The ADB report raises concern on economy but there is no one to decide
“Directionless” is what the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) latest report has declared the Pakistan economy. The Manila-based lending agency’s Asian Development Outlook has claimed that the “immediate recovery chances are almost nil amid a worsening balance of payments position.” The caretaker set up has taken a positive step by injecting Rs20 billion to ease the power crisis, but without a caretaker finance minister there is no one to tend to the economic problems coming up. In the first three weeks of the caretaker set up, three briefings on the economy have been given to the Caretaker Prime Minister Khoso, but the Planning Commission deputy chairman has been missing in all meetings, giving rise to what the ADB has said is its fear of “policy inaction by the caretakers.”
The basic economic report card of the previous government shows no serious attempt to address the basic direction of the economy. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government continued the Musharraf-era model of consumption-based growth, instead of investment-driven growth. There has been a fall in fixed investments for the fourth year in a row to 10.9 per cent of the GDP. This is now the lowest since 1974, and ranks as the lowest among major Asian countries. The only thing growing is private consumption expenditure, which has expanded by 11.6 per cent in the last fiscal year, providing the basis of all the GDP growth that the PPP-led government has claimed. The ADB has projected 3.6 per cent growth for the current year and said that without energy sector reforms, Pakistan will not be able to achieve the 7 per cent growth required to accommodate the growing youth bulge looking for jobs. It has said that inflation is expected to edge up to 9.5 per cent and this year’s budget deficit will be at 7.5 per cent, excluding electricity arrears. On the ground, there has been no substantive improvement in either the country’s fiscal or energy imbalances.
The PPP-led government has proven to not have been sincere about addressing the sluggish growth prospects. Last year was the fifth consecutive year of low growth, falling investment, excessive fiscal deficits, high inflation and a deteriorating external position that weighed heavily on the economy. The low foreign reserves, which covered less than two months of imports in February this year, have sparked concern over sustainability of the exports sector. With the ADB predicting that “pressure on reserves shall continue, with an additional $1.7 billion due to the IMF before the end of fiscal year 2013 and $3.2 billion payments during the next fiscal year,” the Pakistan economy can be rightly said to be “sinking like a rock.” It is a somber diagnosis and with no functional government expected to be in place for at least a month, it is up to the caretakers to take short term remedial measures to restore the economy.
One may question as to its intent and purpose
With elections being only four weeks away, parties are gunning for victories in their stronghold, and in certain cases they expect to encroach upon others’ strongholds, but none of this would have been possible if some of their prominent candidates were barred from entering the fray under one reason or the other. A situation of the same nature happened in the past few days when some of the ECP officials scrutinising the candidates decided to implement articles 62 and 63 of the constitution in a more literal sense. Quite a few leaders of the mainstream parties were disqualified from running for a seat in the legislatures on various issues, Ch Nisar of the PML-N and Jamshed Dasti of the PPP included.
Though one cannot blame the Returning Officers (ROs) for they were doing their duty, one expected that a better sense should have prevailed and issues that had no standing in the long run, or the ones that had no basis of concern at all, were avoided in the first place, thus giving the process of scrutiny a better credibility. There were instances showing a disregard to the basic understanding of what the politicians deliver and what the politics stands for: a public service, may be the greatest of them all, and representation of the will of the public, respectively.
Now that Jamshed Dasti and Ch Nisar have been given a green signal to contest elections, both the main parties are gunning for a mandate that would take them to treasury benches. However, questions must be asked as to what was the purpose of putting some of the politicians through all this while some with convictions and pending cases were approved at all. The critics of the noble gesture of putting a scrutiny check at the source would surely point out the irony of the situation. What the ECP should have really done was that it should have asked the candidates to provide it with the details of their and that of their family members’ financial assets. Then these assets should have been put through a process of investigation that is known as financial forensics to verify their claims. This alone would have helped in keeping the loan defaulters, corrupt and otherwise financial embezzlers away from entering the political scene. Sadly, their financial claims were taken on their face value, thus giving them an opportunity to manipulate the process of scrutiny. As far as the articles 62 and 63 are concerned, they are ambiguous and should always be applied not in their literal sense but more as guiding principles. Of course, the debate on what justifies these articles’ insertion into the constitution is a much bigger question, and begs attention to be addressed.
