Musharraf’s leash has finally been pulled
When the ex-dictator Pervez Musharraf returned to Pakistan as the caretaker government took charge, many speculated that it smacked of a deal and that all major players, political parties, the army and – most importantly – the aggrieved judiciary, were going to let him contest the elections. The man, who for nearly a decade wore the two crowns of president of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Chief of Army Staff, could not claim that he had not been forewarned. The judiciary appeared to have extended his leash in the cat-and-mouse game being played on the labyrinth that the former general had constructed for himself. When Musharraf was granted protective bail in four of the cases against him in the Sindh High Court, a tactical move by his lawyers who knew the three other high courts were dead set against him, it appeared that his long announced return would at least allow him the dignity honour of contesting elections – and perhaps winning a seat to the National Assembly from the Chitral area.
But the ex-general’s luck was bound to run out. There were too many cases against him – and as he found out when his nomination papers were rejected in three of the four constituencies he planned to contest from – the judiciary was not willing to abide by whatever ‘deal’ had been struck in the holy lands to allow him to return. With a lot of hype spun on his expected return in Karachi, the city in which he allowed a free reign to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and his local bodies system had apparently delivered, there was barely a crowd worth speaking of for those who remember the martyred Benazir Bhutto’s return to the country in October 2007. Where there was hope when Benazir returned, there was indifference, and simmering anger on the return of Musharraf: a man threw a shoe at him after a hearing at the SHC and his supporters were beaten up by lawyers in Rawalpindi.
Finally, when his papers were rejected from all four constituencies on April 16 and his arrest was ordered by the Islamabad High Court in the judges detentions case on Thursday, did the general’s true colours showed. The ex-dictator who was famous for saying, “Mein kisi se nahi darta, mein commando hon” (“I do not fear anyone. I am a commando.”), fled from the court premises in disregard of due process and apparently took shelter in his farmhouse in suburban Islamabad. The questions over why he was not arrested there and then are also being asked, with some speculating that the security establishment would consider it too embarrassing for its former head – and usurper president – to be put behind bars. But it is also worth noting that the military has not intervened to prevent Musharraf’s political fall. The former general is trapped in labyrinths he constructed himself and he should have known better than to step in there himself.
A united stand against terrorists is the only solution
The news of a terror strike here, a suicide bombing there has become a routine matter for most of the citizens; however, recent strikes on the political cadre clearly show where things are headed. The three-way response – the civilian government succeeding in managing the menace in a few troubled areas of late; the army pushing the terrorists into a corner; and most importantly a disapproval of their violent ideology by the public – to the militants violent methods has assured that they won’t be able to achieve their agenda. However, they can still disrupt country’s business, just as they did with attacks on politicians in the past few days.
As political parties have ramped up their campaigns for the elections on 11 May, it makes them vulnerable to such attacks. With centre-left parties like the ANP on a pronounced hit list of these militants, the situation gets even more serious. These attacks do have the potential to derail the democratic system in the country, a concern voiced rightfully by Imran Khan the other day. The democracy in the country is not as strong yet to withstand such attacks on its foundations but giving in to the ideology of violence would only ensure that the country is headed towards doom. Standing up against this dark path is the responsibility of the state, which being in the hands of caretakers these days, might be a little difficult but not impossible yet. While they are not mandated to make any strategic decisions, they still have to maintain law and order. Matters have worsened so much that the CEC had to write a letter to the ANP leaders explaining that the CEC had not ordered any security to be withdrawn tasked with the party’s members. However, the ineffectiveness of the security measures calls for more stringent and fool proof security. The situation in Balochistan is even worse, where shutter down strike was observed in many cities the other day after an attack on Sanaullah Zehri’s convoy.
Surprisingly, most of the politicians appear to have a united stand on the issue. Holding the government and the security forces responsible for the politicians’ safety and security, PTI has demanded that all political parties and leaders must be provided with adequate security, a demand that appears to be justified considering the number of such attacks that have taken place all over the country, a number that is so alarming that the HRCP was forced to say that these “terrorist attacks on politicians may sabotage election process”. However, the caretaker Cabinet’s decision to seek army’s assistance in this regard could offer the much needed reprieve from these attacks and help restore law and order to a peaceful state so that the election process goes ahead without any mishap.
