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.
Khan must contemplate a cutting military spending
Imran Khan finally answered the question that had been asked of him a number of times since his rise to political prominence in October 2011: what was his stance on reducing the military budget? His response, as most predicted, was that he did not believe there was a need to reduce it. On the face of it, the logic he offered will make sense to his patriotic fan base and will keep the powers that be at bay but it leaves questions open as to how radical Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) promised Tsunami shall be.
The PTI chairman’s exact words were that “Pakistan is a vulnerable state, which is fighting at two borders, including the war on terror and conflicts with India.” Perhaps that is true but there is much that has changed on the ground that suggests that cutting the military budget should be on the political agenda. Five years of diplomacy from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) softened stance on our next door neighbour has meant that the threat from it has been allayed. Moreover, when Pakistan became a nuclear power, the logic offered was that the arms race on both sides of the Wahga border would be allayed. The military-initiated Kargil conflict, the 1999 military takeover, the 2002 border force escalation and the Mumbai attacks in 2009 became reasons that the ‘India threat’ discourse never faded away after the nuclear tests. Now that relations are smoother, many a politician has come out to say that there was a need to revisit the military budget to increase social spending. Not Mr Khan it appears.
That Khan maintained that negotiations were the way forward with India appears to be a good call but calling “the Kashmir issue our priority” continues to reek of the same old establishment narrative. The PTI has emerged as a great hope for many people to break the stranglehold of traditional political parties on politics in Pakistan, but it now appears that the traditional political parties are the ones that are more forward-looking on the question of India and the military budget. The facts are that the current military budget to overall budget ratio was fixed by military dictators and there is a need for political parties to sit down and recalculate what is the actual amount of military spending required. Important matters such as foreign affairs and waging wars need to be taken back, with peace with our neighbours as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. It appears Khan is not confident enough to take on the military powers, while being ready to bash politicians all and sundry. Moreover, it begs the question: how does the PTI hope to fulfill its promise of diverting funds from the budget into the social sector if it does not reduce the biggest non-development component in the national budget? The military on its own should realise that Pakistan’s security will remain in jeopardy unless social spending is increased at the cost of military spending.
More authoritative than before
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has finally proved that he is his own man. He returns as a more powerful and effective PPP leader. So far he had been treated as a green youth who needed regular tutoring by party elders. While he faces real threats to his life, his handlers used it as an excuse to put restraints on him which he resented and on one occasion sent alarm bells ringing in government circles as he flouted them. It was maintained by those acting as his guardians that he was wet behind the years, knew little about wheeling and dealing and politics of alliances. While some of these objections may have been true, Bilawal could maintain that it were these very practices that had landed the PPP in the dire straits where it finds itself today.
Whatever little Bilawal was allowed to say indicated that he had liberal views, was inspired by idealism and possessed the courage of conviction. A person of the sort would normally shun the type of realpolitik that currently characterises the political leadership. While the rest of the PPP leaders minced words over Salman Taseer’s killing and on protecting the minorities, a defiant Bilawal told a gathering in January 2011 that the assassination was a message from the terrorists, yet “in the tradition of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, we refuse to bow down”. He then assured the minorities that “those who wish to harm you for a crime you did not commit will have to go through me first.”
Bilawal is returning as a stronger and more authoritative person than before. Within less than a week he has proved that his seniors need him much more than he needs them. Further that it is he who will have the final word in party decisions. To those who remember what Benazir did to some of her patronizing uncles and aunts the message should be clear. Bilawal has challenges ahead. Benazir too had jumped into the political fray at a young age. Through her courage, perseverance and understanding of politics she proved that she alone deserved to inherit Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s mantle. While a liberal outlook and idealism may be assets, they are by no means enough for a leader who is keen to make his mark on national politics. In Bilawal’s absence the PPP was like an army fighting without a commanding officer. His arrival would provide the PPP a Bhutto figure as leader. Realistically speaking this may not overnight change the fortunes of the party. The credit or discredit for whatever performance it puts up in the forthcoming elections will go to those who were taking decisions in Bilwal’s name. The real challenge for him would come after the elections when he will be required to make PPP a popular party.
