The joint sitting of the Parliament could turn out to be a watershed moment in the history of the civil-military relations provided the political leadership of the mainstream parties learns to act with maturity. It was for the first time that the military authorities admitted failures and offered themselves for accountability by parliament or any other forum. Briefing the Parliament amidst sharp questioning and sloganeering, the ISI chief took responsibility for the intelligence failure by not being able to locate OBL and offered to resign if asked by the PM. What is more, the armed forces vowed to implement the security policy formulated by Parliament.
This puts a big burden on Parliament which is now required to take vital decisions that include the re-evaluation of foreign relations, particularly ties with the US. The Parliament is also required to provide guidelines to the army and security agencies, exercise oversight over the security sector and conduct its accountability. The fulfillment of the tasks requires an efficient functioning of the concerned parliamentary committees. Even though the parliamentary session was in camera, the details of the proceedings were almost simultaneously aired by the electronic media which indicates the futility of the culture of secrecy. Parliamentary committees should be empowered to call concerned officials, both civilian and military, and demand comprehensive details of security and defence related issues. The committees should hold regular hearings which should generally be open to the media to create a public ownership of the defence and security policies.
Through a unanimous resolution, the parliament has called on the government to appoint an independent commission on the Abbottabad operation. There is a need on the part of the prime minister and leader of the opposition to move apace on the matter. The parliamentary sitting has sent a positive message to the world regarding unanimity among all political parties to stand united for the sovereignty of the country. Most important, the parliamentary sitting provides an opportunity to establish the supremacy of civilian authority over the armed forces. It is for the political parties to seize the hour by a display of statesmanship.
As much as we would like to believe, it is not all sunny as far as relations between the US and Pakistan in the war against terrorism are concerned. Trust, proper coordination and effective handling are just some of the cogs missing in this chain. This faceless enemy, terrorism, has played havoc both in Pakistan and abroad. Its aftermath has brought the decade-long alliance to near collapse.
The Pakistan Army was bypassed for the Abbottabad operation not for its lack of will, or its incompetence, but due to suspicions about it being in consort with the militants. Gen Kayani being ‘angered’ on this point does not seem outlandish given his special relations with Adm Mike Mullen. There appears to be a united stand taken by the political and military leadership: resolutions against the drone attacks and CJCSC Gen Khalid Shameem Wynne’s cancelling his visit to the US all corroborate this theory. All is not dark and gloomy, though. On their part, Pakistan has given the CIA access to Osama’s widows.
Neither party can win this war alone. Any unilateral action, like the one taken on May 2, would surely put both the countries on paths not parallel but at 180 degrees to each other. Crucial aspects of this war, like intelligence sharing, operational decisions, tactical moves, equipment, terrain info and such, would be impossible even if the CIA operates its own network of spies.
Osama’s death has not brought any end to this menace. Al-Qaeda’s off-shoots and militant organisations like LeT are still glaring red on the radar screens. Only a comprehensive policy can eliminate them or make them neutral. Other wise, the Abbottabad operation is just a precursor of what may be in store. It might prove not to be the last nail, so to speak, but the first one. Both sides should sit together, a step that had sadly been missing for the past 12 days or so, and sort out their differences before they reach a point of no return.
The attack on Frontier Constabulary (FC) headquarters in Shabqadar led to the killing of 80 freshly trained paramilitary cadets and civilians. Responsibility for the attack was promptly accepted by TTP. While the terrorist organisation claims that this was a revenge killing for OBL’s ‘martyrdom’, terrorists attacked numerous army installations, training camps and even targeted the GHQ during the last few years. Police stations too have been their favourite target. Besides inflicting losses on the symbols of the state’s power, the terrorists have also attacked mosques and shrines. Over the last few years 30,000 civilians and 5,000 security personnel have been killed by the fanatics. It would be thoroughly unrealistic to think, therefore, that there would have been a let up to the terrorist attacks if OBL had been alive. In fact his killing has removed a major architect of the terror attacks and a rallying figure for the terrorist organisations.
