Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 31, 2017

Better late than never Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed and four other leaders of the organisation have been placed under house arrest for three months. The JuD and its charity front, the Falah-i-Insaaniat Foundation (FIF), have been included in the second schedule and put on the watch list for six months under Section (1) 11EEE of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. The names of several JuD leaders have also been placed on the Exit Control List. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has revealed that the government is deciding the JuD’s fate, which had been on the watch list for several years. JuD had been listed by the UN’s sanctions committee, popularly known as the al Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee, under UN Security Council Resolution 1267 since December 2008 and had been declared a terrorist organisation by the world body. The US State Department too had termed the JuD a “foreign terrorist organisation” in June 2014 and imposed head money of $ 10 million on Hafiz Saeed. Under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1267, a Financial Action Task Force (FATF) was set up by the G-7 Group in 1989 to oversee the stoppage of money laundering globally, especially where it may pertain to terrorism funding. By taking action now against the JuD and its leader, Pakistan it appears has managed to prevent its relegation from the FATF’s white list to its grey, or even worse, negative list, a status equivalent to a state being perceived as complicit in terrorism funding. Not only have the five leaders of JuD been put under house arrest, all assets of the JuD and FIF have been frozen, their passports and arms licences cancelled, and a travel ban imposed. All concerned departments, including the State Bank of Pakistan, commercial banks, law enforcement agencies, Federal Bureau of Revenue, FIA and the provincial governments have been instructed to implement the order and report compliance. There remains the possibility that the JuD may be banned, but how much good that will do is questionable, given that the JuD emerged as the new avatar of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba when the going got rough for the latter. A ban may simply resurrect the JuD under some other banner, as in the past. The action against the JuD is much belated, but welcome. Better late than never, and best before Pakistan is subjected to sanctions for not proceeding against an organisation on international terrorist lists. However, some questions remain unanswered. Given that Hafiz Saeed is widely held responsible for the Mumbai attacks of 2008 in which 166 people were killed, why has it taken the authorities so long to move against him and his outfit? Is it the case that the establishment was providing him protection and succour, not to mention allowing the scandal of Mr Saeed having the free run of the country? This stance offended India and the US. Why now, after all these years of prevarication? The easiest and probably most accurate answer is US pressure, especially with the new ‘no nonsense’ US President Donald Trump in office. The other aspect of the affair is the way forward. If the past is any guide, Hafiz Saeed has been in preventive detention before, once in 2002 for several months under the Musharraf regime after the attack on the Indian parliament, and again after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. In both cases he was eventually released by the courts as the authorities had failed to present a viable case against him. In any case the preventive detention laws do not allow extensions of detention beyond 12 months. So the question arises whether, like in the past, Hafiz Saeed’s woes will end once the immediate pressure abates. If not, then what? Pakistan has suffered grievously over the years because of its mistaken policy of relying on armed proxies to project its interests in our neighbourhood. We have become isolated and perhaps even the butt of global incredulity over our defence of such proxies. The gambit may have been useful in the past, especially in the context of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but it is the height of shortsightedness to persist with a policy whose shelf life has long passed with changed circumstances. Pakistan must shed its proxy obsession if we are to co-exist with today’s world and find our rightful place in the sun.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 30, 2017

A new resistance movement Rashed Rahman One week into his presidency, Donald Trump has already shaken up the US and the world, as he had threatened to do in his election campaign rhetoric. His executive order banning the entry of people from seven Muslim majority countries adversely affected many individuals and families travelling to the US. Some were stopped from getting on flights at airports around the world and those arriving at US airports with valid travel documents were detained. It is however, a measure of the strength of rights consciousness, constitutional freedoms and an adherence to traditional American values by a considerable body of citizens that has sparked off and reinforced the continuation of a new resistance movement against the extreme, prejudiced, hate-filled worldview of Donald Trump and the policies that flow from it. First came the women’s march one day after Trump’s taking office. The depth and spread of this march over the continental US and many countries around the world was a portent of things to come. Now the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups and individuals have fired the opening shots of the campaign of resistance to Trump’s excesses. US judges in a number of states have blocked the deportation of persons from the seven countries to whom the ban applies who were detained at airports despite having validly travelled to the US. Not all of the 109 people denied entry on January 28 or the 173 not allowed to board US-bound flights could avail the relief on offer in the judges’ restraining orders. But the orders and other manifestations of protest could prove the opening salvos in what is shaping up as a protracted ‘war’ against what the Trump administration represents and stands for. Elected officials such as Virginia’s governor and attorney general made it a point to welcome Muslim visitors at US airports with flowers and balloons. They were accompanied by welcoming crowds of citizens reiterating the historical fact that the US is a land of immigrants (only the indigenous peoples of North America can claim to be the original inhabitants, and their sad fate at the hands of rapacious settler colonialism is by now well documented) that cannot go back on this traditional ethos without denying its right to exist. Trump’s order bans visitors from Iran (which has threatened retaliation against American citizens), Iraq (the US ‘ally’ has expressed muted misgivings), Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. These, according to the Trump doctrine, are countries experiencing internal conflict and from which terrorist threats emanate. Even if, for the sake of argument, this assertion is accepted, the blanket ban on citizens of these overwhelmingly Muslim majority countries on the basis of their country of origin rather than any crime or ‘sin’ they may have committed, plays directly into the hands of the real (as opposed to imagined) terrorists such as al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS). They can point to this irrational ban as proof that Washington is against Muslims qua Muslims. The measure therefore is likely to achieve exactly the opposite effect of what may have been intended, i.e. stoke the fires of jihadi hatred against the US and perhaps provoke the very attacks on US soil that the executive order is meant to guard against. The mosque shooting in Quebec, Canada, that killed six people in a congregation of 40 on January 30 may or may not have any connection with the events in the US, but it could portend a violent reaction on US soil by IS and others of its ilk. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, by the way, has opened Canada’s doors to refugees and immigrants in a direct slap on the face of Trump’s policy. Protests have broken out and are continuing in many cities across the US against the ban. Reportedly, 11 countries were initially listed for the ban, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, but this was later pared to seven on the advice of US security officials. Pakistan reportedly may not be entirely off the hook yet. It is precisely this kind of lack of nuance and even knowledge on the part of Trump that is likely to cause headaches for the US and the rest of the world over the next four years. While his first week in office bodes ill for the US and its citizens, particularly minorities and immigrants, the world too has cause for concern. US membership of and contribution to multilateral platforms ranging from the UN to NATO, threats and attempted intimidation of Mexico, Iran and China, sending ‘America First!’ signals to allies such as Europe, South Korea and Japan, all this signifies a destabilisation of the world order in place since the Second World War which, despite its warts and flaws, has generally speaking determined the ground rules of international relations all these years. The US’s role in this order has been one of a powerful leader, first of the west during the Cold War, later leader of the world in a fluid and complex post-Cold War order. The relative decline of the US’s pre-eminent role in world affairs that is underway because of economic and other factors, even as it remains a military colossus (but increasingly with feet of clay), will accelerate under Trump’s isolationist stances. While the tectonic shift underway in the global power balance to Asia will be strengthened, the risk of conflict or war looms over Trump’s negativity regarding the Iranian nuclear agreement and China’s economic success and claims in the East and south China Seas. As it is, nuclear restraint experts are appalled by Trump’s ideas on South Korea and Japan acquiring nuclear weapons for their defence. It is an idea that flies in the face of decades of constructing the architecture (albeit not entirely satisfactory) of a global nuclear restraint regime. Trump has ordered his military to come up within 30 days with a strategy to defeat IS. This ‘gung-ho’ approach is likely to land the US, and the world, in an even worse mess than the one bequeathed by Trump’s predecessor/s. World leaders are increasingly adding their vocal criticism of Trump’s latest foolishness to their so far more muted concerns about alliances, multilateralism and a stable world order. The Chinese curse of living in ‘interesting times’ is truly upon us with the advent of Don Quixote Trump. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Jan 28, 2017

