Is the transformation genuine?
Throughout the1990s the PPP and PML-N were involved in a no-holds-barred slugfest that helped the establishment to prematurely remove them from power twice apiece. After every election the routine was blaming the victor of foul play and challenge the winning party’s right to rule. There was horse trading, no confidence moves and continuous attempts to enlist the army’s support. Whosoever was in power instituted false cases against the opposition leaders. Accountability was a tool to either win over legislators or to punish the ones who refused to fall in line. The political rivalry was turned into personal vendetta, and working relations between the government and the opposition were non-existent. Things changed a little during the 2008 -13 era when the governments at the center and the provinces, with the exception of Balochistan, avoided from persecuting opponents.
The way Nawaz Sharif is currently interacting with other political parties would have been unbelievable in the1990s. At the height of its campaign, after Imran Khan’s unfortunate fall from a lifter, the PML-N suspended electioneering for a day. As an expression of goodwill Shahbaz was sent over to the hospital. Post-election, it is being declared by the ‘N’ quarters,President Zardari, would not be disturbed. Nawaz has called on Imran Khan, carrying with him a bouquet of flowers despite the PTI chief having pulled no punches against the PML-N leadership during the campaign and subsequently blaming it for selective rigging. Then throwing a spanner in the JUI-F’s works which had made Nawaz an offer of joining hands to form the government in KP, the PML-N leader told the media that the PTI being the largest single party in the province had the right to rule KP. There are reports of the PML-N meditating to offer the important position of the speaker of National Assembly to PKMAP chief Mahmud Khan Achakzai and the chair of the National Assembly’s Accountability Committee to Imran Khan.
Many find it difficult to believe what they are seeing: the tiger has changed its stripes. The one who previously wanted to be the lone master of all that he surveyed, seems keen to share. Is this transformation genuine, the skeptics wonder? And will it last? If it is for real, will the PLM-N chief be able to carry along an overwhelming lot of shortsighted and short-tempered leaders of his party? Only two years back, Shahbaz Sharif had vowed to drag Zardari in the streets of Lahore while quite a few in the PML-N hierarchy became hysteric over the so-called Memogate affair. This shift in manner and attitude is welcome though, for given the challenges the need to promote tolerance cannot be overstated. The issue of power and gas shortages has to be tackled, the terrorist menace has to be decimated and the economy put back on its rails. Agitation is the last thing the upcoming government can afford. As the example of Turkey shows, a government that can bring peace, develop the economy and improve people’s livelihood can keep the army under the civilian control. Let us hope the PML-N maintains the policy of reconciliation with its political opponents, media and the courts throughout its tenure.
The brutality of the Syrian rebels asks question of the West
A chilling video showing a Syrian rebel commander cutting open a dead man’s chest, ripping out his heart and biting into it has emerged. Is this the future of Syria’s future envisioned by the West? While bringing democracy to Syria may be a noble cause, what is the limit of the crimes we are willing to accept in its name? The rebel commander in question, known as Abu Sakkar, admitted the act to the Time magazine and made a chilling claim, “Hopefully we will slaughter all of them [Alawites], have another video clip that I will send to them. In the clip I am sawing another Shabiha [pro-government militiaman] with a saw.”
Like Libya before, the US and its allies appear to be set to arm a breed of sectarian killers to Syria, including those affiliated with Al Qaeda. It is a strange matrix, while on one side, the US and its allies claim they are fighting a war against Al Qaeda and terrorist networks around the world, on the other, it continues to fund extremist militants bent upon committing a sectarian genocide in Syria. The strategy is reminiscent of how the CIA brought the Taliban in power in Afghanistan in the 1990s, only later to decide they were not their ‘preferred option’ in the land of the Afghans.
