Monday, April 30, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial April 30, 2018

National Water Policy

The Council of Common Interests (CCI) has finally unanimously approved the National Water Policy (NWP) on April 24, 2018 that had been hanging fire for a decade over the reservations of the provinces. The CCI directed WAPDA and the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provinces to work out their respective net hydel profit arrears according to the A G N Kazi formula. This too had been a long standing bone of contention. According to KP Chief Minister (CM) Pervez Khattak, his province stands to receive an additional Rs 60-70 billion on this account as a result. The CCI also approved the National Water Charter, which was signed by all four CMs. The first ever NWP envisages selection of water reservoirs with consensus in line with the 1991 Water Apportionment Accord after thorough examination of their impact on sea intrusion, environmental protection and provincial water rights to secure surplus water. The NWP’s initial target is to increase the storage capacity from the existing 14 mega acre feet (MAF) by immediately starting the 6.4 MAF Diamer-Bhasha Dam, which was cleared by the CCI in 2009 but has run into obstacles such as financing and the reluctance of donors given that it lies in disputed territory (China too is believed to have reservations as regards this project for this reason). The meeting was told that water scarcity is looming and population growth and increasing demand dictate enhancing storage capacity. Under the NWP, the provinces will develop their own master plans within the national framework for sustainable development and management of water resources. While water resources are a national responsibility, irrigation, agriculture, water supply, the environment and other water-related sub-sectors remain provincial subjects. The NWP will be implemented through a National Water Council (NWC), headed by the prime minister and comprising the federal ministers for water resources, finance, power, planning and development and reforms and all the provincial CMs. A steering committee of the NWC headed by the federal minister for water resources will monitor implantation of the NWP with representatives of the federal and provincial governments and concerned departments. The NWP recognizes the need to provide at least 10 percent of the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) to the water sector, gradually increasing this to 20 percent by 2030. The provinces too will be called upon to increase their spending as the total allocation of Rs 145 billion, seven percent of the combined federal and provincial development budgets for 2017-18, has proved inadequate. Water losses of 46 MAF are to be cut by 33 percent by 2030 through canal and watercourse lining, which should also have a salutary effect on the loss of arable land to waterlogging and salinity. Water usage efficiency will be improved by 30 percent by 2030 through the incremental introduction of drip and sprinkler irrigation and other similar technologies. A more realistic water pricing mechanism and data collection and monitoring form part of the ambitious package. Since food, water and energy security are inextricably linked, the federal government is expected to play a leading role in ensuring the efficient, sustainable utilisation of ground water, its industrial uses and waste water management, with the cooperation of the provinces.

About the adoption of the NWP, suffice it to say, better late than never. Pakistan lies in a region widely predicted to suffer the effects of climate change, particularly water scarcity. It goes without saying that the issue has two main facets: storage of whatever water is or could be available, and its most efficient utilisation. Since storages have become a politicised matter, especially the Kalabagh Dam, we have to tread carefully. India continues to flout the provisions of the Indus Water Treaty in building projects on the western rivers whose waters are supposed to flow without impediment into Pakistan. Internally, past disputes between the upper riparian Punjab and Sindh in particular, but also the other two provinces, has left a residue of mistrust and suspicion. Storages like Kalabagh Dam can in this obtaining climate perhaps only be built if guarantees are available to the lower riparians that no new canals will sprout from the Dam, thereby ensuring Sindh and Balochistan’s due share of the waters of the Indus, while KP would need to be satisfied through guarantees of prompt and just rehabilitation of displaced people and compensation for agricultural losses due to the water table rising. While the NWP has put in place an organisational structure, it is the trust factor that will ultimately determine the country’s ability to proceed. Financing difficulties notwithstanding, it is encouraging that allocations are being envisaged for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam in the upcoming PSDP. The canal and watercourse lining proposal can incrementally save water equivalent to the envisaged storages, prevent waterlogging and salinity, and arguably is affordable. The Indus Delta must not be deprived most of the year of water south of Kotri as is being done since the 1991 Accord. Minimum perennial flows keep the sea at bay, protect agriculture in the Delta and surrounding areas, and preserve the rich flora and fauna that Nature has blessed us with.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial April 26, 2018

