Sharif keeps foreign, defence portfolios but stern tests lie ahead
Apparently, the decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to retain the portfolios of foreign affairs and defence is, politically speaking, an astute one. It puts him at rest about the two most sensitive jobs falling into ‘vulnerable’ hands.
Islamabad’s foreign policy has long been outsourced to the military with the foreign minister merely a figurehead, enacting the script as given. The gorgeous Hina Khar did a decent job of profiling the same, and with distinction. But no-one ever accused her of minding the store independently!
Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whom Khar succeeded, didn’t quite cover himself in glory as the PPP’s chosen one. The media widely reported him as going along with the security establishment in the Raymond Davis affair, for instance, where contrary to President Zardari’s keenness to see the CIA contractor released on account of ‘diplomatic immunity’, Qureshi resisted the move with a nod and a wink from Aabpara. He stuck his neck out for ‘national honour’, thereby annoying his party boss, who was eventually forced to lump it till such time the khakis wheedled out a deal with the Americans.
An aggravated Zardari merely pretended to swallow the insult, but soon forced a cabinet reshuffle in which Qureshi was demoted. But the MNA from Multan refused to have anything to do with the ‘unattractive’ agriculture ministry and before long quit the PPP altogether.
It is therefore, understandable for Sharif to have sweaty palms over it, and to keep the job with him. Obviously, the prime minister wants to be the master of his destiny by driving the relationship with important capitals like Washington, New Delhi, Kabul, Riyadh and Beijing – capitals with which, save for the last two, the military has a mind not necessarily in sync with Sharif.
The third-time PM wants to pursue an independent policy with India that banks heavily on trade. He understands that the surest way to divest Pakistan’s fragile democratic system of its military overreach is to turn the economy around, and for which, it is perhaps, crucial that Pakistan realizes the full potential of trade with India.
The spin-off would be that the two neighbours would per force have to normalize relationship in other spheres – even the revival of a bilateral cricket series in the true sense with India touring Pakistan has great potential to restore normal and peaceful ties. India has long been favourably disposed towards Sharif, who wants to capitalise on this as a great CBM.
Potentially, such a relationship will free up the eastern borders thus providing room to focus our energies elsewhere, purely in military terms. However, it is easier said than done with the security establishment ever so wary of New Delhi, and unsurprisingly, the military leadership has already reportedly ‘advised’ Sharif twice in the space of a fortnight or so to go slow.
Hina Khar wooed India with her gloss quotient, and even though it led to the clamour for a sustained composite dialogue no-one was fooled by where the honed script was coming from, and how much of a chance the PPP government had of breathing life into the process given its gingerly approach to issues it felt were not in its domain.
With Sharif, an industrialist-businessman to boot, there’s a fair chance there will be movement on this crucial area of Pakistan’s limited foreign options to kick start the economy by easing trade barriers.
The PML-N supremo also wants to have a handle on defence. Again, it is understandable both in terms of his past aborted stints in power and the immediate past where PPP’s Ahmed Mukhtar’s unimpressive record as defence minister thanks to near-total lack of control kept the civilian government majorly out of the loop.
Ideally, the defence minister should be the PM’s point man on military matters, but the PM himself taking charge of the Ministry of Defence is a stellar statement from Sharif.
Even though in practice, the military has tended to stamp its feet on the line, hopefully, in Pakistan’s changed environment of today, it might not be all that easy to do so with a powerful PM.
Such a move also has an inherent damage-control benefit when you consider how, in late 2011, civil-military relations took a nosedive over the infamous Memo Gate, leading the-then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to openly accuse the military establishment of running a parallel government. In a battle of attrition that ensued, the prime minister ended up sacking the defence secretary in a derring-do that led to much chaos and immediate speculation of even a possible coup.
Having been bitten twice at the hands of the military, Sharif would be extremely wary of such an unintended implosion, and by keeping the defence portfolio appears to give the impression he wants to keep the lid tight.
As a prime minister with a heavy mandate and both the foreign and defence portfolios under his belt, he believes, will keep him from having to take a chance with ‘vulnerable’ helmsmen as well as drive his own ambitious policies – even if these somehow find favour with the security establishment. As they say, you can take out the army from Pakistan but not Pakistan from the army!
Having said that, such moves are not the perfect recipe for decent governance. As it is, Sharif will have his hands full with Pakistan facing existential crises. The energy riddle alone is going to take a lot out of him – and for considerable lengths of time.
Perhaps, in due course, he will have a change of heart. The need for full-time ministers may soon be felt for strategic geo-political reasons where, at least the foreign minister will have a hectic calendar, hosting and traveling to present Islamabad’s case. Some countries may not be in awe of second-tier handlers.
It may be that Prime Minister Sharif wants to test the security establishment’s sincerity in cooperating with him before he feels comfortable enough to let his aides do business.
The continuing drone strikes and the military’s reluctance in pursuing the India gambit will have done nothing for his confidence.
The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org
Naxalites cannot shoot their way through the opposition
My liberal friends tell me to understand the Naxalites, not to condemn them. I wish I could follow their advice. But how do I reconcile the difference between the Naxalites, who killed this week some 25 Congress leaders at Chhattisgarh, and the two Nigerians who beheaded a British soldier a few days ago at London in public. For me, both are terrorists, fundamentalists, the first from the left and the other from the right. And does the ideology mean anything when the brutalities of one are no different than those of the other?
Probably, it happens when ideologies lose their content and purpose. The followers do not know the way as happened at Chhattisgarh, the Naxalite Bastar belt. But what right do they have to call themselves pro people, the protector of the oppressed when they kill the innocent in the same way as any criminal does. What I have not understood, after following the Naxalites’ activities for several decades, is the point they are trying to make. True, they do not have faith in democracy, although they cry hoarse in its name.
But when they kill at will, they convey the mentality of dictatorship and do not in any way help the egalitarian thesis they expound. Their massacres and acts of oppression suggest only terrorism. A set of committed people have come together and want to dictate the nation’s fate according to their belief. They do not care for the people’s wishes and have taken upon themselves the task of leading the nation using the gun. The ballot box has no meaning in their life.
Whether some families at Chhattisgarh were dictatorial in their dealings or whether tribals were killed by the non-tribals are important considerations to reach the conclusion that they contributed to the deterioration of the atmosphere. But the point at issue is to find a solution to the wrongs committed. Violence cannot find it. A democratic way is far better and more lasting. It is strange that some people still believe in the archaic philosophy of violence. The world is moving towards conciliation and is trying to rule out the use of weapons altogether. The Naxalites, whatever their commitments to a welfare state, have first to win people to their point of view. They cannot shoot their way through the opposition. The defence which they have offered for their carnage does not in any way mitigate their crime.
The Naxalites will continue to proliferate when disparities are latent and the state oppression unrelenting. But violence cannot act as magic wand. It aggravates the problem as has taken place over the years. The menace has to be eliminated. All political parties and right thinking people have to come together to end violence as a method to rectify the wrongs.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has rightly said that Naxalism is a challenge to democratic way, India’s ethos. Violence will weaken faith in democracy and the rule of law. The Chhattisgarh incident has renewed the debate on the futility of violence. The subject is so important that the nation, absorbed in scandals and scams, has diverted its attention and has started talking about Naxalism apart from corruption. The sacking of two federal ministers, Pawan Kumar Bansal (Railways) and Ashwani Kumar (Law) has eclipsed other things and brought integrity to the fore.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi wanted a concrete, convincing action. After winning the state election in Karnataka, where the Bellary mines scandal became an issue, she has adopted honesty as the plank for the Congress in future. She does not want to do anything which would lessen the image of being an honest party. Rahul Gandhi too has announced that the Congress will not put such candidates who are tainted in any manner. It is comical that the two federal ministers wanted to resign when they heard about their dismissal. But Sonia Gandhi wanted the message to spread that the party would not compromise on corruption and would even go to the extent of sacking its ministers. And she did.
Both ministers were reportedly close to the Prime Minister who is said to have assured them that he would let them quit if the alternative was dismissal. Apparently, the Prime Minister who is known for his personal integrity, failed to prevail upon Sonia Gandhi. She was right in her thinking that the dismissals gave a sterner message than the resignations would have. And there is no doubt that it is having a chilling effect on the party. There is the realization that whatever have been the acts of omission or commission in the past, the party has generally turned a new leaf and would not tolerate any more of the scams which have been tumbling out of government’s cupboard at regular intervals.
In fact, many Congressmen, who are out of office, are now putting pressure on Sonia Gandhi to “clean up” the stables in the states. In such a scenario, some allegations are bound to be exaggerated but on the whole the development is healthy. The problem she faces is whether she can open the Pandora’s Box and keep the fallout within limits so as not to allow further smearing on the face of the Congress.
That the matter ultimately rests with the Congress high command (the same is the case with other political parties) has a reassuring effect. Personal animosity will not count. Yet the fact remains that it is ultimately Sonia Gandhi, the all powerful, will decide. This may not turn out to be a bad idea. She has kept away herself from the government’s scandals. However, the morale of Congress leaders may be low; they may not have the kind of self-confidence which they had before the dismissals of Pawan and Ashwani Kumar. A proposal whispered around is that some type of standing committee should be constituted so that Sonia Gandhi is armed with all the information available to her, and could embark upon a fight against corruption.
The writer is a senior Indian journalist.
The winds of change
As the date for US withdrawal from Afghanistan approaches rather quickly, there is little news to show progress towards the goal of reconciliation. Ironically, none of the stakeholders are panicking about the relative stagnant state of affairs. Going by the international mood, a lot still depends on the role of Pakistan. While most of the attention was focused on the elections, the challenges confronted by the nation have not changed with the transfer of power.
