Tehreek), the TLYRA has spread a climate of fear throughout the country by declaring Mumtaz Qadri, Salmaan Taseer’s assassin, a ‘saint’ of some sort and brandishing blasphemy accusations left and right to browbeat liberal, secular and progressive forces in the country. TLYRA managed to garner a surprising number of votes in the NA-120 and NA-4 by-elections. Representing the Barelvi persuasion, the TLYRA and Sunni Tehreek may have been launched at this juncture to weaken the PML-N’s Punjab vote bank. It is not yet clear whether the TLYRA and the Jamaat ud Dawa floated party, Milli Muslim League are now registered as legitimate political parties with the election commission or not. In a law abiding society, no group associated with extremism, fanaticism and terrorism should be accorded such legitimation. Religious parties such as the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) have come together to revive their political fortunes and resurrect the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance that brought them to power in two provinces during Musharraf’s reign. This platform, dubbed early in its life a Military-Mullah Alliance, hopes to dent the PTI’s vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In the meantime, the seeming plan to decapitate the two mainstream largest parties and keep leverage over the third appears to be unfolding. Decapitation in the case of the PML-N means turning the PML-N into just a PML by removing from the political firmament the Sharifs (and Ishaq Dar). In the case of the PPP, the targets may be Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur. For Imran Khan, a different tack may be in store. The powers that be have used him in the past and will likely use him again in future. However, knowing what a loose cannon he is, these same powers may accumulate cases against him to be used in any ‘emergency’. If the pattern of such political manipulation and manoeuvring in our history is any guide, there appears to be a recurring cycle of the establishment creating parties and leaderships to suit its purpose (e.g. MQM, PML-N), empowering them so long as they toe the establishment’s line, and then targeting them when their utility is over or they acquire wings because of the inherent dynamic of power. Since the political class is disunited in the face of the establishment’s manoeuvrings, this unequal fight has usually gone in favour of the latter. The present scenario promises little different.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Nov 11, 2017

Hudaibya case reopening A three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) will begin hearing a petition by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for reopening the Hudaibya Paper Mills case on November 13, 2017. The petition follows the Panama case in which former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was disqualified. In the judgement in that case, Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, who is also heading the bench in this case, had directed NAB to proceed against Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who was not an accused in the original reference filed in 2000 as he had been pardoned after signing a confessional statement. Justice Khosa had also argued there was a flaw in the Lahore High Court’s (LHC’s) decision in 2014 to quash the reference and disallow reinvestigation by NAB while apparently accepting Dar’s plea that his confessional statement was extracted under duress. However, he had refrained from issuing directions to NAB to file a fresh case because that could be construed as compromising the impartiality of the appellate court. During the Panama case, the SC had given the NAB chairman a dressing down for refusal to file an appeal against the LHC verdict in the Hudaibya case. Now, with a new chairman in place, NAB has followed through on the commitment by its prosecutor general before the SC on September 15, 2017 to file an appeal within seven days, moving a separate application for the delay to be condoned. In its petition, NAB has argued that fresh material unearthed by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) set up by the SC to investigate the Panama case necessitated reopening the Hudaibya reference before the relevant accountability court. The original reference in the Hudaibya case in 2000 had relied on Ishaq Dar’s confession to accuse the Sharif family of setting up Hudaibya Paper Mills to launder money under cover of the Economic Reforms Act 1992. Money was allegedly laundered by converting it into Foreign Exchange Bearer Certificates to be deposited in foreign currency accounts opened in the name of benamidars and friends by forging the signatures of the ostensible account holders. These foreign currency accounts were then used as collateral for credit lines in rupees for Hudaibya Mills. The laundered money, shown as share deposit equity of Hudaibya Mills, was used to retire the liabilities of the mill and other allied companies of the group amounting to Rs 642.7 million. Another sum of Rs 600 million was transferred from abroad for settling borrowings from Al Tawfeeq Bank, which was actually owned by the Sharifs. Thus a total sum of Rs 1.2 billion was allegedly amassed by the Sharif family. If the SC accepts NAB’s plea to reopen the case, it would put Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, their mother Shamim Akhtar, Maryam Safdar, Hussain Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz in the dock when other corruption references against most of them are already in motion in the accountability courts. The significance of the Hudaibya reference, however, lies in the inclusion in the list of accused of Chief Minster Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, who is considered most likely to replace Nawaz as prime minister if the PML-N wins the 2018 elections. That succession plan now has acquired a spanner in the works because of the possible resurrection of the Hudaibya reference. Given the set of circumstances the Sharifs find themselves in with the legal noose tightening around them, Nawaz and Maryam’s strategy of playing on the front foot and aggressively taking on all comers, including powerful state institutions, albeit indirectly, needs revisiting. Whether the Sharifs can ride out or emerge unscathed from their legal travails or not, their troubles may find reflection in further uncertainty and instability, rocking the boat of democracy once again.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Nov 8, 2017

Elections deadlock A new political crisis looms as a result of the deadlock over the delimitation issue, which could make the holding of the general elections on time in 2018 difficult if not impossible. This was the outcome of the latest meeting of parliamentary parties on November 8, 2017. The main obstacle appears to be the PPP and MQM-P’s reservations about the census in Sindh. Both parties consider the province’s population has been undercounted, resulting in no change in the province’s seat allocation for the next elections. This contrasts with Punjab’s loss of nine seats, which have been reallocated to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (five), Balochistan (three) and the Islamabad Capital Territory (one). FATA retains its 12 seats, although there are rumblings from FATA representatives about this too. First, the areas on which the parties do agree. There is consensus on maintaining the same number of seats overall. There is also agreement that the elections should be held on time. However, in order to achieve this, the constitutional amendment bill allowing the provisional results of Census 2017 to be used as the basis for delimitation of constituencies, preparation of fresh electoral rolls, etc, needs to be passed by November 10, 2017, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s deadline. The Election Commission has said time and again that without the constitutional amendment being passed by this (latest) deadline, it will not be possible for it to prepare to hold the elections by August 2018, the constitutionally laid down schedule after the present Assemblies complete their tenure in June next year. The PPP wants the constitutional amendment bill sent to, and approved by, the Council of Common Interests. It says this was its understanding, but now the government seems reluctant to do so. The government, on the other hand, argues there is no need to send the bill to the Council of Common Interests. The PPP has also suggested that since the Census 2017 results have become controversial, perhaps next year’s elections should be held on the basis of the 1998 census. Since this is likely to be challenged legally, it appears that whether the parties agree to use the provisional results of Census 2017 or the 1998 census, a constitutional amendment will be required in either case. That implies that without a meeting of minds across the board amongst the parliamentary parties, the November 10 deadline set by the Election Commission of Pakistan may be missed. Needless to say, this would engender a great deal of fresh uncertainty, speculation and rumour about the future, the democratic system per se, and the threat waiting in the wings once again of an extra-constitutional intervention to cut through the Gordian knot. It may appear obvious that it is in the interests of the political class as a whole that this government, like the previous PPP one, completes its tenure and elections are held on time. But for the parliamentary parties to rise above partisan considerations in the interests of continuity of the democratic setup seems at present a virtually insurmountable obstacle. Perhaps they need to reflect on the demonstration effect of another elected government completing its tenure and the ballot box determining the government for the next term. Coming on top of the peaceful transfer of power from the PPP government that completed its five-year tenure to the present incumbents through the ballot, another such demonstration of continuity would go far in consolidating the democratic system, which remains vulnerable to shocks. If, God forbid, some parties remain adamant about their ‘principled’ stance and block the timely passing of the constitutional amendment bill, history and the electorate may judge them harshly if the country is plunged once again into a maelstrom of instability and all that could follow in its wake.