One indiscreet remark provides the spark
The election campaign is being conducted in an atmosphere marked by suspicion and distrust. There is ill will between the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI while religious parties like the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami do not trust one another. Most of all these parties are wary of the machinations of the establishment. This is understandable because the country has not seen a single free and fair election during the last four decades. The only difference this time, which provides a modicum of hope, is the presence of an independent election commission, though here too some have called into question the way the four provincial members of the ECP were elected. There is also a consensus caretaker set up in place. In this case too, the most common question asked invariably about each and every member was regarding who was behind his appointment.
In this background comes the remark attributed to Malik Habib that Nawaz Sharif is the only true national leader and that he had been voting for the PML-N in the past. There is no denying that every man has the right to have political likes and dislikes and vote according to his inclinations. But once someone agrees to take over a job in the interim government one has to be extra cautious. This is all the more important in the case of the caretaker interior minister who controls the civil law enforcement bodies and security agencies which have gained enough notoriety for election-rigging over the period. The minister is therefore going to be constantly under watch by the political parties and the media. This explains why Malik Habib’s earlier slip of tongue describing his tenure between two to three years did not miss the watchful eye of the media. Any sign of partiality on his part is likely to create doubts about the fairness of the elections.
With one indiscreet remark the interim minister has brought the impartiality of the caretaker setup into question. The ANP has now joined the PPP and PTI to demand his resignation. The MQM has called on the president and the ECP to dismiss him. The PPP’s Samsam Bukhari has suggested that instead of being a part of the caretaker set up he should run the election campaign for the PML-N leader whom he considers the only true national leader. The PPP is meditating over filing a reference against him in the ECP. The PTI’s Shafqat Mahmood has called Malik partisan and thus unacceptable. Malik Habib has now said that he has left his past affiliations behind and is an impartial caretaker minister. The explanation should have been enough to settle the matter between two gentlemen. But whether it would satisfy the political parties who have had an exceptionally bad experience of the establishment remains to be seen.
Decisive action important to secure peaceful general elections in KP
Another military operation is now underway in Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP). The small matter of the continuing militancy in our north western province continues to return to the top of the political agenda. With 23 soldiers killed in the Tirah valley operation, the militant presence in this critical region in the province has become a source of instability and fear as elections draw near. The military’s response has been to intensify the operation in the area. The Tirah Valley has a strategic importance for both the military and militants groups.
Located in Khyber, part of the semi-autonomous tribal region, it is the main sanctuary for Taliban militants in the country. The army has launched scores of operations against the Taliban in the tribal region in recent years, but certain areas like the Tirah Valley have remained outside its control. Securing the Tirah Valley would be an important victory for the military in terms of reasserting its control on the rebellious northern regions. The current military’s campaign is therefore meant to cleanse the strategically important area of the malign presence of militants, and aims at the greater goal of securing Peshawar and the settled areas for the upcoming general elections. For militants, the Tirah Valley is an important hideout that has strategic significance. On one side, it shares a border with Afghanistan while on the other side it leads to the plains of Bara, which connect the agency to the outskirts of Peshawar. The Khyber Agency also links several tribal districts to each other, serving as a north-south route within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The region has been long fought over by a mix of militant organisations, including the TTP, the Ansarul Islam and Mangal Bagh’s Lashkar-e-Islam, all of whom see it as an important base for their activities. Khyber is among seven semi-autonomous tribal districts of Pakistan near the Afghan border and is rife with homegrown insurgents and home to religious extremist organizations.
The facts on the ground are that the Pakistan army has sacrificed too many personnel without any decisive action taken against militant groups that inhabit the area. It is hoped that the current operation shall be able to cleanse the area of militants. The area still remains a base for militants for attacks on Peshawar, such as the missile attack on the Peshawar airport this Tuesday. The recent killings of army personnel should have served to strengthen the resolve of the security apparatus of ridding us of the threat in a decisive manner. While victory is not guaranteed by the current operation, the Pakistan Army needs to take control of it once again to get a moral victory and provide a promise of peace for the general elections which are a month away.