While there is no doubt that the Bashar al Assad-led Syrian government committed war crimes during the civil war, but the barbarism of those out to remove the Syrian regime surpasses them. Despite the brutalities coming to the fore, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that Britain would double its aid to the Syrian rebels. The question to ask is: who will be responsible for the ethnic cleansing of the Alawites that certain rebel commanders are promising. Russia has continued to insist that a violent overthrow of the Syrian regime shall also destabilise Muslim majority regions in the Russian Federation, from whom links are emerging to the Boston Marathon bombing. There is a need to enforce the suggestions of the Geneva peace conference in June 2012, which called for the Syrian government and the opposition to create a transitional government to steer the peace process in Syria. The proposal of Russia and the US to host a joint international conference this month to “persuade the Assad regime and Syrian opposition into talks on a political transition” is a positive one. But no positive step will be taken unless the US abandons the demand that al Assad steps down before the process begins. One has to come to terms with the fact that the rebels are not committed to due process and as the Human Rights Watch has insisted: both the government and rebel forces should be subjected to international conflict laws. Whatever the result may be, the brutal violence of today is not Syria’s fate and a way out is required.
The best way forward
The PPP and ANP have accepted their defeat and vowed to continue to work within the system. Former prime minister and PPP vice-president Yusuf Raza Gilani has gone a step further by accepting the responsibility for the Party’s poor performance in the elections. So has the PPP Punjab president, Mian Manzoor Wattoo. Both have subsequently resigned from their party offices also. Aitzaz Ahsan, another top PPP leader, has sent his resignation from the Senate to President Zardari. Not that everyone resigning was satisfied with the way elections were conducted in a number of constituencies. According to Aitzaz Ahsan, voting results were bizarre as some polling stations had recorded a 150 percent voter turnout. Results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should be reviewed, he added. This is a commendable way of registering one’s protest
Initially Imran Khan had also thanked the PTI workers for their efforts and told them that winning and losing was part of the game. He had condemned the alleged rigging in Karachi and vowed to issue a white paper “to indicate flaws in the balloting process”. But as more and more reports of avowed mismanagement of the polls emerged, his stance hardened. Imran Khan said that the party had collected evidence of rigging in 25 constituencies of the National Assembly, asking the ECP to look into the complaints. One can understand that the youth often react emotionally to setbacks as could be seen from the rallies and sit-ins they have held over the last few days in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. What was worrying was that the PTI leadership, which one expected to behave coolly, was also exhorting them to continue the protests and turn Lalik Jan Chowk into another Tahrir Square. But better sense has prevailed, at least in Lahore, as Hamid Khan and other PTI leaders have announced to end sit-ins, instead of taking them to the whole of Punjab as they had announced earlier. Equally disturbing is the demand to hold re-elections in constituencies under dispute with the army supervising it – a case in point is the NA 250 where it has been decided that the army will supervise the re-election. This amounts to bypassing the ECP. What is needed is to improve the working of the institutions instead of rejecting it in favour of extra constitutional arrangements.
The best way for the PTI is to call off protests and approach the ECP with evidence of misconduct or rigging, which it seems it is paying heed to. The ECP needs to take into account all complaints of serious nature concerning elections in Karachi, Lahore or elsewhere. The Commission has to realise that the complaints have not emanated only from political parties but also from foreign observers and civil society organisations like the FAFEN and the HRCP. It is disturbing to be informed that at 120 polling stations at least the turnout was more than 100 percent while at some others it crossed 300 percent. One expects it from the Chief Election Commissioner that he will not allow the bureaucracy under him to suppress the facts in an attempt at face saving.
With business hyped up, the PML-N has an opportunity for boom or bust
“introduce austerity and help business,” are the two lines the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) have given the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in waiting, while congratulating the “businessman” prime minister-to-be, Nawaz Sharif. Whatever the mixed reaction across the federation may be of the PML-N’s victory, big business in the country is excited – visible most directly at the KESC which soared by another 230 points at close Tuesday – yet another record high of 20,474.62 points after the election, pointing to the privitising credentials of the PML-N in the 1990s. Nawaz Sharif has reciprocated. With a manifesto that promised it would “make Pakistan the 10th biggest economy in the world,” Sharif’s first meeting has been with his former Finance Minister Sartaj Aziz to put Pakistan’s frail economy back on track.
Speaking at a seminar before the election, Sartaj Aziz put the PML-N’s priority to be “reviving the economy within the next five years, by creating pro-investment and pro-business policies.” Aziz said the growth rate would double to 6 per cent; the fiscal deficit would be halved to 4 per cent of the GDP, increasing the tax to GDP ratio to 15 percent, and increase the investment to GDP ratio to 20 percent. All the right phrases were thrown out, but as we know the task is easier said than done. The energy crisis is the one that needs to be resolved before the economy can come back on track. The PML-N’s promise is to add 10,000MW of electricity and mobilizing $20 billion of investment in the power sector.
