Does a consensus around military courts truly exist in Pakistan? The opponents of military courts come from a wide variety of political and ideological backgrounds — Islamic, liberal-constitutionalist and ethno-nationalist.
It is certainly a mainstream position to argue that some constitutional liberties can be dispensed with as luxuries, which are too costly at a time when Pakistan is fighting an existential war for survival of state and democracy. Three issues need to be borne in mind here.
Firstly, given the horrific nature of violence perpetrated by religious, sectarian and other terrorist groups in the country, it can become difficult to ensure due process and constitutional liberties at all times — given the very nature of the many internal security threats. This is as much a product of Pakistan’s current desperate struggle against terrorism as it is of a weak democratic tradition. So, the concerns of those who argue in favour of military courts are very valid.
Secondly, it must also be noted that preserving constitutional freedoms from authoritarian excesses must go hand in hand with our war on terrorism. The Army Act Amendment Bill passed by the national assembly seeks to uphold certain rights for suspects, but lawmakers appear to forget that most people tried by military courts are already in military custody in the first place, or ‘lawfully’ detained under the rubric of “in aid of civil power” — meaning that that they are beyond the aid of such legal ‘protections’.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there must be some clear benchmarks for establishing the effectiveness of military courts in Pakistan’s counter-terror effort. On this, we are still confused, as can be seen from the contradictory statements of objectives and preambles to the bills passed by the parliament. On the one hand, it is stated that military courts proved successful so far in combating terrorism, on the other hand it is argued that ‘extraordinary’ measures are still required.
I t must not be that some abstract notion of an ‘emergency situation’ becomes a convenient excuse to roll back human rights and constitutional liberties. Also, our lawmakers would do well to remember Benjamin Franklin’s oft-repeated warning: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
Missing the bus
The Punjab chief minister is a man who firmly believes that buses are the fastest way to speed voters to the polls. It has worked for him in the past. Thus the launching of a yet another such service for Lahore was predictable. The CM is also a man who believes in the old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Except that all these bright and shiny projects conveniently ignore the fact that there are 34 districts comprising the Punjab. The Feeder Bus Service is no different. The CM even admitted as much when he pointed out, to great fanfare, that it would benefit most those living near Metro bus stations.
Interestingly, while the Lahore metro system was successfully launched just months before the last elections, profitable attempts by the Punjab to cash in on pink bus and rickshaw services have since fallen flat. Partial blame for the government showing no interest in rethinking either must fall at the feet of the much of the political chattering class. For it is to be recalled that it was the privileged few, who in holding positions of power across various workers parties, women’s groups and feminist collectives, that trashed the initiatives. The shared premise was that these led to the furthering of gender segregation of Pakistani society. This simply doesn’t cut it. Or are we to only applaud those who have the means to trade in the hard currency of hashtags and instagram as a means of documenting their reclamation of the public sphere, cup of tea in hand?
The CM’s attack on the elite, however, is laughable. Now would be as good a time as any for him to put his money where his mouth is and ride the buses himself on a regular basis, or at least have members of his staff do so. Of course security concerns will be cited, underscoring once more how Pakistan remains a country for old men whose only priority is their own safety. However, he was spot on in his noting of how the ‘common man’ did not have adequate access to health, education and other services. Such a brutally honest summary of not only his tenure — but also that of the PML-N record countrywide — was entirely unexpected. And now that the paisa has finally dropped in terms of what this government’s priorities ought to be — what better way to move forward than by spending billions of rupees to launch yet another bus service for Lahore?
The brief detention of the former Information minister for Sindh by anti-corruption officials couldn’t have happened at a better time for the PPP. For it comes exactly one year after the National Accountability Bureau deadline for deciding once and for all pending charges against the PM and his brother. That the NAB has to date failed to do so adds fuel to Sharjeel Memon’s stance of political victimisation from an agency sitting firmly in the government’s pocket.
Yet for all this, Memon has skilfully skirted the issue of why he is wanted by the NAB in the first place. Namely, the not so small matter of procedural irregularities amounting to billions in the awarding of advertising contracts for the Sindh government’s official electronic media awareness campaigns.
The timing couldn’t have been worse for the PML-N. It is already heavily embroiled in the Panama Papers scandal, which has made its way to the Supreme Court. Thus Memon’s return to Pakistan, following his two-and-a-half-year period of self-exile, has prompted murmurings of some kind of deal between both sides. Both PPP and PML-N or for that matter all political parties in Pakistan have a track record on backroom deals. PPP as we know is not averse to behind-the-scenes handshakes with the PML-N. If there is truth to these latest allegations, Memon’s promise that his party will ring in the end of the Nawazistan era offers little hope. For the people want change in governance, their everyday lives and not the usual change of faces.