Provide security to those in the line of fire
The TTP is zeroing in on three political parties. While the MQM and the ANP have lost one candidate each, three belonging to the latter have sustained injuries in terrorist attacks. Dozens of ANP’s activists have died in the unending TTP offensive against the party. Last week theANP candidate for NA-4 Arbab Ayub Jan survived by the skin of his teeth, while on Wednesday it was the turn of Asfandyar Wali’s election campaign coordinator Farooq Khan. On Tuesday 17 persons were killed when the TTP attacked the ANP candidate Haroon Bilour. The same day a grenade was thrown at the house of PPP’s nominee for NA-1 in Peshawar. In Balochistan at least four people died, including Sanaullah Zehri’s son, brother and nephew, when a blast targeted his convoy. Zehri was proceeding to attend an election related gathering,
One simply fails to understand why the security provided to the leaders of the three parties was withdrawn despite the threats to their lives. Asfasndyar Wali and Sen. Zahid Khan have questioned the motive behind what he considers a studied negligence. The ANP chief has called it a conspiracy against the party. The MQM supremo has gone a step further. He maintains that this is a part of a well thought out plan to keep all liberal forces out of the assemblies and facilitate the right-wing extremists. Taking note of the militants’ sparing Punjab while making it increasingly difficult to continue the election campaign in other provinces, he has asked whether those who matter wanted to hold elections only in Punjab or in the entire country. He has asked the ECP if it wanted Pakistan to be limited to Punjab only and if so other provinces would be forced to follow their own path according to their inclinations. Few would disagree that as far as Karachi is concerned the alliance that ruled Sindh was itself responsible for the deterioration of law and order in the city. This is all the more true about the MQM which remained in power for 10 years straight. This however cannot be argued against the ANP’s KP administration which fully supported the campaign to establish the writ of the state in Swat and its leaders stood up to the threats posed by the TTP for five years.
The ECP has thrown the ball into the caretakers’ court. The KP chief minister has shifted the responsibility to the country’s political parties by issuing a call for the APC. This amounts to abnegating his responsibilities as a caretaker CM. Unless immediate measures are taken, the parties under attack might be forced to demand the postponement of the polls or worse still withdraw from the elections. This would call into question the genuineness of the polls. There is a need under the circumstances for the caretakers at the center and the provinces to take firm measures to ensure the safety of all participants in the line of fire.
A chance to win Baloch hearts
As tremors were felt across Pakistan, hundreds of houses in the Maskhail region of Balochistan, 600 kilometres southwest of Quetta, were tumbling down like cards. The official count of the number of dead: 34 and counting. The official toll of the damages: yet to be made. When an earthquake of around 7.8 on the Richter scale with its centre of origin in Iran shook up some of our desks and cutlery, the worst was feared. It became a reality in the already deprived province of Balochistan, where the disenfranchisement of the people and the lack of an effective state apparatus, compound the scale of every natural tragedy. Unlike the 2005 earthquake in Khyber Pakthunkhwa, there is no easy way to access the region, with a drive through the insurgency-hit area likely to take at least two days.
Air drops are the best bet to getting aid and personnel into the region and flying out the injured. The fact that four military helicopters were dispatched on Wednesday morning to evacuate the at least 20 critically injured from Mashkail to Combined Military Hospital, Quetta is a good sign. The abandoned people of the Balochistan province need to be shown that the Pakistani state cares about them. With hundreds of houses completely destroyed by the powerful tremors generated by the quake and several people still buried under the rubble, the continuing aftershocks, coming in at 6.0 on the Richter scale, left the people without any shelter on the street and full of fear on Wednesday. The immediate needs are to be food items, station doctors in the area and provide temporary shelters. There has been no indication of when the National Disaster Management Authority shall dispatch such. Moreover, there is the larger question of when will the affectees be resettled.