From early indications, Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy outlook does not represent any dramatic shift from the past. This, obviously as was expected. Actions on the ground suggest a policy to eliminate the irreconcilable Taliban elements, before approaching a negotiated solution.
Keeping the defense and foreign ministries close to his heart, shows the importance of Afghan reconciliation for the new prime minister, especially when NATO equipment is likely to be retracted via routes through Pakistan. Then there is the complex task of managing public perceptions as the drone strikes continue. Furthermore, he has to address the shortage of energy, and, at the same time, convince the public why Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is good or bad. The above undertaking would be accompanied by a case for better ties with India and Afghanistan based on trade. Most of all, this would have to be accomplished while striving for better ties with the US and West.
However, this postulation misses the other overarching phenomenon that has completed its incubation period in the Middle East. And, this would involve adapting to the tensions between Shia Iran and the Sunni Middle East. In this context, the recent meetings between Afghan Taliban and Iranian officials have taken on added significance. Three questions surround this engagement; what was the motivation behind it, who benefits from it, and the potential future of this track.
Media reports indicate a delegation of Afghan Taliban headed by Syed Tayyeb Agha had travelled to Iran recently. Reportedly, other members of the delegation included Maulvi Shahab-ud-Din Dilawar, Sher Muhammad Abbas Stanakzai, and Qari Din Muhammad. The Taliban representatives from the political office in Doha took the three-day trip at the request of Iran.
While Taliban have confirmed the meetings, Iran has so far stayed away from officially confirming such contacts took place. On the other hand, the Afghan government has sought information from Iran on what transpired during these gatherings. Meanwhile, according to unnamed sources in Pakistan, such meetings have taken place in the past as well, and thus suggesting there was nothing unusual about Iran’s engagement with Afghan Taliban.
The timing of the connection between Afghan Taliban and Iran is peculiar. Afghan Taliban have travelled to Iran in the backdrop of President Karzai’s recent visit to India, where he requested its arms and military training. Moreover, the border tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan are also on the rise, and so is Karzai’s vitriol against its neighbor. At the same time, the status of forces agreement between Afghanistan and the US is still in negotiation, and the number of American bases and troops, continue to swing between one extreme to the other.
There is always a possibility that the Doha based Taliban political office took the initiative on its own, perhaps feeling the pressure from the joint behind the scenes US-Pakistan cooperation against the irreconcilables. By accepting the Iranian invitation, Afghan Taliban may have wanted to showcase their independence and leverage, to whom it may concern.
As various sides push for talks, at least publicly Afghan Taliban have persisted in their refusal to deal directly with the Karzai government, claiming it to be a puppet of the West. On the other hand, Karzai had previously wanted all reconciliation talks to be held under his purview, and in Afghanistan. Moreover, yet to be finalized status of forces agreement with the US runs against Taliban’s key demand; withdrawal of all foreign forces as a prerequisite to talks. This Taliban position also matches with Iran’s interests in Afghanistan.
If Afghan Taliban are to be included in the future political dispensation of Afghanistan, reasonable ties between Taliban and Iran can be a harbinger of long-term Afghan stability. It’s a good omen for India and China that are investing heavily in the mineral resources of Afghanistan. Additionally, stable Afghanistan can also help to jump-start the TAPI project, which in addition to the IP pipeline, could be a tremendous boost for the energy outlook of Pakistan. Closer cooperation between Iran and Pakistan in stabilizing Afghanistan can make the NATO withdrawal smoother. However, American and western efforts to isolate Iran because of its nuclear program have come in the way of these efforts.
Irrespective of who may be behind the initiative for the meeting of Taliban and Iranian officials, the timing is completely off. The sectarian tensions are on the rise in the Middle East, as presently being witnessed in the Syria and Iraq. With the involvement of Iranian supported Hezbollah militants in the Syrian conflict, the situation has aggravated considerably.
The matters have worsen to such an extent that the influential president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Sheikh Qardawi commented last weekend in Doha, “every Muslim trained to fight and capable of doing that [must] make himself available” to conduct Jihad against the Assad regime and Hezbollah. “Iran is pushing forward arms and men, so why do we stand idle?” Qardawi went on to add. On the other hand, Qardawi’s statement was praised by Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh.
In this evolving environment, it would be impossible for the Sunni Afghan Taliban to continue their engagement with Iran. Furthermore, this atmosphere of the Middle East demonstrates the approaching pressures for the Nawaz government, Afghan Taliban, and the reconciliation. The lines that are being drawn are stretched from the Levant to Afghanistan. The Taliban weather guy may not have the updated conditions about the change in the direction of the winds, but as soon as they do, the consequences could be dangerous.
The writer is chief analyst at PoliTact, a Washington based futurist advisory firm (www.PoliTact.com and http:twitter.com/politact) and can be reached at email@example.com
And what a pretty picture it is
Some might react badly to this article for truth is often bitter and bald truth is very bitter indeed. No matter. Iqbal gave me my motto: “I have been ordained to speak the Truth: ‘There is no god but God’” – Mujhay hai hukm-e-azan La Illaha Il Allah. So let the truth be told, as I see it obviously.
Behold the beauty of democracy. It bestowed on us a pretty picture of an alleged criminal president with many cases against him administering the prime ministerial oath to another pardoned and alleged criminal with many cases against him. This is polluted democracy, no less polluted than democracy under any military ruler. Both produce dictators in different garb. That is all.
President Zardari is a product of a Presidential Ordinance under which many criminal cases were withdrawn against him, his late wife and over 8,000 others who benefitted by default. Some went on to hold powerful government offices in yet another example of the beauty of our democracy.
The Sharifs were winkled out by a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia (kid brother Shahbaz protesting) after Nawaz had been convicted of hijacking and terrorism. The deal was between Saudi Arabia and the Sharifs that included President Musharraf giving Nawaz a pardon and a bargain in which many cases against him and his family were scuttled. But many remain pending and await adjudication. I don’t want to witness the sight of yet another prime minister being disqualified.
Yet Nawaz and Shahbaz were qualified to contest elections while many others with similar ‘credentials’ were disqualified. One alleged financial deviant administering oath to another makes a perfect picture of our pathos, underlining the complete and utter degradation of democracy engineered in the name of ‘the people’. This is not the only picture. I have photographs of the current chief justice giving oath to and taking oath from President Musharraf whom he would now crucify. These are pretty pictures of hypocrisy personified. When will we develop fear of God? These pictures also underline the utter bankruptcy of our political and economic systems, the judiciary and some of the ‘independent’ media that are bending over backwards to try and put a gloss on our warts by telling half-truths.
Accepting a pardon even under the camouflage of reconciliation is admission of guilt. No innocent person worth his salt would accept any kind of pardon. Period.
A big deal is being made of Sharif’s hat-trick, becoming prime minister a third time. If Benazir hadn’t been killed she would have been the first three-time prime minister. Instead, power went to her husband. She would have done a less bad job than him and Sharif may not have got another chance. But the script said she had to go to achieve two ends: give the PPP a rope long enough to hang itself by its own hand and get rid of Musharraf because he had drawn a red line that he was not permitting America to cross, like putting boots on our ground. As soon as Zardari gained power the US did put boots down in Bajaur, homes were destroyed and many innocents killed. Thousands of visas were issued in indecent haste to CIA-contracted assassins like Raymond Davis. They have become an epidemic in our country.
Actually, many have been elected to our assemblies more than thrice, showing that nothing changes except the garb of the mannequins in the show window of the facade of our democracy in which democracy’s essence is missing. Shahbaz Sharif has become chief minister a third time to give Lahore (where he thinks Punjab begins and ends) more buses at Rs2.5 billion per kilometer and sell subsidized tickets to be paid for from an empty exchequer. As is that mummy-dummy from Cairo’s Pharaoh Museum third-time chief minister of Sindh whose strings are pulled by adopted brother ‘Tappi’ whose strings are pulled by Zardari – the PPP’s master puppeteer to give us more dozen-a-day killings in Karachi. This is the beauty of our democracy that people go on about to pull wool over our eyes while the hapless masses go further down the degradation gutter.
With Sindh in his pocket Zardari may harbour the option of becoming the ‘Raja of Sindh’ in his sights for he knows that at the rate we are going there may be an economic collapse and rather Nawaz Sharif preside over it than he.
Sharif can avoid the collapse if – and it’s a big if – he can take hold of the script and rewrite it for Pakistan’s good. It depends on how much he has learned from his past, especially that there are limits to power that he should never cross again. Instead, he can gradually extend those limits with good governance and without upsetting any applecart. That takes great wisdom and patience and ability to have the right advisers like Sartaj Aziz. He is a man of the world and knows what it is all about. Hopefully, Sharif got some wisdom and patience living in the Holy Land. He can get more from our Chinese friends. Otherwise what was the point of the last 14 years if he hasn’t learned and changed?
It can be done but first we should accept what we have. Turmoil is not our friend. Let the dead past bury its dead and move on. Evolution will sort it out. Progressive people learn from the past and look to the future. We too must be patient and wise. Remember, one of God’s names is ‘Al Sabir’, The Patient. Another is ‘Al Hakeem’, The Wise.