A terrible portent A meeting of parliamentary leaders with Speaker National Assembly (NA) Ayaz Sadiq to settle a code of conduct for parliamentarians in the light of the brawl that disrupted the proceedings of the house on January 26 ended without a decision. The next day, the Speaker announced that no business would be conducted in the house till the way forward had been decided by the parliamentary leaders. He therefore adjourned the house till January 30. A follow up meeting of parliamentary leaders is expected to take place before that session. During the meeting with parliamentary leaders, the Speaker reportedly offered to resign, but according to reports, all parties expressed confidence in him. This is positive and gratifying, particularly since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been complaining that the Speaker does not conduct the business of the house in a neutral manner. Mercifully, all the parties agreed that the incident was unfortunate and not good for democracy or the sanctity of parliament. It was at least agreed that hurling allegations and shouting slogans must end. The Speaker was of the view that excesses had been committed from both sides. He also spoke about the presence of a ‘stranger in the house’, PTI MNA Shahryar Afridi, whose membership remained suspended by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not filing his returns of assets by the due date. Apparently the house stewards attempted to ask Afridi to leave but he adamantly refused on the ground that he had submitted the necessary return. However, no notification to the effect of removing his suspension had been issued by the ECP. But nothing could budge Afridi. The Speaker was inexplicably not informed by the NA staff of the presence of Afridi in the house, otherwise, the Speaker says, he would not have started the proceedings until the ‘stranger’ had been removed. This issue has assumed greater importance in the light of Afridi’s prominent role in the brawl. If the parliamentary leaders’ meeting with the Speaker failed to achieve any result, this is not surprising since, despite the cooing noises on all sides after the event, the blame game continues, with both sides pointing fingers at the other. The PTI has gone one step further by moving a privilege motion against some of the PML-N’s MNAs and Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Khaqan Abbasi, whose attempt to approach the PTI and other opposition members shouting slogans under the ‘conductor’s baton’ of Shah Mahmood Qureshi set off the row. The aftermath of the brawl shows that whereas blame can be apportioned amongst the Speaker, PTI and PML-N, no party shows any signs of contrition or concern about avoiding a repetition of such unsavoury incidents. The insistence of the PTI that no action be taken against any of its members, particularly Shahryar Afridi, indicates the mindset of the PTI. The party seems to have let frustration over its failure to shake the government in its anti-corruption drive (including the Panamagate issue) get the better of it. But the ruling PML-N should not have retaliated in kind, allowing the obvious provocation mounted by the PTI to get under its thin skin. The treasury benches have a greater responsibility for maintaining the dignity and decorum of the house, although it must be conceded they too have often been found wanting in this regard. Neither the treasury nor the opposition benches seem to remember what happened as a consequence of the fighting on the floor of the house in the 1990s. The conduct of the parliamentarians then, amongst other factors, so denuded parliament and democracy of legitimacy that the 1999 military coup was welcomed by large parts of civil society. Going further back, during the 1950s, the parliamentarians turned so violent that the Speaker of the NA was killed in the house in Dhaka. Arguably, incidents such as those paved the way for the 1958 military coup that set Pakistan on a regressive path ever since. Discontents with democracy already exist on the political, economic and social planes. If to those the parliamentarians themselves add deligitimising behaviour, the consequences are not beyond imagination.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 25, 2017

A regressive move The government has reportedly decided to curtail the powers of the Federal Ombudsman as a reaction to the institution’s pointing out irregularities and corruption in the federal and provincial ministries and departments. To implement the decision, the government has drafted a Bill to amend the Establishment of the Office of Wafaqi Mohtasib Order 1983 and the Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act 2013. The Bill, titled Federal Ombudsmen Institutions (Amendment) Act 2017, is soon to be tabled in the National Assembly. The Bill seeks to restrict the Federal Ombudsman from ‘interfering’ in the affairs of the provincial governments and regional offices. That means the Federal Ombudsman would not be able to appoint provincial ombudsmen or set up regional offices. Further, the Federal Tax Ombudsman would no longer be able to serve as acting Federal Ombudsman when the latter is absent. Both objectives would be met by deleting the relevant clauses in the 1983 and 2013 Acts. What has prompted the government to embark on a move that threatens to undo the good work done by the Federal Ombudsman over the years since the office was created? It seems the Federal Ombudsman has irked the bureaucracy by taking measures to provide for a virtual alternative judicial system that has addressed bottlenecks and irregularities in federal ministries such as interior and foreign affairs, some provincial departments, and the police. The present Federal Ombudsman, Salman Faruqi, has also authored two reports on police and jail reforms that the Supreme Court ordered the provincial governments to implement in their respective provinces. According to the Federal Ombudsman, his office addressed a record 94,000 complaints in 2016, against an average of 16,000 in previous years. To address cases of maladministration and injustice in all ministries and government offices, ‘grievance officers’ not below the rank of BS-19 have been designated to register and hear complaints against these departments on behalf of the Federal Ombudsman. Since October 1, 2016, the grievance officers have been empowered under the Federal Ombudsman Act to hear and decide cases. Information stands and boards have been installed at the receptions of all ministries and departments for public awareness. A list of all focal persons/grievance officers of ministries and departments is available on the Federal Ombudsman’s website. This month, the Federal Ombudsman’s office sought the President’s help in extending its network to the newly installed district and union councils, but the proposal could not materialise, reportedly because a PML-N President thought such a move would end up with the government being blamed for any irregularities thus exposed. Political loyalty and expediency has trumped an institutionalisation of the redressal mechanism provided by the Federal Ombudsman at the local bodies level, not the least because this thinking is in conformity with how the government wants to clip the Federal Ombudsman’s wings. The curtailing of the Federal Ombudsman’s powers has been triggered as the revenge of the bureaucracy exposed by the office against an institution that provides free and quick redressal of grievances to citizens against the bureaucracy’s maladministration and injustices. In this instance it seems the bureaucracy has persuaded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the need to save them from the Federal Ombudsman’s ‘interference’. Not that the prime minister needed much persuasion on this score, considering the recent government move to bring sundry independent regulators under the umbrella of their respective ministries. The institution of Federal Ombudsman has proved to be a source of relief/redress for maladministration and injustice when the judicial system is virtually broken, expensive, bogged down in cumbersome procedures and interminable delays. This has proved an unmitigated boon for all aggrieved citizens, but especially the lower middle class and the poor. What is needed is not a curtailment of the Federal Ombudsman’s powers and outreach to the provincial and local bodies level but a consolidation and expansion of the office’s role. It is ironic and inexplicable that a government that implicitly recognises the problems of a broken judicial system by debating an informal dispute resolution system should be so insecure and mindful of the ‘Laat sahib’s’ interests as to sacrifice one of the few channels of redress and justice enjoyed by ordinary citizens.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 24, 2017

Minister’s indiscretion Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has a penchant for landing himself and his government in controversy. True to his track record, he has set off another furore because of comments on the judiciary, establishment, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan. On all these scores, the Opposition in the Punjab Assembly decided to take the minister to task during the session of the house on January 23. But before the Leader of the Opposition, PTI’s Mahmoodur Rasheed, could utter even a word on the issue, he and the entire Opposition had to butt their heads against the wall of intransigence thrown up by Speaker Rana Iqbal, who refused to allow Mahmoodur Rasheed to speak. The following uproar by the Opposition could easily have been avoided. Surely the heavens would not have fallen if the honourable Speaker had seen fit to act more like the custodian of the house and less like a partisan of the ruling PML-N from whence he ascended to the august Speaker’s chair. Ironically, amidst the uproar, it took an intervention by none other than the target of the Opposition’s wrath, Rana Sanaullah, to resolve the unnecessary row. The law minister prevailed upon the spectacle of an immovable rock presented by the Speaker by arguing that if the Leader of the Opposition was allowed to speak, this would afford him an opportunity to rebut the criticism directed at him. This ‘lesson’ in the way the house is supposed to function finally so impressed the Speaker that he melted and gave Mahmoodur Rasheed the floor. Rasheed found Sanaullah’s take on the Panama case before the Supreme Court, the lapsed military courts and the qualities of head and heart possessed by Imran Khan “highly objectionable”. Sanaullah in a TV appearance the other day had compared the role of ‘certain forces’ in trying to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif through the courts with the manner in which similar forces had connived to bring about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s “judicial murder”. He had asserted that these forces were trying to pressurise the judiciary to give a verdict favourable to them in the Panama case. He had criticised the lapsed military courts for their inadequacies and opposed their revival/extension. Mahmoodur Rasheed lambasted the minister for suggesting that some ‘forces’ were out to oust Nawaz Sharif by counter-arguing that the incumbent prime minister had grown (if not grown up) in the company of these very forces, which therefore posed no threat to him. He was also critical of Sanaullah’s ‘name-calling’ the establishment and Imran Khan. Now for Rana Sanaullah’s defence. Taking up the last first, Sanaullah denied his pointed comments were aimed at Imran Khan. Rather he had meant an Imran ally, Sheikh Rasheed. The latter’s usual off-the-cuff remarks lately included a reference to the ‘coffin’ of the incumbent rulers having to be taken out of the Supreme Court once the verdict in the Panama case was announced. Sanaullah hit back by saying if ‘coffins’ was someone’s desire, they would emerge from every nook and corner in the event an elected prime minister was removed in this manner. The people, the minister asserted, would not accept the ousting of the political leadership through “non-political and undemocratic” means. In any case the minister expressed complete confidence in the judiciary and prophesied the government would be vindicated in the case. As to ‘forces’, the minister tried to clear the air (and minimise any risk) by saying he was referring to those who held sit-ins. The entire episode reeks of inappropriateness. First, the Speaker’s unnecessary obstruction of the normal thrust and parry of parliamentary debate. Second, transcending the norm of not discussing a sub judice matter until it is decided. Third, making institutions of state such as the judiciary and military unnecessarily controversial. But for the sake of fairness, it must be said that breach of restraint regarding a sub judice matter has been on display since the Panama case hearing started. The media hype around the case picks through every word and twitch of an eyebrow during the proceedings and tries to make a ‘case’ out of it. Let alone ministers, every Tom, Dick and Harry feels free to comment ‘expertly’ on the proceedings. The Supreme Court for its part has shown monumental patience with this media circus so far, the bench resisting a request for a gag order but cautioning all to let the court do its work. As to Rana Sanaullah and other ministers of his ilk, they may be better served, and serve their government better, were they to confine themselves to their respective portfolios and leave the task of defending the government or delineating its policies to official spokesmen appointed by the government. That may usher in some peace and quiet, not to mention appropriateness in the manner in which issues of public import are handled.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 23, 2017

