Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial July 31, 2018

Simplicity in ‘new’ Pakistan

Prime Minister-in-waiting Imran Khan in his victory address said he would feel ashamed to live in the Prime Minister’s House that was like a royal palace. He pledged to turn the Prime Minister’s house into an educational institution. Similarly, he said, he would like all the Governor’s Houses and Chief Minister’s Houses all over the country to be converted into public institutions. While the pledge sounds good, it has overtones of a populism that is not new. His predecessor, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of the PML-N did not reside in the Prime Minister’s House during his 10-month tenure, preferring instead to reside in his own home in Islamabad. Nevertheless, despite this gesture of abstinence, the Prime Minister’s House continued to function as his and his staff’s official offices. Other examples in this regard from the past are the pledges by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 1997 and 2013 that he would not be living in the Prime Minister’s House but each time the announcement was nullified by the security agencies in the light of the terrorist threat. That threat, it must be reiterated, has been pushed back but by no means totally eliminated, as the terrorist incidents during the election campaign and even on polling day proved. Imran Khan ordered his chief minister Pervez Khattak not to live in the Chief Minister’s House in Peshawar during the last five years, but that noble gesture too could not be entirely carried out because of security considerations. To say that the same considerations may nullify Imran Khan’s noble intentions now is too obvious. The Prime Minister’s House stands on 800 Kanals with a nine bedroom residence for the prime minister, housing and flats for his retinue of federal secretaries, civil and military (the latter runs the budget for the estate), as well as support and security staff. Shifting the prime minister to some other location, such as Imran Khan’s suggestion of the Minister’s Enclave would pose major headaches for his security detail and is therefore likely to be struck down in the present circumstances. And while we are on the subject, it needs to be stated that since Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s time, the posts of military secretary and ADCs from all three armed forces have been transferred en masse from the President to the prime minister's office. This is unjustified as democratically elected prime ministers the world over do not have such unnecessary indulgences. Doing away with these superfluous posts would sit well with the thrust of Imran Khan’s austerity stance.

While it may sound churlish in the circumstances of the impending taking of office of the new prime minister, and despite the fact that it lies in the private, not public domain, we should remind ourselves (and Imran) that he lives in a 300 Kanal estate in Banigala with eight bedrooms and other sprawling facilities, including a separate PTI secretariat and mostly travels in chartered or private aircraft. Not to put too fine a point on it, if Imran khan desires his and his government’s example of austerity to send the right message to the people that would encourage shunning of ostentation, it is welcome. But the interests of the state must take priority over personal or popular gestures. It is therefore advisable that Imran Khan at least stay in the Prime Minister’s secure compound, even if he plumps for one of the more modest establishments in the estate and the main dwelling be made the State Guest House for use by foreign dignitaries that visit the country. That would answer both the demand for austerity as well as ensure that the chief executive is adequately protected from the terrorist threat that still lingers on our horizon.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial July 27, 2018

