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.
Sectarianism: a raging fire that is more than just eager to engulf everyone that comes across its path, a monster in its true sense. Targeting a certain community on the basis of its religious beliefs is against the very principles of equality and freedom. As heterogeneous a society as ours must be tolerant enough to take account of others’ religious inclination. An equal responsibility lies on the government as well that has shown a perennial lack of control over state apparatus in handling this sensitive issue.
The silence of our state agencies and LEAs is deafening in more than one way. As many as five innocent Shias were murdered in a blatant disregard to fundamental rights enshrined and guaranteed by our constitution. The way Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has taken responsibility of this attack adds insult to the injury, that the killers are not only scot free but also boasting of their damning deeds. This sort of incidents have taken place along the entire length and breadth of the motherland. Such activities breed nothing but extremism and fanaticism of which we already have had enough. Even the seats of higher learning are not free from this malaise. Karachi University, for instance, has become home to these organisations who are hell bent to manipulate what comes their way. Sectarian literature is being published and distributed under the nose of Rangers, deployed there to prevent such incidents. We sure can’t afford any more dividing factors.
A divided polity is not a good thing, but one that is almost impossible to avoid in this global age. Maintaining a balance is what that really matters. With global alliances taking shift on the same sectarian basis – Saudi Arabia wants to enlist Pakistan’s help in countering Iran’s influence in Gulf countries, and Pakistan’s for-hire mercenaries in Bahrain on Saudi Arabia’s behest – make it even more prudent to have a balanced approach to this fire spewing dragon. Meanwhile, on the home front our security agencies, besides keeping a tab on terrorists, should also keep under vigilance any sectarian activity.
The Abbottabad affair has united the doves and hawks in the west, with the latter gaining ground lost in the aftermath of the mismanagement of the Bush years. It is a strange confluence, with the Democrats getting some much needed popularity and the Republicans feeling a certain sense of vindication. The problem with moments of national unity – in the US or elsewhere – is that they more often than not lead to jingoism. And that leads to adventurism. The US magazines, papers, blogs, the airwaves, one finds the same choir: there should be an immense increase in military engagement with Pakistan, even with its army itself. Though the politicians have been more measured than the press and academia, even they are not putting up with a shy approach; there is, after all, political mileage to be milked out of this situation.
It is heartening to know, then, that there are some voices of restraint. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been unequivocal in stating that the cooperation with Pakistan is set to continue. And to calls by many to cut off aid to Pakistan, Senator John Kerry, who is also the chair of the foreign relations committee, has said the move would be “extremely dangerous and unwise.” Similar words from the EU. God knows what might happen, say the peaceniks, if we were to leave them to their own devices.
A sad state of affairs. Are we the only country in the world whose instability is its best defence? Have we resigned ourselves to being content with the description of the drunk with the car keys as long as it guarantees us some security and aid?
Would it that this shame becomes the impetus for change? With this monumental embarrassment of the powers that be, comes an opportunity for the political class to finally be in control. Nothing is more powerful, mused Victor Hugo, than an idea whose time has come. Will the representatives of our teeming millions seize the day?
Machiavelli once advocated that cruelty should be administered in one swift blow. Eschewing that advice, the government has apparently decided that power tariff rates will be raised in steady doses of two percent in the next two months and possibly extending the plan to more months. But whether the tariff is ramped up in dollops or a single wallop, it is unlikely that it will improve the energy outlook.
As another blistering summer sets in with power cuts overcoming a broken energy sector, the government is growing increasingly desperate over how to tackle the ubiquitous circular debt of over Rs 300 billion. In addition, audit reports conducted by reputed firms have painted a damning picture of gross incompetence in energy companies. Reportedly, incidents of overcharging customers are rife, default of around Rs 80 billion is reported and a potential generation loss stands at a staggering 1,500 MW.
The real problem at hand is the unsustainable energy mix with thermal power (almost exclusively based on oil) meeting above 60 percent of the generation requirement. It is doubtful that this unhealthy dependence can be maintained given the upward trajectory of oil prices. Furthermore, with such high costs, the final consumer will continue to face prohibitively expensive power charges. Another very genuine issue is energy subsidies to consumers which the financially beleaguered government, badgered by the IMF, finds increasingly difficult to support. But it is already formally committed to ending subsidies which must be phased out gradually to improve the overall performance of the energy sector.