Business Recorder editorial Nov 7, 2017

Non-accountability Reportedly, the General Musharraf-created National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had initially been charged with tracking down the offshore assets of more than 200 retired Generals, bureaucrats, business people, politicians and their families, and the recovery of such assets compiled through corruption. NAB engaged a foreign detective agency, Broadsheet LLC, registered in the Isle of Man (notorious as one of the safe havens for the wealthy of the world to park their money), to track down the offshore assets of those on the list and recover them. Unfortunately, this engagement ended in litigation in the Council of International Arbitration, with Broadsheet claiming breach of agreement and non-payment of its fees (20 percent of all recoveries, irrespective of whether these occurred because of Broadsheet’s or NAB’s efforts). Broadsheet claims the information it shared with NAB was used as leverage for brokering plea bargain deals with the targets. In 2014 NAB hired an international law firm, Appleby, to get expert advice on how to handle the international arbitration case. Later, another company, International Assets Recovery (IAR) was hired by NAB to do what Broadsheet had initially been hired for. Whereas Broadsheet was handed a list of over 200 prominent names from the top echelons of Pakistan’s elite, it is not known how many targets were assigned to IAR. As for Broadsheet’s claims, it says NAB entered into plea bargain agreements with several of the targets, using information supplied by Broadsheet, without informing the latter or paying its agreed fees. Broadsheet quotes some examples to substantiate its claims that it suffered losses because of expenditures incurred on tracking down the targets’ offshore assets. In one instance, Broadsheet managed to have $ five million frozen in the Isle of Jersey (another notorious offshore safe haven) belonging to an identified target but NAB stopped pursuing the case. In another instance, NAB reached a settlement directly with a target valued at $ 25 million but refused to pay Broadsheet’s commission. For all its efforts over several years, Broadsheet says it was paid only one small fee in connection with a recovery from Admiral (retd) Mansour-ul-Haq (a former Chief of Naval Staff), and the amount paid was less than the terms of the agreement. Even a casual perusal of the list of luminaries amongst the 200 plus targets indicates that this was the crème de la crème of Pakistani society. With hindsight, it may be more properly described as our top Rogues Gallery. Although NAB argues that the information shared by Broadsheet was not actionable, the real reason appears to have been that General Musharraf had first and foremost targeted his political and other enemies and left out his political collaborators (indicating the partisan purposes of the endeavour) but soon succumbed to the political expediency of retaining his hold on power by ‘forgiving’ or allowing plea bargains by those who came over to his camp. Amongst those who benefited from this partisanship, top of the list are the Chaudhries of Gujrat who, having helped Musharraf get a political base of support by forming the King’s Party (PML-Q), were left off the list entirely. Those provided relief later included Rao Sikandar, Faisal Saleh Hayat and Aftab Sherpao (defectors from the PPP) and brothers Humayun and Haroon Akhtar (by joining the PML-Q). What is not clear from the reports is what transpired in the cases of former COAS General (retd) Mirza Aslam Beg, Chiefs of Air Staff Anwar Shamim and Abbas Khattak, and apart from Chief of Naval Staff Admiral (retd) Mansoor-ul-Haq, another naval chief Saeed Muhammad Khan. Below them in rank but not insignificant were Lt-Generals (retd) Zahid Ali Akbar and Fazl-e-Haq. Amongst the politicians on the list, prominent amongst whom were the Sharifs, Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari, the issue of accountability still hovers on the horizon today. Musharraf’s turn from a so-called desire to improve financial integrity at the top of the heap to political expediency pure and simple doomed accountability almost at birth. The founding chairman NAB, Lt-General (retd) Syed Amjad and its first prosecutor general Farouk Adam Khan both resigned when NAB’s mission was shifted by Musharraf from recovery of assets to the rehabilitation of corrupt targets who then re-emerged as powerful figures in politics. Two conclusions can be drawn from this sorry saga. First, no accountability regime has a snowball’s chance in hell if political expediency trumps it. Two, the list of targets is a timely reminder of the scope and breadth of corruption at the top of our state institutions, political and business elite. Partial, partisan or politically motivated accountability therefore will never bring about the desired purge of state and society from this affliction.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Business Recorder Column Nov 6, 2017

The Revolution: 100 years young Rashed Rahman Today, November 7, 2017 marks the hundredth anniversary of the Great October Revolution in Russia. Why October? Because Czarist Russia adhered at the time to the Gregorian calendar. Therefore the date according to that calendar fell in October. Revolutionary Russia abandoned the Gregorian calendar. It is fashionable nowadays, even in Russia, the cradle of the first revolution in human history to attempt the construction of a socialist society based on justice and equality, to dismiss the Russian revolution as a disaster, tragedy, something to be shunned. The facts however, stubborn things that they are, present a more nuanced picture. Revolutionary seizure of power by the people and transformation of state and society in the direction of a more just order is as old as the emergence of class in mankind’s early history. If the primitive revolution in cultivation (agriculture) and its concomitant emergence of private property evolved in the parts of the world we know as Europe into a slave owning mode of production, in other parts of the world it displayed a different form of state and society, later dubbed the Asiatic mode of production. Whereas the former found its highest expression in the Greek and Roman empires, the latter gave rise to the civilisations of China and the Subcontinent, amongst others. Slave owning empires experienced repeated rebellions, the largest and most spectacular one being that led by the slave-gladiator Spartacus, that all but overthrew the Roman Empire. In the Asiatic mode, the picture that emerges is more mixed and varied. This mode of production can essentially be understood as the state controlling water works (and thereby agriculture) and exacting tribute from the toiling peasants to finance its departments of administration and war. In China, this mode developed the peculiarity of repeated peasant revolts and rebellions against the owners of land and extractors of tribute for themselves and the Emperor. In the Subcontinent however, such rebellions were rare and peripheral. The relative stability of the Subcontinent’s Asiatic mode compared to China’s is a vast subject beyond the scope of this piece, but needs to be noted. The dissolution of the Roman Empire at the hands of ‘barbarian’ tribes from largely the Teutonic north plunged Europe into the dark Middle Ages, during which time classical feudalism emerged as the successor order to slavery. In the Asiatic mode however, if China and the Subcontinent are taken as leading examples, the system persisted well into modern times. That is the main reason why the colonial encounter between a Europe that had embarked upon the Industrial Revolution, the Enlightenment and Renaissance and parts of the world still stuck in pre-capitalist mode proved so unequal and devastating for the latter. The Industrial Revolution inadvertently set into motion phenomena hitherto unknown in human history. Perhaps the most important of these was the freeing of the new mode of factory production from the traditional location of naturally occurring energy (flowing water being the chief source) to anywhere with the induction of fossil fuels as the energy source (coal, later oil). Since places of manufacture (factories) now no longer needed to depend on naturally occurring sources of energy, they tended to be concentrated in or near the towns and cities, offering advantages of transportation infrastructure, etc. This concentration of the workplace spawned in turn the concentration of workers drawn from the scattered peasantry into densely populated workplaces and towns/cities. The conditions of work and life this new system imposed on the newly emerging working class evoked resistance on the latter’s part against this inhumane, oppressive system. The first manifestations of this resistance were irrational, atavistic, tending to blame the machines the workers toiled at for long hours as their enemy. This gave rise to the Luddite movement, which attacked and smashed machinery. But soon this atavistic urge revealed its mistaken target and negative fallout in the shape of the unemployment that followed in the wake of smashing machinery. This is the tipping point between this primitive reaction to the new system of capitalism and the modern trade union consciousness that replaced it. From this platform, the working class began to organise in defence of its interests and for reform of the conditions and terms of work and life. At this stage, the working class proved capable of joining and providing the radical wing of bourgeois democratic revolutions (anti-monarchy, anti-feudal). This is observable in the spate of revolutions that broke out in 1848 almost throughout the continent of Europe. Each of these revolutions however, proved short-lived and was crushed. A dark reign of oppression descended, forcing revolutionary thinkers and activists such as Karl Marx to adopt self-exile from his native Germany, first in France, later and permanently in Britain. There in London he was fated to spend the rest of his days writing his magnum opus Capital and remaining engaged with revolutionary movements in the period of defeat, retreat and exhaustion after the 1848 setback and the crushing of the Paris Commune in 1870 (this was the first proletarian seizure of partial power in human history), Although Marx did not live to see a successful revolution, within 34 years of his passing away in 1883, his ideas inspired the Russian Revolution of 1917. Marx’s follower and leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) updated Marx’s theories in the light of the changes capitalism had undergone in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He brilliantly applied these advanced theories to the concrete circumstances Russia and the world was passing through in the early 20th century. Lenin’s contributions are so many, in thought and practice, but some stand out as critical for bringing about the Russian Revolution and setting it on its forward march. First and foremost, Lenin analytically drew from the incremental concentration and monopolisation of capital by big corporations, export of capital to the enslaved colonies as a source of enhanced extraction of profits, uneven character of the development of the system due to these and other factors, and the virtual inevitability of a war of contention between the older, more developed capitalist states and late emerging capitalist powers to grasp the opportunity for the revolution’s advance. Russia’s crisis during WWI proved the trigger for the anti-monarchy February Revolution of 1917. While most Marxists relied on the received wisdom that Russia was still too backward for a socialist advance, Lenin was convinced the time to strike while the iron was hot had arrived. The October seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was not, as some commentators like to describe it, a coup. It was the seizure of power through a protracted process of contention between a feeble and ineffective Provisional Government that had been thrown up by the February Revolution and the Soviets (councils) of soldiers, workers and peasants that challenged the Provisional Government with the popular slogan of “Land, bread, peace” (this contention has been described as the period of ‘dual power’). The declaration by Lenin of a socialist order after the October seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, leading the Soviets, triggered the military intervention by the troops of 22 capitalist states in support of the overthrown monarchist, feudal forces. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Soviet Union for short, proved victorious in this resistance/civil war. What happened subsequently, including, it must be noted, the defeat of Hitler in WWII by the Soviet Union (virtually singlehanded), needs more space than this column permits. Suffice it to say that a beleaguered first socialist state survived capitalist and fascist attempts to strangle it and the revolution. The fact that in subsequent years it succumbed to its internal contradictions and collapsed takes nothing away from its achievements in uplifting its people by providing universal education and healthcare, providing rights to the mosaic of nationalities the Soviet Union inherited from Czarist Russia, and providing a role model and support for revolutionary, anti-colonial, anti-imperialist movements worldwide. Marxism, socialism, revolution are neither passé nor dead. The hiatus post-1991 is a period in which the revolutionary forces have licked their wounds and sought paths to their resurgence in a difficult climate worldwide. That resurgence is embryonically visible in the green shoots of resistance and rebellion against a now globalised, exploitative, inherently unequal and therefore repressive system of capitalism. Lenin once said either revolution will stop war or war will lead to revolution. The latter half was demonstrated in 1917. The former half is the task for revolutionaries in 2017, armed with advanced knowledge and theory regarding the shape of 21st century capitalism. Judging by the wars unleashed by a rapacious and ruthless capitalism since the Cold War, the choice once again before mankind has come full circle to the question: socialism or barbarism?