Youth more pessimistic, conservative and has lower morale
The British Council has compiled a report highlighting the political perspectives of the Pakistani youth and how they shape the dynamics of the upcoming general elections. Formulated over a period of time, “The Next Generation Goes to the Ballot Box” effectively conveys the chaotic state of affairs Pakistan is currently facing as inflation, terrorism, unemployment are on the rise and basic infrastructure, security and job opportunities continue to plummet. According to the report, “In 2007, 50 percent of the youth thought the country was heading in the wrong direction, today that figure is 94 percent.” Such statistics would tend to indicate that young people in Pakistan, who form the backbone of our society, are desperate for change and are actively seeking to vote. However, having witnessed their country, weathered by one political storm after another, from corrupt democracies to military dictatorships, “only 40 percent out of the 25 million registered youth voters are certain to vote, while 21 percent are undecided.”
Perhaps one of the most significant findings of the report is that Pakistani youth is facing an ideological divide. It would take an essentialist to claim that a single political party can appeal to the younger generation at large. Factors such as urbanisation, class divide, gender inequality and differences in education, shape individual voter’s political views. While the urbanised middle class would rally for democracy, the growing conservative elements favour an Islamic Sharia and individuals belonging to politically unstable zones prefer military rule. According to the statistics cited in the report “29 percent choose democracy, with men slightly less enthusiastic than women”, “32 percent choose military rule and 38 percent choose Islamic Shariah”, clearly indicating the lack of an overbearing majority preference. Although such a divide can ignite a debate about the political future of Pakistan, in the short term it indicates that any new form of government will be met with heavy criticism and disapproval.
In addition to people who actively refrain from voting, the report indicates that certain groups are alienated from the electoral process due to a lack of awareness. According to statistical data, underprivileged housewives, referred to as “char-diwari housewives” make up a substantial “third of the next generation”. Yet, being mostly uneducated, “disconnected from the outside world” and stifled by discriminatory gender norms, these women remain “politically disengaged” and have little or no intention of voting. For them, the energy crisis and mounting inflation are of paramount importance and broader issues such as corruption and nepotism take a back seat. In other words, any government that can provide them with the basic necessities of life will be favoured above all others. But first they need to be convinced to vote.
In its conclusion, the report suggests that political parties can determine their fate at the ballot box by mobilising a number of ambivalent, young, potential voters. However, politicians must “set out a transformative agenda, while connecting on an emotional level and speaking to people who have lived lives of deep insecurity”. As Pakistan stands on the brink of a demographic disaster—now is the time to deliver.
Electoral process well underway
Five years of democratic rule and a minimal realization of past mistakes by the politicians have made the present election different from those in the past. During the period the judiciary acquired independence and started to exert itself, some maintaining that at times it overexerted itself. Constitutional amendments brought into existence an independent and powerful election commission. Consensus caretaker governments were formed at the center and the provinces. While the Election Commission of Pakistan and the caretaker set up have their peculiar weaknesses they along with the Supreme Court are playing a vital role in making the present elections different from the previous exercises.
Dual nationality holders are out except a handful who have renounced their adopted citizenship. Computerized electoral rolls have made it possible for the common voter to verify at one click if his name is on the list and in the right constituency. A big failure of the ECP is that despite promising to provide the overseas Pakistanis the right to vote, it failed to take concrete steps in the direction. While the NADRA has belatedly come up with a scheme, its implementation within the remaining 38 days seems difficult. Those who produced fake degrees in 2002 and 2008 elections when these were mandatory have been debarred from the elections. The Supreme Court has given three days to 189 former parliamentarians who have yet to get their degrees verified to fulfill the requirement. A strict scrutiny of the nomination papers has discouraged many contestants this time with the result that the number of nomination papers filed has come down to over 10,000 from nearly 15,000 in 2008 polls.
