Politicians, military establishment need to have priorities right
The US defence secretary has met the prime minister and COAS. The uncertainty created by the ongoing US-Afghan standoff has added to the dangers Pakistan is likely to face after the US-led NATO troops leave Afghanistan next year. Karzai remains reluctant to sign the proposed security deal and wants his successor to endorse it after the elections next year. Washington has threatened to go for the zero option i.e., exit of all NATO troops if the Afghan President fails to put his signatures on the document before the end of December. While there is little chance of the Taliban overrunning Kabul in case of the withdrawal of all foreign troops, what is certain is a long drawn out civil war in Afghanistan. The least that it would do is to send millions of Afghan refugees trekking to Pakistan through an over 2,500 km long porous Durand Line. Another certainty is that it would provide the Pakistani Taliban strategic depth to launch attacks all over the country. Both would overburden the economy and add to the country’s security risks.
What is needed under the situation is for the army to re-determine the principal source of threat to Pakistan’s security. The developments over the last few years prove that internal security challenges constitute the principle threat to Pakistan’s sovereignty. It is anomalous under the circumstances to concentrate almost all defence assets on the eastern frontier. The unrealistic policy has already led to two major embarrassments: the failure on the part of the security forces to detect the American helicopters that flew from Afghanistan to Abbottabad on May 2, 2011, to kill OBL and the lack of defence capabilities in Salala in November 2011 to stop and repulse the NATO assault on Pakistani border posts, which killed several soldiers. Almost all the countries in the region, and many outside it, consider the militants as the major threat to regional and international peace. As former COAS Kayani put it in his Independence Day address last year: “No state can afford a parallel system or a militant force,” and also that “The fight against extremism and terrorism is our own war and we are right in fighting it.”
What is required is to secure the eastern front through a policy of reconciliation with India which needs to be told that the militancy causes an equally potent threat to New Delhi also. It is time our politicians and military establishment had their priorities right.
The public speaks, but politicians fail to learn
Whatever they may say about the privileges that come attached with, running a government is not an easy job. Just ask the Congress in India, which has lost in four states that were its main stronghold in the previous elections, or Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh which finds the country in a standstill as an outcome of the strikes called by the opposition over the election schedule. However, navigating through these choppy waters is what makes a successful government.
The Congress lost two states where it was ruling, an indication of how times have changed. Though this defeat is not as bad a sign as it appears to be for the Lok Sabha elections come next year, it is still a precursor for the Congress of what the party should be prepared to face if it fails to fulfill its promises. Being a secular and liberal party, it has often been blamed for a softer tone against its arch-foe, Pakistan, and economic giant next door, China. However, it has indeed performed well in steering the country’s economy to safer shores. The Congress was, on the other hand, mired in a plethora of allegation of corruption, inefficiency and slower response to public’s problems. This cannot work, knowing fully well that to be successful the government should be seen to be responsive, deliver on their promises and also with a clean perception about integrity. That’s also precisely what Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh is not perceived to be. It is also accused of corruption and electoral malpractices. The main opposition party BNP, led by Khalida Zia, and 17 other opposition parties have decided to extend their five-day blockade for three more days, demanding that the government announces a non-party based setup to manage election affairs, which to them have been scheduled unfairly. A UN envoy would visit the country to assess the situation and find out a solution. The issue is complicated by the news that a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, accused of war crimes, will be hanged after a court decision. This could mean more protests.
What the leaders, and the public, need to understand is that democracy works on a pattern; it may be slow, it may take some time but it does not fail. The politicians need to learn patience and deliver on their promises when they are in power or, as has been the pattern, military takeovers would not be too remote a possibility.
Balochistan conducts successful LG polls
Good news has come from Balochistan for the first time in a decade. 18,000 candidates have braved threats to their life from the militants to contest Local Government elections. This shows that a vast majority of people is keen to resolve the problems of the province through the ballot rather than the bullet. Realising the gravity of the threat faced by the contestants, political parties agreed to put up unopposed candidates in some of the most vulnerable constituencies. A few hundred seats also remained vacant because of the scare. Similarly the voter turnout was low in districts with bad law and order situation. This was compensated by the fact that in various constituencies the turnout exceeded 50 percent. In Quetta, which had earlier witnessed some of the most gruesome terrorist attacks in the country’s history, there were long queues of voters at both male and female polling stations. Hopefully this would open the eyes of the militants who stand more isolated after the polls than ever. They should know that thousands of elected councilors have a stake in preserving the system.