When I first went to China over 30 years ago it was a model of underdevelopment. The only thing highly developed was the minds and value system of the people and their leaders. Hotels were all Chinese functioning in their own way. The food was Chinese only except in Beijing’s Friendship Hotel where PIA crews historically stayed that had some Pakistani dishes, and well cooked they were too – or perhaps I was in withdrawal after eating rabbit, Chinese cabbage and boiled rice in the Beijing Hotel for a month, except in banquets. There were no taxis, only busses. No cars, except official. Bicycles crawled everywhere like ants. Shopping for foreigners was restricted to the well-stocked Friendship Store. There was no black tea, coffee, sugar, milk or bread. When I found some and asked them to boil the milk for my tea the girls giggled. “Why would a grown man want an infant’s food?” they wondered. Everyone from Deng Xiao Ping down wore Mao suits, you couldn’t tell the difference between a man and a woman except from up close, they smoked like chimneys, their teeth were yellow because they didn’t know toothbrush and toothpaste, and they had no contact with the outside world. In short, they lacked everything that most backward countries take for granted. In 1981 I also went to Dar as Salam under Julius Nyerere. The water from the taps of Hotel Kilimanjaro was brown because Lake Tanganyika’s filtration plant had broken down. They would sell things for one cigarette. We shaved with soda or beer whichever was available. There was no food to buy, just some sorry-looking dried fruit. Look at China now: advanced and advancing. Tanzania is still there more or less. We have regressed.
If China could do it so can we. Sharif should study what they have that we don’t. The Chinese have a strong, coherent and dynamic ideology unlike the Soviet Union that became static. Mao’s two revolutions did a cleansing job for 30 years, albeit at great human cost. Deng Xiao Ping’s 1979 revolution tweaked the ideology to retain the best of socialism coupled with the best of efficient capitalism but under strict regulation, gradually, gradually, learning as they went along. The Chinese system produces highly educated leaders over years that start from the factory floor and field. They first enter local and provincial governments so when they reach national government they are imbued with experience at every level and knowledge about their country and people learned from that experience. Those that go astray are cast aside. Jiang Zemin worked in our Heavy Mechanical Complex in Taxila. In comparison, Sharif did not even work in his own factories. Zardari doesn’t know how to do business the proper way.
God says that people get the leaders they deserve. We deserve our leaders so don’t perennially bellyache. They are our punishment. Even if rigging hadn’t taken place, the result would have been much the same. God says that sometimes He does something that we don’t like but will later realize that it was for our good. The flip side is that God will sometimes do something that we love but if we cannot digest it we will later realize that it was for our destruction. While celebrating his hat-trick, Mr Sharif should keep this in focus. The look on his face says that he does, but actions speak louder than looks and words. We will see. He would have rejoiced when he became prime minister two times before. But his impetuosity needlessly destroyed those terms. He would have lamented when he went to Saudi Arabia. But that stint in self-exile brought him back to power. Now he has another chance, perhaps the last. God has given him a five-year rope. He can either hang himself like Zardari or start swinging like Tarzan. It’s up to him. God be with him – and us.
The writer is a political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
A case study on how to make and unmake an airline
Pakistan’s civil aviation history would make a great case study on how to make and unmake a national airline. It all started when Orient Airways was formed by the Isfahani family of Calcutta in 1946, acting upon a suggestion by Mr Jinnah. The war had ended and aeroplanes were freely available at throwaway prices. The Orient started with the venerable work horse, the DC3 which had been built in the tens of thousands during the war.
Orient merged with the proposed national airline in 1955 and PIA was born. The small, manageable entity that it was, PIA started on a very promising note. Lockheed Super Constellations were purchased as well as Vickers Viscounts. Both aircraft were operated successfully in a rapidly expanding international network. Air Marshal Nur Khan took over as MD in 1959 and in his inimitable style, brought PIA up to par with the world’s best airlines. PIA wet leased a Boeing 707 from Pan Am and started trans-Atlantic flights. Boeing 720s, a shortened version of the 707, were purchased as well as Fokker F27s which operated in the far flung Northern areas as well as short hop inter-city flights.
The PIA of today is a pale facsimile of what were its glory days. Where did it go wrong? The major obvious reason is that in the early years, the airline was being run as a corporation with a strong and enlightened leadership. As the years wore on, the operations became increasingly bureaucratic. Political governments succumbed to pressure and used the airline as an employment exchange. At the moment there are 500 employees per aircraft. Compare this to Lufthansa (127), British Airways (178), Singapore Airlines (140), United Airlines (119) and Air France (245).
In PIA’s defence, it has to operate many non-profit routes on the fringes of the country, like Gilgit, Skardu, Gwadar. These operations and the staff that runs them are a drain on the airline’s resources and account for a significant number of the 500 employees. And the employee salaries are a fraction of what are being paid on the European airlines so this can also not be blamed for the non-profitability.
The major reason for PIA’s ills is that it is not being run as a commercial entity but rather under the Ministry of Defence. Inevitably, this has led to bureaucratic tendencies. Retired defence services officers have found the CAA and PIA convenient post retirement employers with excellent perks. Most of them do not have the expertise that could contribute in any positive way. The political employees, incompetent to a fault, would gang up together to protect themselves. The end result is what we have today, an overweight, arthritic behemoth that is essentially on life support.
Another factor that, experts say, caused a severe downslide in the airlines fortunes was the Pakistan government’s decision to start an ‘Open Skies’ policy. Critics say that the decision by the Nawaz Sharif government at the time, was taken in haste and without proper thought. In essence, the ‘Open Skies’ policy gave foreign airlines a free access to Pakistan’s air traffic, not only to take passengers to their own home country, but also to connect them to their other international flights. This policy is rarely undertaken and even when it is, it is between airlines that are at a par with each other with regard to services, aircraft, connections etc. This decision is taken by aviation marketing experts after a careful study of the advantages and disadvantages to their own airline industry.
The airline industry is governed by what are known as ‘Freedoms’. The fifth and sixth Freedoms are the most relevant and they delineate the rights of airlines to take passengers from another country to their own and the right to take them further to another country. The sixth freedom is the right to carry passengers or cargo from a second country to a third country by stopping in one’s own country. It can also be characterized as a form of the fifth freedom with an intermediate stop in the operating airline’s home market. Most countries jealously guard their sixth Freedom Rights and to give free rein to foreign airlines to pick up and transport passengers anywhere in the world was a grievous blow to a struggling airline.
PIA’s main competitors in the region were the burgeoning Gulf airlines like Emirates, Qatar and Ittehad. These airlines had unlimited resources, new planes, European management and state of the art in-flight entertainment and service. They also had excellent Duty Free areas in their hub airports. Try as it might, the creaking, struggling PIA was thrown in at the deep end. It was basically sink or swim and PIA has been just keeping its nose above water ever since.
In 1997 when the policy was introduced PIA share of the market was 81.3 and others a mere 8.7 percent. By 2001, this had changed dramatically relegating PIA to only 41 percent share of the market. As a result, unable to compete with foreign airlines, PIA is demanding protectionist legislation to rescue the cash-strapped company.
The PIA fleet is cause for serious concern. Apart from the Boeing 777s, all other aircraft are old and in such a state of disrepair that they were banned from using European airspace for quite some time. PIA’s maintenance and engineering wings, once considered their pride, were in serious danger of losing their edge. With the Extended Twin Engine Operating Standards (ETOPS) coming into effect in the late 1980s, twin engine airliners could operate anywhere in the world as long as they were within 180 minutes from an alternate airport in case of one engine shutdown. This placed almost the entire planet in operating range of the twin engine airliners like the 777 or the A330s. This, along with rising fuel prices, put the Boeing 747s that PIA operates, unprofitable to operate. Most have been grounded and are only used for Hajj flights. The Boeing 777s are successful but were purchased through a financial deal that may not have been the best. Most airlines get discounts of 30 per cent or even more from the list price. It is not known whether PIA was in a position to get this discount through the finance company. All this can add to the all-important CASM (cost per air seat mile). An expensive plane will have a higher CASM and therefore less profitability. Moreover, at the time the 777s were purchased, there was a glut in the airliner market following the 9/11 tragedy. Plane prices had fallen steeply. Perhaps a boat was missed there. Recently a lease of six A320s was cancelled because the maintenance staff stated that they were more comfortable with the 737s and that the retooling for the maintenance of the A320s would be prohibitive. With the grounding of most of the Boeing 737s, only about 18 serviceable airliners are left. Compare this to some American privately run airlines that have almost a thousand aircraft.
Like every other inefficient organization, there is always room for the unscrupulous to make a fast buck here and there. There is a thriving business of excess baggage, especially from the Gulf countries where baggage is loaded for a consideration. Then there is the carry-on baggage which is often much more than allowed. The problem is that pilots need exact figures so that they can do load and weight and balance calculations. Most of them automatically add one ton into their calculations. Even then, they are not amused when they see a fast disappearing runway with the engines red lined.
There are stories of people storing vital engine parts in collusion with maintenance staff just so that when there is a requirement for it to keep the plane in the air, they can charge full market price and make a killing. This nickel and dime stuff would disappear with better management and a tight ship. In Jeddah, PIA lost its credit and had to pay cash. The management decided to add extra fuel from Pakistan even though hauling that extra fuel would cost a lot of money. It is these indicators that show a badly mismanaged organisation.
Unfortunately, there is no magic potion that could solve all of the ills of PIA. They need to get back to fundamentals. Improve their staff, cabin crew training. Maintain their planes so that they are in the air longer. They are useless sitting at the ramp. New planes need to be added. But the key is the management at the top level. The airline must be run as a business with the management having hire and fire powers. And above all, get a professional, with a track record to run it. No matter how much he costs the airline. As the Chinese proverb says, ‘The fish rots from the head’. If the head is good, the rest will follow.
DNA testing and the Council of Islamic Ideology
The dominant force of the past century has been a sweep of science and technology, driven by a desire to seek certainty and answers to some of our most primordial questions. In this pursuit, over the past half century, humankind has split the atom and spliced the gene to look inside the very fabric of our creation. We are no longer anchored to the force of gravity, have propelled towards the skies, explored other celestial bodies and roamed Tranquility Base on the moon. We have reached for the stars and never have we been closer to having them in our grasp. New science, new technology is making the difference between life and death. It is bridging the gap between dreams and reality. The effect of modern science is spilling over the bounds of laboratories and into the heart of the social, economic and political lives of our species. And thus, at this critical juncture in human history, even the moral theorems of social science and the law turn towards science for direction and evidentiary guidance.