The attack is yet another reminder that Pakistan continues to face an existential threat from terrorist organisations. Unless these groups are uprooted, neither Pakistan nor the world at large will be able to live in peace. The war against terrorism is Pakistan’s own war; the civilian and military leadership have to fully concentrate on the removal of the threat. What is more, coalitions made over time to fight terrorism have to be strengthened and in no case weakened. Any talk of reviewing counter-terrorism cooperation with the US is thus out of place.
There is also a need to review the country’s defence paradigm. So far India has been regarded the principal enemy by those formulating Pakistan’s defence doctrine. This might have been true at certain stages of the two countries’ history. Unless defence policies are revised to cope with new threats, military doctrines are liable to degenerate into unrealistic dogmas that can be immensely harmful. The major part of the military’s manpower and physical assets needs to be diverted to destroy the terrorists.
More than two decades after Russia laid down the hammer and sickle, relations continue to be marred by the legacy of the Cold War. But both countries need to move closer on a whole raft of issues which are deadly serious.
The president’s visit to Moscow could be a key step in solidifying ties which remain frigid. Pakistan and Russia both have a great deal to offer one another. Russia struggles with a raging insurgency which is waged by militants with a transnational agenda. The movement has steadily spread across the Caucasus. Militants retain the ability to strike in the Russian heartland as exemplified by the bombing of Moscow Airport in January. At the time, the Russian media was abuzz over a Pakistan connection. Although this scenario may seem implausible, Pakistan should salve Russian concerns where possible. On a positive note, both sides have also voiced resolve to collaborate on the narcotics issue, a good portion of the heroin processed in Afghanistan is destined for Russia and the drug trade fuels militancy in Pakistan as well. Cutting off the militants’ funding could be invaluable to the security of both nations. Pakistan should also ponder the possibilities entailed in the economic context. Russia constitutes one member of the BRICs, rapidly growing economies that matter on a global scale. As an economy on the rise with massive oil, gas and other natural resources, it is potentially a very lucrative market. It could also be vital in sealing any energy deal with Central Asian Republics which are firmly in Russia’s sphere of influence.
Moving closer to Russia makes sense as the Afghan finale looms. In the aftermath of Osama’s death, vital signs in the relation with America are fading fast. It is important for Pakistan to bolster its links with Russia. The fact that Pakistan has been a frontline state before in the war against Communism haunts us today; but now that it has been consigned to the dustbin of history, we can only look ahead.
There can be no two opinions about Prime Minister Gilani’s plea that the state institutions need to be strengthened. Those who criticise the intelligence agencies for their failure to find OBL or the army for being found napping during the May 2nd American operation want in fact to strengthen the two institutions by helping them find their vulnerabilities, which is possible only through a credible probe. The investigation under the Adjutant General would satisfy none. The military has in the past been resentful of enquiries conducted into its failures and has blocked their publication or failed to take action when recommended. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report was kept under wraps for twenty six years and no action taken on its recommendations. The Ojhri Camp Report prepared by the army never saw the light of the day. No enquiry was held, despite demands by public and former air force and navy chiefs into the Kargil misadventure. Two years back, the army chief promised an enquiry into a video tape showing men in uniform killing civilians in captivity. Another probe was promised into a big financial scam by three generals. The outcome of the enquiries remains still unknown. Keeping in view the gravity of the intelligence-cum-security failure, a competent, neutral and reliable body needs to be constituted to satisfy the critics at home and abroad. This is also in the benefit of the state institutions.
When developed democracies encounter grievous failures of the sort, parliaments either appoint bipartisan committees comprising legislators or commissions comprising parliamentarians, members of civil society and individuals widely respected for their competence. In a nascent democracy like Pakistan, bodies of the sort might fail to create confidence in their competence or impartiality at this stage.
The only institution which is widely considered impartial and competent at home and abroad is the higher judiciary. Mian Nawaz Sharif has suggested a six member commission comprising five CJs of the High Courts presided over by Chief Justice of Pakistan. While one may not fully agree with the timeframe given by the former PM to the commission, an investigation by the judicial body would be widely respected.