Something rotten

The controversy over the Senate elections and the subsequent election of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the upper house refuses to die down. Fresh impetus to the charges and counter-charges of horse trading by political parties has been provided by the revelation of the Jamaat-i-Islami chief, Senator Siraj ul Haq, that Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) Chief Minister (CM) Pervez Khattak solicited his party’s votes on the eve of these elections by saying the PTI had received instructions from on ‘top’ to vote for Sadiq Sanjrani as Chairman. Naturally, this statement added fuel to the fire of speculations surrounding the seeming hanky-panky that went on, starting with the ‘coup’ against the PML-N-led coalition government in Balochistan and ending up with the Senate election debacle. Siraj’s revelation has soured relations between the JI and PTI coalition partners in the KP government, with PTI chief Imran Khan and party spokesman Fawad Chaudhry calling out the JI to leave the KP government. Siraj has attempted a justification for the JI lingering on in the corridors of power in Peshawar by citing the few weeks left of the KP government’s tenure, during which its member, who is the KP finance minister, is involved in budget preparations. PTI sources say this is just a cover up since Imran Khan has already announced that CM Khattak will not be presenting this year’s budget before his government’s term expires. Khattak has also attempted to cast doubt on Siraj’s statement by ‘clarifying’ that by ‘top’ he meant Bani Gala (Imran Khan’s residence in Islamabad) and no one else. Nevertheless, given the swirl of rumour, accusation and allegation surrounding the whole affair, Siraj’s statement has not only rocked the boat of the KP government on the eve of its departure, it has cast a long shadow over the upcoming general elections. Meanwhile the group of 20 PTI MPAs named and shamed by Imran Khan as having sold their votes for money has hit back in a press conference demanding an apology within 15 days or they will seek legal recourse. They have also inveigled Khattak as the fount of buying and selling of votes during the Senate elections and accused him of corruption in mega projects. Other reports say the seemingly bold move of Imran Khan to ‘out’ these allegedly erring MPAs is less principled than it appears at first glance. It is said these MPAs had already fallen out of favour and were unlikely to be given tickets in the upcoming election. Hence their outing would not dent the PTI in the manner and to the extent initial opinion thought.

The row over the whole episode also bears the background of the JI having decided to join the newly resurrected Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) alliance of religious parties. It may not therefore feel any hesitation in ‘ditching’ its senior coalition partner at this juncture. The to and fro fray that the issue has given birth to notwithstanding, it has strengthened Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N’s stance that skullduggery was afoot throughout. Reports speak of the deep state penetrating deeply into the Senate electoral process, an intervention that has delegitimised the electoral and democratic process grievously. The ‘confirmation’ of skullduggery may have come from an unexpected source, but as an ‘insider’ of the KP government, Siraj’s blowing the lid off the murky affair has focused the spotlight on the engineered outcome in Balochistan and the subsequent Senate elections. Now the PML-N and others are expressing doubts about whether in the present atmosphere, free and fair general elections are at all possible. The PML-N sees the trend as pointing in the direction of denying it its expected mandate and putting Nawaz Sharif and perhaps other members of his family behind bars on corruption charges. All this may succeed in obtaining the ‘positive results’ so beloved of our establishment in our history, but the validity of the election result may become questionable thus undermining the position of the elected as truly representing the will of the people.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial April 24, 2018

