The army has frequently expressed unhappiness over the release of suspected terrorists. While this has sometime led to charges of inefficiency on the part of judiciary, others have maintained that the negligence on the part of police investigators is responsible for the terrorists’ release and, therefore, what is needed is to concentrate on revamping the prosecution department. A new law which gives sweeping powers of detention to the army has reportedly been signed by President Zardari. There is a perception that this might create more problems than it is expected to resolve.
While the new law is liable to be called Pakistan’s version of the USA Patriot Act, the two are poles apart. In the Pakistani law, the army plays a central role and is empowered to detain civilian suspects as long as it considers necessary. The American law had simply reduced the restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records, eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States and allowed the treasury to regulate financial transactions. Under the American law, only immigrants could be detained or deported.
Granted these tough times call for proactive measures against terror but it is difficult to reconcile draconian anti-terror laws to the principles of democracy. So went the argument against the Patriot Act as it does in this law. It allows arrests on suspicion not only in the tribal areas but anywhere in the country. It also allows internment of the suspects for indefinite period which amounts to the denial of basic rights. To allow only the army, and not the courts, to probe any abuse or misuse of force by army personnel is highly unjust. Including offences unrelated to terrorism could open the way to the act’s misuse against political opponents. To allow the proposed law to be enforced from February 2008 is arbitrary as terrorist acts started much earlier. Handing over the tribal areas to the army for an indefinite period amounts to the civilian government abdicating its responsibilities. In case gross acts of terrorism continue to take place in major cities of the country, they would provide an argument that the entire country be handed over to the army. There is a need for a debate on the proposed act both in Parliament and in media before it is promulgated.
Never was there a clearer case for freer trade than the cement sector. As opposed to the other sectors of the economy, this one has the potential to do rather well. Not in the sense that it is untapped potential but in terms of a tangible, working, established set up. But this fiscal year was awful for cement manufacturers; faced with a lukewarm appetite in the domestic markets, close to 80 per cent of the units in the country faced stark losses. Or so says the country’s cement manufacturers’ association.
As a result of this sluggish demand for cement, many of the country’s cement plants have been operating at a sub-optimal level, lowering their competitiveness. Matters were, of course, compounded by the fact that there were no signs of the subsidy that the government had promised for inland freight.
Across the border, it’s quite another story. The Indians can’t get enough of the stuff. Not only is there a shortage of cement, Pakistani cement in particular is in high demand because of its good quality. The Indian economy is growing quite steadily. And with growth in the developing world comes large scale construction, creating the need for, amongst other things, cement.
How some countries can eke out a competitive advantage in a particular field despite the odds is the subject of debate amongst economists. But the spillover of economic progress and growth from one economy to another adjoining one is well documented. It is a process spread over many phases, some of which might not be pleasant. The cement manufacturers might be overjoyed, other sectors maybe not so much. A glut of products from another country might kill off certain local industries but the end results are generally for the betterment of both economies.
It is about time we bite the bullet and open up the surface trade routes between the two countries. Not only is this a sure fire way of ensuring regional peace and pacifying the trading class – otherwise a constituency of warmongers – but it is also a means to create a synergetic energy for the economy of both sides. There’s way too much untapped potential to squander off on regional squabbles.
What matters a lot in politics is the timing of a move. The PML(N)’s drive for a grand alliance is not only belated but also misconceived. The self-righteous leadership of the party drove away potential allies and entered into mud slinging matches with them. The more the party was alienated, the stronger was the perception among its leaders that the PML(N) alone was pursuing the correct political line. This explains why Nawaz Sharif’s call for a grand alliance has elicited little enthusiasm. His statement maintaining that the grand alliance was “the need of the hour” to “rid the nation of this government” has rightly or wrongly led to the perception, both in government and in opposition circles, that the proposed alliance was aimed at seeking mid-term elections. The perception was strengthened by Shahbaz Sharif’s alarmist statement that “It was time to protect the existence of Pakistan, which required practical steps.” Nawaz’s call led Prime Minister Gilani to clarify that while the stage was being set for local bodies elections, there was no possibility whatsoever of holding the general elections before time. The MQM and JUI(F) have expressed similar views.