The important thing is to realize that resettlement must go ahead without waiting for the US aid. While the US Secretary of State John Kerry has promised that “they stand ready to offer assistance in this difficult time,” it must be remembered that disaster relief contributed to a thaw in relations between the US and Iran, which accepted US personnel following the huge Bam earthquake in 2003. Given the current state of disaffection with the Pakistani state in Balochistan, perhaps this tragedy offers an opportune moment to extend a warm hand towards our Baloch brethren. But again it must be reiterated that it should be less about show, and more about the actual substance of the aid extended. With caretaker Prime Minister Khoso having offered an olive branch to Baloch nationalists in a recent visit to Quetta, it is time that he delivered some substance. The question is: shall the caretaker government realize the need to do more than issue condolences on the suffering of the people of Balochistan?
Escalation in tension will only help Taliban
Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain at a tipping point with needless disputes being the order of the day as the recent slandering match over Pakistan reconstructing an old border gate being the latest in a range of verbal disputes between the two neighbours. What both countries appear not to realize is that their relations are crucial as the NATO troops plan to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year, leaving the Afghan government as the de facto ruling authority across the border.
The media hype created in Afghanistan over the reconstruction of an old border gate in Mohmand Agency by the Pakistani authorities. Kabul dropped its objections after it was told that no new military construction was being carried out by Islamabad along the shared frontier and the issue was only a renovation of an old gate. But for that a delegation of Afghan army officials, led by Afghan National Army Director General Military Operations (DGMO) Major General Afzal Aman, had to visit the General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi for talks on border coordination. A military spokesman later revealed that “all ongoing cross-border coordination issues including border post construction in Mohmand Agency were discussed and amicably resolved.” The important statement was that the two “sides agreed on continuation of such bilateral interactions to enhance bilateral border coordination and reduce space for detractors.” a military spokesman said. That an issue of everyday border coordination becoming an issue that could ignite the Afghan side to the extent of spurring on student protests in Jalalabad does not bode well as a mirror of the degree of mistrust between the two countries. The Afghan Defence Ministry Spokesman Gen Zahir Azimi claimed that the recent construction of a gate and other facilities along the border took place without any coordination with Afghanistan and President Karzai was reported to have ordered his defence and interior ministries to take immediate action to remove a newly constructed gate, checkpoints and other installations recently built by Pakistan.
The point here is that the issue at hand was not important, where a particular gate is created or not, should be an issue of easy resolution between the two neighbours purported to be fighting a war against the same enemy for over a decade. At this point, with the impending withdrawal of the US and NATO troops, the exact reverse is needed. However, the ease with which the issue was resolved eventually reflects the petty nature of actual disputes between them. There was no need for unnecessary hype and irresponsible statements from the Afghan President Karzai. It must be realized that an escalation of tensions from either side would only help the Taliban and other militants waiting for the NATO troop withdrawal to up the stakes in the conflict in the region.
Not difficult to empathize with the victims
The attack on Boston marathon is a highly condemnable act. The bombing was carried out on Patriots Day when hundreds of people had gathered to watch the iconic event for the city. Initially there are reports of three people dead including a 10 year old boy. Over a hundred are injured, including nine children. Many of the injured are in a critical state, and some with shattered limbs had face amputation. The possibility of more deaths cannot be ruled out.
The people of Pakistan have gone through tragic events of the sort for years now. Hundreds of families have lost their near and dear ones in terrorist attacks. Unsuspecting people traveling in buses, children attending schools and grownups offering prayers in mosques have been mowed down or turned into mincemeat. Similarly many innocent people have died in the US drone attacks which continue on their deadly mission unabated. It is therefore not difficult to understand the suffering of the affected people and their families in Boston.