The 2018 election

Although the final results of the general election are yet to be officially notified by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the outcome seems clear. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) led by Imran Khan has pulled off a stunning victory. Provisional results show the PTI leading in, and likely to win, well over 100 National Assembly (NA) seats with its closest rival, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), trailing with 60 plus. PPP comes third, as expected, with about 30 plus NA seats. The intriguing question now is whether, when all the results are finally in, PTI will see a clear majority or be tantalisingly close to the magic number of 136 out of the 270 NA seats contested. In either case, its position suggests PTI will form the next federal government, with Imran Khan fulfilling his long-standing ambition to become Prime Minister (PM). If it garners a simple majority, PTI will not have to look elsewhere to form the government in Islamabad. However, even if it fails to reach the magic number, it will be in a sufficiently strong position to resist any outlandish demands from smaller parties and independents whose votes may be needed for a coalition to reach a majority. This development has obviated the concern being expressed by many commentators across the board that a hung parliament may throw up a weak coalition government unable to face the serious challenges afflicting the country, amongst which the economy, internal security and foreign policy take pride of place. After the 18th Amendment, if different parties form the governments at the provincial level as happened after the 2013 elections, the challenge of managing the federation’s affairs amongst the Centre and the provinces also remains a prickly one. Despite all the criticism heaped on the powers that be before the election regarding a queered pitch against one party (PML-N) and in favour of another (PTI), there is no denying that there was a PTI wave during the election campaign. However, if there was indeed a ‘helping hand’ extended to the PTI’s fortunes, the results indicate a case once more of ‘overkill’. That reminds us of the 1977 elections, which then PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP was widely accepted to win, but which fell foul of controversy because of ‘overkill’. While the PTI camp has been celebrating its good fortune since the night of July 25, all the other major parties (and some minor ones) have cried foul, rigging, manipulation, etc, rejecting the results on these bases. The most common complaint from these parties has been the inexplicable reports of their polling agents being shunted out of polling stations after the count began. Many complained of not being given Form 45 showing the final count tally. The ECP has been roundly blamed by these parties for its manifest failure to ensure free, fair, transparent elections. The nightmare of a political standoff between the PTI and the rest of the complainant parties therefore has arrived, as feared by perceptive observers in the run up to the polls. PML-N president Shahbaz Sharif announced in a press conference on the night of July 25 that he would be calling a meeting of his party’s top leadership to assess the situation and then carry out consultations with all the other aggrieved parties to chalk out a response and the way forward. Essentially, the aggrieved parties have two options. They could, if they wanted, take a leaf out of the 1977 Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement against the rigged election that year and start an agitation. But pause for thought is required when the denouement of that agitational movement, in the shape of General Ziaul Haq’s coup and the long night imposed by him on the country lasting 11 years is taken into account. Of course, circumstances are not the same today. Nevertheless, this cautionary note is still relevant. The other option is to take up with the ECP all the specific complaints regarding polling agents being shunted out, Form 45 not being delivered, etc, while entering parliament under protest and continuing the good fight within. Even with the depreciated strength of the PML-N, the combined opposition would be strong enough to give the PTI government a tough time inside the house. Such a course would also send a positive signal that political issues and rivalries would henceforth be fought out inside parliament and not on the streets, thereby strengthening the former after the second consecutive transfer of power through the ballot box.

Whatever decision the complainant parties take, severally or jointly, there are positives to this election that cannot be denied or lost sight of. One, the electorate has bought into and demonstrated by voting in a large turnout the argument that the people must use their vote in the interests of moving the polity further in the direction of a democracy. Two, despite the horrendous terrorist attacks that claimed so many lives, including candidates, in the run up to the polls, the day passed with relatively less violence except for some incidents. Barring Balochistan, which suffered a suicide bombing in Quetta, the other incidents were minor scuffles between rival party cadres and supporters. So it could be stated that by and large the polls were peaceful. Women voters turned out in many areas where they had previously been forbidden to go out and vote, either by conservative parties or their families. This is a plus that at least partially can be attributed to the wise legislation that made a 10 percent women’s turnout mandatory for any election to be considered valid. As to the complaints of rigging, manipulation, etc, that are once again ringing through the overheated political atmosphere, we may like to remind ourselves of Stalin’s aphorism: it is not those who vote who decide an election, it is those who count the votes. To prove that Stalin’s wisdom does not apply here, the ECP has to clear the air, address all complaints to the satisfaction of the electorate, and prove itself a worthy institution charged with carrying out a sacred duty to help the people choose their rulers in a manner above question. Anything less could plunge the country into fresh crises.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial July 26, 2018