The proposal for the grand alliance seems to have been launched without any ground work. Brainwaves cannot be a substitute for well thought out political moves. The announcement has therefore led to complaints. JUI(F)’s Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri has said opposition parties should have been taken into confidence over the proposed grand alliance’s agenda. Further that the party does not favour midterm elections and no one had the right to remove the government through unconstitutional means. Shahbaz Sharif’s condescending invitation to MQM too has failed to cut ice with the party which has made it clear that while being in the opposition, it will cooperate with the PML(N) inside the parliament, “We do not believe in plans to topple governments to achieve certain political goals.”
London has often provided a venue for secret talks away from the glare of the Pakistani media. With the top leadership of the PPP, MQM, JUI(F) and ANP present in London, one expects moves and countermoves of all sorts to take place. There is, however, little chance of any grand opposition alliance emerging for the time being.
It rose from the west, the sun did the other day. For the Indians have finally shown a measure of appreciation for Pakistan’s efforts in the war against terror. The country’s outgoing foreign secretary Nirupama Rao has said there is a discernable change in Pakistan’s attitude in the war against terror. Concrete (her word, not ours) is a pleasant change from allegations of us shuffling our feet in the efforts to take on the terrorists.
Even more refreshingly candid was the admission of folly in the policy of not engaging in talks with Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Continuing her winning streak, she responded to a question about whether she expected her Pakistani counterpart to admit the alleged link between the Pakistani state and militancy, by saying such candour on his part would be unrealistic. For the Indians to realise that there are many fault lines within the Pakistani government and that the political government and civil bureaucracy is clear about the stance against militancy is extremely important. The Pakistan watchers in the Indian establishment have come to the conclusion that pushing these away would be counterproductive to regional peace.
It is hoped that this positive attitude actually translates into positive developments on the ground when the foreign ministers meet next, expected to be sometime this month. It would also do the Pakistani government well to not become complacent about its efforts. At the end of the day, after all, it is not really the Indians that we would be doing a favour by getting our act in order but ourselves. The terrible loss of life in Mumbai is, after all, dwarfed by the total amount of lives that Pakistan has lost to acts of terror. At a time when even time-tested friends, like the Chinese, are getting nervous about the havens of terror that are admittedly operating from within our country, we should be more understanding towards the apprehensions of traditional foes.
It is not just our eastern borders where relations are strained; the going hasn’t been great on the western borders either. Now that the decade-old war is about to see its gradual end, reliable relations are of utmost importance for the future of the region. Indeed, a slow but gradual progress has been witnessed over the years in this regard though much more remains to be done. A single wrong step can undo years of efforts put into building a strong and dependable relationship. And that’s exactly what has been happening across the border for the past few days. The Pakistani military, while targeting the terrorists who attack security check posts at every odd hour, fired some shells that the Afghan security forces claim hit their settled civilian areas. Protests have been lodged with the Pakistan government and army. Many are eager to claim it as a spanner in the works of constructive efforts to build up a momentum for a long lasting peace in the region. Realistically speaking, there are problems on both sides. While Pakistan has deployed more than 150,000 troops along the border – which ironically still seems to be too short a number considering the cross-border infiltrations – ISAF has relocated or removed troops on their side of the border, thus handing the terrorists an invitation to the party. The barren, rugged terrain cannot be manned at all places; there is just too much of it. Even if some advanced check posts are built, they would be prone to attacks just as well. Moreover, with the operation in NWA, many of the terrorists have settled in lawless areas on the Afghan side of the border. Afghan National Army (ANA) is not yet ready to handle the task efficiently and they lack equipment and funding. The political ramifications of this exacerbation can be damaging for the whole Afghan endgame. Restraint on both sides is what should be the call of the day. The ANA and Pakistan army both need to focus more on curbing these border intrusions than lodging protests with each other, if they want to move ahead and bring stability to the region.