Dynastic politics

In an interview with BBC TV’s Hardtalk the other day, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari attempted to put the dynastic politics of the PPP down to ‘circumstances’ rather than choice. He argued that the death of his grandfather, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and later his mother Benazir Bhutto, had thrust first her and then him into leadership of the party. Barely three days after Benazir’s death, the Central Executive Committee of the PPP asked him to take charge. When asked if the PPP was only a Bhutto party, he declined to go into the merits and demerits of dynastic politics while conceding that although the phenomenon had no place in modern democracies, it was a reality in Pakistan. However, he asserted, the PPP stood for a democratic, socially just and modern Pakistan. When asked whether Asif Zardari or he was in charge, he said decisions were taken by consensus by the party’s higher echelons and no one person was in charge. When interrogated about whether the PPP had forgotten its ideology, Bilawal dissembled by asserting that the party was committed to democracy and had maintained its roots. He revealed that his grandfather’s slogan of roti, kapra aur makaan (bread, clothing and housing) would again be the leitmotif of the party in the forthcoming elections. He blamed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the party’s debacle in the 2013 elections, arguing that while the TTP openly warned the party would not be allowed to campaign, they threatened and kidnapped candidates and a former prime minister and late Governor’s sons. On the other hand the TTP called the PML-N, PTI and JI their ‘allies’ and gave them a free hand. Anti-democratic elements too, including former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry, prevented the party from campaigning. When quizzed about the corruption charges against Asif Zardari, Bilawal pointed out that his father had spent 11 years in prison without a conviction. He also asserted that each and every case against his parents had been fought out and they were acquitted after a struggle of over 30 years. The interviewer tried to interject with the assertion that Imran Khan continued to accuse Zardari of corruption and he was not a man who lied. On the contrary, Bilawal shot back, he does lie and this is by now a matter of record. He went on to reiterate that Musharraf was involved in Benazir’s murder, but justice had still not been delivered 10 years after that tragic event. Pakistan, he reminded, had a history of military dictators assassinating PPP leaders and members. The UN investigation into Benazir’s assassination at Asif Zardari’s appeal had come to the same conclusion, despite the fact that PPP ministers refused to record their statements to the UN investigators, which Bilawal admitted was the fault of the party. He also reminded that Musharraf was under trial for treason.

While Bilawal’s remarks contain more than a grain of truth and must be appreciated for their candour, it is what he did not say that acquires more weight as a result. The PPP is today a pale shadow of a once mighty party, restricted largely to Sindh because it has abandoned its original élan and ideology of a radical left wing programme. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, Benazir changed tack and embraced the fashionable neo-liberal paradigm of the time, thereby disillusioning the party’s committed cadre, especially in Punjab. That is perhaps the most significant factor in the decline of the party in its erstwhile stronghold. The fact also is that the PPP, much like other parties in Pakistan, hardly has the kind of internal democracy that could allow people other than the Bhuttos to climb up through the ranks on merit (the case of the PML-N and ANP is similar). But this phenomenon of dynastic politics is not confined to Pakistan alone but rife throughout South Asia. The dynastic politics on display now and in the past in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka proves the point. This South Asian phenomenon is perhaps rooted in our social ethos, which regards all kinds of legacies, material, political and social, as the rightful heritage of heirs alone. While many in Pakistan reside high hopes in Bilawal rescuing the PPP from the slough of despond it seems trapped in, the factor of the father’s shadow remains a dampener to the hopes of a fresh beginning.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial April 23, 2018