It is common for tensions to run high during the elections resulting in violence. Thankfully the Balochistan government succeeded in conducting the polls without any major incident of the sort. This was due partly to Dr Malik’s success in getting the needed cooperation from the law enforcement agencies. That the Acting Chief Election Commissioner visited a number of constituencies to oversee the exercise indicated a confidence in the administration about the law and order situation. The successful conclusion of the electoral exercise shows what an efficient government can do in retrieving the situation in Balochistan.
Balochistan government still faces grave challenges. The threat of militancy which cannot be eliminated by force alone still exists. It is easier to maintain peace in the province with the help of over 50,000 law enforcement personnel on a single day than to keep the forces of chaos at bay in normal conditions. The Local Government can win the hearts and minds of the people only if it is entrusted with enough resources for development. It remains to be seen if the CM can persuade the cabinet to divert the resources to the local bodies which were misappropriated by ministers during the last ten years in the name of the development of their constituencies. The government will also have to evolve an efficient mechanism of oversight to ensure that the funds are spent honestly.
The government should better focus on its performance
A government, any government, would never want its inefficiencies brought to the public. It would much rather keep them out of public’s prying eyes. However, when media does get a whiff of what’s going on in the government machinery, a government is often left flustered in its designs and the truth is unveiled. A similar thing happened the other day when none other than the prime minister of Pakistan stated his discontent on what he claimed to be media’s unjust criticism of his government’s actions.
Nawaz Sharif’s tirade against the media may have some truth in it but can you really blame the media if it is doing its job? And by extension wouldn’t the government be in a much better place to defend itself if it were really doing its bit? The premiere wants to be appreciated for the little things his government does, while completely neglecting major problems the country is faced with. Country’s economy is stagnant, terrorism and sectarianism have spiraled out of control, power and gas shortages have not been met yet; all this and the PM insists that he be appreciated for bringing down the prices of tomatoes. He sure doesn’t understand that what would make people, and the country, happy and prosperous. Like his younger brother’s government in the Punjab province, he also seems to favour short-term stopgap solutions to chronic problems of unemployment, high prices of daily use items and pretty much everything else. The prime minister also put the onus of our failure in becoming an industrial country squarely on Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the former prime minister who was hanged, judicially, by ironically the former military strongman Ziaul Haq, Nawaz Sharif’s patron in politics. That Bhutto’s decision of nationalizing industries can be disputed, it is also worth noting that the N League family has been in the power for a collective of around 30 years, and other than a motorway, whose utility can also be contested on merit, the party has nothing worthwhile to show for its political credentials.
Criticism for the sake of criticism bears no benefit, but if it is done for the sake of improvement, then it is not such a bad idea. Media industry in Pakistan may have its faults, but pointing fingers at it for when it is actually doing its job is not a good thing to do, particularly when the pointing fingers belong to the prime minister of the country.
The ever narrowing line between the passable and the extraordinary
There are fewer subjects in psychology more interesting than the Stockholm syndrome. This is a particular cognitive bond that afflicts victims of kidnappings, wherein the latter develop positive feelings, even fall in love, with their captors. One could find whole tomes of peer-reviewed psychology journals documenting the phenomenon, taking it apart, crystallising its components to see what makes it tick. But the premise is the same: in that particularly sensitive state of mind, a victim notes any decrease in torture (he didn’t hit me as much as he hit my other fellow captives; he gave me more food than he did the others; he beat me every other day rather than everyday etc.) and subconsciously interprets it as proof of the captor’s kindness. That interpretation then morphs into affection. A shade of this phenomenon is found in the rationalizations battered wives provide for their husbands’ behaviour.