A divided house Rashed Rahman US President Donald Trump’s inauguration was apiece with his election campaign and underlined how divided American society is in its aftermath. The President’s inauguration speech, for example, instead of following the tradition of assuring the American people, especially those who voted against the winner, that the incoming incumbent was leaving the differences of electoral rivalry behind and reaching out in an inclusive way to all Americans, sounded like a rerun of his election campaign rhetoric and thereby served to harden the divisions he had authored in his bid for the White House. On inauguration day, violent protests broke out in Washington DC, leading to the use of pepper spray and worse by the police and ending up with some 200 arrests. But the remarkable mobilisation of over one million people, led by and mostly composed of women, all over the US and a similar number in the rest of the world was notable not only for the numbers but the discipline, peaceful assembly and incredible organisation on show. The women’s march organisers had wisely broadened their appeal beyond women’s rights feared to face a reversal under Trump to include immigrant rights, police brutality, mass incarceration, voter suppression and environmental protection. The women’s march therefore led a rainbow coalition of all the potential victims of Donald Trump the erstwhile candidate, now holding the most powerful office in the world. For those hoping that Trump the combative, aggressive and arrogant candidate would give way pragmatically to the demands of leading the country, and arguably the world, Trump the president disappointed them. His inaugural speech, whose leit motif was “America first!”, translated out as “Me first!” Having delivered an address that hardened the divisions thrown up during the election campaign, Trump then journeyed to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Speaking before the wall that honours CIA agents who lost their lives in the line of duty, Trump talked less about the CIA, briefly tried to mend fences with the intelligence community he had roundly attacked during the election, and predictably soon moved on to his own priorities, amongst which, apart from boasting about his victory, speculating on how many members of the military and CIA voted for him and continuing his attacks on the media took pride of place. Welcome to a self-obsessed so-called leader of the ‘free world’. The women’s march organisers and the broader coalition they have succeeded in forging hope to continue their momentum to build a sustained protest campaign in a polarised society riven by an election that raised questions about American values, out-of-touch-elites and barriers to women’s advancement. On successive days, inauguration day on January 20 and the day after, two parallel, separate United States of America were on display in virtually the same physical space. That indicates the shape of things to come at home in the US. What of the rest of the world? What can it expect or look forward to? First and foremost, Trump’s arguments about globalisation damaging US economic interests, taking away manufacturing, jobs, etc, to other countries indicate a return to economic and general nationalism, reversing the role the US assumed in world affairs since the Second World War. That means not only reviving the ‘rust belts’ of abandoned factories in the US and theoretically restoring lost jobs in manufacturing, but also a declared intent to reverse the decades old trend towards multilateralism, trade cooperation and forging coalitions of countries with similar interests. The ground realities, however, if and when Trump wraps his head around them, reflect the truth that job losses in the US are owed as much to automation as free global trade. US industrial output has increased because of the former factor even as manufacturing jobs have shrunk. The western alliance may come under strain, particularly if Trump carries through his promise to stop financing the militaries of other countries while the US military is deprived of resources. Free trade agreements are likely to receive the chop or be renegotiated in the US’s favour (if possible, though unlikely). Washington’s confrontation/s with Russia during the Obama years are likely to abate, while anti-China rhetoric and actions on the one China policy, Beijing’s territorial claims in the South and East China Seas and China’s alleged trade and investment advantages at the US's cost could ratchet up tensions with the new emerging superpower. Trump is very clear on eliminating ‘Islamic terrorism’ off the face of the earth. That could mean backing (despite Washington’s absence from the Kazakhstan talks) Russian attempts to negotiate a political settlement in Syria that leaves Bashar al-Assad in power. Trump is on record as regretting the chaos and destabilisation in the Middle East and North Africa caused by the overthrow through direct invasion or by backing proxies of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. US interventionism may therefore be scaled down, if not abandoned. Under Trump, in the name of reviving the US, the country may call a pause, if not a halt, to Washington's policing the world in its own interests. That would be a policy change that would go unmourned in large parts of the world. On Afghanistan, Trump bemoans the longest US war ever and the cost ($ 100 billion plus) by asserting that Washington did not succeed because it did not use the full panoply of its undoubted power. The idea sounds seductive on the surface, but betrays Trump’s lack of knowledge regarding the kind of war the US is fighting there. A Taliban insurgency with safe havens on Pakistani soil cannot just be blasted out of existence, as Trump seems to be implying. Guerrilla and asymmetrical warfare is a different ballgame. However, the threat of far more intrusive and open strikes against the Afghan Taliban’s safe havens in Pakistan cannot be ruled out. If that transpires the US-Pakistan relationship is headed further south. Islamabad may be weighing its options by substituting China and Russia for a reluctant US ally, but the implications of Washington turning more hostile cannot be lost on Islamabad’s political, economic and strategic managers. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 22, 2017

Reinventing the PPP The PPP, after the government failed to heed its chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s four demands, decided to hold a series of processions as part of its drive to revive the fortunes of the party in its lost stronghold of Punjab. The four demands were: revival of the parliamentary committee on national security, acceptance of the PPP’s bill on the Panama Papers, appointment of a foreign minister, and implementation of the All Parties Conference resolution on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. For the first manifestation of this mobilisational strategy, Bilawal led a rally from Lahore to Faisalabad on January 20 . But the reception in Faisalabad proved a pale shadow of the past in what was once a PPP fortress. The loyal but disgruntled PPP workers who turned out to greet and listen to their young leader had their own take on the affairs of the party. The message they conveyed to Bilawal was that there was a pressing need to reinvent the party as worker friendly, otherwise its revival in Punjab will remain just a dream. Others pointed to how the arrogance of the party leaders had annoyed the workers. Differences among the leaders and the defection to other parties of some of those leaders had further disheartened the workers. Until 2008, the PPP won just about every constituency in Faisalabad. But in the 2013 elections, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in a sign of the changed times. That downturn (as in Punjab generally) is the legacy of the previous Punjab PPP leadership (and by extrapolation the central leadership of the party). Bilawal tried to reassure the workers that their apprehensions would be removed. He seemed aware of their low morale. Armed with this knowledge, he embarked on interviews of the local leaders for party offices. In his speech to the rally, Bilawal admitted that being the opposition in Punjab was not an easy job. The reasons are not hard to divine. The PPP in Punjab has been dubbed a ‘friendly’ opposition. To add to its woes, the party faces a PML-N in power in the province whose hold seems unassailable at present. This strength is owed in no small measure to the culture of patronage that defines the PML-N style of politics, apart from its deep roots in the business community and the bazaar. It is the PTI of Imran Khan that through its confrontational tactics has positioned itself in the public imagination as the party that is far ahead in second place than the PPP. The PPP hopes to establish itself as the main opposition in Punjab and pick up a few seats in the process. That implies that its main rival and real target at present is the PTI rather than the ruling party. But this is still a tall mountain to climb. Over the past five years or so, the PPP seems to have steadily lost hope of recapturing its former stronghold in southern Punjab, while at the same time it became increasingly irrelevant in the rest of the province. The PPP’s foray into Punjab under the leadership of Bilawal seems to have a dual purpose: ramp up pressure on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif over the Panama case and re-establish the party as a force to be reckoned with, with an eye on the 2018 elections. But to have any chance of getting anywhere near these goalposts, the PPP has to return to the drawing board. The four demands around which the present rallies drive is centred are unlikely to rouse its demoralised workers, let alone the people of Punjab generally. The demands may have their own importance, but they are not about to set off any conflagration in Punjab since they have little relevance to ordinary people’s lives and problems. Symbolism and the constant references to the martyrdom of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto do not seem any longer to be a sufficient condition for the revival of the party in its erstwhile Punjab stronghold. On the one hand, there is an argument that the PPP currently should be focusing on rebuilding its grassroots organisation rather than showpiece rallies. On the other hand, without the kind of left of centre political programme that defined the original élan of the party, it may find it difficult to demarcate itself from the rest of the political pack. Last but not least, the PPP government in Sindh needs to improve its governance performance to give its Punjab section a reasonable chance of making a dent.