What remains to be determined is who is responsible for the act. The FBI and police are highly trained and well equipped with the latest gadgetry to investigate crimes of the sort. Currently fingers are being pointed in two directions. A former FBI counterterrorism investigator told a British newspaper that the attack was reminiscent of the Madrid commuter train bombings, a coordinated attack using multiple explosive devices on March 11, 2004 which was attributed to an Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist cell. The Al-Qaeda has developed the skills needed to launch an attack of the sort while it has also an international reach. The other possible source of the attack could be the US homegrown terrorists of various sorts including the white supremacists. Last year alone a gunman claimed 26 lives including kids and teachers in a firing spree at an elementary school in the Connecticut state, the US Army veteran Wade Michael Page killed six in a shooting rampage in Wisconsin, another gunman man killed 12 in Colorado while two people were killed and at least eight wounded in a shooting outside the Empire State Building in New York.
President Obama has assured that whoever is found guilty after investigation will feel the full weight of justice. There is a need in the US to rethink the whole strategy of dealing with those responsible for such incidents be they Al-Qaeda related terrorists or homegrown killers. This is all the more needed because whatever measures have been taken in the past have failed to achieve the results.
Code of Conduct: ECP must ensure implementation
In democracies elections are held to provide the people an opportunity to choose their rulers. Before the elections the parties present their manifestos telling how they plan to resolve the problems faced by the people and the country. The party which fails to fulfil its promises or does not come up to the voters’ expectations gives way to another party which is put to test during the next five years. Candidates are not debarred from contesting on account of their creed, sex or ethnicity. The ban imposed by the ECP on seeking votes on religious or sectarian grounds is therefore in accordance with democratic principles. There is a need meanwhile to have a look at what is happening on the ground.
The TTP has announced that it would attack the candidates belonging to the PPP, the ANP and the MQM as these parties are secular. It is understood all over the world that a secular party is one that purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion. It is therefore a travesty to imply that secularism is some sort of doctrine which is anti-religion, specifically anti-Islam. If that was so, numerous outstanding ulema of Deoband who supported the Congress would fall into the category of the opponents of Islam. The TTP has warned the voters that they would be attending the election rallies of the secular parties at their own risk. It has already claimed the killing of one candidate each from the MQM and the ANP while another ANP leader has just survived the attack. All the three parties are consequently hesitant to launch their campaigns. The top leaders of the PPP and ANP being at the top of the TTP hit list have been stopped by their parties from leading the rallies. The attack on an independent candidate’s rally in DIK, killing at least two, shows anyone unacceptable to the militants is a fair game. This has led ANP spokesman Zahid Khan to claim that a conspiracy had been hatched to sideline the ANP and bring in the ‘fundamentalist political parties.’
While militants attack the secular parties with IEDs and bombs, a religious party is doing so by claiming to be the sole proprietor of Islam. This amounts to exploiting the name of religion for political purposes. The JUI-F initiated its election campaign by holding an ‘Islam Zindabad’ rally in Lahore. In another conference under the same slogan in Pishin on Friday JUI-F chief Fazlur Rehman described the ongoing elections as a clash between the secular and religious forces. He vowed to defeat all anti-Islam forces in the elections and enforce Islamic sharia in the country. It is for the caretaker interior minister to provide the promised security to candidates. The ECP however needs to ensure that the code of conduct it has announced is followed by all including the religious parties.
Sort of a necessary evil
With elections less than a month away, the wheels of economy in Pakistan are coming to a grinding halt. Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen below US$12 billion mark, and fresh inflows coming from the US in the form of Coalition Support Fund (CSF) shall no longer be coming. While the lack of a finance minister is not helping the matters at all, that is not the only thing missing in action. A consistent lack of attention towards our own economic and financial woes by the political class has put the country at the mercy of a stagnant economy, higher budget deficit and import/export imbalance. However, a six-member delegation from Pakistan will visit the US and meet key officials of the US treasury department for reconciliation of CSF accounts for fresh inflows and will enter into technical talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $5-7.5 billion bailout package.
Our present forex reserve would not last beyond this June. Matters become much more complicated when viewed in the context of overall impact of dwindling foreign exchange reserves. For example, country’s standing as a viable economic entity becomes questionable as well as its standing as a financial market for ratings agencies. But more than anything else, it is the import/export that bears the brunt the most. The balance of payment would become impossible to maintain and the country, considering it follows the same trajectory, would empty up its coffers by the end of the year 2013, and there would not be anything left to pay our international lenders.