Do we, as a nation, suffer from the Stockholm syndrome when it comes to the army? Going by the homage paid to the outgoing army chief Gen Kayani, one would think we need professional help. The talking heads in the media and beyond were not dissecting the chief’s legacy (which we’ll get to in a while) but were praising him merely for not staging a military coup. Is this what standards have come down to? Is not calling in the Triple 1 brigade going to pass for an army chief who likes to stay away from politics? He is a good army chief because he didn’t interfere as much as he could have?
Gen Kayani might have had some plus points, and we’ll get to them, but let it be said: the army, on his watch, did not stay away from politics. Examples abound. First, there was the Kerry-Lugar Bill, where even the ISPR formally did its thing. The Bill was an American piece of legislation; a comment on it even by the elected representatives of Pakistan would have reeked of chutzpah, but here was an army, huffing, puffing and growing an angry shade of purple over the demand the US legislature was making of its executive branch to give money to Pakistan only if the politicians, and not the army, are completely in command. Then there was the Memogate episode, in which the former general’s spymaster took a personal interest. That particular fiasco rocked the boat a little too much, for a nascent democracy to bear.
“Do we, as a nation, suffer from the Stockholm syndrome when it comes to the army? Going by the homage paid to the outgoing army chief Gen Kayani, one would think we need professional help.”
There were many other behind-the-scenes interventions. Chief amongst these is the alleged arm-twisting of the civil setup to get an extension on his tenure at the slot. The civil government has to take responsibility for some transgressions, this one included; no civilian PM, regardless of how much the khakis are in control, can absolve himself of all crimes. But things in the polity are what they are. When our praetorian masters are unhappy, they have enough leverage to make things pretty uncomfortable for a sitting government.
These are points that definitely need to be raised the next time someone talks about apolitical army chiefs. Apolitical compared to whom? The ones who actually took over?
But what about Kayani’s other legacy? The one they call a doctrine? The shifting of the focus of the army from an India-centric matrix to one fully cognizant of the terror in our midst. True, the general might have something there. But how much is he really to be credited? Former army chief Musharraf – definitely the most flawed individual to hold the nation’s reins since the dictator before him – was the one who, it has to be said, started the operations against the militants and jettisoned some support to the groups who want to pursue adventures in India. Yes, Musharraf detractors would argue, but he only kept on attacking the ‘bad’ Taliban and not the ‘good’ ones and that the Indian threat perception remained the central point of our security calculus. True, but many would say the same about Kayani’s army as well. As you read this, militant outfits in the Punjab, the ones particularly sweet on Kashmir, have the run of the place.
What doctrine, specifically, did the man change? True, at least the era of false starts against the bad Taliban has stopped. For however diminutive their yields, at least in certain areas, the army seems determined to fight the good fight and for that he needs to be credited. Furthermore, he was unequivocal on where the real threat lies. If there is any problem there, it stems from much lower ranks, who suffer from the cognitive dissonance that has resulted from years of training, since their PMA days, on one line, and then a stark and sudden recalibration following 9/11. As the rumour goes, a concern in the US State Department is not what will happen if the generals take over but what will happen if the colonels take over? There is no huge risk of that, granted. All of Pakistan’s coups staged by army bosses might have been successful but all those staged by those lower down the line (two and counting) have been failures. But, as the Brigadier Ali case shows, the threat is most definitely there.
The new army chief has his job cut out for him. The problem is not only how to crack down against one’s own people but also how to crack down against one’s own ranks. A tough set of circumstances to navigate through, he will definitely make many enemies in the army regardless of how he goes about this.
“The Central Command (CENTCOM) boss’ residence, the home of he who runs two major wars, would pale out in comparison to our corps commanders’ palaces. We need men of action, not pampered mandarins.”
And, lest it be forgotten: alongside figuring out which is the best way to fight this, our war, we should also take a good look at our force. Are we a lean, fighting army? War might not necessarily be only a young man’s game because old generals have also proved their mettle in military history. But war definitely is a poor man’s game. Not in the literal sense of the word but only to imply the simple lifestyles of the men running the show. Forget their book deals, forget their lecture circuit fees and forget their fabulous pensions and compensations. Just look at the living quarters of the serving heads of command of the US army. The Central Command (CENTCOM) boss’ residence, the home of he who runs two major wars, would pale out in comparison to our corps commanders’ palaces. We need men of action, not pampered mandarins. It is all natural for the salaried middle-class to keep an eye on their nest eggs but for the fixation on plots to outstrip all other passions is disturbing.