While the confidence of the business community in the new government is a positive sign, there are a number of hard decisions that Sharif will have to take in the coming months. The first is whether to take the IMF loan facility on offer but on stringent conditions or not? While the balance of payments deficit and seriously shrinking foreign exchange reserves create a need for a bailout, the question is whether an IMF breather will send the next government out on the back foot? The next is how to increase the tax-to-GDP ratio to 15 percent. Will Nawaz be able to persuade the business community to pay up its taxes? And what about the imposition of an agricultural income tax? Being a provincial subject, Sharif will have to wheel and deal to get it imposed across the board. The third question facing Sharif is how to end subsidies without hitting economically vulnerable sections of the society. The gist of the matter is that sorting out the Pakistani economy is not an easy task. A number of hard decisions will have to be taken within the next six months – these will set the next government up for success or failure.
The new government has its task cut out for it
The PML-N has won the election with a thumping majority in free and fair polls. Many expect the party to build on and add to some of the good practices that emerged during the 2008-13 era, the most important being tolerance of criticism from political opponents, the media and the courts. The PML-N administration needs to be widely seen as a genuine representative of the federation rather than the government of a party concentrated in Punjab. This would help Nawaz Sharif gain the confidence of the smaller provinces where he badly needs to improve the party’s standing. To start with, the federal cabinet must have a fair representation from smaller provinces. The improvement in law and order should be on the top of the new government’s agenda. While in the opposition, the PML-N had maintained that the issue could be resolved through talks with the militants, the TTP in return had nominated Nawaz Sharif as a guarantor of peace. Now that the PML-N is in power, it should take the initiative to persuade the TTP and its affiliates to lay down arms. What one expects is that during the talks with the militants the PML-N would not barter away Quaid-e- Azam’s ideal of a modern, pluralistic, democratic and Islamic welfare state. It is also expected that talks would be held within the parameters of the constitution and law.
The PML-N should set new traditions to strengthen the system and give it a human face. For this it would have to be responsive to the common man’s plight, practice good governance and strengthen the rule of law. This is needed on the one hand to make Pakistan investor friendly and spawn indigenous business and industrial activity, and on the other to come up to the expectations of the educated youth who played a key role in the present elections. The economy is in bad shape. The voters expect from those in power to do their utmost to revive it. Equally important is to provide the common man his share in the fruits of development. Any growth which does not produce fairly sufficient number of jobs would only expand the gulf between the richest and the poorest and cause social upheaval. The new government must tackle the severe power shortages that are crippling national industry. The Gulf rivalries must not be allowed to abandon, or delay, the Pak-Iran gas pipeline.
One hopes Nawaz Sharif will align the present civil-military relations in line with the Constitution. The Army, as Nawaz only recently stated, has to be turned into one of the departments of the government in letter and spirit. Instead of arbitrary moves, however, this should be done by taking the parliament along.
The ECP must step forward to address the allegations
While the elections in the country have largely been conducted well, there have been too many exceptions to ignore. Allegations of rigging, abduction of polling staff, tearing off of ballot papers and stealing of ballot papers and boxes, and unnecessary and unexplainable delay in announcing results in some constituencies are among some of the issues that have raised quite a few eyebrows. In fact, that would be an understatement seeing how the people of Karachi and Lahore, and politicians in Sindh, have gathered in protest.
Protest is a democratic right of every citizen. They must lodge protest if they think they have been wronged in any way, but this does not give them any right to try and hijack the whole process. Fiery outbursts of MQM chief Altaf Hussain, laced with threats of going to war with anyone who propagates against his party, detaching Karachi from the rest of the country if the ‘establishment’ didn’t like his party’s mandate. Threatening the ECP that it won’t be able to find shelter if it didn’t deal with the situation fairly, he went ahead and said that the entire country would engulf in the fire they were playing with. Protests should also not translate into a show of power in the streets, like what is happening in Karachi and Lahore where the supporters of different political parties have gathered at Teen Talwar Chowk and Lalik Chowk, respectively, to register their protest against rigging in NA 250 in Karachi and NA 125 in Lahore. Similar allegations of rigging and violence have also been levelled by PPP candidates in Thatta, Sindh. Incidents in a few polling stations should not lead to casting doubts about the entire elections which have been the freest and fairest of all held so far.