However, someone forgot to tell all this to the Council of Islamic Ideology.
Recently, the Council for Islamic Ideology – the highest constitutional body on the issue of what is, or is not, in conformity with the ‘injunctions of Islam’ – has declared that DNA test is not admissible evidence in establishing the crime of rape. And with it, we have, at least in terms of rape cases, regressed to a model of evidence that is befitting a pre-Crusade time period, when the time of day could only be told by looking at the sun in the sky, and day of the month could only be told by looking at the size of the crescent.
In order to grasp the far-reaching effect of this ‘declaration’ of the Council of Islamic Ideology, it is important to understand what the Council is, and how it affects our legal and judicial paradigm.
The Council of Islamic Ideology is a group of Ulema (at least individuals are, in theory, Ulema) charged with providing the declarative direction to Islamic provisions, under the law, which are then to be interpreted by the Federal Shariat Court accordingly.
To understand this interplay, it is perhaps pertinent to start with noting how profuse the Constitution of Pakistan is with Islamic references and provisions. To begin with, the Preamble (text of which has been made a substantive part of the Constitution through Article 2-A) declares the supremacy of Quran and Sunnah over all other things. This combination of ‘Church-and-State’ works well in a country where over 95 percent of the people claim to be Muslims, and where Article 2 of the Constitution clearly declares, “Islam shall be the State religion of Pakistan”.
In light of these constitutional provisions, Articles 203-A through 203-J establishe the Federal Shariat Court, and give it the power to declare any law “repugnant to the Injunctions of Islam”. Furthermore, Part IX of the Constitution (Islamic Provisions) endeavours to bring all laws of our nation “in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam”, and for this purpose, Article 228 establishes a Council of Islamic Ideology, with up to twenty members. Benevolently, Article 228(3) of the Constitution stipulates that “so far as practicable various schools of thought [shall be] represented in the Council”, and that “at least one member [shall be] a woman”. And the interpretation given by this Council, along with the Federal Shariat Court, for all intents and purposes, is the declarative interpretation of the injunctions of Islam in our country.
There are countless problems with the manner in which the Council has been structured. Perhaps one of the main reasons why decisions such as the one about sanctity of DNA testing keep emerging from the Council is that, for large periods of our history (including present day), no woman has served on this Council. For a country with 50 percent women population, and aspirations of becoming a progressive nation in world, this fact is extremely discouraging and increasingly leads to (binding) interpretations of Islamic law that are biased against the female gender. Additionally, a cursory look at the members of this Council reveals that just a minimal number of schools of Islamic thought have been represented on this Council, making their interpretation of the injunctions of Islam bend in favour of certain sects of Islam and against others. Now, while it is perfectly acceptable for any individual to pick one interpretation of the religion over the other, in regards to his or her personal life and practice, it hardly seems reasonable that the State should deem one interpretation of Islam preferable to the other.
This Council, over the years, has resisted all moves of reforming the Blasphemy Law, not shied away from calling certain sects to be non-Muslims, and never taken an aggressive stand against the militancy being spread in the name of Islam.
In fact, it was in line with the recommendations of this Council that the honourable Lahore High Court, in the case of Muhammad Azhar v The State (PLD 2005 LHR 589), declared that evidentiary value of the DNA test was not acceptable in cases falling under the penal provisions of Zina, punishable under Hudood Laws having its own standard of proof.
While the honourable Supreme Court, in recent years, has made a push towards progress regarding accepting of DNA tests as sufficient evidence (specifically, suggesting that a mandatory DNA test be done in all rape cases, in the judgment of Salman Akram Raja v Government of Punjab (2013 SCMR 203), still we are far away from accepting the advances of science and technology into the fold of Islam and Hudood Laws.
When will we stop resisting the voice of reason? When will our journey to progressive modernism start?
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Or, a familiar fall!
Listen to the mustn’ts child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossible, the won’ts. Listen to the never-haves, then listen close to me – anything can happen, child, anything can be.
The prime minister’s inaugural address to the parliament after his election was laced with all the right noises: the need for a consensus among all stakeholders on key national issues, eliminating corruption, restructuring of the state-owned enterprises and appointment of individuals of merit as their heads, combating the energy crisis and initiating steps for the revival of the industrial sector in the country.
The most meaningful speech on the floor of the house was made by the head of the Pakhtunknwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) Mahmood Khan Achakzai who pleaded for a ‘soft revolution’ in Pakistan and said that Gen. Musharraf alone should not be punished for the October 12 takeover. Instead, all those who supported him should also be convicted. There was little thumping of desks after that. The reason was obvious: most of the supporters of the general were sitting in the parliament duly elected as members on the tickets issued by the leading political conglomerates. He went on to plead that all those judges who had refused to accept the orders of the dictator should be declared as national heroes and those who had supported him should be condemned. He also advocated for rescinding the licenses of the lawyers who extended support to the dictator. He said those who had supported the cause of the dictators in any manner should be refused entry into the political parties. Little thumping again! He concluded by recommending the constitution of a broad-based fact-finding commission to ascertain the mistakes of the past and suggest a mechanism to rectify them.
Notwithstanding the fact that the newly-anointed champion of democracy was born in the lap of the most demonic of dictators, Zia ul Haq, he should understand that cosmetics like the renaming of the prime minister’s secretariat and the downgrading of the post of the principal secretary to the prime minister will not do. The challenges before the newly-inducted chief executive are monumental with an only remedy: delivery. In the process, he has to most guard against his known propensities of accumulation of power (and money!) and confrontation with other state institutions and stakeholders. These failings had marked his previous two incumbencies in power when he was eager to boot out just about everyone who dared speak a word of wisdom. Understandably, there has been some sobering down over years in exile, but indications are that it may only be a case of hiding of the spots rather than their permanent erasure.
There are three critical issues for the three key institutions of the state: the executive, the judiciary and the accountability arm of the government. In the opposition, PML-N has been pleading vociferously for Gen. Musharraf’s trial under Article 6 of the constitution. Now that they have the government with a comfortable majority and can take decisions without having to compromise with coalition partners, it is to be seen whether such a step is initiated or a compromise preferred over confrontation and Musharraf allowed into exile. There is also the Swiss case which will test the resolve of the new government particularly now that the Supreme Court has given an indication of following it to its logical denouement.
For the judiciary – and particularly in view of its perceived complicity with some political forces leading to their induction into power – the foremost challenge will be whether a commission on the lines of the one set up for NRO implementation is also set up for the Asghar Khan case and what becomes of those individuals who are alleged to have conspired with the intelligence agencies to topple a democratically-elected government and received illicit funds for the purpose. The memo case also beckons for attention. For the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), and for its yet-to-be nominated chairman, the principal challenge will be prosecuting a host of pending cases against the Sharif family including the serious allegations of money-laundering. Additionally, there are numerous outstanding prosecutions involving the two former prime ministers and some ministers of the outgoing government. Will the requirements of law be served, or will a compromise be struck to let bygones be bygones ala a ‘democratic’ NRO.
There are other challenges which will expose the resolve and commitment of the new government. These include the selection of the team from among a highly politicised bureaucracy for which the leadership of PML-N is more to blame than any other political party. The criterion of their choice has traditionally been an uncompromising allegiance to serving their personal interests in preference to any commitment to the constitution, the rule of law or the state. If that remains the preference – and one should know this in a matter of days not weeks – the results may not be any different from their previous two stints. The selection of the NAB chairman and the manner in which the prime minister and his team members may address the requirement of a meaningful consultation with the leader of the opposition would make for an interesting spectacle. It could also be that, in order to at least delay the prospect of taking contentious decisions, they may procrastinate on the induction of the NAB chairman.
One also understands that, in the first batch of ministers likely to be announced by the weekend, there will be no place for the new inductees into the party fold and only the tried and tested confidantes will be sworn in as part of a relatively small cabinet owing to the restriction imposed vide the 18th amendment. This again will expose the likely preferences of the new administration whether they would want to change their governance mode from accumulation to genuine desire for sharing, or they would prefer to stick with the old fault-lines.
This and more are just some of the indicators that would give an insight into the shape of things to come. While hope remains the preferred option of the millions who wait with baited breath for some good to finally come their way, the happenings of the first few weeks and the quality of the team members the new leadership sets out with to undertake a challenging task will determine the extent of relief that can be legitimately expected. Anything can happen, anything can be!
The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Results are already manifest in mindset
The only constant thing in life is change. Having heard this sentence for the better part of our lives, its significance has become a reality in the recent turn of events. The people of Pakistan have been blamed for their apathy and indifference to what goes on outside their four walls. This allegation has been applied to all strata of the society. The rich, because they were too comfortable in their own sphere and too aware of their own power to over power the system. The middle class because they were too afraid to challenge a system that may make their already difficult life more challenging; and the poor because they in their ignorance believed that this is how life is.
Most of this has undergone an obvious change. People all across the socio-economic spheres for the first time are now either forced or willing to own up to the fact that change is inevitable and also their responsibility.
Elections on May 11 may not have brought a revolution in government but has brought a revolution in mindset. That itself is an unprecedented feat. Changes in government are no guarantee of changes in country, but changes in mindset are a certain way of ensuring that change will be inevitable. Another variable important in the sustainability of change is that is change enforced or is change desired? Wherever change is an effect of few trying to dominate many, with fear and threat doctrines, change is never a continuous process. On the other hand if change is a product of the unrest of many and is the result of a genuine desire of the masses, change continues in one form or the other. With this background what has happened in Pakistan bodes well for the future. Many feel that the government in the center has changed but real change will not ensue as these are the very faces that have assumed this office twice before as well. Others feel that in Sindh and Punjab even the statements are the same, so we may have a feeling of déjà vu very soon.