With the nomination papers of all candidates filed, the first crucial step towards holding the elections on May 11 has been taken. Next is the scrutiny of the candidates’ papers, extending from April 1 to 7. A central scrutiny committee comprising officials from the ECP, the NAB, the SBP and NADRA is already in place. There are however reports of several Returning Officers not providing copies of the nomination papers to the general public. This will deprive the ECP of crucial input at the stage of scrutiny. Candidates should have been debarred from using religion to demonise their opponents. As this was not done a prominent politician was repeatedly called Shaitan Khan at a JUI-F rally in Lahore. That two women candidates filed nomination papers from the tribal areas indicates that democracy is fast striking roots even in the areas considered politically backward. This should be a lesson for those parties who debar women at places from voting through mutual consent in the name of custom or tradition. The government has to provide full security to these courageous women who could be targeted by the extremists.
No solution to Taliban problem without Afghan, Pakistan dialogue
2014 is an important year in the geo-politics of Central and South Asia. With US forces set to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban problem will be left to Afghanistan and Pakistan to sort out between themselves. But the outstanding question is: are Pakistan and Afghanistan willing to trust each other and move forward in confidence? Only two days ago, the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin suggested that Kabul could pursue the peace process without Pakistan’s help. He had further alleged that Pakistan was hampering the Afghan government’s attempts to negotiate peace with the Taliban by “either killing or arresting Taliban figures willing to reconcile within Pakistan.” While the immediate questions were: what were these Taliban figures doing in Pakistan and what were their channels of communication with the Afghan government, the harsh statement from Afghanistan forced the US and UK to come in and find a bridge between the two governments. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Qatar also comes amidst growing tension between the two neighbours. With Qatar reportedly being the Taliban’s reported choice for a diplomatic secretariat, Karzai appears to be wincing around the need to sit down and hold what could be called a ‘frank conversation’ with Pakistan over the cross-border terrorism issue that plagues relations between the two countries.
The Pakistani response to the accusations from across border has been tit-for-tat. In a briefing last week, the Pakistani Foreign Office pointed to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan safe havens in Kunar and Nooristan districts in Afghanistan. However, it has not changed its commitment to negotiations as the way forward. It has condemned diplomatic boycotts, including a recent decision by Afghanistan not to send a military delegation for a training course in Quetta, and called for the need to “promote bilateral relations and build trust.” The fact that over 26 Taliban leaders have been released by Pakistan to Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan High Peace Council is cited to reflect Pakistan’s seriousness in furthering peace in Afghanisation. If nothing, perhaps both sides realize now, that the decade-long war against the Taliban is failing on the battleground, and the negotiating table may be the final hope for this apparently unending battle.
Recently, Pakistan too has begun to follow the ‘negotiate with the Taliban’ card, but with little success. The fact that the Taliban is not a simple entity with a defined leadership structure is an important factor in these talks failing. But there is little that the governments of these two countries can hope for other than individual Taliban groups switching their sway. For this process to yield results: Pakistan and Afghanistan need to be on board. Karzai is wrong and shall be proven so if he moves ahead on accords with the Taliban without involving Pakistan.
PTI, JUI-F stage mass rallies as campaigning turns ‘right’
The election campaign is full steam ahead with two mass rallies catching the eye and ear on Sunday. While the Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) compounded around the Minar-e-Pakistan for its Islam Zindabad rally, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) held another large gathering in Swat to kick off its Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) election campaign. Both rallies were not short of numbers, however hallow the promises may appear to be.
Imran Khan’s narrative began with what some media called an “I have a dream,” similar to Martin Luther King’s famous speech. But while King’s speech addressed the issue of racial equality, Imran’s continued to remind us of his single-minded obsession with his own self. Apparently he dreamt “four months ago that PTI had swept the general elections,” but it appears he did not dream much more. His concrete promises reminded much more of his past: to construct a hospital in KP like the much praised Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital (SMKH) in Lahore. His suggestion that his experience running SKMH was enough for him to fix the entire health system does not say much; but of course that is more experience than other contenders to the political throne. Imran’s basic rhetoric remains populist: denying MNAs/MPAs funds to dole out patronage and converting lavish governor houses into facilities for common people. The numbers at PTI rallies continue to impress and there are expectations that for once these may turn into votes on the ground.