Business Recorder editorial Nov 4, 2017

A dubious cover-up The recent episode of the arrest/abduction of the wife of Dr Allah Nazar, leader of the Balochistan Liberation Front, along with his daughter, three other women and two children, first revealed on the social media, became a hot potato for the Balochistan government. Initial reports said the women and children had been abducted/disappeared from a hospital in Quetta. The Balochistan government did not respond until the uproar around the affair reached the hallowed halls of the Senate and National Assembly, where protests by some members at this treatment of women and children led to walkouts by opposition members. The Balochistan government took three days to respond, and when it did, the reasons for the delay became obvious. Such disappearances have become the norm in Balochistan for many years, often ending with tortured dead bodies being dumped all over the province. But even for the troubled province, this kind of action against women and children appeared to be a horrible first. Given the sensitivity of the honour of women and families in Balochistan’s culture (nang in Balochi), the government seems to have pulled out all the stops to recover the women from the clutches of the security agencies and free them with manifestations of respect, gifts, and facilitation for medical treatment in Karachi. At a release ‘ceremony’, Balochistan Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri asked Dr Allah Nazir’s wife to convey a message to him that the “killing of brothers” was not the right way and that “he should not use women and children in the war”. Further light was thrown on this cryptic message during a press conference by Balochistan Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti. The Home Minister claimed that contrary to the earlier reports, the women and children were not disappeared from a hospital in Quetta but were arrested by security forces at Chaman when they illegally crossed the Pak-Afghan border on October 30, 2017. He displayed CCTV footage purportedly showing the women and children crossing the zero point at the Chaman border. He said during investigation it was revealed that the women were involved in delivering funds to the Balochistan Liberation Front and the Balochistan Army, two insurgent nationalist groups. He then went on to conflate the incident in support of his argument that Afghanistan was hosting inimical forces on its soil, from where unrest was being created in Pakistan. The story spun by the Balochistan government raises more questions than it answers. First and foremost, Dr Allah Nawaz’s wife is reportedly very ill because of injuries sustained during heavy bombardment of her home in 2010 and is said to have difficulty walking. An unlikely candidate for the task of delivering funds to insurgent nationalist groups if ever there was one. Second, is it likely that the women would have risked the lives of their children on such a perilous mission? Third, if they were indeed on such a mission, would they have chosen zero point at Chaman to enter the country? These holes in the officially certified truth can only be explained by a more rational version. If the wife of Dr Allah Nazar was not seriously ill, why would the Chief Minister shower his largesse on the group and send her to Karachi for medical treatment after releasing her to her brother-in-law? The probable, and more believable sequence of events seems to be that the security forces, as is their wont in Balochistan and increasingly in the rest of the country, disappeared the women and children after discovering their presence in a Quetta hospital, but the uproar and threatened rise in anger, resentment, and worse, forced the provincial government to persuade the security agencies that the disappearance of these women and children would prove detrimental to the Balochistan government because of the province’s traditions of nang, and therefore it would be more politic to have them released. In principle, if this reading of the incident is correct, the perpetrators, like so many others of their disappearance brigade, should be brought to justice for their illegal and inappropriate action. However, given the Balochistan government’s spin on the incident, this appears to be wishing for the moon. The only silver lining is that the women and children have been safely recovered and sent to the relative safety of Karachi where Dr Allah Nazar’s wife’s treatment can be better handled. The pattern of disappearances in Balochistan is part of the long standing approach of handling Balochistan’s issues through the use of force. It has yielded little positive in the last 70 years and is unlikely to yield anything different in the foreseeable future. Balochistan needs a process of political negotiation and resolution, not the heavy handed tactics of which this incident is only the latest alarming manifestation.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Nov 1, 2017

Welcome maturity A meeting of the heads of parliamentary parties chaired by Speaker National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq has shown a welcome maturity in forging a consensus on retaining the same number of seats for the National and provincial Assemblies while reallocating some seats amongst the provinces based on the provisional results of Census 2017. This has paved the way for the quick passage of the constitutional amendment required for this purpose and ensured that the controversy that emerged of late regarding these provisional results of Census 2017 does not become an impediment in holding the general elections 2018 on time. The Election Commission of Pakistan has extended its deadline for the passage of this constitutional amendment by one week to November 10, 2017, a concession that takes nothing away from the Election Commission’s concern regarding the quantum of work it has to complete before the elections can be held. This work includes delimiting the constituencies anew in the light of the provisional results of Census 2017 while taking into account the reallocation of seats amongst the provinces accordingly, followed by a revision of the electoral rolls. Neither task is easy or quick. The deadline if the elections are to be held within the 60 days constitutionally laid down after the expiry of the present assemblies on June 5, 2018 looms. The display of maturity exhibited by the leaderships of the parliamentary parties has prevented any uncertainty, instability or possible crisis inherent in any delay in the elections and may have helped scotch all the talk about replacing the present setup with a technocratic government. Punjab is to be commended for accepting the reduction of its National Assembly seats by nine, of which seven are general and two reserved seats. Given the PML-N’s stakes in ensuring elections on time, this generosity is underpinned by its political interests. There were some reservations and dissenting notes expressed in the meeting. The MQM-P wanted the delimitation of constituencies on the basis of voters rather than people in the constituency, informed by its reservations about what it considers a low count of the population of Karachi, its main political base. The PPP joined the MQM-P in asserting that if their reservations about the provisional results of Census 2017 are not addressed, they will approach the courts for legal redress. The Statistics Division on the other hand told the meeting that there would be no major changes between the provisional and final results of the census. The arithmetic of seats reallocation for the National Assembly has worked against the biggest-by-population province Punjab since it seems its population grew less than other provinces. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will see an increase of five National Assembly seats, four general and one reserved. Balochistan will get three additional National Assembly seats, two general and one women’s reserved seat. This may not satisfy the province entirely since its vast area and scattered population translates into huge territorial constituencies, but it is good to see that the consensus has been accepted for elections 2018. Balochistan’s special problem in this regard it seems has been deferred for future discussion. Islamabad Capital Territory gets one more general National Assembly seat while FATA will retain its 12 seats. There is no change in Sindh’s seats allocation. Parliamentary parties’ heads are to meet on November 2, 2017 to have the details of the census down to tehsil level placed before them for scrutiny. This had been the demand of some provinces, especially Sindh. It is heartening to note that the political class as a whole has risen above partisan considerations in the interests of the smooth and timely holding of elections 2018.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Oct 31, 2017

