Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Oct 31, 2017

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

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Herald Book Review Oct 30, 2017

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

Newsline Op-ed Oct 27, 2017

PPP – done and dusted? Rashed Rahman To predict the demise of a political party, and that too one that still has a considerable residual cadre and support amongst the masses, is always a risky business. The predictions of the collapse of the PPP after its debacle in the 2013 elections proved premature, although there was no denying the fact that the PPP received a drubbing in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan, managing only to save some face by retaining its traditional majority in Sindh. This 2013 electoral debacle showed that the electorate had turned its back on one of the largest parties in the country that once boasted of being the only truly national party left in the field and which had by now been reduced to a rump provincial party of Sindh alone. The better 2008 election results owed a considerable debt to the memory of the party’s slain leader Benazir Bhutto. But Asif Zardari’s takeover of the party reins after Bibi’s death convinced some perceptive analysts that Zardari would do to the PPP what even Ziaul Haq could not do: cause its destruction and eventual demise. That seems well on its way by now. The decline in the PPP’s fortunes began after Benazir, returning from exile in 1986, clearly indicated that the party had abandoned its left wing populist programme and embraced the by now dominant neo-liberal paradigm. Since it was the original left wing populist programme (summed up in the catchy slogan: roti, kapra aur makaan, i.e. bread, clothing and housing) that had helped the PPP sweep Punjab in the 1970 elections, while relying on its feudal landowners’ base in Sindh, its abandonment spelt doom for the once mighty party in the largest-by-population province. That situation appears now to have become irreversible despite the revolving door, musical chairs parade of new leaders of the party in Punjab since Bibi’s death. Zardari’s ‘contribution’ since taking over has been the marginalisation of the party’s jialas (committed workers) in favour of ruling through, and benefiting from, cronies and front men. This has besmirched the PPP’s reputation as a party led by the corrupt. Those hoping for a turnaround in the PPP’s fortunes if Bilawal breaks with his father’s politics and stakes out a healthy, youthful, fresh start, ignore the difficulty in the former and the hollowness of the latter without a return to the PPP’s left wing roots. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 25, 2017