HRCP’s Report

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP’s) annual report entitled State of Human Rights in 2017 analyses with its customary spread and care the human rights landscape in the country. This year’s report is the first after the passing away of human rights fighter Asma Jahangir, one of the founders of HRCP. The Report is therefore appropriately dedicated to her. The contents of the Report cover the whole gamut of curbs on freedom of expression and association and the violations of human rights. It warns that the role of unelected, non-representative elements is increasing day by day. It highlights the increase in enforced disappearances (EDs), targeted violence against soft targets such as the minorities, extrajudicial killings and the extension of military courts’ jurisdiction. One of the most fundamental human rights, democratic governance, remained under serious strain throughout 2017. The writ of the state shrank, terrorism casualties declined but attacks against the minorities went up. In the first 10 months of 2017, 5,660 crimes were recorded against women and religious minorities. The new election law’s promising features were an increase in women voters and the facilitation of registration of minorities. But despite the law’s adoption, a subsequent election in Dir again saw women not being allowed to vote. The war on terror and the problems created by it continue. EDs occurred amongst other reasons when people were picked up for criticising the military or advocating improved relations with India (e.g. Raza Khan, missing since December 2017). The issue of EDs appears to have reached a dead end with not much activity by the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances (CIED) and no progress. The new chilling factor is false charges of blasphemy against dissenters and critics, a virtual death sentence at the hands of mob vigilante violence, as was feared in the case of the five bloggers (and, one might add, actually transpired in the case of Mashal Khan). Since no prosecutions of the perpetrators of EDs has occurred, the HRCP Report argues for signing the international covenants and criminalising EDs (it should be noted however, that even now EDs are not legal, throwing up once again the yawning gap between what is on our statute books and what transpires in practice on the ground). The CIED received 868 cases in 2017 alone, more than the previous two years. The CIED ‘located’ 555 persons of these but it is not clear whether they were freed and reunited with their loved ones or not. The rest are still missing. No personnel or state institutions have been prosecuted for acting in violation of the Constitution and the law, reinforcing the sense of impunity of those responsible for this reprehensible practice. The lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty receives disapproval in the Report on principle while the extension of the freedom of assembly to far right religious groups alone, despite their nuisance value, comes in for some stick. The Report also bemoans the decline in labour standards.

If the HRCP Report needed substantiation, this was inadvertently supplied by the head of the CIED, Justice (retd) Javed Iqbal while briefing the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights. Combining a strange mea culpa that smacked more of a deep state brief than the considered views of a former Supreme Court judge, Justice Iqbal deflected questions and potential criticism of the functioning of the CIED by mocking politicians, a flavour-of-the-month pastime these days. With such an attitude, perhaps the case is strengthened for the replacement of the head of CIED with someone equally competent but less inclined to collaborate in hiding the blatantly illegal activities of the deep state vis-à-vis EDs. Be that as it may, the HRCP annual reports serve as an archive of the trajectory of human rights in Pakistan. On that touchstone can be measured whether, and to what extent, human and other rights have advanced or regressed since the reports started being compiled. Judging at least from the 2017 Report, there is not much to crow about regarding long-standing violations of human rights and arguably new forms of such violations that visit us with each passing year.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial April 19, 2018