There is a reason a popular adjective for frugality is derived from one of the best armies the world has seen, the Spartan army. You can’t have one without the other.
First since 2002, and no mean achievement
Balochistan government deserves credit for conducting the first local government polls in the country since 2002. This is no mean achievement in view of the prevailing law and order situation in the province. While Punjab and Sindh governments have missed deadlines to provide the Election Commission updated Local Government laws and rules and notifications regarding delimitations of constituencies Balochistan has conducted the elections after fulfilling all the requirements.
Balochistan faces a double whammy. It is being harassed on the one hand by sectarian fanatics and the TTP terrorists and on other by secular militants. This combination of forces is opposed to polls. The TTP and its allies have already killed a whole lot of tribal elders in the tribal areas to strengthen their hold and have vowed to target the election process. The separatists fear that the elected local government leaders would emerge as a force at the grassroots with a vested interest in preserving the system. What is more they would expose the hollowness of their claims regarding the majority of the Baloch being opposed to Pakistan. As a Baloch Republican Army (BRP) spokesman put it, “The state wants to deceive the world through these elections.” The elections pose a challenge to all these forces of chaos. As the elections drew near they used all the resources at their command to create an atmosphere of panic. At least six candidates elected unopposed were kidnapped, presumably by the separatists. There was a blast in Chaman and a number of employees of the Uch Power Plant were kidnapped. A day before the elections the Baloch Republican Party and the BNM issued a call for strike all over the province.
It was a sensible decision to allow foreign observers to watch the local government polls. The restrictions put on foreign aid agencies to do rescue work during the September earthquake had sent a negative signal. It created the perception that the establishment had something to hide in Balochistan. Inviting observers indicates a level of confidence and would help make the election process more transparent. Presence of neutral observers would also weaken the position of the separatists.
“The current elections will have a long term impact on society in Balochistan. They will particularly strike the outmoded Sardari system at the roots which are its most vulnerable part.”
The current elections will have a long term impact on society in Balochistan. They will particularly strike the outmoded Sardari system at the roots which are its most vulnerable part. With an alternate elected leadership emerging from below the old system resting on outmoded customs requiring blind allegiance to the tribal elite would be shaken. This will of course take time and there are bound to be twists and turns but once the foundation is laid it would promote merit over privilege and provide Balochistan a new generation of popular leaders.
There are challenges that the provincial government would face after the elections. The newly elected office-bearers would be a primary target of the forces spreading anarchy. The local administration will have to be directed to cooperate fully with those elected. Another challenge is to empower the local governments in letter and spirit. The elected grass root leaders can play a vital role in winning the hearts and minds of the people only if they have the necessary resources at their disposal to plan and execute the development projects considered vital by the local community and also create jobs for the jobless. It would be a testing task to convince the provincial legislators that their principal job is to focus on legislation and that most of the development work would henceforth be undertaken by the local governments. Once the empowered and easily approachable local bodies start delivering, this would provide a sense of ownership to the common man. People in Balochistan will gradually start feeling that they are stakeholders in the system.
However to remove the sense of deprivation those picked up by the agencies need to be freed. What is more the dumping of the dead bodies of political activists and their relatives has to be stopped. Unless those enforcing laws stop indulging in lawlessness, they cannot expect the aggrieved people from taking the same course.
Nelson Mandela, a great democrat and unifier
Nelson Mandela, the great South African freedom fighter who led his country from racial apartheid to inclusive democracy, has died at the age of 95. A democrat and humanist by conviction, he was forced to resort to armed struggle after the white racist regime banned the African National Congress in 1960 and shot dead 69 peaceful black protestors at the Sharpeville massacre, which was condemned all over the world. He was arrested and sent to jail which he entered at the age of 40 and left when he was 67. From various jails that he was lodged in, he guided the struggle which remained by and large peaceful. A lung infection that he contracted in the unhygienic conditions of South African jails, and which continued to pester him for the rest of his life finally, caused his death.