There have been a number of videos doing the circles clearly showing rigging in some constituencies but instead of using them as a tool to incite the public, parties must take the course of law and file complaints with the ECP. The ECP, on its part, must look into what went wrong at so many, 42 to be exact, polling stations where they had to stop polling. Also in the presence of damning evidence of rigging, it should listen to the parties and their workers, and find an urgent solution to avoid getting a label of an incompetent organisation. The HRCP has issued a lengthy report on the elections, which it found “poorly managed”, and has advised a number of steps to improve the situation for by-polls and the next general polls. Level playing field for all parties, violence, rigging, threats of violence, deaths related to the polls, security, expenses on elections, unnecessary delay in announcing results, training of the polling staff, lack of infrastructure facilities and a lack of communication system between the polling staff and the ECP have been pointed as some of the biggest challenges yet to be tackled. Unless the ECP steps forward, and in a big way, doubts will continue to linger on regarding the credibility of elections, at least in certain constituencies.
Elections expose myths, give birth to new realities, pose fresh problems
The Elections 2013 have exposed myths, given birth to new realities and posed fresh problems. Despite threats of widespread violence by the TTP, the election went off peacefully with the exception of comparatively minor incidents in KP and Karachi. The attack in Naseerabad in Balochistan that came at the end of the voting was attributed to Baloch separatists. This shows that if the government is focused and has the support of the security agencies and law enforcement bodies the terrorist threat can be contained. There is a general perception that the caretaker set up had good coordination with the army and the agencies and it generally performed its duties well. So one must thank them all for meeting the terrorist challenge successfully.
Unlike the PPP in 2008 which besides forming government in Sindh had also won many NA seats in Punjab and KP, the PMLN’s performance in other provinces especially Sindh, the second largest province, turned out to be insignificant. The party has relied almost entirely on the mandate it got from Punjab to form government at the center. This has led Altaf Hussain to describe Mian Nawaz Sharif as a leader of a party which represents Punjab rather than Pakistan The party will have to take concrete measures to remove the perception, which if confirmed can be harmful for the federation. It must not take any step that can be interpreted is to be aimed against a particular province. What is more it has to restrain Shahbaz from impolite statements that could further strengthen the perception.
Those who lost the elections can put up a better performance next time provided they undertake an exercise is soul searching. The PPP needs to ponder over why from being a national party it has been reduced to a body confined to a single province and that too in an election widely acknowledged as fair and free. The terrorist threat did it little harm in Sindh so the factor cannot alone explain why its leading lights licked the dust in Punjab. The party needs to have a series of inner party debates to honestly review its shortcomings. The ANP lost the largest number of candidates and workers in terrorist attacks. Whatever little it got from the polls is highly creditable for it. Most of the five parties which boycotted the elections in Karachi have accused the MQM of rigging. Charges have been leveled against the party of terrorizing the voters, kidnapping the election staff, and taking away election material from the polling stations of several constituencies. The party needs to consider why charges of use of force continue to stick to it.
Karachi allegations raise concerns over election transparency
“People have manifested their power. Today, I am a happy man,” a smug Justice (retd) Fakharuddin G Ebrahim announced at 2am on Sunday. The record 60 percent voter turnout certainly was something to be content about; but surely the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) knew all was not that well. And so he announced: the Election Commission of Pakistan would “investigate and take action against those responsible for disrupting polling at several (42 to be exact) polling stations of NA-250, Karachi.” Without naming ‘who done it,’ Ebrahim said, “Polling staff had been hijacked and staff had to be recovered.” But this is not enough. The allegations that have come out are serious and both political parties and voters are asking questions over what went on in Karachi’s polling stations.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Dr Arif Alvi has demanded a re-election across Karachi over rigging claims, and promised to “present evidence” to the ECP. He pointed to “women being forced to leave polling stations at gunpoint” and “political activists stamping ballot papers in their favour”. Some evidence of both has emerged and been aired on television channels. The independent Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), which monitors elections, has tweeted that three of its observers had been beaten up by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) workers in a district of Karachi. While the MQM is considered the main accused, the MQM’s Farooq Sattar also alleged rigging from other political parties in Karachi. The result was that a number of major political parties, including the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), the Muhajir Qaumi Movement-Haqeeqi, the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), announced a boycott of the polls in Karachi. The PTI and JI extended the boycott to Hyderabad, the PPP’s Taj Haider alleged rigging in Karachi, and even the MQM chief Altaf Hussain telephoned the CEC Fakharuddin G Ebrahim to complain about the delay in the start of polling in various constituencies.