It seems that we have a case of the missing government in Balochistan on top of the case of missing persons. The respected judge of the SC was in earnest when he queried if there was any government in the province where law and order situation is deteriorating rapidly. Balochistan is indeed living through a grim dystopic reality. The five bullet-ridden bodies of missing persons that turned up yesterday is but one example of that. The HRCP reports that 59 mangled bodies of missing persons were found in the last year alone. The missing persons count stands at almost 5000 according to certain estimates and the SC intervention hasn’t led to much progress in their recovery.
The marginalised province is a farrago of resentments and grievances which have only exacerbated due to constant state high-handedness and the unfortunate use of military might. The state has constantly been at war with its own people in the province over the last sixty years: either directly through military operations or indirectly through material and cultural exploitation. Some thought that the advent of a democratic dispensation in 2008 which made all the right noises coupled with an apex court actively taking up the cause of the missing persons would make headway in addressing the feeling of exploitation prevalent but it has not amounted to much as little has changed on the ground. The Balochistan package announced with much fanfare has not been implemented and there have been no convincing efforts to reach out to the Baloch leadership. On the other hand, cantonmentisation of the province has increased with the hold of the FC increasing over the province. Clearly, how not to solve the problem.
The only possible solution is addressing the sense of extortion prevalent in the province by genuinely empowering them and ending the colonial treatment of the province at the hands of its own state. But to the blinkered logic of our deep state, might is still right and a clear stamp of authority can wipe out the problem. It would still rather paint genuine grievances as treason and the festering unrest being stoked by “foreign hands” than face up to the real issues on the ground. Six decades of mishandling the situation has clearly taught our establishment nothing.
The PPP-led coalition commands two-thirds majority in the National Assembly now while it is mere two votes short of enjoying a similar position in the Senate. The policy of conciliation initiated by the PPP has paid off. From a government whose fate was hanging by a thread only a couple of months ago, the administration is now in a position from where it can function with confidence. This should serve as a lesson to the PML(N) which has gotten itself politically isolated on account of the policies of its leadership which is averse to sharing credit with the allies.
The coalition government should now move ahead with the much needed structural reforms that have been stalled for lack of voting strength. There is a need to enforce the RGST, rationalise power rates and bring those powerful sections of society under the tax net that have so far succeeded in evading it. This would require the taxing of agricultural incomes, real estate transactions and stock exchange gains. There is also a dire need to privatise the unprofitable state-controlled enterprises that caused a loss of Rs 245bn to the national exchequer in 2009-2010 alone. The circulatory debt which is acting as a millstone around the economy’s neck needs to be brought under control. While undertaking reforms, the economically backward sections of society have to be provided the required succour through targeted subsidies. The measures would bring the ailing national economy on the track to recovery.
There is a need on the part of the PPP to realise that the majority it possesses comes with an Achilles heel. The “big mandate” it enjoys is not the outcome of the PPP’s own strength but is dependent on the goodwill of the allies. What is more, it is an alliance on the basis of a minimum rather than a maximum programme. It would be quite a task to keep over half a dozen disparate elements together. With the swearing in of the MQM ministers, the cabinet will have 30 federal ministers and nine state ministers which keeping in view the number of advisors and those enjoying the status of federal ministers is quite sizeable. One hopes governance is not made a hostage to the expanded alliance.
Governments all over the world tend to protect their agriculture sector through steps like subsidies, protectionist policies and support prices. Since the support prices had been introduced, Pakistan’s farmers have stepped up output at an encouraging rate. Unlucky for them though as a lag is visible in the government’s implementation of procurement policies, leaving the farmers particularly the small farmers, frustrated and unprotected.