While all the above observations may have some validity, the most important part of defining change is the thought process of the man or woman on the street across the country. While results may indicate a stalemate in their thoughts, the pre and post effects of the elections indicate a sea change in the way people of Pakistan now think and behave. For the first time half the voters in Pakistan were young and for the first time voters and as history showed, their previous behaviour indicated indifference and apathy, especially towards the electoral process. However this was the major change that was witnessed in the pre poll activities. During the ticket allocation process of various parties the involvement of youth was surprising. As party tickets were announced there would be a reaction, positive or negative, immediately either on TV surveys, Facebook or sms messages indicating their pro or anti sentiments. Their knowledge on the background of the candidates was amazing. They would use information technology to dig up facts and give very clear comments on their chances of winning. This level of interest and involvement among 20-year olds was unprecedented. The participation in campaign rallies were again a totally different experience. With weather uncomfortably hot, political rallies still had record attendance. From Karak to Karachi regardless of the dangers and threats, people would turn up in hordes. Not only were numbers significant, the composition of participants was remarkable. From 3 year olds wearing different party colours and symbols to 80 year olds on wheel chairs, we saw flag waving and slogan chanting at its loudest. All these were indicators of change and the desire for change. Overseas Pakistanis after the agonizing wait for their voting rights decided to take the plunge and a large number of people came to vote from all corners of the world.
May 10 was as festive, yet with more fervour than Chand raat. Even then the apprehension was that these people were just having a party the whole night and will sleep off on the election day itself. Thus it was completely amazing the sight on polling stations for early goers who thought that they would sail in at around 8.00am, stamp and saunter out a few minutes later. There were long lines of voters already there and of voters whom you would never get to see on the election day, who would never get up early on a holiday, who would never bother to bear the heat of weather for hours, who would bash Pakistan no end and never take ownership of the country’s future and so on and so forth.
This was the real change of mindset, of actions and of deeds. Regardless of the results on May 11, change has arrived. This was confirmed by the post election results. All those people who had voted and found out that their vote had not brought the desired result, did not just sit at home and rue the system and continued with their life. They were again on the street, on sms, on net, demanding inquiries on the system.
The result of all this involvement and engagement is already visible. In KPK the CM house has been turned into a public library and the CM has refused to carry official protocol. In Karachi the invincible MQM has admitted to bhatta khouri and land mafia and dismissed its Rabta committee. At the federal level, there is talk of a smaller cabinet. These are the signs of a country acknowledging the need to change. Thus those voters who voted for change and are now fearful that this country will never change must understand the dynamics of change. Change is a process and a movement that has no specific deadlines and ends. Pakistan movement was spread over four decades; Nelson Mandela suffered for 27 years in jail to bring change in South Africa.
This is not to say that do not expect change in less than a few decades, but to say that changing mindsets or as I called them setminds is the most difficult of tasks. Having accomplished this gigantic feat it is just a matter of time that small changes will start growing into bigger forces. The key to turn small into big is that people of Pakistan continue taking individual and collective responsibility of their own and their country’s future.
The writer is an analyst and columnist and can be reached at email@example.com
Will the PML-N hold the bull by its horns
In an unprecedented turn of events, Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif was recently sworn in as the 27th Prime Minister of Pakistan. Sharif, 63, is the only political leader in Pakistan to take charge of the premiership for a third term. In his first address to the parliament, Sharif briefly addressed some major national challenges: from drone strikes to the law and order situation in Karachi. However, to the dismay of our terrorised populace, the newly elected Prime Minister failed to state a clear counter-terrorism policy against ongoing terrorism, which has claimed the lives of 35,000 people including 5,000 security personnel. Not to mention that the monetary cost of terrorism is in billions of rupees, as public and private properties have been destroyed in the hundreds of suicide attacks.
For those who followed the political campaign of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party’s strategic silence on an issue as serious as terrorism did not come as a surprise. Let us recall the massive TV ads, social media campaigns, print, and door-to-door campaigning of PML-N in particular; it had everything from Metro Bus Service to bullet trains, while a serious issue like terrorism scarcely received attention. One may argue that PML-N was able to secure a majority in the recent elections by simply relying on the electoral strength of Pakistan’s most populated province, Punjab. And unlike the other three provinces, situation of terrorism and sectarian violence in Punjab is not among the top issues. However, things are not as peachy and pink as they appear on paper, and while Punjab’s terrorism problem may not be as serious as the other provinces, it is still very serious nonetheless.
Punjab has been the breading ground of banned sectarian outfits Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) for decades. This is the same LeJ that has time and time again claimed responsibility of massive sectarian attacks in Karachi, Gilgit Baltistan, Peshawar, Lahore and Quetta. Back in the 1990s, Punjab, especially Jhang, was a major battle ground of sectarian violence which spread elsewhere. Presently, no part of the country is safe from this terror. To add insult to injury, PML-N’s beloved city of Lahore has not been spared the horrors of sectarianism and terrorism in the last five years either. In 2010, the city witnessed a major suicide attack in Yom-e-Ali procession, claiming 18 lives and injuring more than 150 people. More recently, the popular eye surgeon Dr Ali Haider was brutally killed along with his 12 year old son for being Shia.
Interestingly, PML-N’s leadership has always been mysteriously silent or dubious on the issue. In 2010, Shahbaz Sharif publically urged Taliban to spare Punjab from their terror plots. According to Punjab’s Chief Minister, both Taliban and PML-N opposed former military dictator Pervez Musharraf, this common stance should have been enough incentive for the Taliban to stop carrying out terror attacks in Punjab. The abovementioned public address later on received major criticism in the media, until the story vanished in thin air a couple of days later. Regardless, gradual decline in terror attacks in Punjab was seen after that controversial address. On the one hand, PML-N gives the credit to Shahbaz Sharif’s vigilant governance, which controlled the situation without needing to launch any major operations against terrorists or making any notable arrests. On the other hand, rival political parties and critics point fingers at PML-N’s political alliance with AhleSunnat WalJamaat (ASWJ), the political wing of the former Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP), formed after it declared a banned organization in 2002. For some reason, renaming an organization is enough to allow it to function normally and participate in politics.
PML-N’s strategic political alliance with ASWJ is not a new phenomenon. PML-N leader and Minister Rana Sanaullah publicly campaigned in PP-82 on February 20, 2010 with ASWJ leader Ahmed Ludhianvi for the PML-N candidate. At that time, the then Governor Punjab Salman Taseer had criticized the act. However, with the crucial support of ASWJ, the election was eventually won by Azam Chaila. Not that the PML-N is the only party in Punjab that has used such alliance. According to ASWJ’s media cell, their leader Ahmed Ludhianvi has produced a list of 25 PPP leaders who won their seats in the 2008 polls due to ASWJ’s support.
So while party politics are muddled with secret and public alliances with distasteful terrorist organizations, our original questions begs to be answered: what is PM Nawaz Sharif’s counter-terrorism strategy? Will it include rejecting elements, the same elements that the party has been aligned with over the period of time, elements that have contributed towards terrorism and sectarianism in one way or another? These are very serious questions for Pakistan’s national security, but were hardly addressed in ruling party’s election campaign or their leadership’s recent public addresses.
A look at page 85 of the PML-N party manifesto lists a number of lists of propositions that appear insufficient. The PML-N neither suggests the use of force to disarm or eliminate terrorist organizations that are capable of massive attacks on both civilians and military forces, nor does PML-N clearly state its policy to engage Taliban in peace talks despite the confidence TTP has previously shown in the elected Prime Minister. However, their counter-terrorism plan does include educational and health reforms to create job opportunities for skilled workers, and create healthy environment in troubled areas. How any of this is going to stop the TTP or LeJ or SSP or ASWJ from carrying out terror attacks in Pakistan remains a mystery.
So far PML-N has made all the right moves. Their decision to empower Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists in the troubled province of Balochistan and allowing PTI to form a government in KPK is respectable. But it’s high time the country’s new leadership quit beating around the bush and holds the bull by its horns. A visible counter-terrorism policy will be a good start. In an unsafe Pakistan whose fragile economy spiraling downwards from bad to worse, a counter-terrorism policy is a necessity for our nation’s survival.
Ammar Yasir is the co-founder of teabreak.pk, Pakistan’s largest blog aggregator and writes about Pakistan’s socio-political issues. He blogs at www.ammaryasir.com, and tweets @ammaryasir
An acid test awaits Malik and Nawaz
There are problems in Balochistan that Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch can tackle himself. There are other problems that can be resolved if the federal government lends him full support. There are still others which can only be dealt with by the federal government.
Sardar Aslam Raisani was a corrupt politician and an absentee chief minister who should never have been given the charge of the province. He owed the office to the PPP and considered himself accountable to Asif Zardari rather than the people of Balochistan. Abdul Malik Baloch is a middle class politician who has risen from the ranks of student activists and has worked hard to reach the provincial legislature. He has been thrice elected to the Balochistan Assembly and has been a provincial minister. He is a whole time politician with sizable political following and administrative experience. His appointment as CM has led many to hope for a turnaround in the province.
Malik knows that his political existence depends on delivering. His voters expect him to resolve the numerous and pressing problems of the province. His rivals in the nationalist circles have already started insinuating that he will not be able to fulfill his promises. The Baloch extremists who have taken up guns maintain that the Punjab dominated establishment will never allow the Baloch to run their own province with maximum autonomy or let the Baloch benefit from the resources of their province. The Baloch separatists would go to any extreme to foil Malik’s attempts to provide relief to the people of Balochistan. The new CM has to work overtime to prove that democracy can help people of get their long denied rights.