Some have ventured out to say that the ECP has failed in carrying out its mandate of conducting “free and fair elections” but Karachi is a difficult city that the previous government was unable to control. This does not however mean that the election results should be accepted as is. The ECP itself has admitted, disturbingly, that “we have been unable to carry out free and fair election in Karachi.” Let see if it means that the action required shall be taken.
ECP needs to undo wrongs wherever they have taken place
Saturday witnessed a display of mass enthusiasm unmatched since the historic 1971 elections. People stood for hours in long queues to vote braving the May heat. They belonged to all classes, communities and age groups. Many students, both male and female, who were known for their apolitical attitudes this time turned into political activists and persuaded their families and neighborhoods to come out to vote. Old men walked to polling stations carrying their sticks, the invalid in wheelchairs, some came on crutches. Many expatriate Pakistanis came back just to cast their vote. Everyone wanted change. All were convinced this could be brought about by the power of the ballot.
Despite threats of violence people thronged to polling stations all over the country. The political parties marked by terrorists refused to be cowed down, took the losses of their comrades with forbearance and dignity and fought the elections. In cities where terrorists had conduced several attacks during the campaign, undaunted voters queued up to cast their votes. In Quetta, men and women came out to the polling stations in thousands despite a bomb blast in nearby Kuchlak. In tribal areas where political parties were allowed to contest for the first time, widespread enthusiasm was seen on election day The people of Pakistan have thus sent a message to the TTP and separatists in Balochistan that they believe in democracy and are united against terrorism. The people have also sent a clear message to the political parties: No party can rest on its laurels. Every one will be judged on the basis of its performance. The age of wheeling and dealing is over. With the passage of time, the dynastic factor too is losing importance.
Thanks the efforts on the part of different stakeholders, the elections have in the main concluded successfully. The ECP took initial steps in improving the voting system. The caretaker setup at the center also was seen to be totally neutral. The armed force and security agencies called the bluff of the terrorists who wanted to upset the elections through terrorist attacks.
There were however serious complaints at certain places. Reports about use of muscle power to change the results have emerged from a number of places with Karachi providing the most glaring examples of the activity. The PPP, JI and PTI in the city have made serious allegations of forcible occupation of polling stations and stuffing of the ballot boxes. While the PPP did not name any political party, Jamaat e Islami and PTI have accused the MQM of being responsible for acts of violence and rigging. JI has subsequently announced the boycott of elections in Karachi and Hyderabad in protest .The PML-N and PTI have also rejected the Karachi elections. There is an urgent need to undo the wrong wherever it has taken place.
If the ECP takes action, it will set a precedent for the next election
It was hoped that the parochial attitude prevalent towards women voters in Pakistan would change on this round of electioneering. All the right indications had been given before the elections: elders in various regions including Paikhel, Bajaur and the Kyber agencies had given the go ahead to women to vote, even the Taliban had issued statements to the press stating that they had “no objections to women voting” in South Waziristan if “proper purda arrangements” were available. But three days before the elections, the tide began to turn. “It is our pride to keep women away from politics. How we can alter the traditions of our forefathers,” is the statement that some elders have been reported to be making. The question on everyone lips is: what will be the turnout of the 37 million registered women voters in Pakistan?