The short-term solution, like always, seems going to the IMF for another bailout package, but the Fund would not be any wiser if it agreed to another loan package without assigning its responsibility to one of the political parties, most likely the winner of elections 2013. As a caretaker government is not mandated for these tasks, it won’t be able to give any guarantee to the Fund but not doing so might create difficulties. That is where the political leadership of the country has to step up. While Islamabad needs a package, this should not come at a price too steep to pay up later, as has become a trend with the IMF, along with the dismal performance of country’s premier revenue collection institute, FBR, and a complete disregard of the tax reforms by the body politic in toto. What we should do is to continue to engage with the Fund as well as undertake a serious analysis of the risks and the politically marketable limitations of measures to address our problems.
Political parties in the country, on their part, should keep in mind that popular politics can work only so long. They will have to face the issue sooner rather than later; it would be better if they are already prepared for it. The critics may even question the timing, ownership and the nature of the crisis that this loan package will be attempting to avert. Elections provide an easy subject to pin all allegations on. However, these are the questions that a specifically designated minister could have answered better. After all, a politician is supposed to know policymaking better than anyone else.
Election violence could mar the democratic transition
Another warning shot was fired on Saturday in Peshawar. Only that it was more than a mere warning shot: 10 people died. The Taliban is the orchestrator of the pre-poll terrorism in Khyber Pakthunkhwa, whose objective is to destablise the upcoming elections. Karachi, Balochistan and KP have already shown signs of the upcoming turmoil as we move closer to the date of the general elections. The premonitions had been seen and in many ways political parties tried to premeditate them in the so-called peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the months immediately before the dissolution of the assemblies. While some suggest that strict measures need to be taken, there are others who think that we will just have to get used to the violence and attempts at disruption.
At times, attacks appear to be the product of local election rivalries, such as the bombing of an independence candidate’s election office in Miranshah in North Waziristan. The candidate was a former legislator who was known to support the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). The attack could be easily local rivals attacking him under the garb of the fear of the TTP. Nonetheless, the TTP factor shall most significantly affect the KP polls, unless a solution to the matter is found, and soon. But, at other times, especially in Balochistan, attacks appear to target state and law enforcement officials. A policeman was just gunned down in Quetta, where a DSP was killed only last week. Moreover, the discovery of two ‘killed-and-dumped’ bodies of missing persons on Saturday shall also spark more resentment amongst Baloch nationalists, whom the caretaker setup has been trying to woo into the mainstream.
The law and order situation in Pakistan is far from ideal as a month is left to the polls. Incidents that appear to be confined to parts of KP and Balochistan may spread across all four provinces if not nipped in the bud now. But then it does not merely mean increasing the grip of the security apparatus, rather as the Balochistan Governor was told by returned Baloch nationalist Akhtar Mengal that “authorities were not taking any step to stop dumping of bullet-riddled bodies of missing persons” and that “this phenomenon depicted the policies of Islamabad about Balochistan”. The fact is that the violence in Balochistan can be controlled – if our caretakers in the establishment decide they want to change their perspectives – but if not, then the wave of pre-elections shall see its tide rise. Either the caretaker setup will need to up the ante to curb the spells of violence breaking out now – or election violence shall become the eerie backdrop upon which voters come out to cast their preferences on elections day.
Anti-polio campaign under attack
Pakistan has been facing terrorism since long, way before 9/11 happened, only at that time it had a different avatar and wreaked havoc in a different manner. However, with the time, the terrorists have changed their tactics, what they haven’t changed is their mindset that is still etched in a misunderstanding that violence will help them win people’s favour. Centuries-old notion of what threatens their self-proclaimed pure form of Islam stands not only in the way of progress in terms of human resource and social development, but also as a stubborn obstacle in dealing with the social challenges of modern times. Anything that does not stand the test of their version of Islam is something they have to wage a war against. But they cannot be any more wrong as attacks on teams of anti-polio campaign have shown.