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 24, 2017

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

Monday, October 23, 2017

Business Recorder Column Oct 23, 2017

Widening circle of disappearances Rashed Rahman As often happens with ill thought through measures, the ruling PML-N is being increasingly hoist by its own petard in terms of the ‘disappearance’ of its activists on the social media. The issue was highlighted by the party chief, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, on October 21, 2017. The matter relates to about six members of the media cell operating under Nawaz’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, who have ostensibly been ‘disappeared’ for posting matter on social media critical of the judiciary and the armed forces. The crackdown on critical or dissenting voices on social media can therefore be seen as continuing, expanding and widening. It may be recalled that five critical bloggers were ‘disappeared’, followed by blasphemous material being posted on their blogs and websites. These days, as everyone by now knows, a mere accusation of blasphemy is a death sentence at the hands of fanatics, let alone actual postings of this sort. The five disappeared bloggers did eventually surface, but had to flee the country for safety. While it is possible to sympathise with the disappeared PML-N activists and their families, it is necessary to remind ourselves that it is the PML-N government itself that rammed the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2017 (PECA) through parliament last year. Free speech advocates, human rights activists and opposition figures had warned at the time that PECA seemed designed to usher in more abuse of power by state officials because of its vague and overly broad language and draconian provisions. Those warnings fell on deaf ears. Now the chickens seem to be coming home to roost in this regard for the PML-N. There is an argument that the growing use of the internet for online propaganda by terrorists suggests the need for regulation. But PECA does not appear to fit the bill. This is not the first instance of the PML-N stumbling into territory where its ill thought through steps returned to haunt it. Arguably, allowing the Karachi operation against terrorists and criminals to conflate into a crackdown on the MQM, replete, that party claims, with unlawful detentions and excessive use of force, still haunts us. Then too human rights and free speech defenders warned of the slippery slope of greater curbs on political speech and lawful politics. Now the war against critical voices on social media and the internet has taken within its fold not only mainstream politics but also rights advocates, civil society and independent voices deemed unacceptable to the deep state. Mainstream media, both print and electronic, has by and large, honourable exceptions notwithstanding, surrendered to the establishment’s narrative on national and international affairs. Now with the expanding and widening crackdown on dissident opinion on the social media, the space for free and independent thought and speech appears to have shrunk to a virtual singularity. Now that the ruling party has been stung by the poison of censorship and its ugly cousin disappearances, the alarm bells have been rung by Nawaz Sharif himself. Apart from Maryam Nawaz’s media cell activists who have been disappeared, he has referred to the disappearance of PML-N activists on the eve of the NA-120 by-poll in Lahore, the seat Nawaz had to vacate after being disqualified and which was then won by his wife, Kulsoom Nawaz. Nawaz Sharif asked the interior ministry to look into the issue of such disappearances. Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal duly asked the FIA which, unsurprisingly, drew a blank. And there the matter seems to have ended. These goings on are a familiar pattern. Take the case of the recent ‘recovery’ of Zeenat Shahzadi, a young woman journalist from Lahore. After a two-year disappearance, she is said by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CoIoED) to have been recovered from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Two years ago she was abducted by armed men from Lahore on August 19, 2015. Why? For daring to take up the case of an Indian national, Hamid Ansari, who had gone missing in 2012 after being arrested for crossing illegally into Pakistan from Afghanistan. Shahzadi managed to contact his family in Mumbai and filed a habeas corpus petition in the Peshawar High Court and applications to the Supreme Court’s Human Rights Cell and the CoIoED. Soon after, she became a missing person herself. Similar stories have surfaced of late in Sindh. It seems that for the deep state, even attempting to question the practice of Enforced Disappearances (EDs), let alone being active in campaigns to recover the missing persons is a sin or crime deserving of ED being visited on such idealists. These practices began in Balochistan in the context of the nationalist insurgency in that province but have by now spread incrementally to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (more related to terrorism), Sindh (nationalists), southern Punjab and now Takht Lahore itself. It has flourished because of the cloak of impunity in which the agencies of the deep state have wrapped themselves, a cocoon neither the courts nor the CoIoED have been able to unravel. Because of this sense of being beyond being held to account, the perpetrators of EDs have become more brazen. Abductions are now carried out in broad daylight even in the cities. I am witness to one such incident a few years ago when our seminar at the Quetta Press Club was interrupted by the news that two people had been abducted in the clear light of day at the traffic intersection in front of the Club. Journalists, rights activists, social workers and now political cadres even of the mainstream political parties are all potential targets. Several thousand people are still missing all over the country. The CoIoED, set up amidst much fanfare six years ago under the chairmanship of Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal, formerly a Supreme Court judge, has proved toothless, inefficient and with neither the resources, inclination nor power to do more than document a few (in the hundreds) cases of ED. Not one perpetrator has been held to account to date. Now that the good Justice has moved on to the post of Chairman National Accountability Bureau, and with no successor at the CoIoED named so far, perhaps the latter should be given a decent burial. What the disappeared go through during their detention can only be guessed at. In most if not all cases, the ones who make it back without any obvious signs of injury develop a deep and unrelenting silence on their experiences, no doubt for fear of a repetition. What their families go through, especially in cases where there is no news of their loved ones year after year, needs no guesses. The evidence is before our eyes. Shahzadi’s brother, inconsolable at her disappearance, committed suicide in 2016. Mama Qadeer of the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons made a long march from Quetta to Islamabad to dwarf anything Mahatma Gandhi ever undertook during the Independence struggle, and not a leaf stirred. The families of the missing can be found in protest camps outside the Quetta Press Club and similar locations in other cities. A state and society that has sunk to this level of unlawfulness and brazen violation of every conceivable legal, human, citizen right is a state and society asking for trouble. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Oct 21, 2017

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 30, 2017

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