It was reported that elders in Paikhel, Makarwal, Chapri, Tola Bangi Khel, Kalabagh and Chakrala were still denying the 8,000 women in the constituency the right to vote, despite the fact that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) women candidate Ayla Malik had made frequent visits to the area, and tried to use her clout as the granddaughter of the Nawab of Kalabagh to convince women to vote – and elders to let them. The positive sign was that the youth in the area wanted women to exercise their right to vote. More worrying was the agreement between the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Jamaat-I-Islami (JI) to bar women from casting their votes in Low Dir on PP-94, as both are mainstream political parties, with the former claiming progressive credentials.
Nonetheless more women are contesting elections from the Khyber Pakthunkhwa area than ever before, with two women even contesting elections from the tribal areas, both staunchly criticising the tribal attitude towards women. While the fate of women in South Waziristan appears to be better, an unknown group has warned men in North Waziristan against allowing women to cast their ballots. In the Bajaur Agency, however, the JI, Jamaat Ulema-i-Islam and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz is in place to ensure women vote.
In 2008, not a single vote was cast at 564 of 28,800 women’s polling stations in the border areas of Balochistan and KP. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) should have pre-anticipated such action and declared that it would not count ballots in areas where the female turn out was low. The staunch warning required were not issued in time but there is still scope for the ECP to take remedial action. Where, on one side, there is talk of great change and new tides swooping Pakistan after this election, not much appears to have changed with respect to patriarchal attitudes towards women. Things need to change fast. If the ECP takes action in this election, it will set an unshaken precedent for the next.
One expects everyone will accept the results
Security is going to be the biggest challenge as the country holds general elections 2013 today. Countrywide attacks on the three secular parties by the TTP and indiscriminate bombing by the separatists in Balochistan have taken the toll of more than one hundred lives in the last four weeks. On Thursday a candidate was kidnapped from an election rally in Multan. One expects a better performance on the part of the security and law enforcement agencies on Saturday when the TTP reportedly has planned to conduct suicide attacks. The terrorist attacks have so far only succeeded in deterring the three targeted parties from holding public rallies. They have however failed to break the will of these parties or their committed followers. The election campaign has gone on under the very nose of the terrorists in Waziristan and other tribal agencies. The army leadership and the ECP have held several meetings and a consensus security plan for the elections is reportedly in place. A judgment on the performance of the security agencies and law enforcement bodies will have to wait till the elections are over.
The terrorists dread a big turn out on the day of the elections, as it would mean that people are not cowed down by the TTP’s threat of mayhem and carnage. In case the security agencies succeed in stopping major attacks, people everywhere would throng to the polling stations, even in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Karachi and Balochistan which have been the major terrorist targets after the announcement of the election schedule. As things stand, there are likely to be variations in the turn out pattern. One expects the largest turn out in Punjab followed by interior Sindh, Karachi, the KP and Balochistan. In case Punjab crosses 65 per cent mark, the overall voter turnout percentage is likely to exceed the 2008’s.
The various election surveys are unanimous on one salient point: no single party is likely to get simple majority. Unless the results belie the prediction, which sometime they do, the country will have a coalition ruling from Islamabad, as was the case in 2008. Both the PML-N and the PTI though appear confident of bagging enough votes to be able them to rule on their own. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM consider it unjust that while the PML-N, the PTI that while they were forced to curtail their campaigns, the religious parties were free to hold public rallies. What is more, some of the candidates and scores of activists of the three ‘condemned’ parties were also killed. Thus the pitch was queered against them. While the complaint is by no means unjustified, all these parties agreed to take part in the elections. The Baloch nationalist parties too had to pass through similar tribulations. Whatever their reservations, one expects that they would accept the results.
Does the agency have a purpose?
“Don’t worry, Rescue 1122 is here, they will save us,” were reported as the last words of one Lahore Development Authority (LDA) stenographer before he jumped to his death from the seventh floor of the LDA head office at the LDA Plaza. At least 22 people were killed in the harrowing fire that erupted at the LDA headquarters which engulfed six floors of the 11-storey building in Lahore’s business centre. Disturbing as the loss of life and fear amongst relatives may be, that the fire erupted and took two army helicopters and over 24 hours to control, sends shivers down the spine of anyone located in a high-rise in the city of Lahore. When the watchdog over building standards and fire safety in Lahore itself does not fulfill safety standards, God forbid what would be the situation in other high rises!