And it’s not summer season yet
Summer is a tough season for Pakistanis because it brings an anathema of sorts with it: load shedding. The country saw load shedding of up to 18 hours in cities while many rural areas virtually remained in darkness the other day while it’s still spring season officially. A major chunk of what little we are generating is being used totally free, at very little cost, wasted through problems in the distribution system, or is simply stolen. What remains for public consumption is peanuts compared to the country’s total installed capacity.
7,000MW of energy for a population of 190 million, industrial and business sectors included! The statistics speak for themselves. Reports say that the country’s shortfall in energy demand and supply has shot up to 6,000MW. It will go further up as the summer season hits peak around mid-May through mid-July. Around 700MW goes to the KESC, reducing the national supply by another 10pc. The supply drops to 4,500MW as lines losses, theft and transmission inefficiency cost us up to 25 percent. Exemptions given to hospitals, the VVIPs and the defence sector take away another 1,500MW, leaving the net available electricity to the rest of the consumers at 3,000MW only. How is the general public supposed to manage its electricity needs with only this minuscule supply? The government has not paid any attention to the issue in the past five years, other than some shady deals for rental power projects.
The terrorists in the recent weeks have upped the ante with attacks on power installations. Over the past one week, terrorists attacked four installations, including a 220kv grid station. Four gas pipelines were destroyed over the fortnight, affecting power generation. With Uch Power (550MW), Habibullah coastal power plant (125MW) and Sheikh Manda power plant (25MW) out of order for the past 36 hours after acts of sabotage damaging gas pipelines feeding these plants, the national grid has literally been brought to its knees. Another 700MW went out of the generation tally because of disruption in oil supply to AES Lal Pir and Pak-Gen on Saturday. Tarbela and Mangla also lost 600MW of electricity producing capacity due to less water availability.
Protests have been held in various cities including Lahore, Faisalabad and Hafizabad, and one would wish that protests this time don’t turn out to be as violent as the last year. Making matters even worse is the fact that elections are at hand and if there is no electricity, there could be complications of a number of varieties.
What needs to be done, even if there is a caretaker setup in the country at present, is that generation of power must be given top priority. Mere reshuffling of administration is not going to result in anything concrete. The focus should be on how to increase the generation capacity so as to handle the situation properly, instead of getting it out of hands.
Comprehensive plan caretakers’ responsibility
With the scrutiny of the candidates’ nomination papers over, the pre-election process has entered the final stage of appeals which will end on April 17. After that the ongoing election campaign will gain full momentum. While a number of parties have already held big rallies, the three parties marked by the terrorists have yet to follow suit. Bilwal Bhutto has come back after a week of uncertainties but the party has yet to fulfill its promise of holding twenty big rallies in cities and rural areas. The ANP which lost one of its leading lights in a terrorist attack tested the waters in Bannu with a rally which was hit by a remote control bomb. The party is now hesitant to put the life of Asfandyar Wali to risk. The MQM which claimed to contest seats nationwide has yet to come out of Sindh.
Holding a peaceful election remains the biggest challenge for the caretaker government. Any major act of violence could create panic amongst the voters, dampening their enthusiasm, thus bringing down the voter turn up. The major responsibility to ensure peace lies with the caretaker federal interior minister. He has already held meetings with the top officials of intelligence and law enforcement agencies but unless there is a well thought out security plan, these would not be productive. A close coordination with the provinces is required to keep the situation under control. Malik Habib should be able to share real time information about the impending threats instead of providing imprecise and raw intelligence reports as Rehman Malik did. So far the stress is on providing security to some of the major political leaders. What is needed is a more comprehensive security plan for the entire election campaign.