Business Recorder Editorial Jan 18, 2017

Raheel at Davos Former COAS General Raheel Sharif, addressing a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos titled “Terrorism in the Digital Age” on January 17, said that there had been a significant decrease in terrorism in Pakistan. Whereas previously there were 150 incidents per month, within three years the Pakistan army had brought the figure down to a single digit. Soon, he hoped, we would see the first year free of such incidents. However, he warned, terrorists today can act quickly due to the existence of digital platforms. The world needs to join hands and learn to react quickly too. Terrorists, he added, were thriving on glorification and this needs collective tackling. General Sharif emphasised the importance of intelligence sharing as a very important component of the strategy to combat terrorism, which was a global issue requiring the global community to unite to defeat it. Turning to the Pakistan army’s successes against terrorism, General Sharif informed his audience that they had cleared an area of 8,000 square kilometres after recapture from militant control. Tens of thousands of people had been rehabilitated in the area. Terrorism, the General said, was a gangrene for the world. Nowadays, terrorists attack in a well planned manner. Although Pakistan suffered tragedies like the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar massacre of 135 people, mostly students, we could not retaliate in the manner of the terrorists’ atrocities. The reference was to the demand by some of the mothers of the slain students to publicly hang the perpetrators. Raheel said unusual times require unusual arrangements, and went on to praise the role of military courts in the struggle against terrorism. He said free speech and human rights are difficult to handle when dealing with hardcore terrorists. Answering a question about dealing with terrorists prepared to die, General Sharif said a whole-nation approach had proved successful. Turning to other aspects of the anti-terrorist struggle, he argued that states should take a leaf out of the terrorists’ book and effectively use a counter-narrative to meet the challenge of tech-savvy terrorists. He underlined the need for a resolution of the Kashmir and Palestine issues to ensure peace in the world. In answer to a question regarding the role of Taliban sympathisers, Raheel equated them with the terrorists but pointed out Pakistan’s challenges in the shape of three million Afghan refugees on its soil, a porous 2,400 kilometre long border, and tribal linkages. In reverse, he said, some terrorists from Pakistan had found refuge in Afghanistan, necessitating stability in that country if the threat was to be neutralised. He pointed to the possibility that the west could face cyber terrorism in the future and urged the international community to sit together and develop a counter-narrative system. While most of what General Raheel Sharif said in Davos rings true, particularly after the successes of the Pakistan army under his command, there are some areas that require further reflection. First and foremost, the rehabilitation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the areas of military operations is crucial if the gains from the anti-terrorist drive are not to be frittered away. Here, the military naturally is playing the leading role in a disturbed situation where their presence far outweighs that of a decimated civilian administration. However, the latter must be steadily restored to handle tasks either beyond the scope of the military or likely to tie it down when its main task remains security. Second, it is possible to disagree with the General regarding the efficacy of military courts, judging by their performance and mode of functioning over the last two years. In any case, the consensus on military courts in the aftermath of the APS massacre has by now evaporated, not the least because of their summary, non-transparent and falling short of due process mode of functioning. If anything, the experience has once more proved that military justice is a non sequitur. As to free speech and human rights, without getting into a long philosophical argument about ends and means, it is essential, as the General himself conceded in his remarks, that the state not mimic the horrendous methods of the terrorists if it is to retain legitimacy and the high moral ground. The more judiciously and credibly the bringing to justice of terrorists is conducted, the more the necessary counter-narrative (conspicuous so far by its absence) would grip the imagination of the masses and help turn the tide against the purveyors of hate and violence.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 17, 2017

Paris conference The Paris conference on peace in the Middle East warned Israel and the Palestinians on January 15 against “unilateral steps” on Jerusalem and borders that could threaten a negotiated solution to their seven decades old conflict. The conference brought together over 70 countries who cautioned both sides to avoid prejudging (i.e. pre-empting) the outcome of negotiations on final status issues, including, inter alia, Jerusalem, borders, security and refugees. The conference would not recognize such steps. It said the basis for the negotiations should be the 1967 borders before Israel occupied the West Bank and Jerusalem (the Golan Heights belonging to Syria, which have already been annexed by Israel, were not considered worthy of mention). France called the conference to reiterate global support for a two-state solution, i.e. a Palestinian state co-existing with a neighbouring Israeli one. Notable absentees at the conference were Israel and the Palestinians. So while the conference played Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark, and notwithstanding its good intentions, the ground realities paint a different picture. Israel has been engaged with incremental fervour and pace in creating ‘new facts on the ground’ in the shape of settlements on the West Bank. This process has accelerated since a US-led talks initiative collapsed in April 2014. Acrimony between the Obama administration and the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlements issue froze the peace process, allowing the latter room to press on with the settlements, whose proliferation in the West Bank has all but obviated a physically viable Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s defiance of international opinion and US attempts to restrain him so that there is space for talks led to the US unprecedentedly abstaining from a vote on the UN Security Council resolution 2334 in December 2016 that declared the settlements illegal. In this context, incoming President Donald Trump has set the cat among the pigeons with his election campaign pledge to support Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US embassy there. The Paris conference rejected this and warned that such unilateral actions would not be recognized. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has warned that any such move would destroy the basis for negotiations leading to a two-state solution. The outgoing Obama administration had dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to the conference. Mr Kerry admitted his role in Paris was to ensure Israel was not treated unfairly, in sharp contrast with his well known views on Israel’s settlement activity. Humble pie was on the table because even a so-called ‘fair peace broker’ like the Obama administration can only go so far against the wishes of the powerful Israeli lobby in the US. Despite the high sounding rhetoric in Paris, the ground realities are that millions of Palestinians live under Israel’s military occupation since 1967, over 400,000 Israelis have occupied Palestinian land on the West Bank through the settlements, and the Palestinians exist under one of the most repressive regimes on Earth. The two-state solution emerged in the wake of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which compelled the Palestinian leadership to be evacuated to Tunisia. Camp David and the Oslo Peace Accords followed, with the hapless Palestinians having to swallow the bitter pill of recognising Israel’s right to exist on their captured homeland and accepting a truncated Palestinian state comprising the occupied territories. All the issues listed by the Paris conference as awaiting final settlement remain frozen because of a triumphal Israel’s intransigence, backed up by ‘honest broker’ the US. Netanyahu must be cock-a-hoop at Trump’s unilateral pledge to ‘gift’ Jerusalem to Israel as its capital, knowing that the Palestinians see occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Apprehensions about whether such a Palestinian state, were it ever to come into existence, would be independent and secure in the face of Israeli expansionist ambitions aside, the question of refugees is one of the most tragic and intractable human issues. Whereas Israel opens its doors to any Jew from any part of the world wanting to emigrate to it, millions of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora, several generations deep by now, have no right to return to their lost homeland. The world has seen many tragedies, but the Palestinian dilemma is one of the oldest and most heart rending. If Trump and Netanyahu through their blind arrogance and adventurism tear up any chance of a two-state solution, the outcome will be violence of an intensity that can only be imagined. The effect on the region and the world could be catastrophic.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 15, 2017

In denial Rashed Rahman In case anyone thought only Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is in denial about the terrorist landscape in Pakistan, other voices indicate otherwise. First, the Chaudhry. The minister aroused a mini-storm the other day with a novel defence of the much criticised meeting (including in the Justice Qazi Esa Quetta bombing report) with members of a banned organisation as part of a Difa-e-Pakistan (an extremist religious grouping) delegation. Chaudhry Nisar’s mea culpa rested on the ‘distinction’ between ‘pure sectarian’ and ‘pure terrorist’ banned groups. The former, according to Chaudhry Nisar, could not be equated with the latter. Why? Because, Chaudhry Nisar reminded us, sectarian conflict has been a fact of life for 1,300 years and some members of banned sectarian outfits have been allowed to stand for elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The minister’s faulty memory and vision needs jogging. Sectarian organisations are well known to have trained with and fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), presumably categorised as ‘pure terrorist’ in Chaudhry sahib’s imagination, not only owes its origins and emergence to the Afghan Taliban (in a classic case of the unintended consequences of the Pakistani state playing with the double-edged proxy fire) but has been collaborating with the sectarian groups. While the TTP has carried out bloody attacks against the state and citizens in Pakistan, its comrades in the sectarian groups have massacred Shias, particularly in Quetta. Is this ‘distinction’ even worth taking seriously? Perhaps only by Chaudhry Nisar. The sectarian groups carry out massacres of Shias. The Taliban are virulently sectarian, as their attacks on Shias here and in Afghanistan prove beyond doubt. What then is the ‘distinction’ Chaudhry Nisar is trying to sketch? Chaudhry Nisar says everything should not be pinned on Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi of the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Why is Ludhianvi worthy of special mention? Because the ruling PML-N is known to have collaborated politically with him in the past and it is reasonable to assume, continues to do so if he has access to the corridors of power. A man of such muddled thinking (if harsher comment is to be avoided) cannot lead the struggle against terrorism. The PPP has dubbed him a spokesperson of the terrorists. If that is going too far, perhaps the appellation ‘apologist’ would fit more neatly and accurately. The track record of implementation (or rather non-implementation) of the National Action Plan (NAP) bears this out. Not only are the consensus 20 points of NAP forgotten, even the reform of the judicial system to deal efficaciously with terrorism cases, the stated intent when setting up the military courts under the 21st Amendment, which have now expired under their two-year sunset clause, has gone abegging. There seems little chance of the controversial military courts’ revival. The consensus in support of them two years ago in the wake of the Army Public School Peshawar bloodbath has evaporated, not the least because the summary, non-transparent and falling short of due process practices of this parallel judicial system has exposed these courts, warts and all. Even if the government wants them revived under pressure from the military that seems to have thrown its weight behind the idea, it cannot muster the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament needed for the purpose of ushering in the necessary fresh constitutional amendment. Chaudhry Nisar has reflected the government’s thinking by proposing fast track courts to replace the defunct military ones, adding one more layer to an already overcrowded field of layers of courts. No one from the government has taken the trouble to explain why the ostensibly ‘fast track’ anti-terrorism courts have failed to provide the desired results. And whether they can be improved/reformed to fulfil their mandate. If there is one phenomenon that explains the political lay of the land, it is the practice of enforced disappearances. Starting from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the extrajudicial disappearance and in many cases killing and dumping of dissidents’ bodies travelled to Sindh and has now reared its ugly head in Punjab. If the targets of this heinous practice were previously alleged terrorists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nationalists in Balochistan and Sindh, it is left wing secular bloggers in Punjab now. The disappearance of four bloggers in recent days in Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Lahore points to the deep state’s attempt to stifle dissident voices online. It seems attention has shifted to cyber space in this regard after the ‘taming’ of the mainstream media. In Bangladesh, a rash of secular and left wing bloggers’ barbaric killings at the hands of extremist fundamentalist religious groups contrasts with the disappearance of similar bloggers here at the suspected hands of the deep state. The difference perhaps is the difference in the two states’ declared ideology. But what is more invidious in our case is that their websites and blogs have been hacked since they disappeared and inappropriate and even blasphemous material has been posted on them, which jars when compared to their previous content. On the basis of this spurious ‘evidence’, an even more spurious and hitherto unheard of outfit calling itself Civil Society of Pakistan has petitioned the police to institute blasphemy charges against the disappeared bloggers. Verily, we too in Pakistan have arrived in the post-truth era. As to post-truth raised to a fine art (we have had years of practice as a state in this acquired skill), there is nothing to beat our state of denial vis-à-vis the presence of armed groups on our soil attacking our neighbours. As far as the Kashmiri groups are concerned, they seem to enjoy the status of holy cows that cannot even be dwelt upon, let alone criticised. This critical outlook regarding some of the religious fundamentalist leanings of these groups, which arguably works against the national liberation struggle of the Kashmiri people, does not imply that the Kashmiris’ self-determination demand is not worthy of support. Only that an indigenous struggle, like the one confronting the bloody repression of the Indian state since last summer, is the best way to conduct that campaign. But coming to the Afghan Taliban, the denial strategy continues. COAS General Bajwa has telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the second time since assuming command. The call was placed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Afghanistan that killed, amongst the locals, some UAE diplomats too. General Bajwa was at pains to express Pakistan’s sympathies to the victims’ families and the Afghan government, while denying the presence of the Afghan Taliban in safe havens on our soil. Our foreign office too has been spinning this mantra since Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The argument being woven is that the clearing of FATA of the presence of local and foreign terrorists has ‘cleansed’ Pakistani soil of their presence. Of course the unmentioned elephant in the room remains the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shoora. This headquarters of the Afghan Taliban continues to exist, with the Pakistani establishment neither nudging the Taliban to the Afghan peace talks table, nor taking any steps to remove the Shoora from our soil. This denial mode has continued to earn the mistrust and condemnation of the US and its western allies. Now our government is gearing up to brief the incoming Trump administration on Pakistan’s policy vis-a-vis terrorist groups not being ‘selective’. FATA again is trotted out in proof of this ‘brief’, but the elephant stays hidden, mentioned only in whispers. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 14, 2017