India steals a march The Senate has emerged head and shoulders above the National Assembly as the house where serious debate on burning issues takes place. Living up to this reputation, the upper house witnessed discussions on October 30, 2017 regarding India stealing a march on us vis-a-vis providing an alternate trade route to landlocked Afghanistan, the phenomenon of missing persons, the role of the Electronic Crimes Act and attacks on journalists. Regarding the first item, Senators expressed alarm at India’s maiden shipment of wheat to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar. They argued this must be countered as it was a major push for India’s outreach to Afghanistan while bypassing Pakistan. The house heard from PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar on a deferred motion by PML-N Senator Chaudhry Tanveer Khan on the issue of border management with Iran and Afghanistan. Senator Babar argued that border management with Afghanistan was necessary but it had to be with mutual consultation and in any case should not obstruct trade between the two countries. In the context of the Chabahar route now becoming available to Afghanistan, he said those wanting to use transit trade as leverage should take note of the new development. Further, he revealed that a train link between Uzbekistan and Mazar Sharif had been completed. Emboldened by these new options, President Ashraf Ghani had banned Pakistani trucks from entering Afghanistan and was now demanding transit trade with India through Pakistan as a quid pro quo for Pakistan’s trade access through Afghanistan with the Central Asian states. Senator Usman Khan Kakar of PkMAP said Pakistan’s economic boycott of Afghanistan had failed. The closure of the transit trade had in fact paved the way for India-Afghanistan trade through Chabahar. He underlined the need to review our Afghan policy or India will emerge as the sole beneficiary of our shortsightedness. While some Senators emphasised that border management with Iran and Afghanistan was aimed vat curbing terrorist infiltration into the country, others countered with the argument that laying barbed wire and fencing was not the solution and would inevitably affect trade. They might as well have added that such steps are bound to widen the gulf between Pakistan and Afghanistan on the Durand Line controversy. While the Senate took notice of these developments, albeit belatedly, the alternative route for India-Afghanistan trade via Chabahar has been many years in gestation. This is one more example of our inability to take timely notice of and attempt to head off negative developments from our point of view. It could also be considered a case of cutting off your nose to spite your face since, in pursuit of strategic depth or whatever in Afghanistan through our Taliban proxies, we seem to be losing out in the regional and international strategic race to the new emerging alignment of India-Iran-Afghanistan, with the US’s pursuit of a strategic relationship with India thrown into the mix for good measure. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent visit to the region may not have yielded much in the Washington-Islamabad relationship, but if the press conference of Tillerson and Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is anything to go by, New Delhi seems to be outflanking Islamabad regionally as well as far as the latter’s traditional alliance with the US is concerned. We cannot simply lull ourselves into complacency with hopes that we can exchange the US as ally with a combination of China, Russia and Turkey, given the still considerable clout (albeit diminished under Trump) of the US. Senator Babar also enlightened the house on the common thread amongst the issues of missing persons, the use of the Electronic Crimes Act and attacks on journalists. He described it as an escalating use of repressive tactics against any and all dissident opinion that did not buy in into the establishment’s narrative. The modus operandi, as explicated by Senator Babar, appears to be that those who cannot be easily disappeared are charged under the Electronic Crimes Act and those who cannot be charged under it easily are beaten black and blue by ‘invisible’ elements (a reference to what befell Ahmed Noorani of The News the other day). In the case of the Turkish nationals deported to Turkey, the first tactic was employed. Of course the interior ministry denied all responsibility, but that was hardly unexpected. The question remains, how determined are the perpetrators of disappearances to prove that we are a banana republic that dances to the tune of external benefactors to the extent of violating our own as well as international law?

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Herald Book Review Oct 30, 2017

Book review Reporting Pakistan By Meena Menon Penguin/Viking, India, 2017 Rashed Rahman Pakistan and India have firmly established themselves 70 years after Independence as the terrible Siamese twins, joined at the hip, but unable to live civilly with each other. Into this swamp, insert a journalist from India posted to Pakistan by The Hindu, one of India’s most prestigious and respected daily English newspapers, to report on Pakistan. This is what befell Meena Menon, who admits at the outset that she was not exactly steeped in or well versed in Pakistan’s affairs, apart from a brief visit to Karachi some years ago as part of a Bombay Press Club delegation. Considering this initial confession, Ms Menon has done an extraordinarily detailed and in depth job of documenting her experiences during her relatively brief stint as The Hindu’s correspondent in Islamabad. Meena Menon arrived in Pakistan with her husband in 2013 but was asked to leave in 2014, a mere nine months after landing in Islamabad. The reasons for her expulsion lie in the convoluted red tape and bureaucratic hassles of obtaining, and renewing, her visa. In any case this was a one city visa, confining her to Islamabad and forcing her to rely on secondary sources, witness accounts and research to cover the rest of the country. Considering these limitations, if the book under review is any guide, she did a tremendous job. Meena Menon begins by delineating the minutiae of arrival, settling down in and getting to know her way around Islamabad and the people she met or had to deal with in everyday existence in the capital. If the reader is patient with what appears to be too much of such detail and perseveres, he/she will be rewarded with a wealth of reportage, commentary, narrative and analysis of most if not all the important issues afflicting Pakistan internally, and in its relationship with its bigger neighbour and long standing adversary, India. A mere listing of the topics Menon covers would not do her justice, but detailed discussion of the issues she deals with would be far beyond the space available for this review. Nevertheless, we can indicate the most important of such efforts in précis. Menon informs us that the ‘border’ between Pakistan and India does not begin at Wagah, but along the demarcation lines between Muslim and Hindu communities in her native Mumbai, especially after the communal riots in that city in 1992-3, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The ‘othering’ she describes there affixes the appellation ‘Pakistan’ to the Muslim segregated areas of Mumbai. To her credit, Menon’s views are not coloured by such hate-filled prejudices in her native land, and she betrays a remarkably open and enlightened mind in wrestling with the difficult and sensitive task of being a journalist ‘behind enemy lines’. The range of her concerns is breathtaking, ranging from the situation of religious minorities generally, particularly Hindus (of interest to her audience back home), to terrorism, the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan, the fraught state of press freedom in Pakistan, Partition and its lingering tragic legacy, and last but not least, Pakistan’s and India’s bloody unending minuet over Kashmir and other issues rooted in a history of which both countries remain prisoners. Pakistani society’s treatment of women, dissidents and critical voices does not escape her penetrating gaze. Not only has Menon proved the keenness of her observatory powers in this publication, she has also proved the depth of her research before putting pen to paper (the references to her sources is sufficient proof of this). Tortuous and tricky as the terrain of reporting on Pakistan as an Indian journalist is, Meena Menon’s book provides a model of how to conduct such a restrictive and fraught task with impeccable professionalism and objectivity. We in the press in Pakistan could do worse than learn a lesson or two from this intrepid wielder of the pen. P.S. A note of clarification: While I was Editor Daily Times, Ayaz Amir was not published in that paper, as Meena Menon wrongly attributes. The reasons for my leaving the paper in 2016 too are wrongly explained by her as my publishing two columnists whose views were disliked by the military. Although that was one of the issues underlying my departure, there was a broader conflict of policy generally with the establishment, in which regretfully, management did not support me.

Newsline Op-ed Oct 27, 2017

PPP – done and dusted? Rashed Rahman To predict the demise of a political party, and that too one that still has a considerable residual cadre and support amongst the masses, is always a risky business. The predictions of the collapse of the PPP after its debacle in the 2013 elections proved premature, although there was no denying the fact that the PPP received a drubbing in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, managing only to save some face by retaining its traditional majority in Sindh. This 2013 electoral debacle showed that the electorate had turned its back on one of the largest parties in the country that once boasted of being the only truly national party left in the field and which had by now been reduced to a rump provincial party of Sindh alone. The better 2008 election results owed a considerable debt to the memory of the party’s slain leader Benazir Bhutto. But Asif Zardari’s takeover of the party reins after Bibi’s death convinced some perceptive analysts that Zardari would do to the PPP what even Ziaul Haq could not do: cause its destruction and eventual demise. That seems well on its way by now. The decline in the PPP’s fortunes began after Benazir, returning from exile in 1986, clearly indicated that the party had abandoned its left wing populist programme and embraced the by now dominant neo-liberal paradigm. Since it was the original left wing populist programme (summed up in the catchy slogan: roti, kapra aur makaan, i.e. bread, clothing and housing) that had helped the PPP sweep Punjab in the 1970 elections, while relying on its feudal landowners’ base in Sindh, its abandonment spelt doom for the once mighty party in the largest-by-population province. That situation appears now to have become irreversible despite the revolving door, musical chairs parade of new leaders of the party in Punjab since Bibi’s death. Zardari’s ‘contribution’ since taking over has been the marginalisation of the party’s jialas (committed workers) in favour of ruling through, and benefiting from, cronies and front men. This has besmirched the PPP’s reputation as a party led by the corrupt. Those hoping for a turnaround in the PPP’s fortunes if Bilawal breaks with his father’s politics and stakes out a healthy, youthful, fresh start, ignore the difficulty in the former and the hollowness of the latter without a return to the PPP’s left wing roots.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 25, 2017