Similar may not be said of Fazlur Rehman’s party whose 100,000 strong showing of beards and turbans filling up the Minar-i-Pakistan, like he did the Quaid-e-Azam Mausoleum earlier in 2012, showed the rising strength of the religious right-wing to stake a claim in the political system and political process. Fazlur Rehman promised that the strong showing of his party showed that people must now turn to his party, in opposition to others, but apart from making some electoral gains in the KP, his party does not appear to be capable of staking an electoral dent. That does not mean, however, that it cannot produce mass gathering; as the thousands of Deobandi madrassas that have sprouted around the country in the last three decades form a ready cadre for the JUI-F and other right-wing groups.
Though perhaps there are encouraging signs in the Deobandi turn to politics. Those sitting in JUI-F rallies today were considered the same people who would form the cadre of right-wing militant groups. If they wish to stake a claim in the political system, it must be encouraged, but with caution. “Islam Zindabad” is a slogan that has been tried before. Most notably in the Zia era – and if the right-wing gains political power through the ballot, and not the boot, there may be a repeat of the suffocation of the 1980s.
He must face the consequences of what he did
What goes around, comes around, or so is former military dictator Pervez Musharraf finding out within a week of his arrival back in the country he once ruled over with brute force for almost nine years. With what he did to others, including the then sitting prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and later the justices of superior judiciary, the adage above seems to take on its literal meaning. On his part though, the former dictator is confident of his innocence, claiming that nothing would happen to him as the courts have nothing on him. One might ask him if that were the case, why he needed almost four years to prove his oft repeated slogan of “Pakistan first”.
His arrival at the cusp of elections is another interesting point. While he might believe in democracy, as he so often claims, what the people of Pakistan remember him for is his dictatorial rule. His professing love for representative democracy may be a good thing, but then again he should first give himself up to the system and accept the justice it metes out to him for what he did during his rule. Other than his coup d’etat on the democratic system, he is believed to be involved in gross human rights violations, particularly in Balochistan, killing of Akbar Bugti, Laal masjid operation and illegal confinement of judges of superior judiciary among many others. Though he has been granted bail in the three cases he is facing in the courts, the Sindh High Court has ordered FIA to put his name on the Exit Control List, and asked Musharraf not to leave the country without permission.
Talking to CNN the other day, after his appearance before the court, Pervez Musharraf said that he felt a little “insulted and humiliated” standing before a judge. One may remind the dictator of old that he must stop complaining now that the shoe is on another foot, man up and face the consequences of his deeds. He will get justice that he deserves; that’s one of the good aspects of democracy. Moreover, he should be mindful of what he did to Nawaz Sharif, whom he had handcuffed and put in shackles before being hurled out of the country after a farcical court case. And how can one forget how he treated the superior judiciary, which he put under illegal confinement after it didn’t acquiesce to his illegal demands. But if he really proves to be innocent, it would be interesting to see how much his political party, the APML, can affect elections, whether he would be able to sway the urban middle class, business community and expatriates, which form his hardcore supporters. If he does prove his innocence then perhaps bygones could really be bygones, but before any of that happens he must stand trial and be a man about that.
Day to day government business won’t run without it
After Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a caretaker cabinet for Sindh has also been sworn in. Punjab and Balochistan are the two provinces where cabinet formation has yet to take place. Similarly, the affairs of the centre are currently being looked after solely by interim Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso. On Friday, Khoso held a meeting of the four new provincial chief ministers to discuss election related issues. There are however other pressing issues also besides the holding of the polls that the federal government can ill afford to ignore. Foremost are the issues related to national economy, law and order and foreign affairs. They require appointment of interim ministers at the earliest.