The three senior executives of the central bank who were kidnapped a month ago for a ransom of Rs 90 million have finally been recovered from the forests of Sukkur. Other kidnapping victims aren’t so lucky. For over two years now, the vice chancellor of the iconic Islamia College University Peshawar, to name just one, has been in captivity. As opposed to other cases, the kidnappers here are negotiating not with his family but with the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa itself. Cavalier and bold. Times are bad. Kidnapping for ransom has become a serious problem, vastly underreported for the major part because the families concerned have been warned not to contact the law enforcement agencies, even after a settlement is reached and the hostage is returned to his family. Though the badlands of Sindh and Punjab do have their share of the cases, nowhere is this problem more rife than Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the tribal areas and even the federal capital. Though kidnapping was always a prevalent crime, never has the crime been more lucrative. Come Eid time, goes the old Pashto refrain, even the tailors start sharpening their knives; gangs previously uninvolved with kidnapping – which is a crime several notches more serious than mere stealing and dacoity – have a huge financial incentive to consider a foray into it. Many of these seek the protection of the Taliban and other militant outfits who take a cut and provide a level of protection in return. Then there are the Taliban themselves who view kidnapping as a viable revenue stream. The mechanics of this vile trade have become sophisticated enough to have developed a crude bourse, of sorts, where hostages can exchange hands between different gangs much like stocks or shares. Given the abject incompetence of security agencies, military and civil, the kidnappers know they can operate with impunity. In the face of this, many of those from the business community who can afford to have started taking proactive measures; in some cases, hiring entire platoons’ worth of trained personnel and weaponry. The problem with weapons is that they tend to be used regardless of what specific threat they were bought for. Yet another inability of the state to maintain its monopoly over violence.
For Mian Nawaz Sharif, it is always either white or black with no grey areas in between. The mindset has stood in his way to build political alliances which are a common phenomenon in democracies. This explains why there is hardly any possibility of a grand alliance of the opposition coming into existence in the days to come. What Fazl-ur-Rehman told the media after meeting Ch Shujaat and Pervez Elahi further confirms this.
The PML(N) leadership has cared little to seek allies, rejecting prospective partners on one pretext or another. It hounded the PPP out of the coalition in Punjab despite the latter’s desire to remain a part of the government. The PML(N) had earlier driven away the PML(Q) on the grounds that its leadership had stabbed it in the back. Recently, Nawaz told the PML(Likeminded) that he did not recognise any Muslim League other than his own and if anyone from a PML faction was to apply for rejoining the PML(N), the request would be considered on merit. He further added that some of the leaders of the Likeminded group had no chance of admittance. The opposition in the Senate split last month when the PML(N) decided to launch its own candidate as leader of opposition against the JUI(F)’s choice who represented the largest single parliamentary party on the opposition benches in Senate. The move subverted Ch Nisar Ali Khan’s plans to set up a combined opposition platform during the budget debate. Overtures made recently by Fazl-ur-Rehman were rebuffed by Nawaz who maintained that he did not trust the Maulana.
The PML(N) is the largest opposition party in and outside the Parliament. Many had expected that it would keep the government on its toes by uniting the opposition groups. Further, that it would forge a grand alliance which would put up a strong fight as a better alternative during the next elections. Thanks to Nawaz Sharif’s lack of political dexterity, the party faces isolation. As Imran Khan’s public meetings become increasingly larger, he too is likely to continue his solo flight. The only party besides Markazi Jamiat Ahle- Hadith that is likely to join hands with him is Jamaat-e-Islami, and neither has any worthwhile electoral following.
Religion is a difficult turf to tread on, particularly when it has been contorted to suit one’s personal agenda. A bitter truth but this is exactly what has happened to Pakistan’s religious landscape where each sect has dominated a certain turf – both literally and figuratively. Ready to neither embrace each other nor eat from the same plate, they have become rigid and dogma-ridden, and in certain cases, trigger happy too.
The recent clashes between two sects in Karachi have once again highlighted this problem that often remains under the radar. As many as eight persons lost their lives, most of them passers-by, while many were injured. The bone of contention was a mosque and a hospital. What makes these incidents more damning is the fact that they have fought over some worldly possessions and not on certain nuances of religious commandments or edicts. That they traded fire for hours also speaks volumes of the inefficiency our security agencies have come to be known for. As to how a banned militant outfit was able to launch such an attack needs investigation whereas a large number of firearms should also be a point of concern for the security and law enforcement agencies. Law and order in the metropolis is already a big question mark on the performance of provincial and federal governments, more so for the former and less for the latter. MQM’s parting ways with the government is surely not going to help a bit in tackling this issue. The issue does need immediate attention nonetheless.