Mandela, who has been aptly described as one of history’s last great statesmen, unified a South Africa badly fractured on racial lines. The black people in South Africa who comprised about 80 percent of the population had suffered long from a system of racial segregation called apartheid under which they were denied citizenship while there was segregation in education, medical care, and public services. But for Mandela, South Africa could have slipped into a civil war. As a first step to forge unity Mandela set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was to act as a model for similar bodies constituted afterwards in various countries. Thanks to Mandela, South Africa is now a multiethnic pluralistic society at peace with itself.
Unlike other African liberation leaders who preferred to cling to power Mandela who was elected as South Africa’s first democratically elected President voluntarily stepped down after one term. Till 2004 when he retired from public life Mandela acted as a roving elder statesman and leading AIDS campaigner. Again unlike most African liberation leaders he was a dyed-in-the wool democrat. At his trial in 1964, he said: "I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." Mandela stood by his words when he came to power. He was among a handful of iconic figures who elicited admiration and respect from the East as well as West.
What good will come out of it?
In a functional democracy, every political entity is allowed a reasonable form of protest. However, ours is a lot that gives a totally new meaning to protests. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) blocked NATO supplies to Afghanistan for what they claim to be a legitimate form of protest against the drone strikes. The protest, which has lasted for a two-week time period, is not something the country can boast of as a credential to its fledgling democracy. However, this is what it is: a messed up approach at politicizing an issue that has nothing to do with the drone strikes.
Imran Khan and his party is not novice anymore, as naive as it is. After being in power for over six months, it should have known by now as to what it takes to run government. Not everything is as it appears to be. But PTI seems bent on making it its objective to run the country like it doesn’t care for how its actions might affect the rest of the country. Businesses, particularly the ones related to transport and freight services are disturbed across the country. Pakistan is losing its standing as a nation united with this whole saga that paints it as a nation marred with discord and differences. The US is willing to incur almost double the cost of its withdrawal from the region while not budging a single inch from its position on drone attacks. It has in fact decided to halt NATO supplies fearing the safety of its truck drivers. PTI then claimed this decision to be its success, something that should signal it to stop its shenanigans and get serious in playing its part in resolving outstanding issues in the country.
The JI, a right-wing conservative religious party, which had supported PTI’s decision up till now, wants to quit protest. PTI also fears that the federal government might intervene or create a constitutional issue out of the situation. Country’s economy cannot afford any upsets, nor can we afford an affront against the world powers. Now that Imran Khan and his party have registered their protest, which has been acknowledged by the US in its decision to halt transport services, it is time that they ended their protest and let the federal government take charge of the situation and carry on its protest through diplomatic means.
Careful handling need of the hour
Relations between Pakistan and India need handling with extreme care. It is after months of tension that the situation on the LoC is becoming stable. Any minor incident can be destabilising. With the first phase of Indian state elections over, the general elections are now on the agenda. There is a tough competition between the Congress and the nationalist BJP. It makes it all the more necessary to be cautious.
Keeping in view Mian Nawaz Sharif’s penchant for peace with India, the statement attributed to him on Wednesday seemed odd. According to a national daily, while addressing the AJK Coucil Prime Minister Sharif had said, “Kashmir is a flashpoint and can trigger a fourth war between the two nuclear powers at any time.”
In view of the sensitivity of the matter, it would have been appropriate for the daily to recheck with the prime minister’s secretariat before publishing the remark attributed to him. The reaction from the Indian side was predictable. The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh retorted that there is no scope of Pakistan winning any war against India in his lifetime. The remark however came in response to a question from an Indian journalist. Meanwhile, Sharif’s office has denied the comment and described the newspaper report as incorrect and based on mala fide intentions. One hopes that the mischief would end after the denial. There is however still a need on the part of the government to conduct a thorough probe into the embarrassing faux pas. What Sartaj Aziz said about the ongoing degradation of the Siachin glacier is a well-known fact and does not justify anti-Pakistan propaganda on the part of Pakistan-baiters in India.