There are already ominous signs on the horizon. Karachi continues to be a new hub of terrorist activities. In interior Sindh, armed motorcyclists snatched or burnt the copies of a national daily. It seems that Kayani’s visit has brought little solace to the Baloch. The BNP chief Akhtar Mengal claims that there are still no go areas in the province and people are still being abducted and killed in different areas of Balochistan. There is an urgent need to redress the grievances so that no section of the Baloch leadership is forced to boycott the polls as happened in 2008. The ANP and PPP have also put up candidates in South Waziristan. The TTP chief Hakimullah Mehsud has on the other hand threatened of violence. He has advised the displaced Mahsud tribesmen to avoid returning to their homes as they could be killed in the ongoing war between the government and the Taliban. The performance of the caretaker set up will be judged by its ability to provide security to all political players in every province.
With thousands of nomination forms left, scrutiny has become a bit of a national joke
Returning officers (ROs) have become the unnecessary centre of attention as we enter the last day of scrutiny. With media reports suggesting thousands of nomination papers are yet to be scrutinized, the actual process of politicians appearing before an RO has turned into a bit of a national joke. ROs have been reported to be asking personal questions and even doling out advise on family matters, neither of which is amongst the tasks delegated to them. With their mandated task being to verify the financial and moral credibility of candidates, even though some consider the second an impossible and irrelevant task, ROs have become the new tormentors of many a dedicated politician.
With this being the last day for scrutiny, ROs have dug a pit for the election process which is unlikely to have any personal ramifications for them. Observors fear that many forms might be cleared in haste without examining questions of tax evasion, loan default, clearing of utility bills and other government dues. Media has already revealed that fake degree holder Muhammad Ajmal was cleared by an RO in Faisalabad PP-63 (Faisalabad). The ECP has come out and called it, “a problem created by the returning officers for themselves.” Whatever that means, it is a confirmation that ROs have wasted a lot of time in frivolous matters, perhaps each wanting their own moment in the limelight, while the serious task of confirming who all shall contest the polls from a particular constituency has yet to be decided.
The fact that Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) himself chose to address ROs in Hyderabad has come up for criticism from with the lawyers community. Asma Jehangir has said the judiciary had no power to intervene in the affairs of ECP. She has also accused the CJP for “trying to influence the election process” by addressing ROs. Whether that may be the case or not, the CJ does not appear to have made a prudent choice. On the other hand, LHCBA president Abid Saqi has said judicial officers should have been properly trained before their appointment as ROs. And it increasingly appears as if the criticism is gaining strength with Pir Pagara accusing ROs of asking “irrelevant questions” and stating that the time given for scrutiny of the nomination papers was not sufficient to screen out defaulters. That former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar was asked to submit her nikah nama by an overzealous RO is beyond ones understanding. It appears no one has actually told an RO what the limits of he is and is not allowed to ask. The entire scrutiny procedure has given of the bad smell of the judiciary using an opportunity to insult politicians. This is certainly not the ideal situation to be in and it is hoped lessons are learnt in both the present and future.
Reality and promises are poles apart
All eyes have been cast on the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the dark horse in the upcoming general elections, on whether it shall deliver on its rhetoric of change. Some suggest that how the PTI conducts itself in the election race itself shall be a good indicator for the times to come. And for those observing the PTI hit the election trail, there has been little fodder for those looking for a new political tradition being created on the campaign trail. Continuous negotiations, seat adjustments, pre-electoral alliances and patronage-based vote bases are emerging as the campaign gathers pace.
While the PTI Chairman Imran Khan has come out claiming that his party will not make an electoral alliance with any political party, he continues to meet the Jamaat-i-Islami leadership, the Nawab of Bahawalpur, Sheikh Rasheed and develop an understanding with Pir Pagara over fielding Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Sindh. If nothing, it just reeks of one man interested in getting into the seat of power one way or another, without changing much on the ground.
The significant infighting with the party over the issue of election tickets, with the elected Lahore president Aleem Khan having threatened to return the tickets, has also raised concerns over the maturity of the PTI’s internal processes. But more disturbing comes the PTI senior vice president Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s decision to contest elections from Sindh independently with the blessing of the Pir Pagara. The election will not be fought on the strength of Qureshi’s work in the area but the shared ‘spiritual heritage’ with the most influential Pir of Sindh. What remains is his promise to field younger candidates below the age of 35 years of age. The PTI, to its credit, has launched a special fund, the “New Pakistan fund,” for its new candidates and money is being raised money from overseas Pakistanis. Whether it actually goes to new candidates and what the effects shall be is awaited.
