Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 31, 2018

Caretaker PM at last

The country had been going through a fair deal of suspense for over a month regarding the choice of caretaker prime minister. So much so that the lists of names put forward as possible candidates by the main political parties did not prima facie engender confidence that a consensus candidate would emerge. Had that been the case, and if Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah had failed to agree on the caretaker prime minister’s name, the issue would have had to be referred to a parliamentary committee composed of both treasury and opposition members. Of course there was no guarantee that the parliamentary committee would have arrived at a consensus either. In that case, the issue would have passed out of the purview of parliament and been referred to the Election Commission of Pakistan for a decision from amongst the lists of names forwarded to it by the government and the opposition. There was therefore a sense of congratulatory relief all round when the Prime Minister, Syed Khursheed Shah and Speaker National Assembly Ayaz Sadiq emerged from a meeting on May 28 to announce that they had indeed agreed on a consensus candidate. The announcement was graciously left to Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah to make. The choice turned out to be universally acknowledged as an excellent one. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk has been chosen for the post of caretaker prime minister. He will take oath on June 1, one day after the tenure of the incumbent government expires on May 31. The final choice was facilitated by Ayaz Sadiq, and this was duly and gratefully acknowledged by Syed Khursheed Shah. Reports say the leadership of the PML-N and PPP was on board and supportive of the choice. Syed Khursheed Shah spoke to the anxieties surrounding the whole episode, including the five indecisive meetings between him and Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, when he said the outcome had dispelled the impression that politicians and parliament were incapable of deciding matters on their own. He referred to the final decision as one that will be remembered as a historic day. He also expressed happiness that the outgoing government had completed its five-year tenure, a development with which we are unfamiliar but for the past two governments since 2008.

Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk brings to his new job impeccable credentials from his service on the bench, ending his career at the pinnacle of the judiciary. During his journey, Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk earned a reputation as a soft-spoken but firm member of the bench. During his tenure as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, he delivered many important verdicts that have earned praise from the legal fraternity. He also briefly served as Acting Election Commissioner and presided, as the Chief Justice of Pakistan, over the Commission that heard Imran Khan’s allegations that the 2013 general elections were rigged. The Commission found the election process flawed in certain respects but overall free of any systematic rigging. During his tenure as Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk adhered to the time honoured principle of judicial restraint and did not adopt a proactive judicial stance, going so far as not to take suo motu notice of any matter. Given his reputation, track record and credentials, it is not surprising that his appointment as caretaker prime minister has received a positive endorsement across the board by virtually all the political parties. The hope expressed by them, which can only be echoed by the people, is that the fears expressed of late regarding the credibility of the general elections called for July 25 will prove unnecessary as Justice (retd) Nasirul Mulk not only is highly regarded as a jurist but also has the requisite experience to overcome any anomalies to ensure the elections are not only fair, free and transparent, but seen to be so.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Business Recorder Column May 29, 2018