There is no irony to be derived when the headquarters of the organization whose website claims that “it strives to be an accountable principal planning and development vehicle of the Lahore Metropolis” is the one to suffer Lahore’s worst high-rise fire. When another huge fire erupted in a plaza at the Shah Alam Market on February 8, 2011, a promise was made to review fire safety standards across the city. On the ground, nothing changed, with the DCO Lahore during the time ‘rewarded’ with the post of LDA Director General. Disturbing rumours have emerged that the fire was an “inside job,” in which precious records was deliberately set on fire after a NAB inquiry was started into the Metro Bus project. The LDA has quickly moved to deny the allegations and stated that the Metro Bus files “were safe in the Tepa office on Lytton Road, while copies were available with Nespak.” What is clear however is that the law directorate record, containing details of all legal cases in which the LDA was involved, has been lost and the LDA officials have called it “irreplaceable.” Moreover, the record of several inquiries into allegations of corruption by LDA officers worth Rs1.5 trillion now stands burnt.
From the failure to implement its own rules on its headquarters to the loss of important records, the LDA plaza tragedy should not be taken as “just another freak fire.” A full, comprehensive investigation is required into not only the fire, but the shoddy job being done by the LDA itself. One of its basic functions of the regulatory body is to implement fire safety rules. None appear to be followed by the organization itself. This death trap was created by the LDA itself – the institution supposed to lay down the law for everyone else in the city. One cannot but ask: is the LDA serving any purpose at all?
The elections must go on, and so must the investigation and efforts for his recovery
It seems the country’s seemingly divided voters, the rightists and the leftists, are being affected by the extremists, but in an entirely different manner. While the leftists have been threatened, and actually attacked many times, on continuing their political activities, the militants took no such action against the rightists, except for an attack or two on the JUI-F rallies. With three of relatively secular, centre-left parties under consistent attacks from the terrorists, who are targeting them specifically for having liberal ideology, the election pitch was already queered to one side. The threat of terrorism and the threat of losing either their leaders or political workers have kept these parties, the PPP, ANP and MQM, indoors with their political campaigns being almost non-existent, thus giving an undue advantage to the centre, centre-right and right parties in the election campaign. The situation has, however, taken an ugly turn, one that the liberal parties feared and the one that could throw the elections on a rocky road.
Ali Haider Gilani, son of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, was attacked and kidnapped in Multan yesterday while he was going to attend a rally as part of his campaign for PP-200 on a PPP ticket. As the reports say, two gunmen opened fire, killing his driver and personal secretary and probably injuring him, as the eyewitnesses have said. They then proceeded to kidnap him and fled the scene. If that is really how the events unfurled, there are a number of questions that need answers. Why did the city administration not provide security when they knew that high profile candidates were an obvious target of such heinous activities? Law and order is the responsibility of the provincial government and with the militants having made their intentions known, why did the government not take any measures in providing security to the candidates of the parties that were on the top of terrorists’ hit list? Political campaigning is as much their right as is it of the parties that the terrorists are sympathetic to. The failure to provide a safe environment to the candidates, whatever ideology they belong to, is a combined failure of the law enforcement agencies, government and the ECP.
Religious intolerance is rapidly making inroads into the country’s social and political ethos. If this took hold of the situation, it would work faster than a catalyst in bringing down what the society has so far achieved in almost all aspects. Gilanis are an influential family in Multan, and their plight is understandable when one reads about their reaction – “there would be no elections in Multan if young Gilani is not recovered” – but that is a path no one should go down on. Now is the time to be even more careful and responsible, not to make a volatile situation even worse. On their part, the police and other law enforcement agencies must take immediate action to recover young Gilani, for his injury could make things worse with every passing minute.
A tribute to the people for the struggle for democracy
There is much to praise about the people of Pakistan and the political parties contesting the elections as they are set to cast their votes and put themselves to the public test tomorrow. Not only are Punjab and Sindh looking forward to going to the polls, the valiant people of the tribal areas of Pakistan, located in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan heartlands, shall be looking towards casting their ballots with much changing in terms of local dynamics. It is of course given that the reign of terror imposed by the TTP has continued, but its ultimate aim to derail the elections has appeared to have failed due to the resilience of the people and political parties.