This relentless political tangoing between the two major parties risks handing the PTI some moral advantage. While Imran Khan’s promise to root out corruption in 90 days of being elected to the centre appears a spectacular case of political hyperbole — he has the benefit of an unproven record on his side.
Central to the question of accountability is strengthening key institutions such as the NAB and anticorruption agencies in provinces by making them independent of executive interference, providing additional resources and expertise and instituting a culture of transparency. Corruption cases have been used as bargaining instruments by all governments and this needs to change.
Unless Jamaat-e-Islami reins in IJT, its claims as a democratic party would remain suspect
Enjoying the patronage of Zia-ul-Haq Islami-Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT) turned Punjab University campus into a battlefield and its hostels into torture centres. IJT’s main targets at the time were students with left or liberal leanings who demanded end of military rule and holding of elections. In later years IJT’s targets were Shia students organised in ISO who were harassed and beaten. During the last four years students from Balochistan and KP who have their own organisations have been attacked because the IJT does not allow any other student organisation to strike roots in the University, which it considers its fief.
The IJT has all along tried to impose its narrow code of conduct on the student community by sheer force. Boys seen talking to girls have been given thrashing. Cultural shows have been attacked. Finding itself an unpopular minority, the IJT has illegally settled in the hostels scores of musclemen brought from outside. University teachers with different views have been tortured. In 2014 the Punjab University Academic Staff Association passed a strongly worded resolution against IJT’s lawlessness
The present incident where Pushtun and Baloch students have been targeted must not be ignored as before by the University administration or Punjab government. Thanks its misguided policies and ill-conceived tactics the Punjab administration is already being accused of ethnic profiling. It has to act decisively to prosecute those who attacked the function instead of injudiciously balancing its action by involving the victims also. Political exigencies must not be allowed to stand in the way of national unity.
The Punjab University has to set an example by awarding maximum punishment to those who disturbed the event. Stifling dissent and putting an end to free debate on ideas has led to the degeneration of the Punjab University which in a more tolerant and open era produced two Nobel Prize winners, Dr Abdus Salam and Hargobind Khorana. Using force against students with different views, sects or ethnicity is not only atrocious but out of sync with an era which values democratic norms like freedom of opinion, openness and transparency.
Transparency of the Judiciary
A rare occurrence
A video of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and his son Arsalan jumping the cue at an airport before boarding a flight went viral yesterday. The controversial ex-CJP’s son’s attempt at justifying breaking the rules by smugly arguing with other passengers that his ‘business class’ ticket afforded him that right, which it does not, is reminiscent of the sacred cow syndrome prevalent in the judiciary.
Coincidentally the Lahore High Court (LHC) registrar on the same day has been asked by the Punjab Information Commission to respond to a complaint under Punjab’s Right to Information Act 2013 (RTI) in which the salary and perks of the Chief Justice of Lahore have been asked to be made public.
Two other RTI’s have also been filed concerning the LHC. One inquires upon the deployment of security personnel to judges specifying the number at their homes and offices separately. The second one attempts to gain some clarity on the recruitment process of the LHC, in particular how much do they collect in application fees and how come applicants, even after having paid the fee, are not informed about their status.
The RTI concerning the Chief Justice of Lahore has been pending since October last year. The observations of the commission about the status of the complaint highlight the reluctance of the LHC registrar to address it. On one hand the LHC registrar denied having received the complaint at all while on the other hand the required Public Information Officer (PIO) has not even been put in place – a requirement to be fulfilled within 60 day of the act being passed.
It is most unfortunate that technicalities and delaying tactics are being used by the LHC in order to avoid answering simple questions. High courts are quick to dispense orders and decisions with regards to other institutions but when it comes to their own transparency they refuse to be as expeditious. The information sought after in the RTIs should be made public before the deadline otherwise the credibility of the LHC will further come into question.
There was something of a glitch in the passage of the legislation that gives a life of two years to the military courts which had lapsed on January 7, 2017. The Senate on Wednesday had to defer the vote that would have ratified the bill because insufficient senators had shown up to make the house quorate. Perhaps they had better things to do. The vote on the Twenty-Eighth Amendment Bill 2017 will now take place on March 28.