Ban on anti-judiciary speeches

The Supreme Court (SC) taking prompt notice of media reports that a Lahore High Court (LHC) bench has banned the airing of alleged anti-judiciary speeches on television channels has categorically refuted such reportage terming it as ‘Fake News’. It had been reported in almost all the media that the LHC bench was hearing petitions challenging the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority’s (PEMRA’s) failure to stop broadcasting of alleged anti-judiciary speeches by PML-N leaders, including former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz. The court directed PEMRA to decide within 15 days all pending complaints regarding the matter. It also told PEMRA to strictly monitor the TV channels to ensure no material likely to incite hatred or contempt against the judiciary is broadcast.
The hearing in the LHC produced some interesting comments from the bench. Justice Syed Mazahar Ali Akbar Naqvi objected to ‘every Tom, Dick and Harry’ without knowledge of the law commenting on judicial verdicts on TV. He wanted such discussions limited to persons with knowledge of judicial matters. What the honourable Justice perhaps failed to realize is that his preference would inadvertently restrict the right of freedom of expression of citizens, who have every right to have views and comment on what the courts hand down. Of course all such comments, whether by specialists in the field or ordinary citizens (including anchors and analysts) have to remain within the parameters of legitimate discourse. While discussion and even criticism of judicial verdicts is kosher in any democratic society, the conduct of judges or bringing into disrepute the judiciary as a whole is unacceptable. However, and with the greatest of respect for His Lordships, the terrain on which this controversy is playing out has many facets. The general perception is that the judiciary is indulging in overreach, intervention in areas outside its remit, and peppering all such steps with fairly free remarks from the bench and in public. It is not for nothing that the time proved concept of judicial restraint is preferred. It allows judges to speak, but only through their judgements. In a free-for-all kind of proliferation of media, a characteristic not only of Pakistan but the whole world today, even the most innocuous remark from the bench acquires a life of its own on TV tickers and banner headlines. Even if the remarks are to the point, they unnecessarily drag the judiciary into the public (political) space where its respect and dignity goes abegging. As far as the alleged anti-judiciary speeches on display since the ousting of Nawaz Sharif is concerned, the courts have powers of contempt of court. But as Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar remarked in the SC, the judiciary is exercising utmost restraint in this matter. Judicial restraint and spare use of contempt powers serve the judiciary well. They help avoid controversy, sustain and even enhance the respect and dignity of the bench, and thereby create an atmosphere where everyone feels obliged to accept the judiciary’s verdicts, even if they do not agree with them.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in its annual report has lamented the shrinking space for freedom of expression and rights, as has a civil society moot. In such an atmosphere, it becomes even more important to draw and adhere to the line between legitimate criticism of verdicts and attempting to besmirch the respect and dignity of the judiciary, without which no democratic system can function healthily. PEMRA remains a toothless wonder, not the least because its attempts to regulate the electronic media have often fallen foul of stay orders by the courts. At present, it is also a headless wonder, since the previous chairman was removed for not fulfilling the criteria for his appointment and no new chief has been appointed since. Now the government has revealed before the SC that a seven-member committee has been formed to seek an appropriate appointee afresh. On the court’s directive, Minister of State for Information Marryum Aurangzeb’s name has been replaced by the Information Secretary as the court felt she may not be able to spare time for the committee’s deliberations. Her removal may also, as the court hinted, have something to do with her defence of the Sharifs in their toil and trouble in the cases they face. The judiciary should be careful while defending its respect and dignity that it does not stray into the area of judicial or any other form of censorship. As Justice Azmat Saeed of the SC remarked, an independent media (and therefore public opinion) is a sine qua non for the independence of the judiciary. At the same time all other players, particularly those aggrieved by the courts’ verdicts, must also exercise restraint within the parameters of fair comment and not stray into disrespecting judges or the judiciary per se.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Business Recorder Column April 17, 2018