There was a time when Imran Khan promised that one chooses “electables and alliance politics for power while our (the PTI’s) politics is to usher a change in the country.” The polls were to be won “on a wave of change.” But now the same Khan has put all his eggs in negotiating alliances, fielding electables and even seeking our Pirs. So much for the slogan of change, if the PTI is to follow the very same policies and tactics that they stood up against. Those who have looked to the PTI to usher in change are certainly having second thoughts when witnessing the pushing and shoving to win elections. It appears that while Imran Khan continues to toe the line that the “masses support him,” on the field, he is becoming a true politician. Whether that is to be cherished or not is not for us to decide.
Altaf Hussain’s argument is far-fetched
The forthcoming elections have a historic significance as these will mark the first peaceful transition of power from one civilian government to another. There is a nationwide consensus to hold the elections on May 11 as scheduled. All political parties, including those which boycotted the 2008 elections, are making preparations to go to the polls. For the first time there is a neutral and powerful election commission and a consensus caretaker set up both at the center and the provinces. The Supreme Court has warned against any postponement of the exercise. The CEC has declared that any extension in caretaker set-up will be disastrous. The caretaker Prime Minister has said that he would resign if the tenure of the interim setup was extended.
As the EC is all set hold the elections Altaf Hussain has suddenly floated the idea of the postponement of the exercise by a fortnight to one month. This would revive the apprehension that were being widely expressed two months back regarding a conspiracy to delay the elections an then derail the system. Those who expressed the fears included Raza Rabbani, Raja Pervez Ashraf, Nawaz Sharif and several other leaders. A Jamaat-e-Islami leader had gone to the extreme of warning that a second Bangladesh would come into being if general elections were postponed. This led some of the political parties which had initially shown a soft corner for Tahirul Qadri to withdraw their support for his long march.
The arguments given by Altaf Hussain are far fetched. If the MQM chief wants an ideal law and order situation prior to the elections, these will have to be postponed indefinitely rather than for weeks. Altaf says that peaceful elections are not possible in Karachi in the presence of the Taliban. The ANP has lost important leaders in attacks by the terrorists who continue to target its public meetings, the latest attack in Bannu killing two and inuring a party MPA. The PPP too faces threats. Despite these both the parties have shown readiness to face the challenge. Altaf’s argument that he sees no political momentum is self serving. The election activity is fast picking up with the PML(N), PTI and JUI(F)having already held big gatherings in a number of cities. The PPP has announced to hold at least 20 election rallies in different cities and towns in days to come. If for reasons known to itself alone the MQM cannot follow suit, elections cannot be postponed to cater to the needs of a single party.
Altaf Hussain’s statement would give rise to the question whether certain forces are keen to delay an orderly transfer of power. In case there are any, they are going to meet with resistance from political parties and civil society in general. They would do well not to consign the country to instability through any irresponsible act.
Pakistan must reciprocate
Welcome news has come from across the Wahga border. After the slight escalation in tensions between India and Pakistan in the last two months, India has started the ‘visa-on-arrival’ facility for Pakistani senior citizens over 65 years of age from April 1. And, no, it is not an April Fool’s joke played by our next door neighbor. If anything was foolish, it was that the unfortunate killing of two Indian soldiers along the Line of Control in January had been allowed to create a delay in Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) amongst the two neighbors, whom direly need to bridge their differences for each other’s good.
From now, senior Pakistanis citizens of more than 65 years of age can receive ‘visa-on-arrival’ at Attari/Wagha checkpost for 45 days. This is a single entry visa. The facility itself was due to start from January 15 as agreed upon in September 2012. However, no decision has been take on the group tourist visa facility to citizens of both countries. These visas were supposed to be launched on March 15. Indian newspaper Hindustan Times cites “no visible forward movement in India-Pakistan bilateral relations” that led to the decision to grant the visa-on-arrival facility to Pakistani senior citizens. Whatever the reason may be, the facility must be replicated immediately by Pakistan, whom has more to gain from normalizing relations with India, that its larger neighbor.