Unsavoury situation

Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui’s allegations of ISI meddling in the judiciary’s functioning and collaboration in this allegedly sordid affair of the IHC Chief Justice (CJ) Mohammad Anwar Kasi and even those higher up have rocked the judiciary and legal fraternity and thrown the whole judicial institution into turmoil. These allegations were made by Justice Siddiqui during an address to the Rawalpindi District Bar Association (RDBA) on July 21. Such serious charges of course could not go unnoticed. First the ISPR DG Major General Asif Ghafoor in a statement requested the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar to conduct an investigation into Justice Siddiqui’s charges against a premier intelligence agency and the judiciary. CJP Saqib Nisar took notice of the affair, obtained from PEMRA the recording and transcript of Justice Siddiqui’s address and wrote to IHC CJ Kasi to gather any and all evidence from Justice Siddiqui regarding his claims and forward the same with comments to the SC. While the IHC CJ is named in the allegations, the route taken is appropriate and perhaps also will give CJ Kasi the opportunity to defend himself against the serious charges against him. Justice Siddiqui had earlier written a letter to CJP Saqib Nisar asking him to appoint an independent judicial commission to look into the matter. There is no report on whether the CJP responded to Justice Siddiqui’s request, but while hearing an application (later withdrawn) against Justice Siddiqui, the CJP assured that justice would be done including Justice Siddiqui. The legal fraternity too seems disturbed by all this. The Lahore High Court Bar Association, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) and RDBA have distanced themselves from Justice Siddiqui’s remarks by dubbing them a violation of the judges’ code of conduct and allegedly politically motivated. The RDBA has clarified that it had invited Justice Siddiqui to deliver a lecture on legal ethics but he chose to use the occasion to level his startling charges. They have unanimously demanded the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) take immediate action against Justice Siddiqui. But after all this to and fro, the consensus of the legal fraternity, led by the PBC, appears to have settled on the demand that an SC full court hear the matter of grave national importance with serious implications for the credibility, respect and dignity of the judiciary.

CJP Saqib Nisar has stated that attempts are being made to defame the judiciary. Any harm, he correctly argues, to the institution can jeopardise the country’s stability. One may add, danger exists for the democratic system per se if the institution of the judiciary loses the trust and confidence of the people in a political construct rooted in the rule of law. It is the judiciary that is the bulwark for redressal of grievances against the executive and other state institutions that may act arbitrarily, particularly against citizens. Admittedly, the people of Pakistan justly harbour a great many reservations about the judiciary’s endorsing every martial law and military takeover in our history. Optimists would like us to believe that the judiciary has evolved since then and a repeat of that sorry track record is unlikely in the future. We earnestly hope they are right. But the issue under discussion is not, as in the past, the judiciary’s legitimisation of military coups; it is the alleged interference by ISI in the independent functioning of the judiciary for partisan political purposes. Endorsement of military coups in the past at least had the benefit of openness. This allegation is both much more insidious, dripping with cloak and dagger dread, and so grave that it must be thoroughly examined and either refuted or, if any of the allegations have even a grain of truth in them, bring any alleged perpetrators or collaborators within the reach of the long arm of the law. Only in this manner can the serious besmirching of the judiciary’s credibility be washed clean and its respect, dignity and the people’s trust restored. It is a task of urgent national importance, since, as has been argued above, any political system, let alone a democratic one, rests on the foundations of the rule of law, with the judiciary at its heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Business Recorder Column July 25, 2018

