Sunday, June 25, 2017

Business Recorder editorial June 25, 2017

Black Friday Friday, June 23, 2017 will vie for recognition as a black day in the tragic litany of terrorism in Pakistan. On the day, terrorists struck with devastating effect at three sites across the country. In Parachinar, known for past atrocities by the fanatics on a sectarian basis, bombers struck in a by now familiar manner by first setting off a hand grenade in a busy bazaar and then exploding a big bomb to target people who had gathered to rescue the victims of the first blast. The death toll according to the latest reports has reached 67, which may rise given that about 200 wounded are still under treatment in various hospitals, some in a critical condition. In Quetta, a suicide bomber set off a car bomb after colliding into the sandbag barriers in front of the IG Police’s office, killing at last count 14 people and injuring at least 24. In Karachi, four policemen taking iftari (breaking their fast) were targeted by motorcycle-mounted gunmen and shot and killed at close range. These incidents, not unfamiliar except for their concentration on the same day, were followed by even more familiar responses. Condemnations from the highest to the lowest accompanied international condemnation. Claims of responsibility came from a cast of the usual suspects such as Jamaat ul Ahrar and Islamic State for the Quetta atrocity, but also included a relatively newly emerged group called Ansarul Shariyah Pakistan, said to have Libyan and Syrian connections, who claimed the Karachi attack. There is so far no claim of responsibility for the Parachinar atrocity. What followed the day after was also predictable. A flurry of actions netted some terrorists in different parts of the country, concerns about Eid security led to heavy deployment of security forces in many cities, and the political and military leadership weighed in with its take on the events and developments. While the former reiterated their view that Pakistan was making progress in the fight against terrorism and these incidents reflected the last gasp desperate terrorist efforts against soft targets, the latter repeated their mantra of ‘external’ factors to explain away the recurring phenomenon. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar too focused on the external dimension, particularly stricter control over the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossings to prevent infiltration of terrorists with safe havens on Afghan soil, but had the courage to question why warnings of impending attacks in Parachinar and Quetta were not heeded by the local authorities. While the country can justifiably celebrate its counterinsurgency successes in FATA under Operation Zarb-e-Azb, it is the follow up counterterrorism effort that leaves some questions unanswered and provides an opportunity once again to point out the lacunae in this campaign. The National Action Plan meant to guide this campaign has virtually been forgotten and become a dead letter. That means the coordinated effort envisaged under it against terrorism still goes abegging. The National Counter Terrorism Authority meant to act as such a centre with a centralised data base fell victim to turf battles and remains a non-starter. Coordination between civil and military intelligence agencies still suffers from mistrust and suspicion, Centre-provinces cooperation is at best episodic and subject to the travails inherent in different parties being in power at the federal and some provincial levels. The impact of this uncoordinated and haphazard scenario has grave implications. For one, the absence of a national coordination centre reinforces the inherent tendency towards inertia and complacency creeping in over time every so often and thereby providing the terrorists the openings and opportunities to strike unexpectedly. For example, apart from the interior minister’s highlighting the lack of impact in terms of readiness despite intelligence warnings, these incidents reveal that the standard operating procedures appear weak or remain non-implemented on a consistent, long term or even permanent basis. No doubt there have been successes despite the uncoordinated effort in terms of preventing terrorist actions. But these have yet to be systematically compiled and revealed for public knowledge to boost national morale at the partial and ongoing erosion of terrorist capability. Nor have the citizens been sufficiently mobilised to act as the eyes and ears of the authorities in support of the counterterrorism campaign. A notable gap here is the absence of a national anti-terrorist narrative that could inspire and evoke a citizens’ response. If Pakistan is to tackle the terrorist affliction, it must eschew the expedient explanation of all terrorism emanating from across the Afghan border, recognise explicitly the presence of terrorist groups and cells within, address the shifting kaleidoscopic breaking up and merging under new banners of these groups, and take measures to coordinate civil-military, Centre-provinces’ efforts under an umbrella central platform.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Business Recorder editorial June 21, 2017