At a time when Pak-India relations need careful mending the absence of Pakistan’s high commissioner in the Indian capital can create problems. It is the task of an envoy to clarify misunderstandings and expose false claims. The government in its wisdom had suddenly terminated the country’s ace diplomat and former Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s contract for serving in New Delhi in early October when he had hardly finished his first year in New Delhi. Equally incomprehensible is New Delhi’s delay of nearly two months in accepting the accreditation papers of the new envoy when it normally takes a maximum 27 days for processing the papers. New Delhi needs to accelerate the process to allow the Pakistani high commissioner to put in the much needed efforts to improve relations between the neigbours.
A necessity, as the last one was held 15 years ago
It was the PML-N’s previous stint in power when the last census was held in the country. This speaks volumes about the government’s efficiency, political exigencies and bureaucratic hurdles. The situation, though, has changed somewhat now. Urbanisation, growth within a city, ethnic diversity and equitable distribution of state resources are some of the issues that need to be explored periodically, and a census provides the means to determine that through the data it churns out. However, since the country has seen no such thing in the last 15 years, all the physical and social uplift planning and the government spending on country’s different segments of society has been based on, at best, informed hunches.
A census is not just a count of how many people reside in a particular area; it is the best statistical data to formulate policies that can affect a large number of people. Karachi, for instance, has seen abnormal growth in the areas under the control of the MQM and the PPP, while Balochistan has seen growth in both Baloch and Pashtun areas. Urbanisation has increased manifold and the state of literacy and employment has varied over the years, but a concrete data is unavailable. In 2011, an attempt was made by the previous government to carry out the census but it could not be completed beyond the first phase of house count because of political and ethnic rivalries in Sindh and Balochistan. Now that the federal government, again the PML-N government, is back in power after a 13-year interregnum and runs one province and is in alliance in another, it must show the political will to carry out the census. The census is needed to ensure equitable distribution of resources on the basis of population density. It is equally important for social and economic planning, and for the much needed changes in electoral constituencies.
As a census is such a humongous task, it can take months to complete and infer results, on which future policies would be based, it would be better to carry it out as soon as possible, so that its results can be utilised in the next elections for better electoral constituencies. While the exercise requires mobilisation of government machinery at a countrywide level, maintaining transparency and giving each stakeholder equal representation is a must. However great this challenge may be, it is one the government cannot shy away from any longer.
Is the PML-N falling back to its old tactics?
After so many professions of devotion to democracy and principled politics the PML-N ministers are never tired of making, the episode looks like a descent into bathos. If the order to remove NADRA chairman was aimed at covering up illegalities, it has simply backfired. The attempt to dismiss the head of a statutory body through an office order underlines that the PML-N government must have been in dire straits to go for a desperate measure. When Tariq Malik sent a missive to the National Crisis Management Cell about a threatening letter he had received, also providing the details of those from whose cell phones similar calls had been made to him, one hoped the government would act apace against those who were pressurising the NADRA chief. In fact this is what it should have done if its hands were clean. In case the media reports regarding certain government leaders summoning Tariq Malik a day before the orders were issued are correct, this would show that they knew that a certain PML-N candidate could be disqualified for election malpractices and wanted the NADRA chief to protect him. That he was subsequently fired indicates that he had resisted the pressure.
The database authority was working on verification of thumb impressions in 11 constituencies. Malik’s sacking came only days after an election tribunal asked NADRA to verify the thumb impressions of voters from NA-118, won by PML-N candidate Muhammad Malik Riaz. Some other constituencies of top PML-N leaders were also reportedly in line, including that of National Assembly speaker’s. The incident is likely to open a can of worms. The establishment division must have known that it was issuing an illegal order. If it still went for it, it must have done so under extreme pressure from the higher echelons of government. The incident proves that attempts by the SC to make bureaucracy act in accordance with law and ignore orders that were in its violation have not been fully imbibed and followed in letter and spirit.