Post-Cold War imperialism

Rashed Rahman

The certainties of the Cold War era gave way after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the complexities of our present world. These complexities have been exacerbated by the blatant attempts by the US-led western powers to reshape the geopolitical map of the world in their favour. Amidst talk in the 1990s of the emergence of a unipolar world dominated by the US with its western allies in tow, the simplistic notion fashionable in western capitals that the world lay supine beneath their feet (a ‘new world order’) and no other power could possibly challenge the drive for global hegemony by the west has proved to be an illusion.
Nothing encapsulates these illusions and the reality of resistance to these hegemonic designs better than the western attempts to redraw the geopolitical map of the long simmering cauldron called the Middle East. Starting with Iraq, which under Saddam Hussein was first inveigled into an eight-year war against Iran, later deceived into thinking the west would turn a blind eye to his invasion of Kuwait, through the regime change in Libya to the proxy intervention in Syria, the US-led west has weighed in to remove the three regimes that were the last anti-Israel countries in the Arab world (the rest had either signed peace treaties with Israel or given up the ghost of even lip service to resistance to the expansionist Zionist state, abandoning in the process the Palestinian people to their tragic fate). The defeat of Saddam in Kuwait laid the foundations for the 2003 invasion on the fraudulent charge of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction and his eventual overthrow and hanging. The successor regime in Baghdad can be considered a western satrap.
The ‘success’ in Iraq (which destroyed one of the most advanced and developed countries of the Arab world) emboldened our latter-day imperialists to take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, using the pretext of a UN Security Council Right to Protect resolution. Russia and China went along, not realising the trap the west had set to camouflage their intervention in Libya as protection of the Libyan people (i.e. those opposed to Gaddafi). Based on that sobering experience, both Russia and China refused to be deceived over the proxy intervention in Syria.
Russia in particular drew a line in the sand of the Syrian desert. This was in the wake of Russia’s experience since 1991 of a west engaged in NATO creep in Eastern Europe and the former territories of the Soviet Union in that region and attempts to subvert and replace pro-Moscow regimes in Georgia and Ukraine. In both these latter cases, Moscow’s resistance to these designs has produced a de facto partition between pro- and anti-Moscow zones/regimes. This NATO creep and attempts to ‘recruit’ countries to the western alliance in the ‘near abroad’ was in direct contradiction to the false assurances of US President Ronald Reagan to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he asked the latter to tear down the Berlin Wall (this happened in 1989 and proved the beginning of the break up of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states, the collapse of socialist regimes in Eastern Europe and the emergence of the so-called new world order).
Russia’s last remaining steadfast ally in the Middle East, Syria, is still technically at war with Israel, particularly given that Israel has blatantly in violation of international law (for which Tel Aviv has hardly ever given a fig) annexed the Syrian territory of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war. The last remaining anti-Israel redoubt in the Arab world was sought to be subjected to regime change through proxy fundamentalist and terrorist organisations, including ironically the al Qaeda-aligned Nusra Front. The entry of Islamic State (IS) in the Iraq-Syria theatre complicated the conflict in Syria into a many-sided war. On the one side were Syria, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, on the other the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The third corner in this triangular conflict was IS.
A strange situation emerged as the Syrian conflict played out over the last eight years. Ostensibly the US and the west were supporting their proxies in the SDF against both the Damascus regime as well as IS. The Syrian Kurds became late allies of the US as they gained fighting capacity and territory. Ostensibly, the US mission was to defeat IS and then withdraw its 2,000 troops in the country, a goal US President Donald Trump reiterated just days before he, in collaboration with Britain and France, launched missile strikes on Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Assad regime.
The SDF has by now virtually collapsed as a fighting force despite millions of dollars and weapons supplied by the US and the west. The Assad regime and its allies are on the verge of victory. The alleged chemical attack has failed to establish its credibility and been lambasted by many sources as a false flag operation to justify the strikes. What Washington, London and Paris hope to gain by such blatant aggression and violation of international law (no self-defence plea or UN Security Council approval available) seems unclear to even themselves at this juncture. The strikes were carefully limited and calibrated to avoid Russian targets in Syria after Moscow warned of retaliation if any of its personnel or installations came under threat. The strikes have had little or no tactical or strategic impact. Assad and his allies seem set on the path of victory, a big blow to the west and its regional satraps such as Saudi Arabia.
Does the defeat of the western backed proxy war for regime change in Syria signal a new turn in regional and global politics? It would appear so. Russia has been under ‘attack’ since President Vladimir Putin succeeded in turning round the fortunes of his country. Russia is now poised to reassert itself on the world stage, defend its friends and allies abroad, and protect its interests in its near abroad. Along with the rise of China as a capitalist powerhouse, the west’s hegemony plans appear, if not in disarray, at least facing a very different scenario from what was sketched in the 1990s.
Imperialism is not just a strategic or geopolitical desire of the developed countries. It is the logical outcome of the dynamic of capitalist development which, not content with the limitations of domestic markets, is impelled by the logic of capitalist development to seek new markets, sources of raw materials and, increasingly since the spread of the capitalist order in the 21st century (globalisation), location of industry and trade in the developing world. In the wake of this historically observed compulsion of the capitalist system comes war, conquest and regime change to the benefit of the developed capitalist countries.
It is ominous and salutary therefore to reflect on the fact that historically capitalism may have given birth to colonialism and imperialism with their concomitant exploitation, cruelties and repression, but even when it seemingly had triumphed after the Cold War ended, the capitalist system, because of its inherent internal dynamic, remains the single greatest and most dangerous source of war and conflict in the world. It is therefore incumbent on the peoples of both the developing and developed world to combat this source of grief and usher in a system that speaks for and to the needs and aspirations of the 99 percent, not the fat cat one percent that rules the global roost today.