India’s Kashmir interlocutor If anyone saw India’s move to appoint an interlocutor for Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) as a breakthrough, they could be forgiven for displaying in equal measure exhaustion, impatience and incorrigible optimism towards the seemingly interminable conflict. On October 23, 2017, Indian Home Minister Rajnat Singh announced that Dineshwar Sharma, a retired Intelligence Bureau chief, had been named to initiate a sustained interaction and dialogue with elected representatives, political parties, organisations and individuals, including the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), “to understand the legitimate aspirations of the people in Jammu and Kashmir”. Responses, most of them predictable, were not long in coming. Pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders, including the current and former Chief Ministers (CMs), seemed ready to embrace the BJP government’s decision, although not entirely without caveats. On the following day, an APHC leader, Maulvi Abbas Ansari stated the obvious: all three parties, India, Pakistan and the Kashmiris on both sides of the divide have to sit together for a solution to the long standing conundrum. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman called the step “not sincere and realistic”. He too stressed the inclusion of all three parties to make the dialogue “meaningful and result-oriented”. He then went on to reiterate that the aspirations of the Kashmiri people were well known for the last 70 years: the right to self-determination. He did concede however, that the announcement once again illustrates the futility of the use of force and the indispensability of a dialogue. The need of the hour, he concluded, was for India to end state terrorism and hold a dialogue in accordance with the UNSC resolutions and the wishes of the Kashmiri people, with hopefully the international community playing its due role in this process. Current CM IHK Mehbooba Mufti welcomed the development, while former CM Omar Abdullah was more cautious, saying he would keep an open mind and wait to see the results. He did underline though that this was a a resounding defeat of those who could only see the use of force as a solution. The about turn on talking to all parties in IHK, especially the APHC whom New Delhi views as linked to Pakistan, comes on the eve of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ongoing tour of South Asia. Whether the timing is coincidental or meaningful, the fact remains that the Modi government’s brutality in IHK continues to act as a brake on the US’s desire for a strategic relationship with India. The Modi government’s reversal of its policy since coming to power three years ago of never entering into a dialogue with the APHC reflects also the difficulties the Indian state and its repressive machinery have come up against in IHK. Since the Indian security forces killed young Hizbul Mujahideen leader Burhan Wani last year, there has been a continuous outpouring of unrest and protest in IHK. The knee-jerk reaction of the Indian security forces to this latest ‘intifada’ was to suppress all such manifestations with the unbridled use of force. Hundreds have been killed and injured by such draconian tactics, including many protestors losing their eyesight because of the indiscriminate use of pellet guns by the security forces to break up crowds. These ‘shotgun’ measures have only fuelled the fire of resentment and protest throughout IHK. The move to appoint an interlocutor appears to follow a rare meeting between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood. Reports say Ms Swaraj discussed the current state of bilateral relations, alleged cross-border terrorism, quickly bringing to book the perpetrators of the Mumbai and Pathankot attacks and the possibility of Pakistan reviewing its position on Kulbushan Jadhav, the alleged Indian spy in Pakistan’s custody. More significantly, the outreach, according to Home Minister Rajnat Singh, is a follow-up of Modi’s Independence Day address in which he stressed that Kashmir’s problems can only be solved by embracing the Kashmiris and not by bullets or abuse. Singh’s assertion has weight that it indicates a shift in policy from handling the Kashmir issue only through the prism of security operations without a matching political overture. The logic of India engaging with the people of IHK as well as Pakistan and the people of AJ & K has remained unassailable over the years. Whether such a dialogue can attract the attention of the global powers and indeed lead to a solution to the conflict remains an open question. But it is far preferable to make moves towards an all-embracing dialogue rather than remain stuck in a big stick approach, as India has been doing. To that extent, the outreach should be welcomed in the hope that it contributes to an easing of tensions between India and Pakistan, cessation of hostilities and a restoration of the tattered 2013 ceasefire on the LoC, not to mention progress towards a solution that has the backing of all the stakeholders in this conflict.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 24, 2017

Imran’s agitation threat Imran Khan has threatened to bring people out in protest on the streets if what he calls a new National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) is struck in the Hudaibya Paper Mills case. Referring to past such exercises, Imran Khan argued that former ruler Pervez Musharraf had no right to promulgate NROs with Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari. The reference is to the decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to go into exile in Saudi Arabia although he had been sentenced to life imprisonment in the airplane hijacking case that triggered the 1999 military coup. In Zardari’s case, the reference is to his release from prison in 2004 despite cases of corruption pending against him. As an update, some of those cases, in which Zardari was finally acquitted for lack of clinching evidence may be about to be reopened. Pakistan is theoretically a sovereign state. But a state that is critically dependent on aid from external sources cannot be considered truly sovereign. Our history is replete with examples of how external pressures forced the state to take decisions that could not stand scrutiny on the touchstone of the law and constitution. The decision to allow Nawaz Sharif to go into exile was informed by Saudi intervention on the overthrown prime minister’s behalf. It was an intervention difficult to shrug off since Saudi largesse has in the past, and to date, bailed out Pakistan many times. Hence General Musharraf was left with little room for manoeuvre when the Saudis called in their myriad favours over the years. In the case of Asif Zardari, his release was part of the indirect dialogue with Benazir Bhutto in self-exile, backed by the US and UK, again an external factor that could not easily be ignored. That dialogue finally produced the NRO and allowed her to return to the country in 2007. The tragedy of course is that she was assassinated soon after. Taking these two examples to buttress his argument, Imran Khan’s threat may reflect an appreciation of the developments in the Sharif camp, with federal minister Riaz Piracha openly calling for Shahbaz Sharif to take over the reins of the PML-N. Since the Hudaibya case is the only one in which Shahbaz is also implicated, Imran’s logic is apparent. To be noted is the detour Nawaz Sharif made to Saudi Arabia on his way home from London. Clearly, he seeks Saudi help again in the midst of the difficulties he is grappling with in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases against him and his family, coming as they do in the wake of his disqualification by the Supreme Court. His long standing close relations with the Saudi royal family may have been dented somewhat by Pakistan’s refusal of the Saudi request to send our troops to Yemen. But there is no reason to assume that those relations have suffered a permanent disability. Whether however, Saudi Arabia’s considerable leverage wit Pakistan notwithstanding, the Saudis can in some form or the other bail out Nawaz Sharif now seems difficult. That is not to say it is impossible, since Pakistan has a long track record of succumbing to blandishments and pressure from friends like the Saudis. Be that as it may, if the powers that be are at all considering some compromise formula to defuse the present political crisis, it would be politic to take Imran Khan and all the other political parties into confidence. This would help explain the considerations that may be driving such a contemplated compromise, chief amongst which is the economy, under considerable pressure from the twin external and budgetary deficits. This consideration in fact may also impinge on the manner in which we deal with the Trump administration, with Secretary of State Tillerson’s visit providing the occasion to sort out mutual misunderstandings and complaints. The US may or may not be liked by us, but its considerable clout in the Bretton Woods and other multilateral financial institutions compels us to address Washington’s complaints seriously. Not to do so may invite problems if we need to return to the IMF and other international financial institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to support Pakistan’s external account and foreign exchange reserves difficulties.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Business Recorder Column Oct 23, 2017