The government’s procurement policy is not doing what it was intended to do. With a surplus of 2.4 million tons of wheat from the last year, there is not much room for this year’s produce to be bought off the farmers and stored. And, even if it is bought off, it would only increase financial burden on the exchequer. This is the reason why the government is using delaying tactics in procuring the crop. This has resulted in a grey area as well. Big cultivators can hedge their loss while the small ones can’t, leading them to sell their crop at a rate well below the support price, in some areas as low as 800 Rs per 40 kg while the government had set it at 950 Rs per 40 kg.
Support prices do have a secondary function; they help a country become self-sustained by offering an incentive to the farmers. But the same is being misused in more than one way. If the government cannot purchase the produce, it must allow it to be exported with a proper monitoring system. On the other hand, if these small scale farmers are left at the mercy of free market forces as some are advocating, they would lose by a great margin. A discouraging situation for not only wheat growers but also for the farmers in general.
A comprehensive review of the procurement policy is a must along with a monitoring system on the market forces. Small cultivators must be given a priority for the crop procurement, particularly in areas which were devastated by floods last year while the big land owners can be offered a quota based export mechanism. Discouraging the farmers now would only lead to a lack of trust on the government’s ability to protect farmers, as well as leading to food imports in future.
There can be no two opinions about Gen Kayani’s point regarding the need for national consensus on security issues. The in camera session of Parliament being convened on Friday is a right step provided defence and security officials put all the facts required before the parliamentarians. An in camera meeting of the type held in October 2008 failed to satisfy most parliamentarians who claimed that the security officials only repeated what the legislators already knew, holding back vital information. Complete and uncensored information needs to be presented before Parliament on two issues. First, regarding what is being described as the intelligence lapse concerning OBL’s undetected many year long stay in and around Abbottabad. Second, regarding the failure to stop an operation by foreign troops inside Pakistan. The intelligence lapse was no ordinary failure. It has created an extremely embarrassing situation for both the government and the army, worsened relations with our key allies and could cause serious problems for the already battered economy. On Monday, Senators asked the government to constitute a probe body along the lines of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission. Similarly, lawyers’ bodies including PBC, Bar Council, SCBA, Punjab Bar Council, LHCB and LBA have called for an investigation into the Abbottabad operation by an impartial commission comprising non-controversial retired judges and figures from other walks of life known for their integrity.
Facts should not only be shared with the Parliament but also with the general public after deleting sensitive details. To be credible, the process of national consensus has to be institutionalised. For this, bipartisan parliamentary committees on defence and intelligence have to be formed with a mandate to call concerned top officials for regular hearings. Unless this is, done the Parliament is liable to be accused of acting as no more than a rubber stamp.
For four days, those who really knew the facts remained comatose. The TV outlets put on the air and newspapers published whatever information and views were made available by commentators, some of them former military and intelligence officials. A better media handling required taking the media into confidence which the concerned authorities failed to do.
Come June, households across the nation would have to tighten their belts because of the phasing out of subsidies on both electricity and petroleum products in the upcoming budget. Government departments, too, would be undergoing an austerity drive, with the development budget of many cut considerably. And government employees also shouldn’t be holding their breath for that pay raise; by now it is clear that there just isn’t enough money for their pay slips to keep up with inflation. That’s how things are when times are tough and governments try to curtail their fiscal deficits.
But that’s just Islamabad. It’s always sunny twenty minutes away in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. The military budget is set to increase by a whopping 12 percent this fiscal year. The functional increase, many public auditors argue, is actually going to be greater than this proportion on account of hidden expenditures. The sum that our boys wanted was much greater. But the government is going to apologetically grant only Rs 495 billion against the demand of Rs 586 billion that the forces wanted.
But that’s not all. Our aid program is at risk because of our rather embarrassing performance on the military intelligence front. This jeopardy results not just because of the incidence itself but its aftermath. Instead of being apologetic and giving at least the pretense of review of the security paradigm, the military – and now, the political government – is showing measure of indignation at the violation of our sovereignty. Whereas that is a genuine cause for concern, perhaps it could be best articulated at a time when we don’t have egg on our face. The chutzpah of an army huffing and puffing against a country that foots the bill for its excesses isn’t lost on anyone.