Only last month, a diplomatic crisis was in the offering, as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that the killing of Indian soldiers in Kashmir had “cast a shadow on bilateral relations” and passed the gauntlet to Pakistan to create a conducive environment for the normalisation process to be taken forward. India put the conditions as “tangible progress in dismantling Pakistan’s terror infrastructure,” something Pakistan needs to do on its own regardless. The admission has come directly from the Pakistan Army chief himself, when General Kiyani declared that “internal terrorism was a greater danger to Pakistan than India.” Opening our eastern border does not promise the end of terrorism, or, the end of the lingering suspicion in the two countries, but what it does promise is that people-to-people contact shall help erode hostilities in the short and long term. Will India all set to become the next global superpower, in terms of both economic and military might, Pakistan cannot afford to be in perpetual conflict with its bigger neighbor. Rather the fruits of trade shall be the harvest of a new era of peace amongst separated brothers; and the future of outstanding issues such as Kashmir shall be on the diplomatic table. The freeze of bilateral ties since the border skirmishes must end and talks must resume. India has taken the first step, Pakistan must reciprocate.
Encroaching the political turf not good for democracy
the way the candidates are being questioned by the Returning Officers amounts to humiliating the politicians. While a military ruler introduced the condition of university graduation for eligibility of a candidate, thus debarring scores of politicians from contesting, the judiciary has created a new barrier of its own choice. In this case the candidates are required to clear a test with the syllabus known only to the examiners. Questions that can legitimately be asked from applicants for the job of a prayer leader are being put to those who are contesting national elections. Some ROs have made queries about history, geography, general knowledge, spellings, personal life, in fact about anything that comes to their mind. This is unacceptable. Before the forms reach a returning officer they are already vetted by over half a dozen departments. If the idea behind the scrutiny is to cleanse the system and ensure the candidate’s financial integrity this should be sufficient for a contestant to be declared eligible.
One had hoped that judiciary had understood that only democracy could save the country. The insistence on the implementation of Articles 62 and 63 which can be stretched to mean anything the interpreter wants is tantamount to opening a Pandora’s Box. This will raise the question if the country is moving towards a religious autocracy where a minority with a puritan bias would call the shots. The two Articles were the brainchild of military dictator Ziaul Haq as were several other laws that discriminated against women and minorities. The so-called ‘Islamic’ provisions have helped create an environment conducive to the spread of extremism. The ongoing exercise would further strengthen the trend. Who will determine what constitutes Islamic injunctions – the religious scholars, the Taliban, the Supreme Court or the Parliament? The yet to be defined “Pakistan ideology”, unheard of before the Yahya Khan’s infamous regime, has claimed its first victim. One wonders how many others are going to fall under the guillotine. As the experience of the French Revolution shows, once the instrument has been put to use no head is safe.
Many think the judiciary is proactively pursuing the politicians the way the Inquisition persecuted the heretics. The ECP has put all the relevant information about the candidates on the net. The vast majority of Pakistanis comprises of Muslims, albeit of a moderate type. Why doesn’t the judiciary let the millions of voters decide what kind of rulers they want? A perception is fast growing that the military dictators and judges share an unhealthy prejudice against politics and politicians. Further they also want to encroach on the political turf. This does not augur well for democracy.
Increase in honour killings reflects continuation of primitive attitudes
eleven honour killings made their way into media reports in the first five days of the week. The reports came from regions as diverse as Abbotabad, Nawabshah, Mirpurkhas, Larkana and Peshawar. The story is the usual. Man and woman fall in love with each other, family disapproves and kills one or both claiming that it was a matter of “preserving family honour.” ‘Man kills daughter, paramour,’ ‘Man kills wife’ and ‘Man kills handicapped sister’ are the remorseless headlines that garnish the left out borders of the daily news pages. With 4,000 such honour killings reported between 1998 and 2004, it is as if honour killings no longer matter enough to require detailed investigation before reporting. One in eight of the cases did not even make it to the courts. Four lines are enough in most cases and newspapers are not sensitive enough to use pseudonyms for ‘honour crime’ victims.