Widening circle of disappearances Rashed Rahman As often happens with ill thought through measures, the ruling PML-N is being increasingly hoist by its own petard in terms of the ‘disappearance’ of its activists on the social media. The issue was highlighted by the party chief, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, on October 21, 2017. The matter relates to about six members of the media cell operating under Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who have ostensibly been ‘disappeared’ for posting matter on social media critical of the judiciary and the armed forces. The crackdown on critical or dissenting voices on social media can therefore be seen as continuing, expanding and widening. It may be recalled that five critical bloggers were ‘disappeared’, followed by blasphemous material being posted on their blogs and websites. These days, as everyone by now knows, a mere accusation of blasphemy is a death sentence at the hands of fanatics, let alone actual postings of this sort. The five disappeared bloggers did eventually surface, but had to flee the country for safety. While it is possible to sympathise with the disappeared PML-N activists and their families, it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is the PML-N government itself that rammed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2017 (PECA) through parliament last year. Free speech advocates, human rights activists and opposition figures had warned at the time that PECA seemed designed to usher in more abuse of power by state officials because of its vague and overly broad language and draconian provisions. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. Now the chickens seem to be coming home to roost in this regard for the PML-N. There is an argument that the growing use of the internet for online propaganda by terrorists suggests the need for regulation. But PECA does not appear to fit the bill. This is not the first instance of the PML-N stumbling into territory where its ill thought through steps returned to haunt it. Arguably, allowing the Karachi operation against terrorists and criminals to conflate into a crackdown on the MQM, replete, that party claims, with unlawful detentions and excessive use of force, still haunts us. Then too human rights and free speech defenders warned of the slippery slope of greater curbs on political speech and lawful politics. Now the war against critical voices on social media and the internet has taken within its fold not only mainstream politics but also rights advocates, civil society and independent voices deemed unacceptable to the deep state. Mainstream media, both print and electronic, has by and large, honourable exceptions notwithstanding, surrendered to the establishment’s narrative on national and international affairs. Now with the expanding and widening crackdown on dissident opinion on the social media, the space for free and independent thought and speech appears to have shrunk to a virtual singularity. Now that the ruling party has been stung by the poison of censorship and its ugly cousin disappearances, the alarm bells have been rung by Nawaz Sharif himself. Apart from Maryam Nawaz’s media cell activists who have been disappeared, he has referred to the disappearance of PML-N activists on the eve of the NA-120 by-poll in Lahore, the seat Nawaz had to vacate after being disqualified and which was then won by his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz. Nawaz Sharif asked the interior ministry to look into the issue of such disappearances. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal duly asked the FIA which, unsurprisingly, drew a blank. And there the matter seems to have ended. These goings on are a familiar pattern. Take the case of the recent ‘recovery’ of Zeenat Shahzadi, a young woman journalist from Lahore. After a two-year disappearance, she is said by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED) to have been recovered from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Two years ago she was abducted by armed men from Lahore on August 19, 2015. Why? For daring to take up the case of an Indian national, Hamid Ansari, who had gone missing in 2012 after being arrested for crossing illegally into Pakistan from Afghanistan. Shahzadi managed to contact his family in Mumbai and filed a habeas corpus petition in the Peshawar High Court and applications to the Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell and the CoIoED. Soon after, she became a missing person herself. Similar stories have surfaced of late in Sindh. It seems that for the deep state, even attempting to question the practice of Enforced Disappearances (EDs), let alone being active in campaigns to recover the missing persons is a sin or crime deserving of ED being visited on such idealists. These practices began in Balochistan in the context of the nationalist insurgency in that province but have by now spread incrementally to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (more related to terrorism), Sindh (nationalists), southern Punjab and now Takht Lahore itself. It has flourished because of the cloak of impunity in which the agencies of the deep state have wrapped themselves, a cocoon neither the courts nor the CoIoED have been able to unravel. Because of this sense of being beyond being held to account, the perpetrators of EDs have become more brazen. Abductions are now carried out in broad daylight even in the cities. I am witness to one such incident a few years ago when our seminar at the Quetta Press Club was interrupted by the news that two people had been abducted in the clear light of day at the traffic intersection in front of the Club. Journalists, rights activists, social workers and now political cadres even of the mainstream political parties are all potential targets. Several thousand people are still missing all over the country. The CoIoED, set up amidst much fanfare six years ago under the chairmanship of Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, formerly a Supreme Court judge, has proved toothless, inefficient and with neither the resources, inclination nor power to do more than document a few (in the hundreds) cases of ED. Not one perpetrator has been held to account to date. Now that the good Justice has moved on to the post of Chairman National Accountability Bureau, and with no successor at the CoIoED named so far, perhaps the latter should be given a decent burial. What the disappeared go through during their detention can only be guessed at. In most if not all cases, the ones who make it back without any obvious signs of injury develop a deep and unrelenting silence on their experiences, no doubt for fear of a repetition. What their families go through, especially in cases where there is no news of their loved ones year after year, needs no guesses. The evidence is before our eyes. Shahzadi’s brother, inconsolable at her disappearance, committed suicide in 2016. Mama Qadeer of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons made a long march from Quetta to Islamabad to dwarf anything Mahatma Gandhi ever undertook during the Independence struggle, and not a leaf stirred. The families of the missing can be found in protest camps outside the Quetta Press Club and similar locations in other cities. A state and society that has sunk to this level of unlawfulness and brazen violation of every conceivable legal, human, citizen right is a state and society asking for trouble.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 21, 2017

After the census The Census 2017 came nine years later than the scheduled date of 2008. The decennial exercise was previously carried out in 1998. The preliminary results of Census 2017 reveal the depth and extent of the population and demographic changes in the 19 years gap between the two censuses. Not only has the population increased from 135 million in 1998 to 208 million in 2017, the dynamic of urbanisation and rural-urban migration has made huge dents in the profile of our demographics. What should follow a census in the normal course is the fresh delimitation of constituencies in the light of the growth and changes in the populace. What should follow then is the allocation, or reallocation, of seats to the provinces according to their recorded populations. The preliminary results of Census 2017, for example, show that Punjab, the most populous province, has seen its share in the overall population of the country decrease. This could translate into Punjab losing anything up to seven seats at the federal level. To carry out the exercise of delimitation and allocation of seats by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would require at least six months. If the expiry date of this parliament is taken into account, that translates into elections in August 2018. To have everything prepared and ready to go therefore, the ECP would have had to complete its homework and tasks by April 2018. Given that the ECP has yet to receive the final results of Census 2018, this seems a difficult, if not well nigh impossible task. While the ECP wrestles with this conundrum, the virtual inevitability of relying on Census 1998 as the basis for conducting General Elections 2018 looms large. This, if adhered to, could open up a Pandora’s box of issues. As it is, discordant voices are being heard from the provinces challenging even the preliminary results and analyses of Census 2017. Imagine then an election held on the basis of Census 1998 and the potential controversies and skewed distortions in representation that would produce compared to the actual demographics on the ground. No surprise then that the federal government is asking the provinces to accept an election in 2018 based on the preliminary results of Census 2017. However, along with their complaints and reservations regarding what has emerged in the public space vis-à-vis the preliminary results of Census 2017, the provinces have with almost one voice demanded that these preliminary results and the analyses carried out on them be provided so that they can scrutinise and analyse these figures themselves. In the absence of this information, the delimitation of constituencies, allocation of seats, preparation of electoral rolls could all end up in controversy, conflict and a resultant blame game, i.e. a real mess long before the first ballot is cast in 2018. The general elections 2018 exercise could fall between the two stools of the Census 1998 (outdated and not reflecting ground demographic realities today) and Census 2017 (preliminary results only, and those too contested by the provinces, who have much at stake in the count of populations since not only seat allocation but resources distribution too depends on it). In this to and fro between the Centre and the provinces and amongst the provinces, the door seems alarmingly ajar for controversies and allegations that may erode the credibility and acceptance of the results of Election 2018. This conundrum does not seem to be heading for resolution. The best course under the obtaining circumstances may be for the issue to be taken to the Council of Common Interests (CCI). There, although the normal procedure is decisions by majority, this complex and critical issue should be decided by a unanimous vote so that all potential controversies and allegations are laid to rest, thereby ensuring the credibility and acceptability of the 2018 election results. Anything short of that may lead to new political crises and the whole democratic system being destabilised.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 30, 2017