The caretakers are supposed to hold office only for a short period. The SC, ECP and all major parties have ruled out any possibility of the prolongation of the interim setup which is supposed to end when a newly elected government is ushered in after the May 11 elections. In case any of the parties gains a simple majority, the transfer of power may take no more than a few days. In case of a divided mandate it may take a little more. Khoso as well as some of the provincial caretaker chief ministers have made it known that they would not support any move to extend the tenure of the interim government.
While the Khoso government is not expected to take any policy decision on economic issues, repayments of $785 million to IMF has to be made in three instalments over the next two months. The energy crisis is meanwhile likely to deepen with the increase in seasonal demand generating new pressures. Someone has to be appointed under the circumstances to look after the economy. The Pakistani Taliban are determined to wreak havoc during the elections. The suicide attacks in Peshawar and Mardan and the killing of an ANP leader in Karachi indicate the seriousness of the threat. As the terrorists have a countrywide reach, maintaining law and order cannot solely be the responsibility of the provincial governments as maintained by Khoso in his maiden press conference. There has to be an interior minister to coordinate the working of the federal agencies to effectively deal with the threat. Similarly, a foreign minister and a defence minister are required to respond to regional and international challenges. The provinces may have small cabinets. But they cannot leave the home departments unattended by a minister.
In the absence of the caretaker cabinets at the centre and the provinces, day to day decisions will be taken by bureaucracy. Unlike its counterparts in developed democracies, the institution has been politicised by successive governments, both military and civilian. Unless put under the control of a neutral cabinet, it could take decisions that may cause discontent or give birth to fresh problems.
Politicians’ skewed approach to the issue
Politicians, they say, are a selfish lot. Unless their interests are affected, they won’t raise their voice much less lift a finger to change the status quo on an issue. The recent attempt by the parliamentarians in granting voting rights to expatriate Pakistanis has proven to be an example in how seriously flawed their manner of working is. They were in favour of the measure, making it their joint cause; however, they put it aside just as soon as the Supreme Court adjudicated that dual nationality holders couldn’t contest elections. It appeared as if they lost all the incentive in seeing the move through.
But that was not the only obstacle in the way of granting expatriates their right of voting. When the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided to go ahead with the move, other ministries, whose duty it was to come up with a solution that was cost effective yet practical, indulged in their usual red-tapeism and other delaying tactics, which incurred the wrath of the SC the other day when it ordered to do the needful or else the officers responsible would be sent home packing. The court also ordered to establish polling stations in embassies and asked the concerned ministries to jointly work out a methodology. The ministry of IT informed the court that it could provide the necessary software and technical support within a period of three days, which puts a serious question mark as to why the same ministry is not being allowed to go ahead with its proposal.
One could say that politicians’ selfishness has kept them from doing the needful. As it happened, when the politicians fought for the cause they were not doing it to please the whole expatriate community, they had another motive: they wanted to protect parliamentarians with dual nationalities along with helping the rich expatriates, who contributed handsomely to political parties, to ease their way into the country’s politics. The reason for this move the parliamentarians gave was that the expatriate Pakistanis lessen the impact of foreign exchange crunch through remittances. That is true but the spin given to the whole remittance scenario didn’t even mention where the bulk of remittances came from. Most of the dual nationality holders, who form only a minority of Pakistani expatriates, spend their incomes in the countries of their choice but it’s the honest workers who hold only Pakistani passports in the Gulf and other countries that send in the bulk of remittances. Still no one focused on providing them the right to vote. That’s how skewed parliamentarians’ approach was but with the SC bearing down on the ECP and other ministries, it is hoped that the entire spectrum of expatriates would be able to send in more than just remittances to their homeland.