The militants were already against the idea of vaccination, but ever since the role Shakil Afridi played as member of an anti-polio team in gathering information about where Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad, they have made it one of their objectives not to let the anti-polio drive succeed at least in the areas where they can stop it with violence. Since then they have ramped up their attacks on these teams, mainly in the restive areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even in Karachi. Their recent attacks in Mardan city clearly show how twisted their understating of the teachings of Islam is, and that they would do anything in pursuance of their objective of total domination and subjugation of the innocent public. In one such attack three days ago, one policeman was killed while two were injured, whereas in the attack the other day while no one was hurt, the real victims are the children of these areas where this disease, the polio, has shown a considerable threat to resurface and infect kids of different age, crippling them for life. This while the developed and most of the developing world have been successful in eradicating this disease decades ago.
One of the social markers to gauge a country’s development status is its national healthcare system. But in our case, we won’t be able to improve it if we are unable to manage diseases that have lost their presence in other parts of the world years ago. One way to go about managing this situation is through increased security, but then that could give the militants other venues of venting their frustration. The other method would be to engage the terrorists and make them see the light, by making them understand that healthcare does in no way infringe upon their ideology of Islam or anyone else’s. Moreover, healthcare is a fundamental right of every citizen. Depriving them of this right is basically standing up against the state, something the state has to look into and check it before it creates further problems.
The MQM feels the heat
With gangs of criminals striking with immunity on account of the negligence or connivance of the ruling alliance during the past five years, Karachi has become ungovernable. Unless a serious attempt is made to restore peace it would be difficult to hold violence-free elections in the city. For five years, each one of the three parties previously in power blamed the other for the target killings and lawlessness. When it came to action there was none. When the issue of lawlessness in Karachi was taken up by the Supreme Court, there were eye-opening revelations. Murderers sentenced by the courts had been released on parole and subsequently disappeared in thin air. Police officials involved in crimes were not only retained but also promoted. A serving Sindh IG confessed he could not take action against his subordinates because they were political appointees.
After remaining in power for a decade at one stretch, it has come as a shock to the MQM to be treated like other parties by the law enforcement agencies. It has complained about the operation on Friday because it was “unannounced”, was carried out in areas considered to be MQM’s strongholds and has led to the arrest of “innocent people.” Not long ago, the MQM had demanded the initiation of an operation against the Peoples Aman Committee in Baloch dominated Lyari area which was then considered to be a PPP stronghold. It had also demanded an operation in the Pukhtun dominated areas. The lawlessness in Karachi is fairly widespread and no area in safe, which implies that there are criminals not only in Lyari and Sohrab Goth but also in other localities. The caretaker government needs to take an even handed action to root out crime irrespective of the localities’ voting pattern or their ethnic or political identity. What is more, the operations need to be conducted without prior announcement to ensure that the criminals do not manage to disappear or remove their lethal weapons and instruments of torture to safe places. There should be no sacred cows in the city.
The MQM’s complaints are incomprehensible. Even now it has a staunch party member as Governor. The caretaker Chief Minister too is reportedly its nominee. The Saturday’s operation in Lyari indicates that the law enforcers are acting without any prejudice. One expects them to remain neutral. All suspects need to be thoroughly probed irrespective of their affiliations. Any lenience shown in this regard would nullify whatever good one expects from the ongoing operations.
Security, not enough whatever the measures
the TTP had announced that it would target the candidates belonging to the PPP, the ANP and the MQM and attack their gatherings. It has further warned the voters to shun the rallies organized by what it calls “the secular parties”. While the militant network has rejected democracy as an Un-Islamic contraption and has opposed the elections, it has intriguingly maintained an ambivalent attitude towards the PML-N, JUI-F and JI. Its approach towards the PTI is equally ambivalent despite having categorized Imran Khan as a secular leader. The question is whether those looking after the elections are prepared to meet the challenge.