Chronicle of an election foretold

Rashed Rahman

The July 25, 2018 general elections are one of the most controversial general elections in the history of Pakistan. Seldom have polls been questioned regarding their being free, fair and transparent as roundly as these have. This alleged pre-poll rigging has spawned one of the most divisive elections in our history, which has been attended by extreme scepticism as to its credibility and viability. Commentators across the board have declared that these elections have already disenfranchised the voters and stolen the election from them before even a single ballot has been cast.
As if all the rumours and speculations about gerrymandering the outcome of this election to knock out, it appears, the PML-N and its leadership and bring the seemingly favoured Imran Khan to power were not enough, the revelations by Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui regarding pressure being exerted on judges by the ISI have shocked the country. Justice Siddiqui, in an address to the Rawalpindi Bar Association on July 21, made startling allegations to the effect that he had been offered withdrawal of the references against him before the Supreme Judicial Council in return for verdicts unfavourable to Nawaz Sharif and his daughter Maryam, both incarcerated since their return from London in Adiala Jail. Further, on his refusal, the IHC Chief Justice Muhammad Anwar Khan Kasi was allegedly approached by the ISI with the demand that Justice Siddiqui should not be included in any bench hearing cases against Nawaz Sharif et al. Justice Siddiqui also questioned why administrative control of the accountability court hearing the references against the Sharifs was taken away from the IHC and a Supreme Court (SC) judge appointed to monitor these cases.
Questions like these and even accusing fingers have been pointed at the superior judiciary of late for doing things that seem to contradict long established jurisprudence. These critics and dissidents were careful and mild in their language however, partly out of respect for the institution of the judiciary, partly perhaps being mindful of the proclivity of the judiciary to use its contempt powers against those who challenged it rather more freely of late than ever before. If there is even a grain of truth in what Justice Siddiqui has unveiled, it is tantamount to the most severe stricture against the present judicial set up ever from an ‘insider’, no less than a judge of the IHC.
Almost inevitably, this has set off a furore, with ISPR requesting the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar to conduct an investigation into these charges and act according to the law on its findings. The CJP has taken notice of Justice Siddiqui’s outburst, expressed surprise at its content, and reiterated that no one can pressurise the judiciary. Justice Siddiqui in turn has written to the CJP requesting an independent commission to investigate the charges laid by him and if it finds against him, he is prepared to face the consequences. We now wait with bated breath for the next act in this high drama.
In the meantime, PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi has been sentenced to life imprisonment in the long running ephedrine case by a special court just five days before the elections in which he was reportedly a leading contender from NA-60. His supporters’ anger at the verdict, announced by the court after an interminable delay at midnight on July 21, caused a fracas in and outside the court, resulting in over 50 of his supporters being booked for ‘rioting’. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) thought fit to postpone the election in NA-60, citing the high tensions in the constituency as a result of the verdict. Mr Abbasi has been left cooling his heels in prison while his appeals process plays out. His rivals, led by Sheikh Rashid but also including the PPP, have criticised the postponement, which usually follows the death of a candidate. The former intends to challenge the postponement while the latter has been left making boastful claims of being denied victory in NA-60.
Terrorism continued to take its toll right up to the eve of the polling when PTI’s Ikramullah Gandapur was killed by a suicide bomber while campaigning in his D I Khan constituency. JUI-F’s Akram Durrani was attacked for the second time in 10 days in his Bannu constituency but luckily escaped unhurt. These attacks followed the massacre in Mastung and the killing of Haroon Bilour in Peshawar. While the terrorists plied their deathly trade, some terrorist organisations were taken off the Fourth Schedule and mainstreamed by allowing them to participate in the elections, either from their own (renamed) platform if registered with the ECP or from the platform of some spurious recently registered front organisation. If the large number of such candidates, or some significant proportion manage to find their way to the Assemblies, one can only imagine the pressures they will exert to keep the narrative and national agenda within their own narrow, distorted confines.
Meanwhile perceptive observers continue to castigate politicians from all sides who indulge in distasteful and abusive language against their rivals. Of course the author of debasing the political narrative to the point where it now lies in the gutter is widely acknowledged to be Imran Khan. His latest contribution on this score was dubbing all those PML-N supporters who turned out to greet Nawaz and Maryam at Lahore airport as ‘donkeys’. Imran’s besotted and unthinking supporters then carried out the atrocity in Karachi of painting Nawaz’s name on a donkey and beating the poor animal to pulp and near death. Is this what the polity and society is going to look like in Imran’s so-called ‘Naya’ (new) Pakistan? No word of condemnation for this cruel and irrational act by the PTI supporters has been heard from the supreme or any other leader of the party.
Mainstream media censorship and silencing dissenting and critical voices on social media has deprived the people of Pakistan of their right to know and express themselves. Memories of the darkest days of military dictatorship and its suppression of the media and the right of expression have been rejuvenated. We seem to have come full circle in this regard, without the military being directly in power. Now that is real ‘progress’.
While most prognoses see little chance after all the pre-polls skullduggery of the PML-N being returned to power at the Centre, it is also unlikely any one party will gain a simple majority. The prospect of a hung parliament has become Imran Khan’s nightmare by now, since even if he succeeds in garnering enough seats to make a bid for cobbling together a disparate, internally weak and incoherent coalition, any government flowing from such an ‘unnatural’ construct may find it hard going to cope with the major challenges the country faces, and be unable to resist the establishment’s encroachment on its space from behind the curtain.
All one can say is, seldom has an election result been visible from such a distance before polling. If the above conclusion regarding the outcome proves correct, the only possible message to our long suffering people is: good luck with that.