Wednesday, with two days to go to the elections, saw a number of blasts and gun battles. Three people were killed in Peshawar in a gun battle between militants and police, two ANP activists were killed in Bajaur attack, at least 20 people were injured in another blast in Karachi and four people were killed in blasts in Hangu and Bajaur. Whatever we say of the rest of the Pakistani people, it is the people of the tribal areas that deserve special mention for creatively challenging the Taliban. South Waziristan has taken to reviving tradition and culture in election campaigns by introducing the rhythm of the Attan, the traditional Pashtun dance, during the campaign season. The dance was ‘discouraged’ by the Taliban when they emerged as a force during the early 2000s. The elections have offered another spectacle in WANA, where candidates often lead their processions on horseback, accompanied by thousands of supporters, most of whom travel by foot. Some supporters even ride camels draped in the party’s flag and colours. The rallies continue from village to village without fear despite rocket attacks on some candidates.
People today are not asking who is the next candidate to be targeted but rather who shall they vote for. A civil society group in Waziristan has presented a collective charter of demands to the contestants. In Bajaur, women will be allowed to vote for the first time, through an agreement between ulema and political parties. The election has allowed the ground on which politics is based to change and open new avenues for people to articulate their demands and ask for their rights. Security may still be one of the biggest concerns on the elections day but it is the fervor of the people of Pakistan, including the PTI supporters rushing to D-Chowk in Islamabad to attend Imran Khan’s after-injury speech that shall hopefully overshadow fear on May 11. A new election brings a new ray of hope, only possible due to the resilience of both the people of Pakistan and political parties under the siege of militants. It is hoped this will not change.
Nawaz Sharif to Karan Thapar
Nawaz Sharif’s views on some of the vital domestic and foreign policy issues were aired during his interview with Indian journalist and presenter Karan Thapar. The PML-N chief took an unreservedly straightforward stand on civil-military relations, Pak-India ties, Kashmir, militancy and extremism. While this has led the extremist fringe to launch a fanatical campaign against him on the social media, there is no shortage of people who would in the main agree with his ideas.
While the PML-N chief’s views on civil-military relations are fully in consonance with the constitution, they still remain to be followed in letter and spirit. As in the Musharraf era, military continued to dictate crucial decisions to the PPP-led elected government. Nawaz maintains that the Army is a department of the federal government and therefore the Chief of Army Staff has to implement the policies formulated by the civil administration. Nawaz has politely ruled out any chance of another extension in Kayani’s tenure. He promises to go by the book and promote the next senior most general. Unlike those who advocate yielding to the TTP demands, Nawaz is for a combination of both dialogue and armed intervention to resolve the issue of militancy. The unceasing attacks by the TTP on the civilians and the army have swayed the public opinion against the militants as the Pew Survey conducted in March also indicated. Despite concerns about the drone attacks, the Survey shows 49 per cent describing the Taliban as a “very serious threat” to Pakistan. Regarding anti-India harangues by Hafiz Saeed, Nawaz agrees that none should be allowed to deliver speeches of the type. As the results of the agreement brokered with Mullah Fazlullah in Swat show, engagement with the Pakistani Taliban has little prospects of success. Nawaz wants relations with India back to the February 1999 trajectory marked by the then India prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’ historic visit. Without going into the semantics of the Kashmir issue he thinks the dispute needs to be resolved peacefully to the satisfaction of not only Pakistan and India but also of the Kashmiri people.
Following the enactment of the 18th and 20th amendments, parliamentary democracy stands restored in its true spirit, there is an independent and powerful election commission and a consensus caretaker setup in place for holding the elections. The peaceful transfer of power from one civilian set up to another would be yet another sign of the strengthening of democracy. What is needed now is to make the army subservient to the elected civilian government. Though it was always takes two to tango, the relations with India and Afghanistan also have to be improved. While Nawaz Sharif is yet to be elected to power, the views he has expressed would be hailed by the enlightened sections of the society and strongly opposed by those out of sync with the times. A final judgment will have to wait till one has seen the PML-N’s giving these ideas a concrete shape.