Water scarcity India and Pakistan have held a second round of talks on September 14-15 under World Bank (WB) auspices in Washington on differences regarding two hydropower projects under construction by India on tributaries of the Jhelum and Chenab rivers in Indian Held Kashmir (IHK). Like the first round on July 31-August 1, 2017 however, this time round too the two sides failed to agree. An earlier Indus Waters Commission meeting in Islamabad in March 2017 had produced a similar deadlock, after which Pakistan turned to the WB as the arbiter of the Indus Waters Treaty (IWT). While it soon became clear that the two sides were still poles apart, with Pakistan asking the WB to appoint a Court of Arbitration and India countering with a proposal for the WB to appoint a neutral expert, the WB’s statement after the latest round of talks appreciated the goodwill and cooperative atmosphere in which these talks were held. The dispute concerns two hydropower projects, the 330 MW Kishanganga and the 850 MW Ratle hydropower projects that Pakistan objects to on the grounds that their design violates the provisions of the IWT. These provisions include a clause dividing the Indus Basin waters between the two countries on the basis of one-fifth to India and four-fifths to Pakistan. Pakistan complains that India’s designs as the upper riparian will unfairly and against the spirit and letter of the IWT, deprive it if its rightful share of the rivers flowing through IHK. It may be relevant to mention here that the IWT is one of the most successful international treaties, having withstood the ups and downs in the relationship between Pakistan and India, and even the subsequent wars between them. However, contrary to the IWT, there is a lobby in India that objects per se to the arbitration role of the WB, wanting no third party involved and for Pakistan and India to settle these and all other matters bilaterally. This is a self-serving argument, since the track record of bilateral negotiations on this and other matters is nothing to write home about. One does not know at this point what the next step on the part of the WB, Pakistan and India will be, but perhaps the best that can be hoped for is a continuation of talks to try and find ways and means to resolve the dispute. The IWT was signed in 1960 after nine years of negotiations brokered by the WB, which is also a signatory and has a mediatory role in setting up dispute resolution mechanisms, but only with the consensus of both state parties. Despite its weathering the storms that have buffeted Pakistan-India relations since it was brought into existence, the IWT dispute resolution regime now seems stalled, perhaps partly because of the current tensions between the two countries. Unfortunately the track record of Pakistan’s engagement bilaterally with India and multilaterally under the auspices of the WB on issues afflicting the IWT does not inspire confidence. One cannot escape the conclusion that Pakistan has seldom prepared its case on disputes in a timely or well thought out fashion. Being the upper riparian, India can stall resolution of disputes almost indefinitely by hiding behind the technicalities of the IWT and its dispute resolution process, while continuing in certain instances to continue to create new facts on the ground. This may be informed by the wisdom that the WB or any other international arbitration forum is unlikely to ask a country to demolish a dam. While Pakistan and India will now continue internal discussions in their respective capitals after the talks remained deadlocked, Pakistan has been hit by the news that a 20 percent water shortage looms over the Rabi season. The Indus River System Authority (IRSA) has revealed this while asking for building more dams on a war footing. The reasons adduced for treating this development as an emergency can be listed as sparse rainfall in recent years, silting up of existing water reservoirs, providing Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with their full quotas under the Water Apportionment Accord of 1991 and the additional offtake by the recently inaugurated Kachhi Canal in Balochistan. Punjab and Sindh being the two affected provinces by the water shortage, food security now seems under strain if not threatened. Pakistan is considered to be a water-stressed country by now, and the portents, under the impact of climate change and potential and existing disputes between our internal upper and lower riparians, are increasingly grim.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 27, 2017

Mainstreaming terrorist groups The Senate Standing Committee on Parliamentary Affairs grilled the Election Commission of Pakistan officials on September 26, 2017 over allowing the newly formed Milli Muslim League, a party affiliated to the Jamaat ud Dawa, a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, to take part in the recent by-election in NA-120, Lahore, the seat vacated by disqualified prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Chairperson of the Committee Senator Sherry Rehman wondered how an election symbol was allotted to a party banned under the Fourth Schedule. Committee members pointed out that the so-called independent candidate Yaqoob Sheikh’s campaign posters and banners carried pictures of the leaders of the Jamaat ud Dawa. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan should have taken action against this blatant violation of the law. In a reply that was disingenuous, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials muttered that they had asked the Ministry of the Interior for an explanation as to the status of Yaqoob Sheikh but were still waiting for a reply. This answer failed to satisfy the members of the committee, and for good reason. Senator Sherry Rehman said the Election Commission of Pakistan was a constitutional body and needed to function independently, without the kind of dependent attitude on display. In any case, the Interior Ministry had already conveyed to the Election Commission of Pakistan even before the by-election that it should not register the Milli Muslim League. Juxtaposing this fact with the obvious affiliation of the pretend independent candidate with Hafiz Saeed and company, the Election Commission of Pakistan officials were left with egg on their face. What made the whole episode even worse, indeed alarming, was the fact that Yaqoob Sheikh got almost 6,000 votes. The Election Commission of Pakistan has already received a fair bit of stick, especially from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, for its conduct of the 2013 general elections, dubbed by critics as the ‘Returning Officers election’. Now to that inglorious epithet has been added the inexplicable decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan to turn a blind eye to the obvious front man role of Yaqoob Sheikh for Jamaat ud Dawa. With his leader Hafiz Saeed under house arrest and the party proscribed, it is beyond understanding how Yaqoob Sheikh was even allowed to strand, let alone display Hafiz Saeed and other Jamaat ud Dawa leaders’ pictures during the election campaign. Critics here are incensed at this breach of the law and opening the door to the terrorist organisations’ bid to join the political mainstream. Critics abroad will no doubt view this as a deliberate act of legitimising through the electoral process outfits wedded to terror. If this is Pakistan’s version of the rightward trend being witnessed all over the world, particularly the US and Europe, where far right forces are gathering electoral strength, it is an ill considered and damaging to Pakistan’s international reputation blunder. Of late there had been speculations that the real powers-that-be had chalked out a plan to mainstream some proscribed outfits to ease the international pressure on Pakistan at allowing banned organisations to reinvent themselves under different names and new banners. Now with the NA-120 debacle, the conspiracy theory mills will grind overtime. Even if it was not someone’s bright idea to insert the Jamaat ud Dawa into the electoral fray under the all too leaky camouflage of an independent candidate, his clear expression of affiliation with Jamaat ud Dawa could not possibly have escaped the Election Commission of Pakistan. Senator Sherry Rehman is right that the Election Commission of Pakistan had no need or obligation to ask the Interior Ministry for explanations or clarifications regarding Yaqoob Sheikh. They should have exercised their own minds independently. This fresh controversy will not only alarm those who see this 'legitimisation’ of terrorist outfits alarming, it will resurrect criticisms against and demands for the overhaul of the Election Commission of Pakistan if we are not to be embroiled once again in damaging controversies in the forthcoming elections, controversies that delegitimise the democratic electoral process and more often than not engender political crises.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 26, 2017

The continuing agony of enforced disappearances The meeting on September 25, 2017 of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights proved an occasion for the expression of exasperation and serious concerns about the continuing, and rising, incidence of enforced disappearances (EDs). First and foremost, the chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, ‘disappeared’ on the plea of a prior commitment and did not appear. This left the chairperson of the Functional Committee, MQM’s Senator Nasrin Jalil, less than amused. PPP’s Senator Karim Khawaja proffered some sound advice to the government to address the issue of EDs lest it become an embarrassment and the UN intervenes. He reminded the committee that the UN intervened in a similar issue in Chile in 1972 and thousands of ED victims were released. The same was the case in Bosnia, where the perpetrators were punished. National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR) chairman Justice (retd) Ali Nawaz Chowhan lamented that inquiries about missing persons had to be directed to the security agencies without any result. It is undeniable that these agencies, wrapped in a cocoon of impunity, have consistently stonewalled any attempt to unravel cases of ED. Justice Chowhan argued for the UN convention on EDs to be ratified, and arrested persons produced in court. Senator Dr Jehanzeb Jamaldini wanted the relatives of missing persons to be called to committee meetings, instead of leaving them to rot in protest camps with their children in a futile search and unending wait for their loved ones. He reminded that the National Action Plan had laid down that arrested people should be produced in court within 10 days but this had not been implemented. Senator Farhatullah Babar stressed the need for further legislation, starting with the passage of the December 2016 draft law on EDs endorsed by 104 Senators. He argued for doing away with the impunity enjoyed by the security agencies, in the presence of which they could continue to cock a snook at any and all institutions inquiring into EDs. In a number of cases where missing persons were released after being declared innocent, the perpetrators were never punished despite evidence of their skullduggery. He wanted the 2012 inquiry report on EDs and the UN Working Group on EDs’ reports made public. It turned out during the discussion that the UN convention was objected to on account of its clause 26, which allowed citizens to approach the UN directly, which could then send a team to investigate. What logic! We want, according to a foreign office representative, to sign the UN convention, but on our own terms! The discussion of the issue of missing persons in the committee underlines the misery of thousands of families whose dear ones have been disappeared and they languish in the agony of not knowing their fate despite the passage of years together. One does not know if those who received the tortured dead bodies of their disappeared loved ones were better off or not, but the agony of those who still await news of the fate of their disappeared ones can only be guessed at. What first emerged as a phenomenon in the strife-torn province of Balochistan, later was found common in terrorist-infested areas such as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and now the practice seems to have spread to Sindh. Needless to say this is directly attributable to the failure of institutions set up to address the issue such as Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal’s commission and the NCHR. Senator Babar spared no one, parliament, the Supreme Court of Pakistan or any other institution as being guilty of failure in addressing this tragic human rights issue. Whatever lacunae in the law, institutions and procedures have contributed to the ‘smirking’ sense of impunity in which the security agencies have wrapped themselves, the law and humanity demand this unforgivable tragedy must be brought to an end and those responsible punished.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Business Recorder Column Sept 25, 2017