Karachi’s peace is like tinder on the end of a matchstick. Any amount of friction can cause it to light up and the fire of violence, sectarianism, terror and target killings is set ablaze anew. Another casualty of this whole gory picture is the loss in billions of the trading and industrial sectors that come to a halt each time this episode is replayed. Whereas religious differences might be nigh impossible to bridge anytime soon, an effort can be made to cultivate the culture of tolerance among the sects while LEAs must work to ensure no reprisals happens.
Very few Pakistanis – the fringe of a fringe – have ever seen the Shamsi airbase. The rustic backwaters of Balochistan were never exactly a tourist hotspot. That, and the fact that there are multiple, contradicting theories about what actually goes on there, has turned the airbase into some sort of fantasy island, albeit one that has the potential to be at the centre of a grave international dispute.
In the blue corner is the Pakistani government, lanky and awkward as always, with the air force chief giving a statement to the effect that it is, in fact, the Emirati Arabs, not the Americans, who run the show at the base. The defence minister, however, told the press that his government had asked the Americans to vacate the same base!
In the red corner are the Americans, refusing to be embarrassed or apologetic, specially now that they have been emboldened in the aftermath of the whole Osama incident. “That base is neither vacated nor being vacated,” told a US official to a foreign newspaper. The official’s statement was in relation to the Pakistani government’s demand for the US to withdraw from the base.
This withdrawal has some internal political implications. US drone strikes into North Waziristan, which are a rallying point by opposition political parties, are said to be carried out from here. As the defence minister told Reuters, “When they will not operate from there, no drone attacks will be carried out.” A curious statement, given that he had already told the Financial Times that Pakistan had already stopped the US drone flights from the airbase. A class act, the honourable minister for defence, Mr. Ahmed Mukhtar.
The drone strikes are an issue of sovereignty. Regardless of the fact that we agree with the operations against the terrorists stationed in Waziristan, there is the principle of national sovereignty involved. The other side of the debate claims sovereignty is a privilege that has to be earned; that responsibility for what goes on in an area is a prerequisite for sovereignty. All that can be thrashed out eventually at some forum of international dispute resolution.
But if indeed the drone strikes are carried out from within the country, it would appear that our government is even lesser empowered in the whole equation than was previously thought. A plight made worse by the Americans’ refusal to leave the airbase.
With the monsoon starting earlier this year, fears regarding floods that are already being expressed are by no means unjustified. There are, in fact, already reports of the first installment of floods in river Indus having hit areas in DG Khan leading to the flooding of several villages and the consequent damage to crops and the displacement of local population. The damage has been increased by flash flooding caused by hill torrents.
It was quite natural to hope that with the experience of the last year’s devastating floods still fresh in memory, the administration would have done all that is necessary to ward of the ill consequences of high floods. The embankments of the rivers would have been repaired, restoration work undertaken and fool proof arrangements for dealing with emergencies put in place. What reportedly was told at an inter-provincial meeting in Islamabad however does not inspire confidence. The meeting was informed that restoration work remained incomplete in all the four provinces, AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan, though provinces and areas badly hit by the floods last year remained the most neglected. Even in Punjab, which had the highest rating vis-à-vis performance, enough remained still to be done. The enquiry report commission report regarding the breach in Tori dyke ordered by the Supreme Court has held important engineering and irrigation officials responsible. This however does not exonerate those who exercise the overall supervision. Any natural disaster that could have otherwise been averted is bound to take political toll. There is a need under the circumstances for the political leadership to get its act together.
In the urban centres of Punjab, particularly Lahore, the government has put up a better performance in dealing with the after-effects of the monsoon rains. But any lack of vigilance in the interior of the province is bound to lead to crop losses affecting the whole county and economic hardships for the local population. What is more, it is bound to highlight regional imbalances and complaints of neglect by an insensitive administration in Lahore.