FATA reforms A row seems in the offing between the Centre and the provinces over the former’s proposal that the latter part with their share of the divisible pool to the extent of two percent for FATA and one percent each for Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir to finance their respective development. In the case of FATA, this would amount to Rs 60 billion, over and above its federal government Annual Development Programme, which in 2016-17 amounted to Rs 18.2 billion. The provinces argue that FATA, Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir are under the control of the federal government and it should be funding these areas’ development, not the provinces. This impending row should be viewed in the context of the Sartaj Aziz-headed FATA reforms committee 80-page report, which its chief wants early approval for from the federal cabinet. However, senior figures in Islamabad reportedly argue that the report, even if approved by the cabinet, may remain a dead letter like similar reports in the past unless a financial package has been worked out for its implementation, with clear guidelines on who will foot the bill. Sartaj Aziz is impatient with such quibbles, insisting early approval of the report is essential, with the financial package details being worked out thereafter. Reportedly, the report seeks a merger of FATA with the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now, as far as the proposal to exact funds from the provinces’ share of the divisible pool is concerned, the latter are already up in arms against the three percent deduction from their share on account of security for the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and another one percent each for climate change and sustainable development goals. Added to the proposed FATA levy, that would bring the total deduction from the provinces’ share to nine percent. As an example of the provinces’ thinking on the issue, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak has protested the deduction at source by the federal government of funds for the census and the withdrawal of the subsidy on fertilizer. This is just a glimmer of the deep distrust between the provinces and the Centre, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, both having non-PML-N governments. Analysts think that the federal government, unable to meet its own financial needs, is trying to encroach on the provinces’ domain, in the process undoing the spirit and thrust of the 18th Amendment and taking away the hard-won enhanced share of the provinces in the last National Finance Commission Award. Based on the track record and the recent practices of the Centre, the provinces harbour the suspicion that if they make any further concessions, the federal government is likely to seek more deductions. The discord over funding FATA’s development aside, has the federal government and its reform committee report thought through the difficulties and implications of attempting overnight change by merging FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa? What must be kept in mind is that Pakistan inherited at independence the arrangements imposed by the British in the 19th century, with a view to containment of any threats from Afghanistan and Czarist Russia beyond. The tribespeople were deliberately kept away from mainstream development in order to provide a bulwark for the British Empire in the subcontinent as part of what came to be dubbed the ‘Great Game’. The draconian laws and rules imposed on the tribespeople by the colonial power, including collective punishment under the FCR, are a blot on a free people’s conscience. However, where such arrangements have been in place for so long, and given the sensitivity of the tribal areas, it may be advisable to make haste slowly. Perhaps the wiser course is providing development, education and health services to the tribal people, softening gradually and incrementally and to the extent the security situation allows, the boundary between FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and contemplating ascertaining the will of the tribespeople before imposing any ‘top-down’ 21st century version of what the British did long ago. Insofar as the ground situation allows, we should not shrink from offering the people of FATA a voice as to their future within Pakistan for the first time through a referendum or similar electoral exercise.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 12, 2017

Chaudhry Nisar’s wisdom Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s contributions in parliament are seldom short of interest. However, the redoubtable minister excelled his own record on January 10. Speaking in the Senate, Chaudhry Nisar attempted to draw a distinction between banned terrorist and sectarian outfits. This logical legerdemain earned him the ire of the Opposition, which proceeded to stage a walkout. The minister was responding to the objection to his meeting with a delegation that included members of a banned outfit. He argued that outlawed sectarian organisations should not be equated with terrorist outfits, since sectarianism had been around for 1,300 years. If this was intended to justify his controversial meeting with members of a banned outfit as part of a delegation, the mea culpa had the opposite effect. MQM Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, who led the walkout, said the banned outfit whose head had been accorded the hospitality of the minister was responsible for this violence. He went on to elucidate that some sectarian organisations were more dangerous and crueller even than the Taliban. He accused the government of promoting sectarianism by trying to draw a distinction between sectarian outfits and other terrorists, demolishing the divide by arguing that sectarian organisations were equally terrorist. As to Chaudhry Nisar’s other defence that sectarian organisations had been allowed to contest elections, it is necessary to point out that the responsibility for this anomaly cannot just be dumped in the basket of the Election Commission, as Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tried to do the other day in a press conference, but that the executive too has the responsibility and duty to point this out to the Election Commission. On the disappearances of internet and social media activists that has the country abuzz in the last few days, Chaudhry Nisar attempted to hide behind a bland statement that disappearances were not his government’s policy. Empty assurances of finding the disappeared activists as soon as possible aside, the minister cannot just shrug off the government’s responsibility for recovering the disappeared activists and getting to the bottom of who is responsible for the wholesale import of this phenomenon from Balochistan and increasingly Sindh to now Islamabad and Punjab. The minister trotted out an array of statistics regarding the number of security meetings he had chaired since taking charge three and a half years ago, including high level meetings chaired by the prime minister, to defray criticism against him regarding his stewardship of the National Action Plan. Activity of this intensity needs to translate into meeting the challenge of the terrorist blowback from the military operations in FATA, otherwise the criticism is unlikely to abate. There was a self-congratulatory note in the minister’s assertion that terrorism was increasing in the world, but had gone down in Pakistan. Chaudhry Nisar at least conceded the point that military operations alone cannot quell terrorism. For the security czar of a country battling the malign effects of terrorism to be attempting to draw fine distinctions between sectarian and other terrorism, in a pale mirror image of Musharraf’s good and bad Taliban binary, beggars belief. Sectarian terrorism’s toll is as horrendous, if not worse, than ‘pure’ terrorism. And is the worthy minister unaware of the nexus between sectarian and other terrorist organisations? Terrorists are terrorists, period. If one set attacks the state and its functionaries and the other citizens on the basis of their beliefs, is the former to be ‘privileged’ with a higher status than the latter? What after all is the state for? Is it not charged with protecting itself and its citizens against all those who would bring them harm? Chaudhry Nisar seems to be in harmony with his party’s government in Punjab, which is accused of turning a blind eye if not harbouring a soft corner for the array of terrorists, predominantly sectarian, that teem in the southern reaches of the province. The country may still be struggling with the good/bad Taliban binary, but it certainly does not need the dubious distinction being applied to those whose bloody trade is based on sectarian notions from those who do not profess such a bent but are equally bloodthirsty. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should reconsider having a man of such controversial and arguably damaging views to head the anti-terrorist drive.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 11, 2017