The Spy Chronicles

Rashed Rahman

It is the season of name-calling, especially the choice epithet: ‘traitor’. Recently former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was roundly condemned as a ‘traitor’ because he had the temerity to ask during an interview why Pakistan had allowed some elements to travel to Mumbai and massacre 166 innocent people in November 2008. All hell broke loose and everyone and his aunt were competing to preen their patriotic feathers and condemn Nawaz Sharif the loudest.
Now the publication of a book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, authored by former ISI and RAW chiefs Lt-General Asad Durrani and A S Dulat respectively, has once again seen the literary **** hit the fan. Accounts and memoirs by individuals in high office after retirement are quite normal in most of the world, including Pakistan and India. However, the book under discussion is unusual in that the former heads of these two premier intelligence agencies engaged with each other and an Indian writer/journalist, Aditya Sinha, to elaborate a whole palette of issues between the two off-again-on-again hostile South Asian neighbours.
At the very outset it should be clarified that I have not yet read the book. An explication/review of the content of the book would therefore have to wait until one has gone through it. So far, all we have to go on is news reports and some tantalizing extracts from the book. It is therefore in the fitness of things that one confine oneself to what is known so far.
As to reactions to the book being published per se, both Nawaz Sharif and former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani have used the ‘shoe on the other foot’ argument, the former wanting a meeting of the National Security Committee as happened after his interview referred to above was published, the latter asserting that if a politician or any civilian had penned such a book with an Indian counterpart, cries of ‘treason’ would surely have rent the air. Rabbani also wanted to know if Durrani had obtained prior permission or at least informed his institution before going ahead with the book. That question was answered promptly by GHQ summoning Durrani for clarification/s, a meeting reportedly in progress when these lines are being written.
It is time the polity and all of us in Pakistan grew up and matured beyond literally schoolyard name-calling at the drop of a hat. The favourite epithet, not worn by repeated use, is to question the patriotic credentials of anyone who dares to stretch the limits of what is ‘allowed’ and expresses a dissident, critical, contrarian view to the hegemonic narrative of the national security state. This is the exact opposite of what is meant by a democratic polity, a will o’ the wisp we have been chasing for 70 years. Insecure, paranoid, existentially-challenged states strangle all such expression. Confident, mature, firmly rooted (in the hearts of their people) states do not. Readers can themselves imagine which description Pakistan answers to. In any case, insiders’ accounts are always welcomed because of the light they shed on hitherto little known or unknown facts. The process of learning from history, at which we are arguably so poor precisely because we do not have the courage to look the truth in the face, is helped by such accounts.
Unusual (unpalatable to super patriots) as the collaboration between the former heads of the respective top spy agencies of Pakistan and India may be, it can only be welcomed as shedding fresh light on the history of conflict between the two sides, the lessons to be derived from such a retelling by experts in their field, and a welcome turn from the present miserable state of relations between the two South Asian neighbours. From all accounts available so far, the gamut of issues touched upon is pretty comprehensive, including Kashmir, Kargil, the perceptions of each side of the leaderships, civilian and military, of the other, etc. On the most vexed question of Kashmir, the two chiefs wax nostalgic about Musharraf’s four-point plan for defusing the conflict, leaving the status quo in place but making the Line of Control a porous border through which trade and people-to-people contact could incrementally lead to the historic compromise that the book argues is perhaps the only feasible solution to the intractable dispute. None of the reports speak of any major or unknown beans being spilt. Known facts and developments are commented on by both protagonists according to their lights, perceptions, and interests. However, the book promises a candid examination of the political/diplomatic failures on either side going back over 70 years.
The GHQ summons to Durrani notwithstanding, it beggars the imagination that the book was not cleared by the intelligence authorities of both countries. Even if, unlikely as it sounds, that was the case, hysterical demands from a few to ban the book or have it withdrawn before even having read it smacks of a preconceived notions-based witch-hunt. Let us all take a deep breath, take the trouble to read the book, and then comment in a serious manner. That may help take the wind out of the sails of the patriotism/traitor chorus getting louder and louder of late.

Business Recorder Editorial May 29, 2018

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

On May 24, 2018, in reply to a question at a press conference whether he would order any inquiry into the recent revelation by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif of what he believes to be the real reason he was forced to quit, i.e. putting Musharraf on trial for treason, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi called for forming a truth commission with the consensus of all mainstream parties to unveil hidden facts about all major incidents that occurred in Pakistan since 1947. He wanted whatever had happened to come before the people to avoid repetition of blunders committed in the past. He said the process of bringing facts before the people would take a long time therefore dialogues on the issue should be started as soon as possible and should be a part of the election campaigns of all political parties. Mr Abbasi wanted whatever had happened to be documented so that people could be aware of the facts. The suggestion of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission may or may not be an idea whose time has come, but it is certainly worthy of consideration. The demand for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been periodically raised. If it were to come into existence, much would depend on state and non-state actors being willing to open themselves up to a such a Commission and the requisite political will to see such a painful but in the end rewarding process through. Any Truth and Reconciliation Commission worth its salt would have to be an independent body with the requisite powers to demand compliance and submit a final report to be taken up by parliament amongst others. Unfortunately, the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission has been floated on the cusp of the general elections with the present government about to depart. This ‘distraction’ could, and probably would, push the idea on the backburner till the electoral dust settles. However, through that haze and after, the idea should be seriously debated, and the experiences of other Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, especially the one in South Africa after apartheid, examined for models that would suit our peculiarities.

Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are usually court-like restorative, not retributive, justice bodies that seek to discover the revealing past wrongdoings of governments and non-state actors in the hope of resolving conflicts stemming from history. They also usually seek to define concepts such as truth, reconciliation, justice, memory, reparation and recognition. They often provide proof against the historical revisionism (distortion) of the state and non-state actors’ terrorism and other crimes as well as human rights abuses. In addition, they can provide historical clarification by setting straight the received (dominant) versions of the past. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, apart from the best known example of apartheid, have dealt with diverse issues, including the legacies of colonialism and slavery. They offer victims an opportunity to accuse the perpetrators, forgive, and thereby heal. If not during the election campaigns, at least once a new government takes office two months hence, the idea of setting up a badly needed Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Pakistan’s chequered and tragic past should be pushed for, and efforts mounted to forge a consensus that this indeed is an idea whose time may have finally come for us.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 25, 2018

Climate change is upon us already

While scientists the world over have been warning of the impending impact of climate change, we in Pakistan are experiencing its effects already. The current heat wave affecting many areas of Sindh and Balochistan is taking its toll. Temperatures the mid-40 degrees Centigrade are being reported from Karachi, Chhor, Mithi, Dadu, Mirpurkhas, Rohri, Moenjodaro, Sakrand, Hyderabad, Turbat, etc. Over 60 people have died, although the authorities seem to be in denial that the extraordinary heat has something to do with this loss of life. What is adding to the woes of ordinary people is the extent and duration of load shedding. The government had announced there would be no load shedding in Ramzan during sehr and iftar and had even stopped electricity to industries during these times to ensure this. However, reports speak of even those fasting not being spared during the day or at night amidst sweltering heat. In 2015, lower Sindh was hit by a record-breaking heat wave that killed over 2,000 people, mostly in Karachi. With much fanfare plans were announced to implement measures to avoid such a disaster in future. But this year’s spike in temperatures and the attendant problems of load shedding and water shortages shows that the ‘plan’ was mere lip service and nothing concrete has been done to manage such disasters. All the governments have managed is so-called heat wave centres whose efficacy is still to be determined. Meanwhile meteorological forecasts speak of a continuation of high temperatures for some days, climbing 4-5 degrees Centigrade by the end of May (implying temperatures in the 50s). The urban areas especially, where trees and greenery have been butchered in the name of development turning them into concrete jungles, are being described as heat islands. Tragically, whenever a tree is cut down, instead of planting two to replace it, cities have been denuded of the greenery that helps mitigate the effects of urban pollution, provide shade and help cool the environment. Instead, our ‘developers’ have fallen for some years under the spell of foreign trees and shrubs, some of which are water guzzlers (an increasingly scarce resource) or unsuited to our climate. Meteorological experts are warning that impending heat waves are likely to occur more frequently, even annually, and for longer durations. Short-term disaster management is of course necessary (although so far conspicuous by its absence) but long term ecological, water conservation and climate change impact policies have become inescapable.