There is no doubt that the bill will eventually be signed into law, though not without some dissenting voices. There was seemingly unanimous cross-party acceptance of the legislation until almost at the last minute when the PkMAP decided to oppose it and the JUI-F moved amendments to delete the terms ‘religion’ and ‘sect’ from the bill but these were rejected by the application of a voice vote; the parliamentary equivalent of being shouted down. Considering that the PkMAP is an ally of the government this is a surprising move; the subsequent abstention from the vote by the JUI-F somewhat less so. The action of neither party affected the outcome.
Pakistan has created an invisible and unaccountable system of ‘justice’ that is a travesty. The original reason for the creation of the military courts was to allow the government time and space to reform the justice system, a work long overdue. There was no effort to do this up until 7 January 2017 and we do not anticipate that there will be any before the end of the two years of military courts the nation now faces. The whole issue of reform in the justice system has effectively gone into the freezer and the government has abdicated its responsibilities in a manner that is going to have far-reaching consequences, none of them good.
The military courts are effectively a suspension of a fundamental of the law — the writ of Habeas Corpus. Also suspended are the rules of evidence and any form of transparency, the courts all being held in camera and their verdicts only announced once proceedings are concluded. Justice must be seen to be done to be credible. The creation of the courts of invisibility is a step backwards.
Strictly by the law
Jingoism is the bread and butter of almost every celebrity and politician in Pakistan and few of them waste time in latching on to any bandwagon to prove that their love for the country is greater than others. It’s hardly surprising then that the players caught in the spot-fixing storm are veering towards the same. The players, in case others forget, are innocent until they are proven guilty.
A few of them are not even suspected of being involved in spot-fixing, just of not reporting being contacted by a bookie. The explanation offered by at least one of the cricketers is worthy of empathy: he was vulnerable because his mind was preoccupied by grief, having recently suffered the loss of his mother.
Yet he, along with the other suspected players, has been bracketed in the legion of the greatest living pariahs. Legendary batsman Javed Miandad has called for them to be hanged; not metaphorically, but quite literally. As heinous as the crime of fixing is, it certainly doesn’t deserve capital punishment.
The players have now been placed on the Exit Control List by the Federal Investigation Agency. This has raised eyebrows from several quarters, with people questioning why corrupt businessmen and politicians, along with dangerous terrorists, roam free while these players are being treated with so much contempt.
The government is justified in investigating the case; spot-fixing is fraud and a criminal investigation therefore is not unheard of. The now infamous ‘tainted trio’ of the 2010 spot-fixing fiasco were also given jail sentences in the UK, while former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns faced a trial in the Southwark Crown Court from which he was eventually acquitted.
The witch hunt surrounding this is even understandable to a certain extent; after all, the general public is sick and tired of this ugly monster rearing its head again and again in Pakistan. However, before we rush to convict and punish them let us be assured of their guilt. That is what the law demands.
THE backdrop was ironic, the claim sensational. The rare meeting of the PML-N parliamentary committee appears to have been held primarily to ensure the presence in Islamabad of enough party legislators to smooth the passage of the 23rd Amendment — democracy working to undermine democratic principles. As if to confirm Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s continuing fixation with a former political nemesis, the only headline to emerge from the meeting was his dramatic claim that then-president Gen Pervez Musharraf had in 2007 offered Mr Sharif a deal to form a coalition government after elections — eventually held in 2008. Perhaps Mr Musharraf, known for speaking his mind, will himself confirm or deny the prime minister’s claim, but it does provide an opportunity to reflect on the state of the transition to democracy, now nearing a decade and on the verge of delivering two full-term parliaments.
Certainly, democratic gains have been considerable. That a decade ago the country was ruled by a military dictator and the democratic façade was fragile enough for a single individual to determine who would form the government itself demonstrates the distance travelled. Today, robust political competition exists, different parties govern in the four provinces, and the next election ought to produce a fairer and more transparent verdict than before. Pakistanis have genuine electoral choices; it is they who will decide who will govern the country. Moreover, with three tiers of government across the country and democratic reforms having been extended to first Gilgit-Baltistan and now Fata, the structure of democracy is deeper and wider than it has ever been. Gone, and seemingly with a growing irreversibility, are the days that power can simply be grabbed by strong men and legitimacy bestowed upon illegitimate governments by unelected judges. Seventy years since Independence, Pakistan is closer than it has ever been to fulfilling its destiny as a durable democracy.