General Sharif and the Saudi-led alliance Ever since Defence Minister Khawaja Asif indirectly hinted on TV that General Raheel Sharif, the recently retired COAS, had accepted the post of commander of the 39-country Saudi-led alliance against ‘terrorism’, the country has been abuzz with speculation about the news. The issue is of such importance that Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani felt constrained to ask the government directly on January 9 whether this was indeed the case. If so, the Chairman wanted to know, had the General sought permission from the federal government or taken it into confidence over the appointment? Rabbani reminded the Defence Minister of the rules regarding retired officers and inquired whether the government had issued an NOC for the appointment. He also alluded to the fact that Khawaja Asif, while revealing the development on TV, seemed unclear himself of the verity of the news, while a contradictory statement by the prime minister’s aide Dr Musaddiq Malik had added to the ambiguity surrounding the issue. The Chairman Senate also asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the implications of the development in terms of the country’s foreign policy and its effect on the decision by a joint session of parliament not to become part of any such alliance. On the very day the Chairman Senate raised the issue in the upper house, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said in another TV programme that the government is unaware of the General’s reported decision or even whether the Saudi government had actually made the offer. He did, however, feel certain that General Sharif would consult the government and fulfil all the legal and constitutional requirements before taking any decision on leading the military alliance. Dar revealed that Saudi Arabia wanted General Sharif to head the coalition while he was still the serving COAS. But after consultations with the government, this was considered inappropriate since it would involve a conflict of interest while he was still in the service of the Pakistani state. While we await the necessary clarifications from the government, it would be prudent to point out that the Saudi offer, and General Sharif’s acceptance of it, if both true, could prove a source of embarrassment for Pakistan. First and foremost, it would run counter to the sense of the joint session of parliament, which wisely decided to keep Pakistan out of the raging sectarian wars in the region by refusing the Saudi request to send troops to support the Saudi side in the conflict in Yemen. Second, so soon after retirement, the acceptance of any such offer by General Sharif would not be in the country’s, or indeed his own interest. Pakistan cannot afford to be sucked into the regional sectarian conflict, given that we have a sectarian problem at home, which would be negatively impacted by any such involvement in any shape or form. Second, General Sharif had earned the country’s and the public’s gratitude and respect for his leadership role in combatting terrorism. Operation Zarb-e-Azb wiped out the terrorists of all hues’ viper’s nest in North Waziristan, something those of fainter heart had shrunk from before him. He proved that he was the man of the moment, with the requisite courage, will and professionalism to grasp the terrorist nettle firmly and uproot it from FATA. For this achievement, and for his wise counsel in the task of counterterrorism under the National Action Plan, he was lauded and will be remembered in glowing terms. However, given that the 39-country ostensibly anti-terrorist alliance announced by Saudi Arabia suffers from a lack of clarity how, when and where it will operate, has yet to reveal what military force/s will be available to it, and has notably excluded Iran, Iraq and Syria because of actual or apprehended Shia leanings, it can neither be seen as an alliance of the Muslim world entire, nor washed of the taint of a sectarian coalition. Given General Sharif’s high and admired profile, at home and abroad, and the cautionary fears of getting bogged down in a regional sectarian quagmire with repercussions at home, it would be advisable for both Pakistan and the General to politely refuse the offer.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 9, 2017

Incremental spread of disappearances Rashed Rahman Enforced disappearances first made their appearance in Pakistan in the context of Balochistan. For long years now, almost since the current nationalist insurgency began in 2002, dissidents and activists have been disappearing all over the province, with almost 1,000 counted just last year. Many of those ‘disappeared’ ended up as bullet-riddled bodies dumped all over Balochistan. In more recent years, the phenomenon began to be noticed in Sindh too, with some Sindhi nationalists being subjected to the same treatment. Commentators and human rights defenders have been crying themselves hoarse against this brutal, patently illegal, unconstitutional, extrajudicial killing spree. Punjab had largely been spared this affliction, with the notable exception of journalist Saleem Shahzad, who was ‘disappeared’ in Islamabad, only for his tortured body to be recovered days later. Despite the hue and cry and the Commission on Enforced Disappearances set up under the aegis of the Supreme Court, the heinous practice appears to be still in existence and spreading its malign tentacles. Readers and the public had hardly digested the news of the disappearance of human rights activist, writer, actor, lecturer in gender studies at the Fatima Jinnah Women’s University Salman Haider from Islamabad on January 6 when it transpired that in fact three other dissidents had ‘disappeared’ in the last few days. Salman Haider disappeared on his way home from Bani Gala. The first inkling that something had happened to him came when his wife received a message from his cell phone that his car should be recovered from near Koral Chowk. His wife’s attempts to call Salman Haider on his cellphone yielded no joy. The car was indeed recovered from Koral Chowk, but without any trace of the whereabouts of Salman Haider. According to his family, Salman had no enmity with anyone. What then, explains his disappearance? Focus has centred on his internet and social media activism, in which he raised voice against enforced disappearances in Balochistan and against religious extremism and all forms of bigotry. In 2014, he posted a poem entitled ‘Kafir’ when sectarian killings were rife in the country. He was also involved with a quarterly online journal on politics and culture called Tanqeed. Although an FIR under Section 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code (related to kidnapping) has been registered at Loi Bher Police Station, as is usual in such cases, the police do not have a clue so far regarding the circumstances surrounding Salman Haider’s disappearance. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has made the ritual noises about finding Salman post haste, but the track record in such cases does not inspire confidence. Similar ‘offenders’ (secular, leftist) on the internet and social media Waqas Goraya, an anthropologist originally resident in Jauhar Town Lahore and settled for some time in The Netherlands, and his cousin Asim Saeed who lives in Singapore, disappeared from Wapda Town Lahore on January 4. They were said to be scouting for a house to buy for Waqas in Wapda Town when they disappeared. A kidnap case has been registered in the Sattukatla Police Station. On January 7, Ahmed Raza Naseer, a polio victim, was picked up from his family’s shop in Sheikhupura. Only the incorrigibly gullible would swallow the ritual indirect denial by an intelligence agencies’ source that the deep state knows nothing about these four disappearances. Sabeen Mehmood’s assassination in Karachi immediately after leaving a T2F discussion on missing persons in Balochistan, later pasted onto the case of the Safoora Goth bus massacre, complete with ‘confessions’ by the accused that were later challenged on appeal in court, is one more indicator that the deep state is desperate to dominate the national narrative. Whereas Saleem Shahzad and Sabeen Mehmood suffered undeserved fates, Wahid Baloch was luckier, having been able to rejoin his family safe and sound weeks after being abducted off a bus on its way to Karachi. Two years ago, a roundtable discussion on missing persons in Balochistan at LUMS University, Lahore, had to be cancelled on the ISI’s insistence. The university buckled under, with teachers and students protesting the denial of academic freedom being subjected to various ‘punishments’ and threats. Sabeen had resisted similar pressure from the same source and paid the price of defiance. Having subjugated the mainstream media, both electronic and print, through a mixture of blandishments and ever present threats, as pointed out by Raza Rumi who survived an attack in Lahore in which his driver was killed, the deep state is now turning its unwanted attention to liberal, secular, progressive voices on the internet and social media. The government’s Cyber Crimes Act, the civilians’ contribution to the same objective, is so poorly drafted and broad in its sweep that it can either be used to prosecute/persecute anyone or no one. The deep state obviously has little confidence in this endeavour by the ‘bloody civilians’, and has therefore decided to have recourse to more ‘direct’ methods. Needless to say, such methods erode the credibility and moral standing of the state, embitter the families, friends and colleagues of victims, and ensure an incremental confrontation between the state and its liberal and progressive citizens. The problem is that there is no forum to turn to for redress of such abuses. The judiciary has been found wanting in the face of the deep state’s intransigence and blank denials, the civilians are too scared, and the liberal and progressive community too scattered, divided and ineffectual to make a difference. Our real rulers should pay heed to the lessons of history. Such a dispensation can only lead to the rebellion of the oppressed, not a system that people can have faith in. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Business Recorder editorial Jan 7, 2017