This would constitute a challenge to the most able of governments, much less a weakened administration overwhelmed by a plethora of challenges. This is perhaps the worse time for populism on the part of the opposition but the government must show something for the resources being ham-fistedly committed. It must display resolve in overhauling the sector and bolstering conservation efforts and move beyond rhetoric.
Not knowing the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden has been an intelligence failure not only of Pakistan but the whole world, claimed the prime minister at a business forum in Paris. Yes, the whole world. Bolivia? Burkina Faso? Mauritius?
Diplomats and political government officials are clutching in the dark at whatever they can grasp in the aftermath of the Abbottabad episode. The foreign secretary’s press briefing yesterday was also an exercise in the same, if only more suave than the premier’s. By now, it is clear that the real answers lie not in the political government or the civil bureaucracy but the deep (and thick) state. On that front, the corps commanders’ conference, which was convened yesterday specifically to discuss the Osama stakeout, declared that events of the sort are not going to be tolerated in the future. And, if there were a repetition, the level of military assistance with the US would be reviewed. The council of wise men, it appears, has dropped the pretense of being subservient to the political government. That the nature of relations with another country is their call; too serious a matter to be left to those elected by the teeming millions of the hapless republic. Even if that scheme of things were true, the brass is tempting fate with statements of the sort. One American official after another is claiming that the US reserves the right to undertake another such attack in the future if it has the requisite intelligence leads. Would it be a violation of our sovereignty and international law? Yes. But things aren’t so black-and-white anymore with the presence of the world’s most wanted terrorist from the garrison city of Abbottabad, that too, in the vicinity of the country’s premier military academy.
Even the vilest, most rabid detractors of the political class are hard pressed to somehow pin this on the political government. That line of argument doesn’t stick anymore. Nor is the testosterone-laden press release that the ISPR issued yesterday acceptable anymore. As the bard Dylan would say, the times, they are a-changing.
There is a sudden change in MQM’s attitude towards its alliance with the PPP. Till recently, the party would invariably press for prior acceptance of its demands which it would put up at every crucial moment in return for its support to the government. It would press for revoking the rise in petroleum prices or disbanding the People’s Peace Committee set up by the Karachi PPP or the dismissal of Sindh Home Minister or the arrest of certain target killers before it would agree to attend a crucial National Assembly session or rejoin the cabinet. In most cases, it got what it wanted from a government that depended on MQM’s votes to survive. This time the MQM has agreed to join the cabinet simply in return for verbal undertakings from an Interior Minister who has an abysmal track record vis-à-vis the fulfillment of promises. Reason: with the PML(Q) joining hands with the PPP, the latter is no more worried about how to get the budget passed or power rates hikes or bag majority of seats in the Senate in March elections. The PPP would feel safe as long as most of the PML(Q) MNAs and Senators remain loyal to the Chaudhrys and vote for the government. The only question is: will they? There are already complaints among the Q League ministers of being sold for peanuts by their leadership. The addition of the MQM is meant to ward against any negative impact of further divisions in the PML(Q).
There are reports from the PML(N) quarters that the PML(Like-Minded) is going to join hands with them. The group comprises former ministers who feel that their political survival would be at risk unless they join a mainstream party. Having few supporters in the parliament and for that matter among the voting public, neither the PPP nor PML(N) has so far made a bid to acquire their services. The PML(N) must be haunted by a sense of extreme political loneliness if it is seeking their support now. Conversely the PML(N) could need them if it thought it was short of leaders. But is it?
As the elections approach, new alliances are likely to be formed. Besides making new alliances, the PPP and PML(N) would be better employed if they were to hammer joint policies to be followed by whosoever is in power.