On Thursday the TTP claimed its first victim when the MQM’s Fakhrul Islam contesting for a Sindh Assembly seat from Hyderabad was gunned down. The militant network immediately claimed responsibility for the act. Earlier in the day an attempt was made in Peshawar to blow up the car in which Arbab Ayub Jan who is the ANP candidate for NA-4 was travelling. Last week the militants attacked an ANP rally killing two and injuring a former MPA belonging to the party in Bannu. Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has ordered an immediate tightening of security for all candidates in the wake of the shooting. The problem is that there are thousands of candidates all over the country. What is more, in every province the terrorist threat has its own peculiarities. In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, towns bordering the tribal areas or FRs are particularly vulnerable to the threat as is the case with Peshawar and Bannu. The military operation in Tirah valley needs to be intensified and taken to its logical conclusion to improve the situation in Peshawar and adjoining cities. In Karachi, political appointees need to be transferred so that professional officers unconcerned about who wins the elections can concentrate on the TTP hideouts, sleeper cells and ammunition dumps. In Balochistan the agencies should concentrate on those who want to disrupt the polls and provide security to those who are participating in them. In all these places including Punjab the security agencies should act with unprecedented vigilance and share real time information with law enforcement agencies. There is a need to strengthen the check posts to stop the influx of suicide bombers and weapons from the tribal belt.
The Sindh caretaker PM should have transferred key political government officers after April 2 as was done in the Punjab. The Sindh administration must immediately carry out the ECP directives to transfer the 65 bureaucrats. The army commanders have given their nod of approval to the security plan for the polls. So far the entire focus has been on providing security on the day of the election and to major political leaders. While this is understandable, this is by no means enough. Extra efforts have to be put in to make the entire campaign from April 17 to May 11 violence free.
New report shatters legal basis for defending drone strikes
the skeptics of the US-led drone attacks have been provided more ammunition. The gist of an analysis of the drone strikes in FATA proves: innocent people were targeted. This goes against the claims of US President Barack Obama, who in September last year said that, “the goal [of the drone strikes] has been to focus on al Qaeda and to focus narrowly on those who would pose an imminent threat to the United States of America.” The first analysis of drone-strike victims based on top-secret US intelligence reports has pointed out that the Obama administration has not been honest about who has been targeted. Using US government documents, the report shows that the targets go beyond those Al Qaeda officials that “pose a direct threat to the US,” as Obama claimed.
The US intelligence reports which covers the 12-month period ending September 2011, at least 265 of up to 482 people killed by the CIA-led drone attacks were not senior al Qaeda leaders but “assessed” as Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists. Only six top al Qaida leaders were killed in those months. Forty three of the 95 drone strikes reviewed for that period hit groups other than al Qaida, including the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as “foreign fighters and other militants.” The descriptions of those killed just kept getting vaguer. The evidence belies the legal foundations of the US claim to, what senior US officials have continued to point to, as the UN Charter’s right to self defense as the legal basis for the legitimacy of the drone strikes. However, those following the drones strikes, which began in summer 2008 under the Bush presidency, have known that drones have targeted members of all forms of militant groups in the Northern Regions. The report further suggests that the US was conducting some “side payment strikes” on behalf of Islamabad to eliminate threats to Pakistan, going against the claims of the Pakistan government and military.
On the one hand, the Pakistan government can use the new report to dispute the legal basis of the drone strikes using US documents and take the legal action it has promised against the US for so long. On the other hand, as the Obama administration unveils its promised and overdue targeted-killing reforms in the next few months, one needs to keep in mind the disconnect between who the United States claimed it was killing and who it was actually killing. The drone’s lie has finally been busted. And while the militant threat has not gone, the facts on the ground suggest drones are a failed strategy that incenses populations more than rid them of dangerous terrorists. Will the next Pakistan government take the US to task or tow the line is the question.
A ray of hope for the Baloch people
However troubled a certain part of the country is, it is still a part of the federation and has equal rights as any other federating unit of the state. This makes Balochistan not only equal to other provinces, but also a focus of what one can call corrective measures in order to bring the province equal to the status that the others enjoy. While most of the governments at the centre have been negligent in addressing the grievances of the Baloch people, almost every one of them have raised a slogan of empowering the Baloch, including the government that concluded its term recently. One can easily see what tangible effects these hollow promises have had on the condition of the people and the province: there are no-go areas in the province, nationalists have an anti-state agenda, forced disappearances, lack of infrastructure, poverty, low literacy rate and many more problems.