The military to military relations between Pakistan and the US have continued to deteriorate after the May 2 incident. The confrontation is also reflected in some of the decisions taken by the US and Pakistani administrations. Washington has delayed the release of $300 million of CSF upsetting Pakistan’s plans to keep the fiscal deficit below 5.3 percent as agreed with the IMF. It is now desperately knocking at the door of the Islamic Development Bank for an urgent release of $130 million to bridge the deficit. Defence Minister Ahmad Mukhtar has meanwhile asked the US to vacate the Shamsi Airbase which was being used for drone operations. The confrontation reveals a dangerous disconnect with the reality on the ground which requires understanding and cooperation between Pakistan and the US.
Certain questions and answers at the proceedings of the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday have led to a sharp rebuttal from the ISPR. Some of the impatient Senators worried about the lack of returns from the tax payers money put blunt questions to two top US commanders who are about to take charge of the US military operations in Afghanistan. In response, the commanders said things that amounted to serious allegations against the Pakistan army. As the proceedings were open, the allegations provided one sided material to the media for comments. The spokesman of the Pakistan armed forces has rejected what he called the ‘allegations’ and ‘aspersions’ and has called upon the US to take Pakistan’s concerns and constraints into consideration. During the Wednesday session of the Armed Services Committee, however, the assessments presented by Lt Gen Allen underlining the need for close ties between the two defence establishments were more realistic.
There is a need on both sides to arrest any further deterioration in their relations. There can be no two opinions about the urgency to eradicate the terrorists’ hideouts and take out the unrepentant terrorist leaders. However, while doing this, Pakistan army’s reservations have to be taken into account. The pursuit of immediate returns must not lead to creating long term problems for the region, as it did in 1980’s. The outstanding issues should be resolved through consultations instead of resorting to the blame game.
Load management is clearly not a uni-dimensional process. It is not manifested in the decision to cut the power off the grid for a particular quantum of time. It is, instead, spread out into a matrix where different decisions have to be made. Electricity load-shedding, to give one example, is worse for the rural peripheries than it is for the urban areas; within the urban areas, different decisions have to be made for residential, commercial and industrial areas, each a newer dimension to the management.
The situation for natural gas is similar. The federal ministry for petroleum and natural resources is set to ensure that the load management of natural gas is evenly distributed. To this effect, it is going to decide upon an equitable distribution of the stuff between the IPPs, the industrial sector and the fertilizer producers by cutting down on their allocated quotas. All of this, of course, is going to be in addition to a massive gas price hike.
Now, as it inevitable in such situations, the affected quarters are none too pleased. The industries will not warm up to the idea, as won’t the already embattled fertilizer sector. The common man, that mute concept everyone is so fond of speaking for, isn’t going to be charitable either. Ditto, for the CNG pump owners and their clientele.
But priorities have to be aligned and decisions have to be made. The CNG pumps, counterintuitively, cater to a better heeled demographic than the petrol and diesel pumps, which service motorcycles, scooters and public transport vehicles; perhaps the CNG pumps can afford a slight hit. CNG prices are set to go to 65 percent of petrol as opposed to the current 45 percent.
The fertilizer sector is on the decline, with urea and DAP sales falling consistently. They might not be able to sustain a price hike like the one being envisioned.
Public policy is far more complex than making sure resources, taxes and problems are evenly distributed. That would have been a near mechanical process. It is actually a calculated set of risks, incentives and payoffs, all calibrated to achieve what is a utilitarian best for society and the economy.
One of the charges against that doyen of Pakistani leftist politics, the late Wali Khan, when his NAP was being disbanded after the Hyderabad conspiracy case, was that the party had envisioned a very limited role for the centre. That all the centre should be entrusted with should be monetary policy, defence and foreign affairs; that the federating units should take care of all the rest.
How quaint and feeble these charges look now in 2011. Ironically, these were just about the only accusations that were true in that witch-hunt of a trial. More ironic, still, that it is on the watch of the party that was persecuting the NAP that the first real, tangible efforts towards devolution have taken place. The federal cabinet approved the day before the devolution of seven ministries to the provinces, completing the process just before the deadline that was set for it in the 18th amendment to the constitution. This was the third phase of devolution – many other ministries have been dissolved since the amendment. With this, 17 federal ministries and the Concurrent List of subjects stand dissolved. Good riddance.