Unfortunately, since the country is poised on the cusp of elections, governments have other things on their minds than climate change and its devastating impacts that are growing. For the cities, urban design and construction materials are crucial if climate-sensitive criteria are used. Felling trees and replacing green areas with high-rise concrete buildings can only worsen the urban heat island effect. Efficient public transport too is necessary to lessen pollution and the carbon footprint. Public parks and green belts have to be developed on a war footing. As far as load shedding is concerned, three major power breakdowns this month underline the failure while adding substantial new generation capacity to tackle the parlous state of the electricity distribution network. The much-touted surplus power as a result of the government’s crash drive to add generation is no help if the distribution grid keeps on tripping in major ways. Water scarcity, when combined with high temperatures, may become a serious crisis in future. Water scarcity has to be met through building reservoirs big and small wherever possible, introducing water conservation through canals and water channels’ incremental lining, the introduction of less wasteful methods such as drip irrigation, etc. Forest cover has to be enhanced and lumbering regulated. Unless all these and other measures are taken on an urgent basis, climate change experts are predicting that life will become impossible in the worst hit areas, triggering mass migrations with their attendant problems. Time to wake up to Pakistan’s vulnerability to the climate and ecological disaster looming.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial May 24, 2018

Census audit abandoned

The government has in principle abandoned the audit of five percent of the Census 2017 blocks to check the results. It may be recalled that when the provisional results of the census were announced last year, some political parties, with the MQM and PPP leading the pack, objected to the results as inaccurate. They were then mollified by the announcement in December 2017 that a third-party audit of five percent of the census blocks would be conducted. But the Statistics Division convinced Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi that the audit was no longer viable as a year had passed since the provisional results were announced and in a large and diverse country like Pakistan, a lot of migration takes place from one region to another owing to changing cropping requirements, weather conditions and change in livelihoods between urban and rural areas. The international standard for post-enumeration surveys and checks is two months, preferably 30 days. Besides, the process and terms of reference of the audit could not be agreed, nor could the outcomes be expected before the upcoming elections in two months. For all these reasons, the audit had become infructuous. The prime minister was convinced by these arguments, though not without expressing regret at the delays, but argued he could not make the decision unilaterally and suggested the issue be placed before the Council of Common Interests (CCI). The postponed meeting of the CCI is expected some time this week.
The provisional census results reveal that the population has grown by 57 percent since the last 1998 census, i.e. 2.4 percent per annum from 132.35 million in 1998 to 207.77 million in 2017. The final results of the census did not change much from the provisional results, a mere 60,000 or less. However, two key outcomes of the final results stand out and could conceivably play a critical role in future political discourse. One, the Sindhi-speaking population of Sindh’s urban areas increased substantially, significantly higher than other ethnic groups and all other non-Sindhi speaking groups put together. Two, the gap between the Pashtun and Baloch population of Balochistan dropped to less than one percent, reflecting a major demographic shift that could lead to contention in the political sphere in future. The highest growth in population was in the Islamabad Capital Territory (4.91 percent), reflecting the magnetic attraction of the federal capital in the context of job opportunities. Amongst the provinces, Balochistan had the highest growth at 3.37 percent, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at 2.89 percent, Sindh 2.41 percent and Punjab 2.13 percent. Naturally the constituency delimitations will reflect these trends.

What is surprising about this whole episode  is the deafening silence from the parties and individual politicians who were the census’ most virulent critics initially. This indifference suggests that these parties and individuals were not really interested in the accuracy of the census enumeration and the delimitation of constituencies to follow except to ensure it did not negatively affect their prospects in the coming polls. It appears now that they are satisfied that no such impact is likely, hence the pregnant silence. Whether the suggestion to abandon the audit is wise remains an open question since the reservations were considerable and the provisional results could arguably be challenged in a court of law. What the implications of such a legal challenge for the election schedule might be is in the realm of conjecture at this point. It should not be forgotten that the issue of population and its distribution throughout the country directly affects resource allocation, in which population remains the main criterion. At this point, the best outcome may well be the silence of the critics translating into an acceptance of the unaudited results for the purposes of constituency delimitations and the holding of the elections according to schedule as any disruption at this point could derail the polls, something no sensible person would wish at this late hour.