Lawyers’ growing misbehaviour A group of lawyers supporting Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) member Maqsood Buttar, a suspect in a missing persons case, ran riot in the Lahore High Court the other day, assaulting counsel Asma Jahangir’s junior associate Barrister Usama Malik, manhandling the complainant Bilquis Zareena, and abusing Asma Jahangir and some other counsel on her team. The case has been brought by Ms Zareena for the recovery of her daughter Ayesha and her grandson Alyan Ali. Ms Ayesha is reported to have been a junior lawyer in Buttar’s office. He later married her (as his second wife) and had a son by her. The habeas corpus petition filed by Bilquis Zareena seeks the recovery of her daughter and grandson who have been missing for the past six months. She fears that their lives are in danger. According to the petitioner, her daughter had informed her that she and Maqsood Buttar had developed differences. Ayesha and her two-year-old son had been living in a flat in Model Town. Bilquis Zareena claims that Maqsood Buttar had tried to kill Ayesha once before by pushing her off a cliff near Murree, causing her multiple injuries and fractures. In November 2016, Bilquis Zareena visited her daughter’s residence in Model Town but she was not there. She also deposed that her family had been receiving threats from Buttar’s side. During the proceedings, Justice Abdul Sami Khan hearing the habeas corpus petition expressed displeasure at the DIG Investigations Sultan Ahmed requesting more time to complete the investigation. The petitioner’s counsel, Barrister Usama Malik, pointed to an all too familiar scenario in which the police had not issued a single summons to any of the suspects, even though an FIR was registered in December 2016. He accused the police of protecting Buttar. On the other hand, arguing on behalf of the legal fraternity, PBC member Ishtiaq Khan argued that the case against his colleague was fabricated, politically motivated, denied Buttar was related to the missing woman, and challenged the maintainability of the petition. After Justice Sami adjourned further hearing till June 23, Buttar’s lawyer supporters attacked Usama Malik, roughing him up and ripping his shirt because of umbrage at his daring to appear against Buttar. They also manhandled the complainant, Bilquis Zareena. While walking out of the court, this bunch of rowdies shouted profanities against Asma Jahangir. This is neither the first nor, given the trajectory of many lawyers’ behaviour since the movement for the restoration of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry and members of the superior judiciary removed by military dictator General Pervez Musharraf, likely to be the last. Since that historic movement led by the lawyers community, a strange sense of entitlement bordering on insanity has taken root amongst many in this community. Over the years since that seminal movement, instances of lawyers’ misbehaviour with and even resort to violence against judges, court officials, colleagues and litigants have grown exponentially. This has led many times to judges’ protests and strikes, cases being registered against the offending ‘guardians of the law’ and condemnation by wide swathes of opinion. However, in the absence of deterrent punishment by the judiciary, lawyers’ representative organisations and the authorities, the aggressive misbehaviour of offending lawyers has continued apace. The perpetrators of such abuses, it would be well to remind ourselves, are officers of the court, a status that places upon them the responsibility of upholding the law and the respect and dignity of the judiciary. The malady is by now so widespread that it hardly elicits treatment by the media that reflects its importance as a malign trend or the implications for the functioning of an already beleaguered judicial system, not to mention the offence it causes to every conscious citizen of a civilised society. These bitter fruits of the lawyers’ movement are the unintended consequences of their sense of power after they contributed to the downfall of Musharraf. However, enough is enough. This loutish behavior can no longer be tolerated. If the judiciary, lawyers’ bodies and the authorities fail to stop this trend, the offending lawyers should prepare themselves for a citizens’ backlash that will puncture their inflated egos and seriously affect not just their standing and credibility in society, but their ability to command briefs as well. Citizens’ boycotts are no longer a fantasy, as the brief fruit boycott recently proved. It is still not too late for sense to prevail and the incorrigible black sheep amongst the lawyers to be brought to heel. Failing that, an additional factor of disruption to the business of justice looms.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Business Recorder editorial June 20, 2017

Shutting the stable door… The Rangers, army, intelligence agencies and police personnel carried out a sweeping operation in Karachi jail in the wake of the startling escape of two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi prisoners the other day. The escape was mystery enough. Reportedly, the two men shaved off their beards in a courtroom washroom and then calmly walked out of the main gate of the prison. It boggles the mind how such a bold plan could have succeeded without the complicity of jail staff. If there was even the faintest smidgeon of doubt regarding this suspicion, it was blown away by the results of the sweep and search operation. Around 6,000 prisoners belonging to various political, religious and banned outfits were physically searched and their barracks and cells swept for items not allowed in