Hopefully Malik would make significant headway in improving the law and order situation. For this, the police needs to be made more efficient so that it is able to replace the highly unpopular FC –which should be sent back to the border at the earliest. One expects the new administration to stop kidnappings for ransom, undertaken among other criminals by some of the tribal dignitaries themselves. He has also to stop carrying of weapons and the use of vehicles with tinted glasses in Quetta for forced disappearances and kidnappings.
One expects a better use of the funds available to the province. Instead of distributing them among the ministers for fictitious development, these have to be spent now on the uplift of the common man, on education, manpower training, health facilities and projects that create jobs. Initially a fair amount will have to be diverted to the rehabilitation of hundreds of families displaced on account of military/FC operations in Dera Bugti and Marri area. Similarly more funds would be required to better equip the police. If the policy is pursued efficiently, the common man will find a visible improvement in his life. This alone can wean him away from the lure of the armed struggle against the state.
To be able to maintain public support, the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, torture and dumping of bodies has to be brought to an end at the earliest. Its continuation would discredit the new government. It is here that the CM will need full and active cooperation from the federal government. The number of the persons made to disappear is staggering. According to Nasrullah Baloch, the chairperson of the ‘Voice for Baloch Missing Persons’, there are 23,000 registered cases of the sort.
Who has forcibly separated all these people from their families in violation of law? In June 2012, a three-member Supreme Court bench issued an interim order holding Frontier Corps (FC) responsible for the disappearances across the province. The order stated that the helplessness of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) was against the expectations, while it was also found that the agencies, especially the FC, were involved in disappearances.
It suited the Raisani administration to maintain the policy of “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil”. This helped him concentrate on misappropriating public funds. Raisani reconciled with whatever was going on with the blessings of the federal government. A man whose political career depends on putting an end to disappearances, dumping of mutilated dead bodies and recovery of those made to disappear cannot afford to ignore incidents of the sort. Unless the federal government persuades the security establishment to cooperate with the Balochistan government, it is bound to be confronted by the new CM who has vowed to resign if he failed to put an end to the outrage.
Will Nawaz Sharif’s government risk confrontation with the hawks in the security establishment? The decision to appoint the National Party chief as CM and a nominee of the PkMAP as governor indicates that Nawaz has an inkling of what needs to be done. Enjoying a solid mandate, he should be in a position to persuade or pressurize those behind the gruesome activities to put a stop to them. He also needs to tell them to release those who have been forcibly taken away. In case anyone has committed a crime he should be charged in accordance with law and taken to the court. It remains to be seen however if Nawaz is willing to use his authority. Unless he puts his weight behind the new CM, the sincerity of the PML-N in resolving the issue of Balochistan is liable to be questioned. Nawaz would subsequently be accused of missing the last chance of saving Balochistan.
The second source of violence and sabotage are the Baloch separatist groups that sprang up in the wake of Akbar Bugti’s killing. They have targeted Baloch nationalists for supporting mainstream politics as well as people from other provinces including Punjab, Pushtun labourers working in coal mines or constructing roads, police and FC personnel. They have attacked government installations, blown up railway tracks and power pylons. There is a need to hold talks with them with the aim to persuade them to join the mainstream politics to seek the redressal of whatever grievances they have. The Baloch nationalist leadership is best qualified to hold talks with the separatists. In case the new government in Quetta succeeds in introducing a better governance, improving the livelihood of the people and giving them a feeling of participation in running their own province, this would take much of the wind out of the sails of the separatists.
The third source of lawlessness and bloodshed in the province are the terrorist networks with a countrywide reach. These include TTP which has mainly targeted the ANP and the law enforcement agencies in the province. Then there is the LeJ and other sectarian terrorists who continue the ethnic cleansing of the Hazara Shia community in Quetta. These terrorist networks have killed thousands of people all over the country during the last ten years. It is time the federal government decides how to deal with them. No provincial government can eliminate them on its own.
The writer is a political analyst and a former academic.
Who will be this week’s mummy?
Hello and welcome to our weekly game show called “The Mummy Returns”. For those of you not familiar with the game and its format: it’s a simple polling game where we make a list of contestants who have made a haunting comeback over the past week or so, and the one getting the most votes is dubbed the “mummy” for the week.
It’s an international game show, with votes coming in from all over the world – and beyond – as voters try and ensure that the contestant, who has managed to scare the living daylights out of them, comes out on top. This week has seen quite a few horror stories, and phantom returns, and if you found one of these returns particularly bloodcurdling, please participate in the game and cast your vote.
Here are this week’s scariest returns:
Nawaz Sharif’s return to the PM House
By becoming the 27th prime minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif would be trying to jolt his opponents into submission for the third time in his political career. Whether or not these opponents include the people of Pakistan remains to be seen.
People who voted for Nawaz Sharif include Imran Khan, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Jagmohan Dalmiya’s return to BCCI
After the IPL became more of an interrogation chamber than a sports league, the man summoned in to clean up the mess is the one who was expelled from BCCI for misappropriation of funds in 2006.
People who voted for Jagmohan Dalmiya include Mahinder Singh Dhoni, Salman Butt and the Indian cricket fan.
Syrian Army’s return to Qusair
The fact that the city inhabited by 30,000 people is now virtually left in ruins tells you how haunted the scene is there, as the Syrian Army vies to scare away the rebel forces with the help of Hezbollah fighters.
People who voted for the Syrian Army include Salim Idriss, Lyse Doucet and the Qusair citizen.
Fauzia Kasuri’s return to NA contention
Still in the rumour mill but there’s a chance Fauzia Kasuri might take up PML-N’s offer of contesting NA-48 – the seat that was vacated by Javed Hashmi. Fauzia Kasuri taking over NA-48 via PML-N would be a nightmare for a lot of people.
People who voted for Fauzia Kasuri include Javed Hashmi, Shireen Mazari and the PTI fan.
Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea
The number of trophies he has won in the past decade or so is scary, but the amount of cash he has splashed to win the said trophies, is scarier.
People who voted for Jose Mourinho include David Moyes, Arsene Wenger and Fernando Torres.
Megadeth’s return to hard rock
With their latest release Super Collider on Tuesday, Megadeth signaled a return to their 1990s sound. The metal-heads might not dig it, but the thought of Dave Mustaine and co matching the commercial success of the 1990s is pretty daunting.
People who voted for Megadeth include James Hetfield, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber.
Madhuri Dixit’s return to Bollywood
After showcasing more acting skills in the five-minute cameo in the song Ghagra, than the current leading ladies have done in their entire careers, this return is one that is giving sleepless nights to every single Bollywood actress out there.
People who voted for Madhuri Dixit include Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif and Dr Shriram Madhav Nene.
Start button’s return to Windows 8 OS
Microsoft’s virtually admitting failure after deciding to reinstate the start button in the Windows 8 operating system. And it’s sure as hell going to worry the Microsoft shareholders.
People who voted for the Start button include Risto Siilasmaa and Lee Byung-chul.
The ring’s return to Amir Khan
Taking on the 21-year-old Faryal Makhdoom is said to be the most intimidating challenge of Amir Khan’s fighting career. King Khan is odds on to be knocked out in the first round.
People who voted for the wedding ring include Zab Judah, Lamont Peterson and Carlos Molina.
Tax Laws (Amendment) Ordinance’s return to PM Secretariat
The draft wasn’t signed and now the proposed taxation measures have been pushed for the FY14 budget and would be tackled by the newly formed government.
People who voted for the ordinance include Nawaz Sharif and Ishaq Dar.
Afghan Taliban’s return to Iran
Senior Afghan Taliban decided to have a little chitchat with Iranian officials in a rendezvous that is set to get on the nerves of both Kabul and Washington and throw a spanner in the AfPak works.
People who voted for the Afghan Taliban include Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai.
IMF’s return to its senses
IMF finally accepts that it messed up big time on the Greek front, but still managed to point all its fingers – and more – at the Eurozone. The blame game is not really going to help the Eurozone countries sinking in the debt quagmire.
People who voted for the IMF include George Papandreou, Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi.
Rafael Nadal’s return to Roland Garros
He’s going for a record eighth French Open title to become the only man in the history of tennis to win at least a Grand Slam in nine consecutive years. He takes on Novak Djokovic today in the semifinal that is actually the final.
People who voted for Rafael Nadal include Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Pete Sampras.
Roshni’s return to Facebook
The Facebook page that promotes petrifying ideas like human rights, equality and secularism was taken down a few weeks ago. The monsters are back with another page.
People who voted for Roshni include Tariq Jameel, PTA and lots of people with an extremist mindset.
Islamism’s return to Turkey
After 90 years of exile Islamism is stealthily creeping inside Turkey, as Prime Minister Erdogan refuses to understand the limitations of being a democratically elected leader.
People who voted for Islamism include Suleyman Demirel, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Kamal Ataturk.
Pakistan cricket team’s returns to England
Pakistan’s previous three trips to England have seen the team being involved in spot-fixing, become the first Test side in history to forfeit a match and win a cricket World Cup.
People who voted for the Pakistan cricket team include Mirza Iqbal Baig, Waqar Younis and Michael Holding.
So who do you think would be this week’s mummy? Send your comments and votes to the address below.
The writer is a financial journalist and a cultural critic. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @khuldune
How the environment impacts the lower-income strata
A healthy environment is a basic right of a society’s inhabitants, a right affirmed by the Rio Declaration (UN, 1992). Yet environmental risks are unevenly distributed within and between societies, and these risks affect different populations in unique ways. Inequities in risk exposure, risk reduction and risk compensation are crucial elements in contemporary management issues. While our governments and institutionalised authorities often dismiss environmental issues as secondary problems in the face of growing terrorism, rising poverty and a massive energy crisis, the environment affects us more broadly than we give it credit for. Environmentalism is not just about protecting trees, having greener spaces and wildlife conservation, rather an unhealthy environment is intrinsically linked to class structure, poverty and economic development. In recent years, proponents of environmental justice have highlighted that low income communities and communities that are traditionally marginalised bear a disproportionate burden of the nation’s pollution problems.