To remove grievances, talk
Pakistan is all set for holding elections on May 11. The caretaker set up at the center and the provinces is already in place. Thousands of candidates for the NA and the four provincial legislatures are engaged in submitting their nomination papers. The activity however is taking place in the shadow of the TTP. Fears are being expressed that with the government and its agencies fully engrossed in the elections, the terrorists might use the occasion to launch attacks on election gatherings and political leaders. The fears have further been strengthened by the TTP announcement early this month declaring that it considers the elections as an un-Islamic activity. The terrorist network has threatened to specially target three mainstream political parties during the election campaign. On Wednesday major security agencies told the election commission that the militants were determined to sabotage the elections.
It is highly disturbing that the Afghan government has allowed the TTP affiliates to use its soil against Pakistan. During the last two years the terrorists have used Afghan territory to conduct forays in a number of tribal agencies, killing innocent villagers, kidnapping scores of people and launching deadly attacks on security forces. Mullah Fazlullah operating from the other side of the Pak-Afghan border has continued to send terrorists to Swat besides ordering the attack on Malala Yusufzai. Despite repeated demands from Pakistan the Afghan government has failed to deter these elements from launching attacks. The demand to arrest Fazlullah and hand him over along with Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, already in Afghan custody, to Pakistan was rejected. As there was no effort on the part of the Afghan side to stop the incursions, the Pakistan Army was forced on several occasions to take recourse to shelling the militant hideouts. This would have been unnecessary if there was cooperation between the two sides. As Pakistan prepares for elections, the cross border attacks by TTP elements and the reprisals from the Pakistani side continue unabated.
Pakistan stationed extra troops to plug its border with Afghanistan during the 2004 and 2009 Afghan elections. This was to ensure that no militant from this side of the Durand Line was allowed to cross over to sabotage the polls. Pakistan is justified to expect a similar response from the neighbouring country. The Afghan side needs to appreciate the importance of reining in the militants at this crucial juncture. Recalling Afghan military officers from joint exercises with Pakistan is highly shortsighted. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to realize that the security and prosperity of the two countries depends on peace and cooperation against the terrorists. Both sides would be losers if they do anything that adds fuel to the fire. There is a need to stop both the cross border activity and the subsequent shelling and initiate talks to remove mutual grievances.
Ban on appointments is not that justified
Unlike other well established democracies, elections in Pakistan are held under interim setups. The setup provides a semblance of fairness and impartiality though it comes with its own set of problems, the key problem of which is managing the affairs of institutes of national importance when there is a ban on new appointments. Senior posts at these institutes remain vacant, thus putting day to day work of the government at risk. This scheme of things is in no way encouraging as is evident from a recent decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to ask for an explanation from the government on the appointment of Ashraf Mahmood Wathra as Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan, which they say goes against the ban imposed the ECP on all appointments.
The ECP’s decision might have a legal standing but the ground realities tell a different tale. Mr Wathra’s appointment has been hailed by the business, trade, and banking sectors, including the Korangi Association of Trade and Industry. He is considered to be one of the top bankers and knows the dynamics of Pakistan’s economy very well. When the country is going through a tough period, what with elections at hand and a dwindling economy, what we really need is competent and professional management at all the organisations related to economy and finance, and there is no such organsiation as the State Bank of Pakistan that requires this much needed change. Considering the abundance of top level talent in the field, such appointments should have been a no-brainer, but what complicates the matters is a decision by the ECP that has banned any appointments in view of the upcoming elections as governments in Pakistan have often been indulged in handing out jobs in order to lure the electorate.
Other than the restriction set by the ECP, there seems to be no other objection on Mr Wathra’s appointment. To single out his case alone does not bode well for the impartiality of the ECP. If there had been some procedural irregularities in this appointment, the same can be rectified in a way to avoid any confrontation with the ECP and thus put a stop on the functioning of an institute whose decisions can make, or break, the economic outlook of the country. The finance ministry is better advised to make amends with the ECP as it needs professionals like him who have an untainted career and have the courage to take initiatives to set the country on a path of economic progress. The stalemate must end, and professionals like Mr Wathra must be given a chance chip in their share of expertise for the country’s benefit.
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