Monday, July 23, 2018

Herald article July 2018

Rebel without a pause

By Rashed Rahman

As Pakistan stands poised on the brink of a general election, the guessing game is on in full earnest to predict who will win this time. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan is once again exuding the airs of a victor, as he did before the 2013 election. His party did not win although it did better than some analysts had predicted (and formed a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with help from the Jamaat-e-Islami). The 2013 poll outcome, however, proved the party suffered from unrealistic expectations, given its limited support (especially in Punjab) at the constituency level, lack of an effective party machine to run the election campaign and deliver the votes on polling day, and the dearth of so-called ‘electables’ among its candidates. The latter are traditional politicians embedded in their rural constituencies on the basis of hereditary feudal and tribal allegiances and a patronage culture.
Imran Khan’s campaign of allegations of rigging after the 2013 election (which escalated from an initial rejection of the results of just four seats to calling the entire election rigged) via approaches to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and the demand for a judicial commission to the months-long sit-in, weakened the Nawaz Sharif-led government but failed to dislodge it. The ECP rejected Imran Khan’s appeal against the results of the four seats in question. The judicial commission, headed by none other than then Chief Justice of Pakistan and current caretaker Prime Minister Justice Nasirul Mulk, could not find any systematic rigging but only flaws in the conduct of the polls, and the sit-in finally withered on the vine waiting for the third umpire’s raised finger.
The PTI found solace in the troubles that overtook Nawaz Sharif after the Panama Papers revelations that finally ended up in his ouster as prime minister, his disqualification for life from being elected to Parliament and the initiation of accountability cases against him with the potential to put him behind bars. Meanwhile the PTI drew the lesson from its 2013 experience to posit the idea that elections are after all a numbers game, so inducting ‘seasonal sparrows’ defecting from other parties is justified for electoral considerations.
The PTI leadership could be forgiven for being surprised by the responses to its ‘pragmatic’ electoral decision. For one, the whole balloon PTI had been huffing and puffing up over the years against corrupt politicians and the need to take them to task if the promised PTI ‘change’ were to arrive suddenly had all the air let out of it. The party now appears no different from any other mainstream political organisation in this respect. It is certainly not the party of change that had attracted youth, women and the emerging urban middle class since its surge in 2011. Secondly, the decision to award party tickets to so-called electables has denied tickets to PTI’s dedicated workers who had stuck it out with the party during its lean years (1996-2011) and harboured the legitimate expectancy of being rewarded for their loyalty and sacrifices with election nominations when the party’s moment appeared to have arrived.
On the very cusp of the PTI’s triumph (with some help from the establishment, it is alleged), Imran Khan and his party seem hoist by their own petard: they are not being able to adhere to their long standing ‘change’ rhetoric and are being accosted by angry workers they themselves have trained in street agitation and protracted sit-ins. The dilemma Imran Khan has faced in the run up to the 2018 polls is whether to stick with the electables or accede to his workers’ demands for tickets.

The inherent contradiction between Imran Khan’s ‘revolutionary’ slogans and the realities of electoral politics in Pakistan thus seems to have become obvious with a vengeance. His decision to go along with the electables, mostly if not entirely, clearly means that he has chosen pragmatism over principles and reality over ideology. Will it propel him into government is difficult to say but what is certain is that he and his party have already lost the momentum for change.