We’re on thin ice here, an IMF loan tranche refusal away from going under. This is no time for false pride but one for introspection.
Despite the drum roll, the prime minister’s speech turned out to be a damp squib. He had cautioned, at the beginning, against the perils of misplaced rhetoric and the need to be clear about issues. That clarity remains elusive, since he didn’t really say much and merely set a date for an in camera joint session of parliament where senior military officials would give a presentation on why the proverbial hit the fan.
The only bit of clarity that did crystallise from his speech, however, would be disappointing to many, especially the intended audience of the premier’s English speech. He mentioned how the spooks were entirely subservient to the political government, how all state institutions were on the same page. These statements won’t have any takers. Nor would there be any candour towards other ditties within the speech. Consider: accusations of complicity or incompetence against our armed forces are incorrect. Now the world – and many within the country – views the matter in very binary terms. It has got to be one or the other. It could be both but it can’t, by any stretch, be neither. Mentioning, also, how many lives we have lost to terror isn’t going to placate the US because that is their principal argument in asking for our continued cooperation in the war against terror.
What makes the prime minister’s speech dangerous is that the message it transmits to the world at large is that of the status quo. For we are to expect no great revelations in the in camera session, just some stiff officers giving our legislators unverifiable explanations of what didn’t work and when. It is also unlikely that the Lt General appointed to investigate the matter is going to lay bare the flaws of our intelligence agencies.
More of the same. Has an opportunity been squandered?
The faction ridden PML(Q) is facing internal schisms after joining the PPP-led coalition while the MQM is yet waiting for some of its reservations to be addressed before its ministers are sworn in. The government has to yield to their demands as it badly needs support from allies during the crucial budget session beginning 28 May. The Chaudhrys had joined the coalition maintaining that they were doing so in greater national interest. Within days, however, they faced a mini rebellion in their party over the portfolios allotted, with dissatisfied leaders accusing the leadership of selling them to the PPP for peanuts. While Prime Minister Gillani has pacified one of the PML(Q) malcontents by changing his portfolio, another one has threatened to resign if he was not allotted a better ministry. Some of those who failed to get any post have meanwhile decided to sit on the opposition benches in defiance of the PML(Q) leadership’s decision.
The government has reportedly conceded one of the major demands of the MQM by re-introducing the Pervez Musharraf era Local Government system. To further placate the MQM the PPP has canceled its plans to divide Karachi into four districts on the pattern of Hyderabad. The MQM is reportedly still unhappy as the ministries of Housing and Overseas Pakistanis have been handed over to the PML(Q). To ensure smooth sailing during the budget session another attempt was reportedly made by Rehman Malik to bring back the JUI(F) into the coalition when he met Fazlur Rehman in Riyadh last week.
Every time a new party joins the ruling coalition or an erstwhile estranged ally returns to the fold high sounding principles and altruistic aims are cited as the reasons for joining the government. It soon transpires, however, that what had in fact led these parties into the government’s arms was the pursuit of personal needs or narrow party agendas. The feeling that things are not happening to an ally’s satisfaction leads to bickering and at times to the parting of ways.
Amidst the cacophony of voices giving theories on what caused the US operation in Abbottabad comes the PML(N)’s take on the incident. The NRO. The ordinance in question might not, by any stretch of the imagination, have anything to do with the incident. But that’s the League’s explanation because, well, why not? Is the Osama job to become a blank slate for everyone to project on? Are scores to be settled here? Should we now expect the Hazara province coterie to say it was changing the name of the province that was responsible? Or perhaps, not building the Kalabagh dam? Meanwhile, the unmistakable sound of DMS on the ground carries on. Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has asked for the resignation of both president and the prime minister. Ditto for Imran Khan. Leader of opposition Chaudhry Nisar also chimes in (see cartoon). The stark absence of the military brass from the demands for resignation stands out like a million-dollar fortified compound does in a quiet neighbourhood. Even insisting on at least one resignation from within the military won’t make the problem go away. The errors are systemic. If incompetence is indeed the line that we’re going with, why aren’t there enough calls for the military to be as accountable to performance reviews as, say, the irrigation department? If the military juggernaut of that other security state, Israel, faces strict skill audits from civilian reviewers, why should the Pakistani armed forces be exempt? The prime minister, who is expected to address the nation today, should not just explain what happened but also give the impression that his government has a plan. Merely pledging that a future attack would be met with force – as the military is wont to in its press releases – would not only be irresponsibly populist but also incorrect. For there will be an attack in the future, and it most certainly is not going to be met with force. The space for indignation has also been completely squandered, with very few countries springing to our legal defence in case we face a unilateral assault. This, more than any other, is a time for tough decisions. And not one for the political class to be settling scores.