If the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reports are to be taken as a baseline indicator, then at least 943 women were killed in the name of honour in 2011. The HRCP itself warns that actual numbers were higher. Of these, the purported reasons offered were illicit relations in 595 cases and demanding to marry of own choice in 219 cases. Brothers were the murderers in 180 of the cases while husbands committed the murders in 226 cases. Only 20 women of the women attacked were reported to have been provided medical aid before they died.
The fact that such a primitive and barbaric crime continues to be committed as a duty across Pakistan suggests that the culture on the ground is not changing despite the outcry of various human rights organizations. Controlling women, curbing choice appears to be the diktat that society at large continues to wish to favour despite a law against honour killings having been passed in the year 2004, which made honour killings a crime against the State. On the ground, police officials continue to act as mediators between families and apply Diyat and Qisaas provisions to let the criminals off. In the cases that reach the courts, studies reveal courts are prone to using the “grave and sudden provocation” excuse to let the accused off. It is a known fact that the real motive behind many so-called honour crimes are disputes over property or taking revenge for an enmity but that has not changed the fact honour killings are on the rise. On the one side, this is reflective of a greater exercise of choice on the part of the new generation. On the other, it reflects the rise of extremist attitudes within society. Official discourse still only sanctions ‘rightful marriage’ as that arranged by families and the garb of Islam still shrouds the question of women’s rights in the legal statutes and Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Both law and society need a radical reform for honour killings to be curbed. It is hoped that the government is listening.
Francis Colony mob attack, PPP criticism test CM Najam Sethi
With the wounds of the Joseph Colony attack in Lahore barely filling up, Punjab has witnessed another attack on the Christian community. A Muslim mob attacked a Christian neighbourhood in Gujranwala and, as with the Joseph Colony attack, the charges and the police response appears frivolous. With Shahbaz Sharif out of the picture, the ‘good governance’ narrative towed by the younger Sharif is being untangled and the brunt is falling on the current caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi.
As details have emerged of the frivolous nature of the accusations that led to the mob attack in Gujranwala, it appears that Punjab, if not Pakistan as a whole, is headed for a much more polarized future. The reported clash was between a Christian boy and a local prayer leader over the ‘accusation’ that the boy was playing music on his mobile phone outside a mosque. The prayer leader raised clamour over Christians “disrespecting Islam” and one of those ever ready mobs ransacked nearby Francis Colony. The police, as is now habit, stood by and watched until things got serious. This was despite the new Inspector General of Punjab Aftab Sultan assuring the Supreme Count that “no such incident would occur in the future.” He said there had been 50 arrests for the Joseph Colony arson, while the responsibility had been fixed on one SP, a DSP and two SHOs. However, apparently the message is not going down deep enough in the police ranks who have stood by and watched as another gruesome mob attack was undertaken on Pakistan’s Christian community.
While the Muslim mob attack on Francis Colony in Gujranwala may have nothing to do with Sethi, who has barely stepped into his new hot seat, but the pressure will be on him to act meaningfully. Sethi of course has much more to deal with. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which originally nominated him for caretaker CM, appears to have turned about face. Former PPP prime minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf has cast aspersions on Sethi’s neutrality for his refusal to fire retired bureaucrats on key positions in the Punjab hierarchy. It is the PML-N Senator Pervaiz Rashid that had to come to Sethi’s defense and vouch for his impartiality. Perhaps it is the Gujranwala incident that Sethi’s benefactors would see as closer to his heart, but the shrewder Sethi would do well to weather the political storm brewing about his caretaker CM-ship. Having criticized politicians and governments for their inaction in the casting couch a number of times, Sethi now sits in a seat of power, with the authority to make an impact. All eyes are now turned to the orator par excellence, if he can deliver for the minorities of Punjab and shrug off the political storm hovering around his temporary perch.
Pyongyang’s threats cannot be taking lightly
The war of words has intensified alarmingly among North Korean armed circles after South Korea and its patron, the US, carried out military exercises in the region despite warnings from the nuclear armed communist state to desist from this provocation. While the reaction has been limited thus far to only rhetoric, though frighteningly fiery in content, on the part of Pyongyang, the other side also lost no time in flexing its awesome military muscle by a show of reportedly long range B2 bombers and a couple of the stealth B1s over South Korean skies. Not exactly the wisest steps to take under the circumstances when the North is acting like a disturbed hornet’s nest.