The PPP and PTI have condemned the removal of the NADRA chairman and called upon the Election Commission to take action. In case the EC remains a silent spectator, this will give birth to more questions. There is a need for a thorough and transparent probe by NADRA into the election results of the disputed constituencies. If this is not done properly, questions raised soon after the elections by the PPP and PTI about the mandate obtained by the PML-N are likely to gain credence.
It could cost Pakistan dearly
We have a one-of-a-kind system of protests. A cartoon is published in a far off European country and we burn down shops, churches and tyres on our roads and streets. And so when drone strikes happen in an area that the government is unable to bring under its control, we put NATO supplies in abeyance just to register our protest at the cost of putting relations between the US, Pakistan and other world powers at stake. That’s exactly what Imran Khan and his party, the PTI, has been doing in the past few weeks.
Whereas protest is a purely legitimate and democratic right of every individual and political entity, doing the same at the cost of damaging state’s interest is of no value. What good a protest would be if it delivers the same level of damage, albeit in another manner which it intends to bring into sharp focus. While one condemns drone attacks, as they should be, blocking the NATO supplies cannot achieve the aim. It can however mar relations with the US which is not in the interest of the country, especially at this crucial time when foreign troops are soon to leave Afghanistan and Islamabad is engaged in a strategic dialogue with Washington. In this backdrop, the US did something to gain the upper hand and show up the protesters. It halted the NATO supplies on its own, thus removing the impetus that could lead parties like the PTI to stage protests. By voluntarily halting the US shipments of cargo through Pakistan, Washington has signaled it can go for the more costly way out of Afghanistan, if needed. The Central Asian route is lengthier and expensive though it is already supposed to take around 50 per cent of the equipment of the US and NATO out of Afghanistan. With these protests, the PTI and its leaders are only making sure that the US uses that route for all of its equipment and does not trust Pakistan for as simple a task as a withdrawal from this region.
Imran Khan has recorded his protest. It’s time now to put an end to the blockade which could cost Pakistan a lot. Islamabad is in the process of restarting the strategic dialogue with the US to improve its bilateral relations, and explore trade and investment opportunities. These protests are nothing but a stumbling block. It is time the government took a stand, with its allies and provincial governments onboard with the decision, whatever that may be.
A slur on the agencies
The issue has lingered for far too long. The affected families have knocked at the doors of all institutions to seek the freedom of their dear ones reportedly in the custody of the army agencies. When appeals to the army fell on deaf ears, they approached the courts, the elected representatives, the media and the local human rights organisations. The issue turned up in several National Assembly debates without producing any result. The issue then landed on the table of the Supreme Court where the hearing continued for 21 months without any breakthrough. The obstinacy on the part of the powerful abductors is leading to a situation where people are fast losing confidence in civil society organizations, the National Assembly and the higher judiciary. The dependants of the disappeared persons recently undertook a 756 kilometre long march from Quetta to Karachi to highlight the issue. A representative of the HRCP who approached the marchers was sent away with the remark that there was no use talking again and again to an ineffective body. As alienation climaxes, they seek foreign assistance from the UN if possible and if that doesn’t take place from any source whatsoever.
The issue of forced disappearances is not confined to Balochistan alone. People have whisked away and kept incommunicado without due process of law from all the provinces. This unfortunately is eroding the prestige of the army as an institution. People in every country hold the military in high esteem as soldiers shed their blood to defend the national borders. But when the army is seen to be turning on its own people, the bond is bound to weaken.
The new army chief has the opportunity to revamp the army’s image. He can bid farewell to the policy of forced disappearances that became routine after take over by Gen Pervez Musharraf. It was argued in the past that the courts let the criminals, arrested after great effort by the law enforcement agencies, go scot free while the courts accused the prosecution for preparing weak cases. With the promulgation of the Pakistan Protection Ordinance the LEAs have been provided enough time for investigation and preparation of foolproof cases. Those who have been held captive without lawful authority should be presented before the court and duly charged with the crimes they may have committed. Henceforth a ban must be imposed by the army on forced disappearances, because it’s slur on the agencies and its own image.