jail. Lo and behold, the operation netted a veritable treasure trove of illicit things. The list of seized items is self-explanatory: 102 mobile phones, Rs 3.552 million in cash, 18 deep freezers, 449 TVs, 163 LCDs, 995 bracket fans, five packets of heroin, 22 heaters, three DVD players, 30 blankets, 10 scissors, 31 water dispensers, 400 cigarette packets, 45 knives, 46 memory cards and 50 remote control devices and other items. Needless to say, this ‘find’ makes a mockery of the jail manual, rules and security. It is inconceivable, just as in the case of the escape of the two Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorists, that any of this could have arrived within the prison walls without the help of the jail staff, from top to bottom. Although 12 of Karachi jail’s staff, including the superintendent and deputy superintendent, were arrested after the escape, what measures would be required now to clean up the Augean stables of the prison beggars description. The operation after the event, regardless of the ‘rich’ discovery, is little more than a face-saving attempt to shut the stable door long after the horse has bolted. Taking their cue from the happenings in Karachi prison, the authorities in their belated wisdom carried out a similar security-oriented mock exercise in Adiala Jail Rawalpindi. Neither operation inspires any confidence in the light of the prisoners’ escape and the considerable ‘illicit’ material recovered in Karachi. It has been common knowledge for many years that our prison security resembles nothing more than a sieve through which almost anything can pass, leavened by money exchanging hands. But if this were the only worry, it would be bad enough. However, one recalls in the light of the discovery of cell phones and anti-jamming devices in Karachi prison, the incident in 2008 when jailed terrorist Omar Saeed Sheikh made hoax calls from inside Hyderabad jail to then president Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff in the wake of the Mumbai attacks posing as an Indian minister and using such threatening language that Pakistan and India went oh high alert. Given the fact that both neighbouring countries are nuclear armed, the incident underlines the scope for mischief because of our rotten, corrupt prison system. Currently, faced with the terrorist threat and the growth of criminal activities, can the citizen rest sanguine that those behind bars can do no further mischief? The woes of governance in Pakistan are too many to recount. As it is, the justice system is virtually dysfunctional if judged by the backlog of cases. If its prison regime too continues to be so decrepit and hopeless, even the stoutest heart must quail before the implications.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Business Recorder Column June 19, 2017

Trump and Cuba Rashed Rahman US President Donald Trump has taken to pandering to the hawkish Cuban exile community in Florida that supported his bid for the presidency. Addressing a meeting of this community in Miami on June 16, 2017 he denounced Cuba’s ‘brutal’ communist regime (throwing in Venezuela for good measure), vowed to restore ‘freedom’ to their homeland, and announced he is cancelling the ‘one-sided’ deal Obama initiated as part of an opening up to Cuba after more than five decades of hostility. He also vowed not to lift the economic sanctions (in fact a total economic embargo) imposed on Cuba soon after Fidel Castro’s revolution triumphed in 1959 until all Cuban political prisoners are freed and free elections held. Trump followed up this foray by issuing a presidential directive to give effect to his declaration. Essentially, the thrust of Trump’s ‘new’ policy is to place restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, the former in particular having resulted since the US-Cuba rapprochement in 2014 in large numbers of American tourists flooding into Cuba, bringing with them dollars badly needed by the foreign exchange starved Cuban economy. The demand for enhanced accommodation and services for this nascent flood of tourists has engendered small private businesses offering private homes to stay in (the main driver in this being Airbnb) and service providers. Significantly, Trump seems to have bowed to pressures from US businesses and some Republicans to avoid turning the clock back completely. Thus air and sea travel will continue, but with fresh restrictions, including American citizens using services provided by companies controlled by the Cuban military, which have a big stake in the tourism industry. The logic of this measure is ostensibly to not benefit the regime with dollar flows. However, this myopic step is likely to hurt the emerging small private sector in Cuba, which Trump seeks to support in the name of benefits only for the Cuban people. Failing providing a map of which enterprises to deal with, it is obvious that this ‘separation’ of state and private enterprises is practically difficult if not impossible. Trump’s policy will hurt not only enhanced economic engagement with Cuba generally, but its emerging small private sector most of all. Critics of Trump’s reversal of Obama’s policy seek engagement with Cuba since, they argue, 50 plus years of hostility and attempts thereby to overthrow the revolutionary regime have failed. Their overt and covert hope is for such engagement to result in the peaceful transition from the revolutionary regime to a pro-capitalist one. The