The Foreign Office maintains that the raid which led to the killing of OBL was not authorised by Pakistan and has warned that it must not serve as a precedent for any country. The question which remains unanswered is how a number of helicopters from another country could reach Abbottabad, conduct a raid lasting for at least 40 minutes, kill OBL, collect his body along with other material of interest, take off and reach their destination safe and sound. The claim made by the FO that the helicopters made use of “blind spots” in the radar coverage caused by hilly terrain will not satisfy many. Over 100,000 Pakistani troops and thousands of tribal militia are stationed along the Durand Line. Hundreds of checkposts have been set up along the Pak-Afghan border. Did nobody notice the sound of the low flying helicopters and warn those who matter about the movement? A young blogger live-tweeted on Twitter, the arrival of the helicopters, the crash of one and the subsequent sounds that continued to disturb him for a long time. Were there no security personnel in the entire cantonment area to report the occurrence to the military?
While the people anxiously wait for the military’s version of the affair, an ISI official has reportedly told BBC, “We were totally caught by surprise. They were in and out before we could react.” While air defence is primarily the responsibility of the air force, the army aviation also maintains a variety of helicopters. If the two came to know about the American operation only after the foreign helicopters had left Pakistan’s air space, this would mean that the US or any other country could repeat the exercise, destroy or take away whatever they want from Pakistan, and safely return home after successfully completing the mission.
There is a need of a thorough enquiry into the affair. Pakistan has fought a number of wars in the past resulting in thousands of military casualties, dislocation of civilian population, and destruction of costly infrastructure. If independent enquiries had been held regarding the conduct of these wars, there would have been a qualitatively better state of alertness. What is required is a thorough and objective appraisal of the present intelligence-cum-defence failure.
As jagged an alliance as the one between the PML(Q) and PPP was bound to have fissures beneath. Under the saccharine smiles reading out the text of the ministerial oath lie resentments on being given the raw end of the deal. The way the PML(Q) leaders have fallen out among themselves just one day after joining the federal coalition government has gotten the coalition off on the wrong foot.
Backlash against the party leadership by its own ministers hints at the lack of trust and a consultation process that might have yielded much better results. A party that carved itself out from N League, and later tasted a dose of its own medicine with the formation of a Likeminded bloc, cannot take much liberty with the priorities of its members. Whatever the Q League would have us believe, their stand on the higher moral ground is at stake with this selling-for-peanuts strategy. Sure their ministers would neither draw any salary nor enjoy any perks and privileges, and they have outlined a performance check procedure, it is not really going to be a fruitful exercise considering some of the portfolios they have been allotted would be devolved by June. The PML(Q) has given an upper hand to the PPP in numbers game without gaining much. Some credit, though, must be given to the Q League for burying the hatchet – it was, after all, Qatil League – and strengthening the federal government for its economic policies to be presented in the budget this month.
By agreeing to the PPP’s formula, Chaudhrys have not only conceded what little ground they had to manoeuvre for better portfolios, say agriculture, but also have failed to foresee the service delivery they won’t be able to make. A weaker partner they have become for now, but Chaudhrys’ negotiations skills would again be put to test when their ministries are devolved. Perhaps, they can make up for what they have lost now and fulfil their promise of national unity along the lines of higher ideals they have been touting ever so often.
The pundits, the hacks, the tea-stall legions – everybody has a different theory on what happened in the sleepy town of Abbottabad the other day. But regardless of which way one slices it, the military establishment’s embarrassment is the only tangible certainty of the whole episode. Full cooperation in an operation conducted by US troops would be embarrassing; being taken into the loop at the very last moment by the Americans, one of those need-to-know deals, would be even more embarrassing and – the least likely – not knowing about the hideout at all (defence budget: $6.41 billion) would be most embarrassing.
The incident is not going to be without its consequences. At the time, the Pakistan trolls of the “defence analyst” variety might be feeling giddy about the prospect of US withdrawal from Afghanistan but within the American security establishment, the incident strengthens the case for an increased CIA footprint in Pakistan. In May last year, when the US secretary of state had said, in a departure from her usual measured tone, that officials at some levels within the Pakistani security establishment knew the whereabouts of militant leaders like Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Pakistani officials huffed and puffed and grew an angry shade of purple. There’s very little space for indignation of the sort in the aftermath of the incident. The western and India media have also had a field day: a grenade’s throw away from the military academy, right under their own noses and what have you. All the word play that the press indulges in, in other words, when they come across a smoking gun.