The currently living generations have inherited and are sustaining a very unbalanced distribution of benefits and burdens in the local ecosystem as a result of deliberate human policy choices. Those policy choices have shaped our institutions and systematically affect the way we treat the Earth and the ecosystem we belong to. Powerful systems of industrial energy generation, industrial textile and food production and mass transportation cumulatively poison natural systems and threaten environmental justice. For example, mechanised agriculture and lack of proper waste management facilities significantly contribute to the toxicity of our freshwater supplies, injecting them with toxic chemicals and additives and causing soil erosion, salinity of soils and greenhouse gas inventories. Beyond the environmental footprint and trajectory of food production, the people who work in this industry face the greatest burden of exposure to toxins including the cumulative effects of long term, multiple exposures of workers and their families both in the factories and the fields. Furthermore, nearby communities are also at a risk, especially as they depend on natural produce as a food source and there is a severe lack of basic facilities such as proper sewage in such areas.
While the agriculturalists and industry owners shift their opportunity cost onto others and relish in luxury, it is the poor who bear the brunt of the hazardous by-products of their industries. Living in a less developed country with a low GDP and which is facing problems such as unemployment and labour exploitation, the lower income class has a marginally lower immunity to environmental hazards as compared to the rich. For example, take the water supply system that is rigged with pollution; the majority of people do not have the resources to access mineral water or filters, hence they put themselves at risk in their quest to survive as the authorities and careless industrialists leave them with no option. The government freely hands permits to factories in areas that are traditionally occupied by low-income families and by extension plays a role in their lowered standard of living. The socially marginalised groups such as stay-at-home mothers and children suffer the most as they receive none of the benefits yet face all the opportunity costs.
Pakistan dedicates a substantial amount of its Gross Domestic Product to healthcare without realising that a number of health problems can be curbed by addressing its environmental issues and ensuring proper waste management. As with many other things in our country, there is no dearth of environmental laws — the implantation bit is where we lag behind. To the privileged class, a dirty canal is just that, an unpleasant sight; however, a number of children from low-income families, struggling to find recreation, use these canals as swimming pools, making themselves vulnerable to a variety of diseases, some even fatal. Is it right for us to reprimand them? Certainly not. It is the responsibility of the respective ministry and the local governments to ensure that public areas are kept clean and environmentally friendly. In the long run, a number of health problems can be avoided just through better waste management.
The road ahead will not be easy with the globalisation of industrial solidarity and capitalism, and new conservative political climate giving corporate polluters the upper hand. In this process, we must keep in mind that the common-sense knowledge about environmental equity, conflict resolution, fair-share allocation, negotiated settlement, and the other blandishments of the reform effort tend to support the status quo, where officially sanctioned knowledge in a class-stratified society serves vested interests. Our goal then is to document and support an alternative base of knowledge among the lived experience of oppressed people residing and working among the toxic contamination of industrial society. If we settle for liberal procedural and distributional equity, relying upon negotiation, mitigation, and fair-share allocation to address some sort of “disproportional” impact, we merely perpetuate the current production system that by its very structure is discriminatory and non-sustainable.
The writer is a staff member of Pakistan Today and holds a degree from Mount Holyoke College.
PPP, PML-N both responsible for present power crisis
With 20 hours of outages in mid-summer and Rs500 billion circular debt balance to pay, there is no doubt that a serious crisis has beset the power sector in Pakistan. With all kinds of solutions to the power crisis being bandied about and the PML-N giving a strong indication that it will turn to the private sector as a solution, there is a need to ascertain what caused the power crisis in the first place.
The debate during the election was played out as a blame game between the PML-N and the PPP. The PML-N blamed the PPP for the rental power plants while its chief economic ideologue Sartaj Aziz blamed it for its 1994 power policy. The PPP’s rejoinder was that the PML-N had “cancelled the contracts of around 24,000MWs of Independent Power Plants (IPPs)” in their 1997-99 tenure, arguing that “had this additional power been available to the national grid today there would be no shortage.” But here lies the fundamental problem in the electricity debate: the crisis is not a crisis of capacity.
With over 20,000 MWs of generation capacity, Pakistan’s power sector far exceeds peak demand that hovers around 17,000 MWs. What both parties – and the PTI too – gloss over is that their energy policies during the 1990s were in fact identical. In 1992, at the insistence of the World Bank and IMF, the PML-N government’s Cabinet Committee on Privatisation approved a Strategic Plan for Restructuring WAPDA. The plan involved “unbundling” WAPDA’s Power Wing and shifting the burden of generation and distribution to the private sector. When the PPP was at the helm next, it approved the World Bank championed 1994 Power Policy which offered astonishing terms to private investors – including a 80:20 debt-to-equity ratio, minimal taxes, guaranteed capacity payments even if power plants were not producing.
The first major step in the direction was the announcement of the Hub Power Project, a 1,292 MW private sector project described as the “Deal of the Year” and later as the “Deal of the Decade.” The Hubco deal was followed by the signing of 16 IPP contracts to add 3,400MW of private thermal power to the grid, at a time when the future shortfall was assessed to be between 1000 and 1,500 MW. The PML-N, which now apparently questions the terms of the deal, only continued the process once it returned to power. In sanctioning the creation of NEPRA in 1997 and approving the unbundling of WAPDA into 13 units: eight distribution companies (DISCOS), three generation companies (GENCOS) and the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC), operating under the newly created Pakistan Electric Power Company (PEPCO). The unbundling of the WAPDA Power Wing was supposed to move the power sector “from an inefficient state-controlled monopoly to a competitive, market-driven system.” The actual plan, as the IMF describes it, was to “ready the power sector for a more attractive packaging to be sold to private investors.”
Smaller units of WAPDA could be privatised much more easily. That was the plan the PML-N had approved in 1992 and set up for packaging in 1998. Now that it has returned in 2013, the energy plan it has announced its intention to “finish their unfinished business.”
The PML-N envisages a three-step plan. Step one: merging the Ministry of Petroleum and the Ministry of Water and Power. Step two: raising Rs500 billion through treasury bills, bank loans and printing money and paying off the circular debt. Step three: selling government shares in public-owned power companies, reducing its share to 51 percent and handing over their management to private investors. The move is expected to raise another Rs500 billion.
But more importantly, it will leave the power sector one step behind the promise of the PML-N manifesto: complete privatisation. This is the reason why the shares of the Nishat Group, Engro Group and DESCO/Dawood Group have reached their peak. Each big business group in Pakistan is expecting a windfall from the government’s selling the self-created carcass of the public power sector. And like the KESC, they know that even if they are unable to make net profits, they will still be able to make good sums for themselves through the various gimmicks that each privatisation experience in Pakistan has coughed up.
The torrid experience of privatising the KESC should have set the alarm bells ringing that something is amiss in the policy. What began as a 25 percent share offering was upped to 51 percent and then 73 percent without undergoing due process. When in February 2005, KESC was finally privatized, the winning bidder withdrew four months later. From being handed over to the Saudi Al-Jomiah Group of Companies, it was switched to the Abraaj Group in 2008. Despite the privatisation, the government has continued to subsidise the KESC by around Rs30 billion a year since 2005.
With LESCO, FESCO and the rest of the distributing companies now set to be shifted under private control, the tussle between NEPRA and privately-managed distribution companies over increasing both tariffs and subsidies is likely to intensify. Already, the privately-run KESC continues to employ increased outages as a blackmailing tool with NEPRA when it refuses requests to increase the tariffs. Can the public, a decade down the line, afford around 20 separate privately-run power distribution and generation companies tussling with a central regulator because revenue is not as much as they expected? Surely not. But this is the direction the PML-N’s plan to sell a stake in government-owned power companies shall lead to.
In simpler terms, it means that the power crisis, if one considers only the small variable of availability of power, is likely to be severer under the private sector than the public sector. But there is another variable that is not being spoken about: the cost of consuming electricity. Consuming electricity at the current tariff rates has already become unmanageable for all sets of consumers: domestic, commercial, industrial and agricultural. Those who have forgotten must be reminded that the All-Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) and the Kissan Ittehad have both been organising protests and filing cases against both outages and the spiking of tariffs. Domestic and commercial consumer protests have turned cities into war-zones, as would be remembered in the summer of 2012.
The greatest irony of course is that the ideologues of the PML-N also point to the 1994 energy policy by the PPP as the point where things went awry. Finance minister in waiting Sartaj Aziz wrote an article in these very pages criticizing the same policy and defending the PML-N’s decision to cancel the relevant tenders. The power crisis blame game was played between the PML-N and the PPP during the election campaigning, without letting the people know that both were part and parcel of the same regime.
Cambridge economist Kamal Munir and Salman Khalid, affiliated with private sector power investments, state, “It took a few years for the true extent of this policy’s fallout to become apparent. When lights came back on, the power sector and everything else that depended on it lay in ruins. All the promises of great service vanished. Since 1990, tariffs in rupee terms have climbed up approximately 530 per cent for the median domestic consumer as the energy mix of the country shifted away from much cheaper hydro to thermal based power, exposing the average consumer to the vagaries of the international oil price fluctuations. As a result, the government and the consumers found it increasingly difficult, almost impossible, to pay for this electricity. By 2011, it became usual for large parts of the country to plunge into darkness on a daily basis – all this in the presence of substantial excess, unused capacity!”