Sunset clause kicks in The military courts set up under the 21st Amendment and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Act 2015 came to an end on January 7 under the sunset clause limiting their life to two years. These military tribunals were brought into existence on January 6, 2015 to try civilians on terrorism charges in the aftermath of the Army Public School Peshawar massacre. Both houses of parliament voted unanimously for the legislation despite the apprehensions among parliamentarians that the military courts would not ensure due process and amounted to appointing a parallel, non-civilian judicial system that could undermine the democratic order. Fortunately, apart from the sunset clause limiting their life to two years, military courts’ verdicts were left open to judicial review on appeal. As it turned out, these fears were not without foundation. Interestingly, the demise of the military courts passed without comment from the government or the army. Interior ministry sources reportedly said terrorism cases in future would revert to the anti-terrorism courts, mandated to conduct speedy trials (although that has hardly happened in the past). Apparently, amidst speculation on the eve of the sunset clause kicking in regarding a renewal of the military courts, the interior ministry made a belated and half-hearted effort to have them continue, but the ground realities were stacked against the attempt. For one, the ‘consensus’ around the military courts’ setting up needs to be understood in the context of the very emotional national reaction to the ruthless massacre of schoolchildren and their teachers in the Army Public School Peshawar. The sense at the time was that ‘something must be done’ against these barbaric fanatics who did not even hesitate to mow down schoolchildren in cold blood. The wisdom at the time also was that the civilian judicial system was broken and unable to cope with the requirements of the struggle against terrorism. There was also the track record of the anti-terrorism courts to lend weight to this argument. Although required to hold daily hearings and decide terrorism cases expeditiously, these courts soon succumbed to the universal inertia of our judicial processes, not to mention the whispered fact that judges, prosecutors, witnesses and the police lived in fear of retaliation by the terrorists in such cases. In the absence of adequate protection to all these and the singular lack of a witness protection programme, it was no surprise that the performance of the anti-terrorism courts was disappointing, to say the least. The two year limitation period for military courts was supposed to be used to promulgate the judicial reforms required to fix the broken system and demonstrate thereby that no parallel military judicial system was necessary any longer. However, as is often the case with our good intentions, they only served to pave the way to hell. That certainly proved the case as far as the envisaged and hoped for judicial reforms were concerned. The idea sank without a trace, leaving people wondering at the end of the military courts’ life what on earth the government had been doing on this score during these two years. The short answer is, nothing. The result is that we have once more fallen between the two stools of the unmourned defunct military courts and the dysfunctional judicial system, including the anti-terrorism courts. The military courts had 275 cases referred to them during their two year tenure. Of these, death sentences were handed down in 161 cases, jail terms, usually life imprisonment, in 116. There have been a total of 12 executions. As reported, 27 cases saw appeals against the military courts’ verdicts on the basis that the accused had not received a fair trial guaranteed to them under Article 10 A of the Constitution, had not received copies of the verdicts against them, and had not been given the opportunity to engage defence counsel. Most cases were heard in-camera, lacked transparency, and were thus unlikely to follow due process. The military courts’ 90 percent conviction rate too points in this direction. A whole plethora of terrorism cases and organisations were taken up, but did not meet the expectations that some quarters might have harboured for them. Now that we are poised in a calmer time with terrorism having received body blows from Operation Zarb-e-Azb and other actions, we can more coolly and unemotionally judge the way forward. It has been a tendency in the past to seek expedient, ‘quick’ solutions for difficult if not intractable problems. The inefficient snail’s pace at which justice is dispensed by our judicial system, when it is dispensed at all, lends itself to such thinking. But the experience of the military courts, and arguably the anti-terrorism courts too, indicates that quick fixes are superficial illusion. What is really needed is a deep look at what ails the judicial system entire, as well as the anti-terrorism part of it, to come up with rational reforms that pave the way towards restoring functionality and efficiency to this broken machine. Both the executive and the judiciary, apart from stakeholders like the lawyers community and the general public, should be involved in a national debate to arrive at solutions that work, not illusions that unwind with time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 4, 2017

Civil-military interaction Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif chaired a meeting to review the country’s foreign policy challenges on January 3. What was doubly significant about the event was that it was the first formal civil-military interaction since General Qamar Bajwa assumed command of the army. The prime minister was at pains to emphasise that Pakistan wanted peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect amongst the countries of South Asia. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he underlined, was a manifestation of Pakistan’s desire for regional integration. These objectives, Nawaz Sharif said, could only be realized when we demonstrate commitment to our aspirations for peace, progress and prosperity. The foreign policy review comes after a challenging year that saw relations deteriorate with our neighbours and marked an unprecedented isolation for the country in the region, reflected in the cancellation of the SAARC summit to be held in Islamabad in November last year after India and some other countries pulled out of attending. The prime minister’s message was addressed particularly to the Indian and Afghan leaderships, two neighbouring countries with whom relations turned particularly sour last year. The review meeting looked at relations with these and other neighbouring countries in the bilateral and multilateral context to strategise a renewal of ties. In the context of SAARC, outreach is planned to reset strained ties with the members of the regional grouping. While India and Afghanistan top the list and present more intractable problems, the other countries of South Asia can only be ignored at our peril. Traditional close ties with Sri Lanka, for example, need mending after it followed India’s lead in not attending the SAARC summit. Security cooperation and trade have defined bilateral ties in the past, and whatever reservations Colombo harbours need to be addressed. Bangladesh too, perhaps not so surprisingly, followed New Delhi’s lead but we need to revisit our penchant for commenting negatively on Bangladesh’s internal affairs, especially the Sheikh Hasina government’s drive against opposition leaders accused of war crimes. Not only do such comments get Dhaka’s back up because of the bitterness of the past, they serve to drive Bangladesh even more firmly into India’s embrace. With India, there are some tentative signs that the Modi government may be softening its belligerence in the context of tensions along the Line of Control (LoC). We can ignore as mere hype the rhetoric of the new Indian army chief regarding ‘surgical strikes’ across the LoC, while keeping our powder dry. The meeting hoped for an easing of tensions after the upcoming elections in some Indian states are over. But that does not take away the problem of conflict between the Indian state and the uprising of the Kashmiris in Indian Held Kashmir since July 2016, whose severe repression has raised the temperature manifold. India must address the grievances of the Kashmiris through dialogue, not bullets, if Pakistan and India are to have any hope of improved relations. Afghanistan presents a picture of missed opportunities. The failure of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group process and a major Haqqani network attack on the National Directorate of Security building in Kabul on April 19, 2016 induced a negative cycle in relations after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s initial extending of a hand of friendship. Tensions have been further inflamed by the construction on the Pakistani side of a border gate at Torkham that led to exchange of fire and military casualties on both sides. In addition, the vexed question of Afghan refugees’ repatriation and transit trade (Kabul insisting on trade with India through Wagah) added fuel to the fire. In the process, Kabul is perceived as having moved even closer to New Delhi, but this may be its effort to have a balancing option. General Bajwa’s telephone call on the eve of New Year’s to President Ghani and other Afghan leaders may have helped melt the ice as reflected in his being invited to visit Kabul. Following this initiative, steps are expected to mollify Kabul. Relations with the US and the new incoming administration of Donald Trump were also on the table, although the US President-elect remains an unknown quantity. Given the criticality of civil-military consensus on the approach to foreign policy, especially in our neighbourhood, this first interaction promises a turn towards better coordination and cooperation between the two sides of the state system. It would also help if a fulltime foreign minister were appointed now since the challenges outlined above require focus and constant attention.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 3, 2017

The new year and Muslims If 2016 proved an annus horribilis, can Muslims look forward to something better in 2017? Not, it would appear, if present trends continue. Consider. The Muslim world has been hard done by, first at the hands of colonialism, later by the post-colonial global power structure. The period after the Second World War delivered almost universal humiliation, subjugation and repression at the hands of the global powers that be. Despite struggles for independence and national liberation, the results presented a mixed picture. The dawn of the 21st century has not improved matters but arguably made things worse. In our region, the unending tensions and conflicts between Pakistan and India, the consequence of events surrounding partition and the unfinished agenda it bequeathed, show no end in sight. In the Middle East, Palestine remains a bleeding wound at the hands of Israel and its western backers led by the US. Afghanistan is still roiled by the longest war in post-Second World War history, with little sign of a resolution or peace. If Palestine represented the first humiliation of Muslims in the second half of the 20th century, a humiliation that continues through all the twists and turns, victories and defeats suffered by that unfortunate people, the 21st has delivered the phenomenon of western direct or proxy military interventions and overthrow of regimes by the post-Cold War triumphalist west. The response of the Muslim world can be roughly divided into three segments. One, challenges to the humiliation and repression; two, collaboration with the oppressing western powers, and three, some combination of the first two. About the first of these responses, the falling back on religiously-motivated millenarian movements that seek to restore Muslim power as in the past and have no hesitation in interpreting the concept of jihad (essentially a defensive doctrine) as license for terrorist methods, has arguably visited the worst outcome thinkable on Muslims generally. One only has to glance at the geopolitical map of the contemporary world to see the truth of this argument. The Syrian conflict, the result of a proxy intervention by the US-led west to bring about regime change and see the back of Bashar al-Assad and the secular Baath government (just as was carried out in Iraq), has produced one of the largest refugee exoduses of modern times. Joining this flood, and under its cover, has been an accompanying flood of immigrants to Europe. If the Syrian cauldron was not enough, the proxy overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya produced a no less horrifying human wave from North Africa across the Mediterranean to more salubrious shores. This tsunami of human beings washing up on Europe’s shores was received with sympathy (at least initially) in many countries (Germany standing out in this regard) but hostility in many others. Even in the former, the subsequent hate based on race, ethnicity and religion (anti-Muslim) has seen as the other side of the coin groups like Islamic State (IS) sneaking in operatives who have wreaked havoc in a number of European countries through terrorist attacks. This phenomenon has brought grist to the mill of the far right, which has unleashed a torrent of hate against refugees and immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular. Even Germany's Angela Merkel, who stood out among European leaders in her humanitarian concern for the refugees, is by now suffering from the backlash in public opinion because of terrorism linked to IS or ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. To return to the question at the beginning, can Muslims in their own countries, or in countries where they have been forced to take refuge, hope for better things in 2017? One ray of hope is provided by the Russian counter-intervention in the Syrian conflict, which has not only turned the tide of war in Bashar al-Assad’s favour but also opened a door of opportunity to bring peace to the war-ravaged Syrian people. The conference on the conflict planned for this month in Kazakhstan could provide the follow up momentum to the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey. If the corner is turned to peace in Syria, some if not all of the ruction of waves of refugees washing up on Europe’s shores could be helped to abate. However, given the rise of the far right in Europe and the continuing conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East, South Asia and further abroad, Muslims can hardly be sanguine about their prospects in the new year.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 2, 2017