Zero tolerance against campus violence needed
The IJT, the JI’s student wing, has again proved that it has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing over the past many decades. True to its culture, it recently resorted to such ugly actions as locking up teachers, fighting pitched battles with the police following Punjab University (PU) administration orders to get a boys hostel vacated for the girl students accommodated in overcrowded makeshift rooms. Since the second sex is just that in the IJT mindset, a poor second, it simply could not digest the PU’s ‘illogical stance’ in the matter. The IJT cadre responded an orgy of street violence: burning a bus and harassing drivers and snatching vehicles’ keys and turning off engines smack in the middle of the all-important Canal Road artery, thus creating massive traffic jams virtually paralysing Lahore’s entire transport system.
Some time back, the IJT allegedly provided safe haven to Al-Qaeda operatives in the PU hostels, then there was disturbance over a change of contractor in the PU canteen and the latest explosion of violence was the inevitable culmination of these simmering disputes of the past two months. What a well-deserved black name all this needless rioting must have brought to the IJT in the public eye, while setting back the academic curriculum and traumatizing teachers with its violence. One can discount the police’s routine charges of three liquor bottles and contraband being found in the IJT activists’ rooms, there were still eleven solid indictments, including under the Anti-Terrorism Act, leading to the arrest of 21 with raids ongoing for others. The IJT has for years followed a policy of striking at the heads of their opponents, and with a hardliner at the JI’s helm, little change is expected in its outlook in the near future. The PML-N’s Punjab education minister meanwhile has issued a strong statement: zero tolerance against elements that create law and order crisis in educational institutions. But then both the PML-N and the JI being ideologically on the same side of the political divide, the latter was given a free run of the PU for the last five years, expecting an alliance in 2013. That political gain did not materialize, but damage has been done.
Ultimately, it is up to the JI leadership to rein in its unruly campus bands and turn their excess of violent youthful energy into something constructive. Let peace prevail on the campuses at least, by a policy of live and let live and by debating an issue rather than ramming their views down their rival’s throats, literally.
PML-N must come out of its thrall
Despite the TTP’s unending tirade against the PML-N government, there is no let up to the party’s infatuation with the militant network. The PML-N and PTI in fact create an impression of two suitors out to outbid each other in its pursuit. Ch Nisar has called on the outgoing COAS reportedly to discuss the resumption of dialogue with the militants. The same day Pervez Rashid told the media that the government is at the conclusive stage to resume the parleys. The PML-N leadership is all set for talks without taing any other parliamentary party into confidence. Only the ruling party knows which groups it wants to talk to, what is going to be the framework for talks, what incentives are to be offered to the other side and in return for what. According to Khurshid Shah, the opposition leader, the government had spurned his suggestion to hold another APC and if that was not possible to at least take on board the heads of political and religious parties. The PML-N leadership’s covert diplomacy makes little sense when the entire opposition had fully supported the government at the APC despite entertaining strong reservations about the utility of the talks.
Last week TTP spokesman again rejected those parties who believed in nationalism and democracy. He had earlier rejected the constitution for the TTP’s primitive version of Sharia. There is no change in the militant network’s policy of duplicity either. After making a commitment not to attack civilians it launched the twin attack in Karachi that killed seven people and wounded 28. While it claims it does not attack places of worship, it condoned the attack on the All Saints Church in Peshawar saying, “We believe it’s according to Sharia.” How can anyone believe in TTP’s commitments?
The speakers at Pakistan Defence Council’s anti-drone rally on Sunday in Lahore shared the aims of the TTP. What they wanted the TTP to do was to stop bomb attacks inside Pakistan and join hands with them to target the US and India. Hafiz Saeed railed against Prime Minister Sharif for visiting Afghanistan and seeking friendly relations with New Delhi. While Pakistan badly needs to improve its relations with its neigbours what the DPC proposes is a recipe for disaster. Like similar kindred spirits in North Waziristan, the DPC leaders want Pakistan to consume whatever energy is left in it in fighting the entire non-Muslim world. The government would do well to shed its fondness for extremist and militant outfits which are out to destroy the country.