Having said that, the visit by the Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso can pave the way for a change, for better. The visit was badly needed as the 2008 general elections were boycotted by most of the political elements, ceding the space to corrupt sardars and carpet baggers of all sorts. Resultantly, the province was misgoverned. The fruits of autonomy couldn’t reach the common man. But that time has passed and it is time to make changes. Mr Khoso’s visit can, and probably will, open new avenues for negotiations between the government and the nationalists, which have already shown interest in participating in the elections being held a month from now, and help them settle on a framework that assures the participation of local political leaders while keeping the corrupt sardars out of the loop.
Peaceful elections in the largest province of the country would be a tough task though if completed successfully, the effects could cause a system wide change to bring in the leadership that truly represents the Baloch people. Mr Khoso assured the Baloch leaders that the federal and the provincial governments would take measures to remove their reservations about security, abolish no go areas and resolve other issues. His encouragement to the nationalists to participate in the election process to be a part of the system and bring a change that they desire was right spot on. But that alone cannot end the miseries of the Baloch people, nor can it help in curbing violence, lawlessness or widespread deprivation of basic necessities. It needs much more than that; it needs the government to walk the talk. Meanwhile, the establishment has to realise that military means to govern the province have caused suffering and strengthened separatists. It is time to provide equal opportunity to nationalists to contest elections as well. The caretakers, on their part, need to ensure that the campaign is peaceful, party workers are not harassed or made to forcibly disappear. This will make the elections in the province truly reprints what the Blaoch people’s interests instead of the interests of a few sardars.
All depends on real time intelligence and will to act firmly
The recourse to muscle power during the elections has been a common though manageable problem in the past. In case of support from unseen quarters, however, this can assume uncontrollable proportions. Polls related violence has so far been a part of the culture of intolerance that has only been marginally eradicated during the last five years of democratic rule. Despite the PML-N leadership trying to create hysteria over the so-called Memo Gate and Mian Shahbaz declaring that he was going to drag President Zardari in the streets of Lahore, the traditional rivals ruling at the centre and Punjab have by and large displayed patience with critics and political opponents. One is not sure though that the sentiment has trickled down to the middle ranking leadership and the workers below. The CEC thinks that there can be an attempt to sabotage the polls through violence. He believes that the leaders of the political parties can play a crucial role in pre-empting this. There is a therefore a need for cooperation by the political leadership to keep the polls peaceful.
The election campaign this time is taking place under the shadow of terror. The parties are entering the electoral fray with caution. By announcing that they would target the ANP, the PPP, and the MQM, the TTP has already queered the pitch against the three. This explains why only the PML-N, PTI and JUI-F have so far been able to hold large rallies. On Tuesday, the ANP which claims to have lost about 750 workers during the last five years launched its election campaign in Peshawar. The move was meant to test the waters. Even the parties given indirect blessings by the TTP have hesitated from holding a big gathering in Karachi. Here the ANP claims that 35 of its offices have been forcibly shut down after attacks. The party’s electoral activity has thus been reduced to door-to-door campaign. Aiming a notch higher, the PPP hopes to hold small gatherings in selected constituencies. The MQM which too is in the line of fire is mulling holding public gatherings. It is really courageous on the part of the Baloch nationalists who face a double whammy to contest the elections, albeit tentatively.
Holding a violence-free election this time is tied up with the more complicated issue of keeping the terrorists under control. While political parties have to do their best to persuade their candidates and workers to follow the election code, only the law enforcement agencies supported by security agencies can stop the terrorist attacks. Any attack on a major leader anywhere in the country could evoke strong reaction from the concerned party’s workers leading to unpredictable consequences. All depends on real time intelligence shared with the law enforcers combined with a will on the latter’s part to act firmly against those operating from the shadows.