The return of Nawaz Sharif Rashed Rahman Punditry and forecasting are both inexact ‘sciences’. Sometimes, the line between the two gets blurred. Something of this nature has overtaken the Pakistani commentariat regarding the plans of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif. By and large, our commentators and analysts got it wrong when they almost unanimously predicted that Nawaz Sharif would not return to the country and would rather stay put in London where his wife Kulsoom Nawaz, the successful candidate in Lahore’s NA-120 recent by-election, is undergoing treatment for cancer. But then perhaps one should not blame the commentariat too much, since they relied on whatever received wisdom was floating around. However, the outcome of their punditry should serve as an object lesson that received wisdom too needs to be digested critically, and judgement reserved until all the facts have been gathered. Nawaz Sharif has returned to Pakistan, reportedly against the advice of close members of his family and the ministers of the PML-N government. Their argument was that the outcome of the Panama case shows that the whole process has little to do with the charges of corruption and more to do with a political coup. Nawaz Sharif himself buys into this argument, pointing out that the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s (SCP’s) verdict of July 28, 2017 had nothing to do with the charges brought and that he was disqualified on the grounds of a relatively minor technicality. The fate of his and his family’s review petitions (dismissed) and the appointment of a SCP judge to supervise the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) proceedings in the four references filed against the Sharifs and Ishaq Dar has further convinced Nawaz Sharif that neither did he receive fair treatment nor justice, nor can he expect anything different in the NAB references. Why then, in the face of this opposing tide, has Nawaz Sharif decided to return to Pakistan and face the music? The crucial huddle in London between Nawaz Sharif and the leadership of the PML-N in London proved a deciding factor. Legal advice and reportedly Shahbaz Sharif’s take persuaded the former prime minister to gird up his loins and face the references on solid legal grounds. The advantage of such a course lies in the weak case likely to be made out in the NAB references. Since the SCP had ordered the filing of these references within six weeks, there was no time for NAB to reopen investigations into these cases. The NAB references therefore perforce rely on the SCP-appointed Joint Investigation Team’s (JIT’s) report. Irrespective of whether certain reports claiming that NAB investigators themselves are not convinced of the JIT’s findings providing a solid case are true or not, the fact remains that the JIT findings may turn out to be inadmissible as evidence. Many legal eagles have described the JIT’s findings as weak and faulty since they largely rely on media reports and documents obtained in an ‘informal’ fashion both inside Pakistan and abroad. Such ‘evidence’ does not fulfil the criteria for admissibility in a court of law. Be that as it may, and the days ahead will reveal more on this account, the disadvantages of staying away in self-imposed exile and avoiding appearance in the references were obvious. No doubt the experience of the exile suffered by the Sharifs after General Musharraf’s coup informed this view. Returning to face what may turn out to be weak and eventually inconclusive references would obviously rebound in Nawaz Sharif’s favour. Second, returning allows Nawaz Sharif to take charge of the party fully once again now that the Electoral Reforms Bill 2017 has cleared the way for disqualified Nawaz Sharif to once again don the mantle of the PML-N’s head. His presence inside the country could also help ward off challenges or differences within the ruling party, whether these are stoked by outside forces or the ambitions of some PML-N leaders within. The Muslim League as a party enjoys the dubious distinction of disintegrating or carrying out internal leadership ‘coups’ when the incumbent leader gets into trouble with the powers-that-be. Nawaz Sharif himself owes his rise to paramount position within the Muslim League to his accepting the patronage of dictator General Ziaul Haq when he removed his own handpicked prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo in 1988. Nawaz was hoist by his own petard after Musharraf’s 1999 coup when the Chaudries abandoned him in his time of trouble and forged the King’s Party, the PML-Q. It is also salutary in passing to meditate on the fate of the PML-Q subsequently. With his hands on the reins of the party as its restored head, Nawaz Sharif is positioning himself to fight the good fight against the campaign launched against him for dubious purposes. The seemingly orchestrated from behind the scenes campaign is a familiar gambit when the establishment wants someone out of power. Now that the superior judiciary seems to be going along with the ‘get Nawaz’ effort, it would do well to remember that the track record of our judiciary in endorsing military coups in the past and cooperating with dictators against democracy leaves a great deal to be desired. Trust and confidence in a judiciary restored after it was decapitated by Musharraf in 2007 has been eroded, first by the controversial jurisprudence created by former Chief Justice Ifitkhar Chaudhry’s court, later by the proceedings in the Panama case. Denials notwithstanding, such political earthquakes tend to revive suspicions about the role of the establishment as the author of these anti-democratic manoeuvres. Pakistan is most unfortunate in being unable to shake off this legacy of establishment interventions to disrupt the political and democratic process. That is the main reason no democratic political system has been able to take root in this country. It is precisely such manoeuvring that lost us half the country in 1971, and threatens to destabilise the remainder now. The struggle for democracy has consumed almost all the political capital of Pakistan to date. Even progressive forces were subsumed within the folds of this struggle, especially during periods of military dictatorship, which have so far consumed half our life as an independent country. Such legerdemain has persisted for 70 years. It remains to be seen if it can persist for another 70 without serious disruption. If the people of Pakistan, the real sovereign in any political construct, one day come to the conclusion that enough is enough, dark portents threaten.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 24, 2017

Scaring foreign investors away The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank’s arm for this purpose, has ruled that Pakistan’s government had ‘expropriated’ the assets of foreign investor Karkey Karadeniz Electric Uretim A S, a Turkish firm, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) declared its contract to supply power from four ship-mounted generating plants on rental basis “non-transparent, illegal and void ab initio” in March 2011. The SCP held that an increase in the upfront payment from seven percent to 14 percent violated the transparency provisions of Articles 9 and 24 of the Constitution and Section 7 of The Regulation of Generation, Transmission and Distribution of Electric Power Act, 1997. It ordered Karkey to repay its advance of $ 180 million and the detention of its four vessels anchored in Karachi. Since the issue was taken up by the court of then Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry through a suo moto notice under Article 184(3), no appeal was available. Karkey decided to take its case for breach of contract to the ICSID and has now reportedly won a $ 700 million damages claim. In a similar vein, the ICSID is seized of arbitration proceedings in the case of Reko Diq, a copper and gold mining project in Balochistan. That project too was cancelled by the SCP under Article 184(3). In this case, an even larger award is expected. While the government hopes Karkey will accept an out-court settlement, the Reko Diq case is likely to blow a big hole in our finances. The brief facts of these two cases are that Karkey was contracted under the Rental Power Producers policy by the then PPP government to supply 232 MW power for five years at a contract value of $ 560 million in 2008. After about a year, Karkey withdrew, accusing the government of failure to honour sovereign payment guarantees. Amidst allegations of corruption surrounding the contract, the SCP stepped in in 2009. In the Reko Diq case Tethyan Copper Company (TCC) went for international arbitration after the SCP concluded that the terms offered by TCC were disadvantageous to Pakistan. Since TCC had sunk considerable resources in geological surveys of the area and producing a feasibility report of the project, it has taken Pakistan to the ICSID to claim damages. For many years now, the global community has been expanding protections for foreign investors against arbitrary actions by host governments. Toying with foreign investors’ stakes therefore is now fraught with prohibitive penalties through international arbitration forums such as the ICSID. The Karkey contract fell prey to internal political rivalries when Faisal Saleh Hayat (of the PPP Patriots then, who is now back in the PPP) and Khawaja Asif, the current foreign minister, challenged the project on grounds of the standard procedures not being followed. Reko Diq faltered amidst complaints by Baloch political leaders that the province, and Pakistan, was being hard done by in the project. These two cases and the current controversy about LNG imports point to the need for domestic political rivalries to be kept out of foreign investment issues. They also point to the need for adherence to the law and rules when signing contracts with foreign investors and during implementation after. Last but not least, they illustrate the pitfalls of the superior judiciary’s activism in such cases under Article 184(3). The Karkey judgement, and the expected one on Reko Diq, indicate that the SCP failed to take account of the penalties threatened under international arbitration. As it is, Pakistan is hardly the preferred destination for foreign investment. To that if is added foreign investors’ concerns about incumbent governments and their successors sticking to the terms of binding international contracts, we already have a milieu that discourages foreign investors visiting our shores. Now these two international arbitration cases are bound to further erode Pakistan’s credibility and standing as a fit destination for foreign investment.