But it isn’t over. We’re in a tricky phase now. Only the seven ministries of the latest phase would affect around 37,000 employees, with only 2,000 of them being retained by the federal government. They are going to have to be readjusted in an appropriate manner. Then there is the lack of capacity on part of the provincial governments in dealing with these new portfolios. Struggling with the departments they already have, the provinces need to make sure they don’t present a working model for the centralists to use to illustrate how they were right all along.
Though this devolution is admirable indeed, the next level of devolution – to the districts – should not be forgotten. Even if it is left to each provincial government to decide the extent to which the local governments would be empowered. The provinces should show the same grace to the districts and local governments that was finally accorded to them by the centre.
The PML(Q) initially joined the PPP-led coalition out of the instinct of self preservation and was content with whatever was doled out to it. This led to protests within the party while the chief of the PML(Q)’s KP chapter resigned from the lowly cabinet portfolio handed down to him. There were complaints from PML(Q) stalwarts in Sindh who had not been given any share in the provincial cabinet. A leadership which specialises in wheeling dealing however waited for its chance which has come with the departure of the MQM. The PML(Q) hasn’t taken long to realise that the PPP depends on its parliamentary support to keep itself afloat. For a party fast moving towards fragmentation, with the majority of its legislators in Punjab forming a rival group, two batches of party deputies in the NA and Senate challenging the leadership and the PML(Q)’s position as the single largest party in the Senate going to be reduced to a non-entity in next March, it was in an exceptionally bad shape only a couple of months back. It is now in a position where it thinks it cannot be denied whatever it demands from the PPP.
To start with, it is asking for new and more ‘meaningful’ portfolios for three of its federal ministers whose subjects now stand devolved to provinces. This is neither unusual nor unjust. With 14 MQM ministers having tendered resignations, it may not be difficult to accommodate the new allies with juicy ministries. This would, however, cause trepidation to Sindh PPP, which has an eye on the next election, as the PML(Q) ministers would like to strengthen their hold in constituencies in the interior of Sindh, considered as its fief by the PPP. The party is also reportedly eyeing some key positions both at the centre and the provinces. While the PML(Q) was refused the much coveted gubernatorial post in Punjab, it might now lay claim to it in Sindh.
The PML(Q) would like to woo back party dissenters in Punjab and take measures to ensure a better electoral performance in the province next time. While this is quite understandable in the case of a political party, what needs to be ensured is that there are no drawing room conspiracies typical of the past to disrupt a genuinely elected government in the province. Political manoeuvring must not weaken the system.
The MQM has parted ways with the PPP several times during the last three and a half years only to return to the fold sometimes within days, at others within weeks. If the past is any indicator, the present parting of ways may turn out to be temporary. The Governor’s resignation and the party’s goodbye to the Sindh cabinet were, however, never a part of the well-rehearsed script in the past. Will Ch Shujaat’s face saving intercession bring back the MQM again? Would Rehman Malik’s magic wand do the trick? Will a possible meeting between Zardari and Altaf settle the dispute? Or will Zardari listen to ANP, PPP’s crucial ally in KP, which is pressing him to call MQM’s bluff?
There are vital clashes of interest between the PPP and MQM in Sindh and, as the elections draw near, these are likely to erupt into the open. The PPP is keen to make encroachments on what the MQM considers its exclusive enclave of urban Sindh. For this, the PPP has to do away with the gerrymandering of the constituencies and ensure a free and secure environment where voters are able to cast their votes as they like. Neither of the two measures would please the MQM. Most Sindhis resent the way Musharraf created new districts by bifurcating them to strengthen MQM’s electoral position. They want the decision to be undone. Again, the PPP and MQM are poles apart on the issue of the constitution of the local bodies. A lobby in the PPP, particularly in Punjab, would however like the MQM to remain in the fold to balance the PML(Q). This explains the differences in the stance between leaders like Jahangir Badar and Firdous Ashiq Awan who would prefer to ‘remove the misgivings’ and Khurshid Shah, Maula Bux Chandio and Sharjeel Memon who would prefer to see MQM’s back sooner than later.
The PML(N)’s reaction has understandably been tentative. It has vowed to welcome the MQM into the opposition in case it sticks to the decision to quit the government. All depends on what Zardari decides. One thing is amply clear. The PPP leadership is more relaxed now than during earlier announcements of a breakup by the MQM.