The aftermath of the episode would spell out some rather tough times for us. We now have on our hands an emboldened global military juggernaut – expect an unsolicited stakeout for Mullah Omar sometime in the future – and a presumably infuriated network of militants in the country. It is sad, though, that none of that is going to change the precedence of actual order in the country. In another republic, heads would have rolled; in ours, a dearth of answers.
Tuesday was the third consecutive day of unrest in Pakistan’s largest city as well as its commercial and financial hub. While target killings have been continuing in Karachi with an eerie regularity for the last three years taking its toll on PPP, ANP, JI and MQM workers, the killing of two MQM activists on Friday night and Sunday added fuel to the fire.
Everything that followed was exactly in accordance with the template. The affected party issued a call for a “peaceful protest”, knowing well it would never remain peaceful. The call was followed by incidents of shooting and arson, considered necessary to make any strike successful in Karachi. Appeals were made to transporters and traders to show solidarity with the call which they rightly interpreted as directives which they could disobey only on pain of reprisals. Consequently, many factories and mills ceased functioning during the strike. The owners knew that even if they dared to defy, it would not be possible for them to ensure the workers attendance for lack of transport. Educational institutions had to close down for similar reasons. The strike translated into thousands of man hours lost. What happened during the strike was also in accordance with the established pattern. Those who did bring out their vehicles on the roads had to pay the price. Around 13 vehicles were torched on Sunday and 25 on Monday. Incidents of firing on Monday led to the killing of five including a political worker. On Tuesday also, life was at a standstill in several parts of Karachi which remained shut and where businesses were at a standstill.
A day lost in Karachi costs the national exchequer in millions of dollars. What is more, Pakistani exporters failing to meet commitments lose markets abroad to rival exporters from other countries. Political parties are expected to look at things from the overall national perspective. The three parties who are a part of the ruling coalition in Sindh have to realise that targeted killings do not bring credit to any of them. Instead of issuing threats and ultimatums to one another as has been happening all this time, they would do well to work together to bring peace to Karachi.
On Sunday night US Special Forces entered Pakistan’s territory, conducted an operation in the vicinity of the cantonment city of Abbottabad for more than forty minutes, killed Osma bin Laden and removed his body to a US navy ship. A little later, a jubilant President Obama telephoned Zardari to inform him about the success of the operation. Pakistani people too heard about the incident from reports emanating from the US media on Monday morning and from Obama’s speech. For more than 13 hours after the operation Pakistanis failed to get any official version of the events from their government. The statement that was finally issued by FO has left vital questions unanswered.
Did the ISI know about the presence of OBL in Abbottabad? If so, why didn’t it call on the authorities to take timely action against the man? If it really did, why was the operation not led by Pakistan’s own security forces and left to the US special troops? If the ISI simply didn’t know that Osama was staying in the vicinity, made sensitive both by the proximity of the military cantonment and Pakistan Military Academy, allegedly for the last four years in a custom made compound, this is the height of negligence. Pakistan would have been in a win-win position by capturing or eliminating the chief terrorist. As things stand pressures are likely to mount, among other things, on mounting operation in North Waziristan.
The only way out is for the government now to take an initiative to redefine Pakistan’s strategic paradigm. Military doctrines are too important to be left to the generals alone. It is ironic that the chief architect of terrorism should be found nestling in comfort in Abbottabad while our 36,000 civilians and 3,500 military personnel have fallen victim to terrorist attacks. Instead of making more India specific nuclear capable missiles, the funds and the energy should be directed to eliminating the terrorists. Unless this is done, along with better civilian control over the security agencies, we may one day awake to find the country has been bracketed by the world with North Korea as an irresponsible state.
The proverbial has hit the fan for the N League and it has only itself to blame for it. True, the extraordinary political acumen of President Zardari – the stuff doctorates are made of, quips the League’s own Javed Hashmi – also has a role to play. But the fault lies more in the PML(N)’s peculiar line of politics rather than being outfoxed by anyone else.