To most people, the North, with its closed and apparently xenophobic mindset and a ruling family dynasty that enjoys a near demi-god status among ordinary Koreans, remains a problem and an enigma. Occasionally, reports filter out from defectors or Pyongyang-watchers of the lavish lifestyle of the ruling elite on the one hand and famines affecting various parts of the country on the other. The recent succession of Kim Jong-un to the presidency and tussles between groupings in the communist party and the military for priority of influence over state policy are also cited as being behind North Korea’s apparently illogical and outlandish behaviour. But now it is a nuclear-armed North Korea with delivery systems and sufficient technical ability to launch rockets into space. So its threats cannot be taken lightly.
Since Pearl Harbour, a ‘day that will live in infamy’ when Japan attacked the huge Pacific naval base in 1941, the US remains extremely sensitive to any attack or threat of attack on its soil. For the sole superpower that would be a bruising dent to its pride and world image of invincibility. The 9/11 no doubt helped ratchet up that perception into a paranoia.
The present confrontational stance will no doubt receive top priority at the UN, whose current secretary general is a former foreign minister of South Korea. But the real player in the Korean game is undoubtedly China, which at times seems unable or unwilling to keep its strange protégé in check, and has so far only issued a mild advice for ‘calm from all sides’. Although it would be the first to be caught up in a Korean conflagration, the demands of geo-politics arising out of the US desire to check China’s rapid rise as the next inheritor of world supremacy, and the American ‘pivot’ to the Pacific from the European-Middle East regions in order to encircle it would no doubt also enter into any Chinese calculations. North Korea with its long range rocketry also checkmates Japan – the US’s other major ally in the region. The volatile situation needs to be defused at once through dialogue instead of launching fifth generation aircraft in the region. As for the North, it should also backpedal from its fiery talk of war and restrict itself to rhetoric alone.
Election candidates’ scrutiny
Political parties have over the last many decades yearned for fair and free elections. The losing parties blamed the election commission year after year for helping the winning side. The last elections were recognised as being comparatively free as Musharraf had removed his uniform by then and thus lost much of his influence over the army and security agencies. The new government undertook a number of reforms. Initially it hesitated to restore the independent judiciary but subsequently yielded under the pressure of the Lawyers Movement supported by civil society. The government and the opposition then joined hands to put in place a free and powerful election commission and a consensus caretaker setup. With the world becoming increasingly resentful of military setups and the political parties achieving a modicum of maturity after a decade of no-holds-barred fighting followed by ten years of military rule, external and internal conditions were created for the survival of democracy. The government and the opposition joined hands to introduce amendments to the constitution to hold free elections and take measures to strengthen the system.
Public pressure led the government and opposition to take initial measures to put an end to corrupt practices, beginning with elections 2013. Few political parties had expected that with independent and empowered institutions in place, they would have to pay a heavy price. Pandering to the conservative lobby the legislators let article 62 of the constitution remain in its original form which allows it to be interpreted in several ways. The way candidates’ knowledge of Islam is being put to test is unfair though under article 62 this could be done. Former legislators who presented fake degrees were not only debarred from contesting but also sent behind the bars. With the Supreme Court insisting on full implementation of the constitutional provisions, former parliamentarians holding dual nationality received similar punishments. The fear of scrutiny deterred numerous potential contestants to file nomination papers. Those who filed the papers are being subjected to scrutiny to weed out tax-evaders, defaulters of bank loans, utility bills and government dues as well as beneficiaries of written-off loans and the NAB convicts.
With the candidates being examined by over six different departments and the details of their statement put on the net for the benefit of the general public, either the honest or the most artful dodgers would be able to make it to the assemblies. With 52 former legislators already axed and 189 waiting to be judged, a whole lot of old hands would stand retired. This would in the long run help cleanse the image of the politicians. While the political parties would lose some of their assets, they would be the gainers over time.