The post-Cold War world Rashed Rahman Not content with the implosion and break up of the Soviet Union in 1991, a triumphal capitalist west embarked on a plan to prevent Russia from recovering from the debacle and once again re-emerging as a superpower and the only challenger to the west’s hegemony in a post-Cold War world. China has only relatively recently been added to the list of challengers in the light of its newfound economic and military muscle. For evidence of the plan, one need only refer to proxy interventions in post-Soviet Union Georgia (stymied from going over to the western camp completely by Russian military intervention and the de facto partition of Georgia) and Ukraine (a similar outcome after Russian intervention and annexation of Crimea). Meanwhile the west reneged on US President Ronald Reagan’s commitment to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that the west would not expand its influence into the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe by pursuing NATO-creep (the incremental induction of such countries into the western military alliance, raising alarm in Russia at the threat from NATO now on its doorstep). The triumphal post-Cold War west also decided to redraw the map of the Middle East by overthrowing three Arab secular, nationalist regimes in Iraq, Libya and Syria. These three countries were considered the only challengers to Israel’s hegemony in the region, and ripe for regime change now that they could not balance the western threat by appealing for help to the Soviet Union. The rest of the Arab world had already made peace with Israel, having abandoned their condemnation of and opposition to the Zionist entity planted like a dagger in the heart of the Arab world, in the process relegating the Palestinian people to the virtually forgotten list of victims of western colonialism and imperialism. First, Saddam Hussein was removed from power through a blatant aggression justified by the claims of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and Saddam’s links to al Qaeda. Both were subsequently proved false. Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, acted as the US aggressor’s ‘poodle’. The result, presciently prophesied by Saddam Hussein as leading to a bigger disaster when interrogated by the CIA in custody, opened the doors to the rise of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and later Syria. Saddam was subsequently executed. Libya was destabilised through proxies and then a NATO military intervention under the dubious pretext of the Right to Protect (civilians) resolution of the UN Security Council (erroneously not vetoed by Russia or China) led to the overthrow and brutal murder of Muammar Gaddafi. Libya continues to bleed in the aftermath because of a civil war between the victorious factions, a source of instability that has overflowed to rock the whole of North Africa and beyond. The post-2011 Arab Spring proxy war launched against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria is where Russia eventually drew a line in the sand against this incremental western hegemonic drive. Russian help to the Syrian government has turned the tide in Bashar al-Assad’s favour, beating off the challenge from IS and other fundamentalist terrorist groups and in the process helping Iraq to reclaim territory lost to IS. What the west perceived post-1991 as a clear path to unchallenged world domination appears to have been stopped in its tracks in the sands of Syria. Not only is this a turning point in contemporary geopolitics, it signals a tectonic shift in the power balance in the world from the west to the new emerging alliance between a rejuvenated Russia under Putin and a rising power China asserting its place in the sun. If this analysis is correct, what are the implications and possible outcomes of Donald Trump being elected US president in the context of relations with Russia and the now clearly visible discontents with a globalising world economy? The received wisdom to explain the phenomena of Brexit and the victory of Trump is that this is the reaction to the effects of globalisation by those voters who feel left behind. While much ire is directed against the loss of jobs at home in the developed world to locations where the logic of capitalist profit maximisation dictates manufacturing and services businesses be moved, additional factors are the uneducated response of electorates to the shibboleths of national security and immigration (the last is also linked with loss of domestic jobs). Trump’s campaign pronouncements seem predicated on reversing the flow of capitalist investment out of the developed countries. Additionally, he seeks protectionist policies in a reversal of the free trade paradigm that became accepted wisdom in recent years but now appears to be faltering after the failure of various free trade agreements. While these positions may be popular in the rust belts that dot the manufacturing base of the developed world, their effects on the global economy and trade can only be guessed at. The effects are likely to be negative. Globalisation has alienated not just white working men without college education in the US, it has created a backlash against the way the system is tilted overwhelmingly in favour of the wealthy and powerful. Inequality (between classes, internal regions and blocs of countries) promises a viable cause for the Left to take up to fill its incrementally empty chest of ideas that take account of 21st century realities and seem persuasive. The rise of the ‘populist’ far right in the developed world and political trends reflected in Brexit and Trump’s triumph dictate nothing less. In countries like Pakistan, the Left’s agenda cannot afford to ignore rural dynamics of land ownership and the relations of production between producers and owners. Nor can the changed (and changing) landscape of industrial manufacturing be left unattended. Concentrated large factory production, which historically gave rise to working class movements, has given way considerably to new forms such as labour contractors, outsourcing, work from home, etc. Unless this new geography of manufacturing is adequately understood, no credible appeal of the Left to its traditional working class constituency is possible. Pakistan has the highest urbanisation rate in South Asia. What has this phenomenon done to rural families, dependence on agriculture and related activities, social life and work remains an unstudied or inadequately researched area. A relevant Left (not stuck in the 20th or even 19th century) can only be persuasive if it updates its knowledge of the contemporary world and offers a theory of change in advance of the received wisdom of capitalism (with its attendant confusion and conflicting panaceas to the inherent crisis-ridden tendencies of the system). rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Business Recorder editorial Dec 31, 2016

Return of the commissionerate system The Punjab cabinet has approved the controversial Civil Administration Ordinance (CAO). The new law, which has not been placed before the Punjab Assembly in line with the Punjab government’s reluctance to allow the elected representatives of the province a say in a measure that still stirs debate and dissent, replaces the existing District Coordination Officer (DCO) with the traditional Deputy Commissioner (DC). It allows the DCs to take decisions jointly with the District Police Officers (DPOs) in an emergency law and order situation and convene meetings for routine matters. The CAO is being promulgated in the context of the elected local bodies taking office from January 2, 2017. It has, however, engendered a turf war between the Punjab Administrative Services (PAS), the old District Management Group (DMG), and the police. There was a proposal on the table to give the DCs the powers of justice of the peace that at present lie with the District and Sessions judges. However, after stout resistance from the police, which wanted to retain the autonomy it acquired under the Police Order 2002 (PO 2002), the proposal has been ‘dropped’ despite the wish of the judiciary that this unnecessary extra burden be lifted from its shoulders. Intriguingly, the Punjab government feels it can give the DCs additional powers at any time through an executive order. Whether this portends leaving the door open to anointing the DCs with justice of the peace powers and reviving the defunct executive magistracy at some future, more opportune moment, is open to conjecture. Meanwhile the Assistant Commissioners (ACs) throughout the province were reported to be on a pen-down strike on December 30, 2016, arguing that the Punjab government has succumbed to the pressure exerted by the police for withdrawal of the justice of the peace powers to the DCs, a surrender that is tantamount to putting the district administrations in the uncomfortable position of having responsibility without authority, particularly over an unresponsive police empowered by the PO 2002. To add to the confusion, statements from the Punjab government suggest the newly elected and installed mayors and chairmen of district councils would also be part of the district administration along with the DCs and DPOs and this combination would be responsible for law and order. What is left unclear is what would happen in the event of a disagreement amongst these officers, especially the already at loggerheads DCs and DPOs. The penchant of the Punjab government, particularly Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, to bypass the elected Punjab Assembly and legislate through Ordinances is deplorable, particularly on such a far reaching and sensitive matter as the induction of elected local bodies after years of a vacuum at the grassroots and only after the provinces’ hand was forced by the judiciary. In the process, it has been subjected to a serious turf tug-of-war between the police and the civil service. The envisaged seemingly hodge podge district administration system under the CAO risks falling between the two stools of the existing autonomous police under the PO 2002 and the restoration (at least partially so far sans magisterial powers) of the old commissionerate structure. And that does not include the relegation of the elected local bodies to secondary position, despite their proposed inclusion in the district administrative architecture. Had the collective wisdom of the Punjab Assembly been tapped, perhaps the decisions would have been free of the pulls of rival institutions fighting for their exclusive turf. As it is, the police has hardly been improved by the autonomy granted to it under PO 2002. One only has to glance at its continuing reputation for inefficiency, corruption and the brutality of the thana culture to understand that its case for retaining that autonomy is weak. But whether placing it, as originally envisaged in the CAO, under a revived commissionerate system would not bring back the abuses of the old order cannot be ruled out either. For the moment, the civil servants are up in arms over the alleged ‘responsibility without authority’ slogan and the police is off the hook of executive supervision. How this will improve district administration and what will be the powers of the elected local bodies remain problematic.