Since the coup in 1999, the League has sought to reinvent itself; frantically, some might argue. That all resulted in a bit of an identity crisis for a party that had been created largely by the military. Its world view and ideology mirrors the narrative of the military establishment. The only thing that distances it from the mesh of those who take their cue from the garrison is an immovable – and admirable – refusal of its leader Nawaz Sharif to kowtow to the military. But without that all important backing (and all the media help that friends like those guarantee) the League has been reduced to simply latching on to any and all populist causes that they might find. The judiciary, petrol prices, Raymond Davis. You set it up, the N will knock it down. Though that approach might give them a good headline or two, it severely constricts their space for political maneuvering. If politics is the art of the possible, good politicians must, in the throes of desperation, sup with the devil. Many of the PPP’s activists – far keener than their own, the League should note – are anything but happy with this alliance with the Q. But they have been placated by their party leadership, which insists the arrangement is in the ultimate interest of the party.
The powers that be have been playing a dirty game since long. The only way for the political class to hold its own is to rise above petty differences and make sure they take care of the greater menace that looms large over representational democracy as a whole.
Any effort by way of registration in powder-keg constituencies is bound to flare up. So the latest instalment of the population census, the largest exercise in registration that any state can undertake, was bound to have its share of discontents and strife. Till now, no widespread violence has been reported, though there have been many protests, the latest being Saturday’s strike in Sindh. Much is at stake here. The results of the census can feed into the constituency delimitation by the election commission; the representation of particular geographic areas can increase and - the most dangerous aspect - they can provide an impetus for vote registration drives by the political parties that seek to represent migrant communities. Though evolving ethnic demography is a phenomenon that has been observed throughout the country, much of the current tension boils down to Hyderabad and Karachi. Sindhi nationalists - and a smattering of Baloch ones too - have serious reservations with the way the elections have been purportedly hijacked by the MQM. Meanwhile, in Karachi it is the ANP - for whom the Sindhi nationalists also have no love lost – that has been rallying against the MQM’s alleged efforts to minimise the Pushtun majority areas. The MQM, for its part, has been saying, with a remarkably straight face, that it is only "assisting" the census officials. The complaints of the Sindhi nationalists, however, should not be construed as xenophobia a la nationalists in Balochistan. In the case of the latter, there is an effort to neutralise and scare away the Punjabi demographic. In the case of Sindh, however, the original inhabitants are only campaigning for an unbiased and correct tabulation of demographic realities. Just like the Pushtuns of Karachi. There is a dire need to make the process as transparent as it could be. Right now, the Karachi component of the census is as shady as the Karachi component of that other exercise in registration, the general elections. A lack of acceptability of these results will lead to an alienation from the positive framework of the state. The communities of the area in question are viewing the process in terms of justice and lack thereof. The only remedy, hence, is a process that is not only fair but also seen to be fair.
The petrol bomb, so to speak, has gone off again. Only this time, its intensity is heightened because of its timing and the ripple effects it would have for the middle and lower classes. Reactionary quarters blame the government, the government blames the international prices, and the international oil companies blame the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. A holistic view of the recent price hike in petroleum products may not be possible but necessary nevertheless. With the pressure from IFIs and the international oil market, this price jump was inevitable. Whereas the opposition is crying foul, coalition partners are claiming it to be a necessary evil. Even the soon-to-be coalition partners have taken a 180 degree swivel on the issue. Positions on the issue are not a matter of right and wrong but a mere function of which side of the national assembly your lot sits. Contrary to what the populist propaganda machine might have us believe, there is no alternative to the situation. Even if a cut is made in the oil prices in the country, the difference between the international and local prices has to be balanced out somehow. It can either be in the form of a subsidy or price increase. And subsidies are, theory tells us, neither sustainable nor suitable. What with our dependency on running the industry on fuel, our energy profile’s major portion (around 65-70%) also depends on fuel, a fact that is glaring straight in our face. This adds more fuel to the fire, figuratively. The situation is no better in other parts of the world either. In fact we are almost level with the US and UK, price wise, despite a huge difference in overall consumption. This, by no way, means the government should resign itself to fatalism. Perhaps some positive developments on the revenue generation front can eventually get us in a better position to translate fluctuations in the international markets in a relatively painless manner.