Every life is precious. The state apparatus must provide security for the populace to pursue what they want to without any fear of persecution, let alone a threat to life. Our constitution offers safeguards for the protection of one’s life, liberty, arrest and detention among many others. But the target killings, forced disappearances and bullet-ridden bodies in Balochistan imply the irrelevance of constitutional rights there. The skewed priorities of the security agencies have virtually turned the country’s largest province into a no-go area for the rest of the country. Khuzdar alone has seen more than 33 dead bodies in a period of three months. And that’s only counting the ones that have been reported. The state apparatus is either in on the scheme of things, which would beckon towards a more severe underlying issue, or its lacks the resources to challenge the situation, which would force one to believe the state is not willing to stand up to the challenge. The government’s response to the issue is rather tepid, while the Supreme Court’s directives are blatantly disregarded or delayed. Such tendencies, if allowed to grow unchecked, are sure to create a bedlam and allow the hyper nationalist separatist movements to hold sway completely. Precariously close to the tipping point. In a democracy there is nothing more important than the free will of the people. Balochistan might have a tribal society but they have a right to the same constitutional rights as are provided to other parts of the country. By integrating the local population into the mainstream, their concerns can be answered easily. But before the state starts pumping out solutions, ethnic and traditional sensitivities must be taken into account. Where the LEAs and security agencies have failed, more comprehensive and inclusive programmes for capacity building and resource management of these agencies should be put in place.
While people in Pakistan were expected to have been content with the admission on the part of the military authorities of inadequacies and shortcomings in the Osama affair, ISI chief Lt Gen Shuja Pasha has left for Washington to give more satisfying explanations to the Obama administration. Meanwhile, opposition leader in the NA, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, has demanded the rolling of a few heads at the top maintaining that no individual or institution was bigger than the honour and dignity of the country.
The urgent departure of Gen Pasha and the statement by Ch Nisar both indicate that the statement issued after the corps commanders’ meeting has satisfied neither the outside world nor the Pakistanis. The intelligence lapse and the subsequently revealed vulnerabilities in defence are too glaring to be covered up through simplistic explanations or unexecutable threats. With more evidence appearing after the US operation in Abbottabad two questions need satisfactory answers. First, why should OBL choose a small cantonment city constantly under the watch of the intelligence agencies instead of a larger city like Karachi and Lahore which are much harder to monitor? Secondly, how could he stay undetected for almost seven years, from 2003 to 2005 in a village near Haripur and for the next five years in Abbottabad, along with three wives and a busload of children, grandchildren and the families of the two couriers?
There are rumours about the ISI chief having been persuaded to tender his resignation. Turning Gen. Pasha into the fall guy won’t satisfy any one. It would raise more disturbing questions. What is needed is a thorough enquiry into the affair by an independent body appointed by parliament. The nation spends a huge chunk of budget on defence. What is required is that the policy guidelines including the security paradigm are determined by Parliament. Checks have to be introduced to stop the recurrence of gross inadequacies of the type that can have serious consequences for the country. For this, a civilian oversight of military affairs and the working of the ISI have to be institutionalised by bipartisan committees of the Parliament which should also devise a mechanism of holding military and agency personnel accountable.