The debate that is not being had is whether the solution to power crisis lies in promoting public sector investment or inviting the private sector to take over the public sector? Why was public money not pumped into the public power sector in the 1990s? Why was the same money used to “incentivize” private investors? And of course why is an “inefficient public sector” being blamed, when the bulk of the “inefficiency” in the system is the excess and expensive capacity added by the private sector?
With the PML-N government promising the end of consumer subsidies (except for domestic consumers), this is not to say that corporate subsidies shall end. In fact, in the next round of pushing the public power sector towards complete privatisation, expect the government to spend more than the Rs500 billion it expects to receive from selling shares, expect more controversial deals collapsing – and expect a starker power crisis a decade down the line with no path of return available. Munir and Khalid conclude their article by stating, “The blackout in Pakistan is a policy failure, a result of the disastrous privatization undertaken by the government at the behest of the World Bank.” More privatisation is likely to completely cripple the system.
The running joke these days with the spike in tariffs is, “Thank God for the load-shedding. If there were electricity 24 hours round, who would afford to pay the bill?” If the next round of PML-N led privatisation succeeds, we may not be able to afford the little electricity we consume at this moment. Be warned.
The writer is the general secretary (Lahore) of the Awami Workers Party. He is a journalist and a researcher. Contact: email@example.com
Is Pakistan’s rural voter rational?
To us urban armchair political warriors, rural Pakistan is a world away. To your run of the mill, middle class second generation Punjabi urbanite, the word village drums up images of a small, dusty settlement, rolling fields of wheat, children beset by droves of flies and a feudal lording over his fiefdom, taking whichever lass seems pleasing to his eyes. Save for the last, the rest would be a fairly accurate and shallow description of your average Pakistani village. All too often, from this very shallow lens people will draw further conclusions and try to prescribe motivations to seemingly ‘irrational’ voting choices of Pakistan’s malnutritioned Third World underbelly.
From the outside, from where we sit, the decisions of the masses seem somewhat irrational in nature, choices concluded not through a process of iron clad logical reasoning but through a more personal, heartfelt one. To us, the biradari and clan systems are mere symbols of identity, but to the person in the village, the biradari is something much more sacred. Voters will line up to vote for a candidate of a similar biradari irrespective of the candidates’ reputation or track record. The fact that voter and candidate share the same biradari is reason enough to cast one’s precious vote in favour of the candidate. You huff and puff, frown at this cavalier attitude. They’ll bring Pakistan down.
It gets worse; it gets much more irrational than that, more personal than just biradari. Without assuaging the rural voter’s ego in every way possible, there is a likelihood that the voter might not root for the aspirant come Election Day. If the voter has a number of ballots under his/her belt, it is imperative that the candidate come knocking on the voter’s door, earning the constituent prestige points in the village. Time and again, I have witnessed voters changing allegiances and announcing their support for a rival candidate on the basis of a candidate having come and swept the voter off of his feet with a dexterous bit of ego massaging.Where Pakistan burns, how can people put their social standing above the concerns of Pakistan? Why such self-centredness?
One of the more understandable voting trends is the rivalry vote. The only reason I will not vote for party A is because my rivals are voting for party A, hence leaving me with no option other than to vote for party B. Whither national issues? Whither legislation?
Realise though that these are symptoms of a larger problem. Rationality, at the end of the day, is a very contextual thing. Pakistan’s rural areas are but a slightly civilised version of the Wild West and the rational decision over there would be completely different than a rational decision taken in the cities.
‘Out there’ survival depends not on the government or institutions, you would be a fool to do that, but on other people. Pakistan’s institutions inspire nothing but suspicion, disdain and hatred. Rather than providing avenues to the populace for non-partisan judgment and justice, they are in fact vehicles for the exact opposite. The power of people, contacts and money is far greater than that of most institutions. Many will contend that the same statement could be applied to the US, granted but on an absolute scale, a legislator in the US will have an infinitely harder time getting away with murder or rape compared to the same in Pakistan.
This, to an extent, explains why the voter’s ego will often be such a deciding factor in whom to vote for. Perceptions about social standing matter for a lot in the village, much more so than in the cities. When a candidate personally visits the voter, that person’s social standing rises, he earns prestige points among his peers. From personal experience, for people living in rural areas, a lot of things are a matter of prestige. To give you an example, cows that look a certain way carry a sort of ‘prestige’ price premium in the rural areas. One would imagine that the sole price factor for a cow ought to be its milk production, not so in the village though. So you have prestige, you have a higher social standing; you increase your clan’s chances of flourishing and surviving in rural Pakistan because more people will be willing to help you out when your chips are down.
The people of Pakistan have little or no exposure to the security offered by a group of solid, non-partisan institutions. Despite offers by the Chairman of PTI, Imran Khan, to fill this gaping societal void, voters have till now turned a deaf ear to the same and decided to go along with local influential and biradari leaders, perhaps feeling that a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. Which begs the question, when legislators derive a lot of their power from the existing void of institutions, will they be willing to develop institutions that might take up the role of benefactor that is presently the realm of legislators?
In their own way, rural voters will make the decision that suits them best. While Pakistanis share common concern such as chronic electricity and gas shortages and terrorism, more immediate concerns such as having the ability to bail out compatriots from the caring hands of your average, helpful, friendly Station House Officer (SHO) and your cooperative line-man from WAPDA come into play. Personal trumps national.
For sure, this situation can be rectified. Pakistan needs institutions, strong, apolitical, non-partisan institutions. Given those, we can help voters to start looking towards issues of national rather than personal importance.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org,Twitter: @ahshafi
Naïve grandstanding is no solution
The drone strikes in the tribal regions of Pakistan, authorized by Gen. Musharraf to take out terrorists and Al Qaeda operatives in 2004 have continued unabated with varying frequency. With over three thousand civilian lives lost and property worth billions of rupees destroyed, the drones have caused extensive collateral damage, and accentuated the hate syndrome against the US consequently swelling the terrorists’ ranks.
The strategy has not only been self-defeating for the US, it has also confronted Pakistan with an existentialist threat from within. The people of Pakistan are against the drone strikes and would like them to be stopped by all means even if it involved shooting them down. The elements sympathetic to Taliban, the rightist media and the ‘ghairat brigade’ have all contributed in the crystallization of this view. If a referendum is held today on this question, it is likely people will overwhelmingly voted for shooting down the drones to regain national sovereignty and honour. Having felt the pulse of the masses, Imran Khan has also been playing to the gallery, saying that were he voted into power he would give the shoot-down order.
After the latest strike that killed the TTP’s deputy commander Wali-ur-Rahman, the newly elected chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Parvaiz Khatak, said: “Had PTI been in power in the centre, the US would not have dared to attack”. The PTI stance on the issue is quite naïve and is demonstrative of the lack of understanding of the dynamics of international relations, especially when dealing with the sole super power. The drone strikes are too sensitive an issue to be addressed through sentimental reactions. It needs an objective appraisal of the ground realities, one’s own strengths and weaknesses and of course how it can be ensured that Pakistan remains relevant to the changes that are occurring in our region and beyond which are likely to have a strong bearing on our future foreign policies.
President Obama has promised to bring greater transparency to the use of drones but has not ruled out the possibility of their continuous use as and when required to target the US enemies. The US foreign secretary John Kerry has also defended the US policy on drones and said they were legal and effective, which means that come what may, these strikes will continue till the US thinks they are useful. And we should not expect these strikes to stop before the US leaves Afghanistan.
Pakistan simply cannot afford military confrontation with the US on the issue as any such move might bring incalculable harm to Pakistan not only in military terms but also the US creating difficulties for us in our endeavours to revive the economy through loans from international lending agencies and probably also isolating Pakistan, capitalizing on hostile sentiments against it in the world community that are wary of terrorism emanating from here. Leaders are people with vision and supposed to guide, motivate and educate the people on complex issues rather than being swayed by the sentimental fervour at a particular point of a time. Yes, the drone attacks are counterproductive and constitute a serious breach of our sovereignty. But the point is are we in a position to adopt a belligerent attitude towards the US in the prevailing circumstances, especially when the US is poised to withdraw its combatant troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The only option for us is to facilitate the process of reconciliation within Afghanistan besides ensuring safe and congenial conditions for the withdrawal of American troops and equipment from that country.
The Pakistani leadership should assess the situation rationally and also take the people into confidence on the ground realities. Bringing peace to Afghanistan and consequently to Pakistan is a very convoluted issue which requires a very calculated, pragmatic and workable approach. Untangling the embrace that we have had with the US mostly depends on the bear that is holding us. Those who believe that Pakistan has most of the cards in resolving the Afghan conundrum probably fail to rationally evaluate the situation and the variables involved in this regard. Our room for manoeuvre is quite limited while the US has a number of alternatives to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan and the South Asian region. Despite the fact that US and Pakistan have opposing strategic interests in this region, we still need to remain engaged with them because in the realm of diplomacy engagement is the name of the game.
Pakistan now has a new government, under the stewardship of Mian Nawaz Sharif. There is no doubt that our terms of engagement with the US will have to be revisited but it is imperative for the new government to devise a comprehensive strategy of dealing with the US in regards to the Afghan issue and beyond in consultation with all the stakeholders, particularly the security establishment. Similarly the policy to deal with the TTP also needs to be thoroughly debated and discussed among all stakeholders.
One cannot take an issue with Nawaz Sharif’s contention to explore the option of negotiations with the TTP, for peace is essential for the economic revival. But it is not as simple as it seems, particularly after the latest drone strike that killed Wali as the TTP has vowed to take revenge from the US and the Pakistan Army. Nawaz Sharif as prime minister is well advised to tread along cautiously and avoid the pitfalls of hurried actions. The issue can be resolved as and when the opportunity comes only if besides the political leadership the military commanders are also on board with regards to the strategy to deal with the proposition.
The writer is an academic.