hawks and doves’ hopes for regime change though are unlikely to be met in the light of President Raul Castro’s clear declaration that the revolution will not bow to pressure or blandishments. For those unfamiliar with the history and trajectory of the Cuban revolution, it would be useful to retrace some of the seminal moments in that journey. Cuba, lying just 90 miles away from Florida, had been since independence from Spain in 1898 a virtual US colony. The US controlled the commanding heights of the Cuban economy and treated its southern island neighbour as a playground for the American rich, including the Mafia. Large tracts of land owned by the local elite (latifundia) showed a cruel contrast between the lives of the rich and the peasants who worked the plantations, the latter mired generation after generation in extreme poverty and misery. Cuba’s seemingly stable status as a colonial outpost of the US was disturbed when Fulgencio Batista mounted a military coup and took power in 1952. A young dynamic lawyer and member of the mainstream Orthodoxo Party, Fidel Castro, decided the time had come for decisive action. On July 23, 1953, he and a band of his comrades mounted an armed assault on the Moncada military garrison in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The assault was beaten back with most of the insurgents killed and a handful, including Fidel, imprisoned. At his trial, Fidel delivered his famous “History will absolve me” speech, which became the clarion call for the Cuban revolution despite his and his compatriots’ exile (including his younger brother Raul Castro). Fidel and his comrades regrouped in exile in Mexico, joined in this period by a significant recruit: Argentinian Ernesto Che Guevara. In 1956, Fidel and this band of revolutionaries, under the banner of the July 23 Movement as it came to be called, mounted an expedition to Cuba on a boat named Granma (this later became the title of the Cuban revolutionary regime’s paper). The expedition was almost wiped out on landing in Cuba by the Baptista regime’s military. A handful, including Fidel, Raul and Che, managed to escape the ambush and set up a guerrilla base in the Sierra Maestre Mountains. From here, the rebels launched a guerrilla war that led to the collapse of the Baptista regime in 1958. The dictator fled to the US. On January 1, 1959, Fidel’s triumphant columns marched into Havana to the cheers and joy of the populace. Fidel’s regime soon fell foul of Washington when US businesses on the island were nationalised, land reform carried out and an increasingly socialist orientation of the new regime became visible. US President Eisenhower responded by imposing an economic embargo on Cuba. The Cuban elite and its supporters fled the island for the US, where John F Kennedy’s administration and CIA trained, equipped and launched an invasion of Cuba with exile mercenaries. This blatant aggression against revolutionary Cuba was decisively defeated at the Bay of Pigs. The US-inspired economic blockade was total, only breached by the then Soviet Union, which came to the rescue of the beleaguered government. The world held its breath when, in 1962, Soviet missiles were deployed in Cuba to ward off another US invasion, leading to a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union. A nuclear holocaust was only avoided at the last moment when the Soviet Union’s Premier Nikita Kruschev agreed to withdraw the missiles from Cuba in return for a secret understanding to remove US nuclear missiles deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union in a quid pro quo. Moscow continued to provide economic and technical support to Havana but could not do enough to overcome the poverty inherited from Cuba’s past, which lingered to devastating effect because of the US’s economic blockade despite the Cuban regime’s efforts to provide relief and a better life to its people. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles, the Fidel Castro-led government provided the Cuban people with a level of education and healthcare that is the envy of the world today. The Cuban armed forces were not only developed to a level of efficiency to give pause for thought to any would be invader, they provided support in far away Africa to the revolutionary national liberation struggles of Ethiopia and Angola, defeating the much vaunted South African army in the latter country. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the US-led imperialists licked their chops at the thought of overcoming the Cuban government, faced as it was with immeasurably greater difficulties in the absence of Soviet support. This was a real test for the Cuban revolution. Whereas many communist countries had either consciously embraced capitalism or at least adjusted their policies to a now almost completely capitalist world, Cuba adhered to its revolutionary √©lan, struggled through the Special Period as it was called, and has kept its revolutionary banner flying even after the illness, retirement and eventual passing away of its charismatic leader, Fidel Castro. Given this brief account of the Cuban revolution and people’s resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, the hopes of the US hawks and doves, separated only by the ways and means chosen to overthrow the Raul Castro government, face the indomitable will of a small Caribbean island people wedded to defending, constructing and maintaining their socialist future.