However, challenges remain. For all the electoral competition and promise of regular elections, the institutions of democracy have not been strengthened in a comparable manner. The country’s elected representatives, in their unwillingness to address issues of corruption and the high barriers to entry in politics, are presiding over a system that is tarnished and viewed sceptically by far too many people. Absent is the vital democratic corollary: a belief in and commitment to a system of checks and balances. From dynastic politics to the murky nexus between politics and business, and from dysfunctional systems of accountability to the refusal to embrace regulatory reform, the toll on democratic institutions continues to grow. Democracy, ultimately, is only as strong as the people’s belief in it. A dearth of institutions that promote fairness and justice erodes public confidence and allows anti-democratic forces to survive. Mr Musharraf is no longer in power, but the mindset he embodied lives on in some quarters.
TUESDAY’S clash at the Punjab University, which left at least 10 students injured, had been many months in the making. The cadres of the Islami Jamiat Talaba and the Pakhtun and Baloch students lodged in the PU hostels had exchanged blows many times over the last couple of years. The collision took place since these students from Balochistan and KP did not appear beholden to the strict code of the IJT, the PU being one of its main laboratories from the Gen Zia days or even earlier. In what must have been most offensive to the long-dominant force on campus, these ‘outsiders’ — who feel safer staying close to each other — showed little inclination for learning the ways of life at an average public-sector college in Lahore. However, it was soon realised, that they, like so many others, were the product of circumstances; these Pakhtun and Baloch students came to be looked upon as a combating force — a nemesis — for the IJT boys to grapple with at a time when their old patrons had started to consider the Jamiat a liability.
Past vice chancellors were crucial promoters of the IJT. But this was no longer the case when the students from KP and Balochistan had made it abundantly clear that they had their own ways and were not going to be intimidated by the diktat of the IJT that had been playing the role of the oversensitive big brother. Not just that, the IJT as well as its parent body, the Jamaat-i-Islami, had lost the clout they had enjoyed for long courtesy of their close ties with the PML-N, the ruling party of Punjab. The Jamiat could still hope to wield some influence when JI’s window of reconciliation with the PML-N was open. But its public image was severely weakened once it was evident that the Sharifs, who were out to convince the outside world of their commitment to fight fundamentalism in Pakistan, saw merit in keeping their distance from the JI. It was also feared that a drastic reduction in influence could lead to desperate measures being taken by the old campus kings. And a musical event by a new rival was just too big an opportunity for some of the elements to ignore. In a changed situation, the signs are that the objective of ruling the campus through fear may be too tough to achieve now. The old tactics might not work.
IN the aftermath of last month’s deadly blast at the dargah of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan, the Sindh government’s counterterrorism efforts have been stepped up. A number of suspects reportedly belonging to militant outfits have been rounded up, while suspected extremists have also been eliminated in ‘encounters’ with law enforcers. These activities are being complemented with longer-term efforts. These include attempts at better monitoring of places of worship belonging to all religious groups. As published in this paper on Wednesday, the Sindh administration plans to launch a video surveillance project of places of worship belonging to non-Muslim faith groups. Earlier, the Sindh chief minister had ordered “foolproof” security of various dargahs and shrines in the province. These efforts are welcome, for it can be argued that it was security lacunae that allowed militants to carry out the dastardly bombing at the Qalandar’s shrine. However, video surveillance, for example, can come in handy after an act of terrorism, to trace down culprits or their handlers. What the Sindh and federal authorities must concentrate on is neutralising the extremist cells believed to be active in the province.
While many talk of the ‘Sufi’ and ‘pluralist’ character of Sindh, there has been a steady stream of evidence emerging over the past few years that points to the existence of militant and sectarian groups in the province, particularly its northern districts. Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is believed to be particularly active in this region. Before the Sehwan blast there was a massive bombing at a Shikarpur imambargah in 2015, while last year militants tried to storm an imambargah in Khanpur, also located in Shikarpur district. Last week, the police’s counterterrorism department claimed to have arrested the Shikarpur chief of LJ. Unfortunately, no part of the country is immune from the sectarian and militant menace. Therefore, it is reassuring that the Sindh government has realised that a problem exists. Now the challenge before it is to root out such violent networks before they can cause more devastation.
A recent report in a national newspaper brought to light some disturbing facts. There are more religious seminaries than schools in the federal capital. Most of these seminaries are unregistered. The growth in the number of formal public schools has been slower. While this may be an exceptional case, it is indicative of the power of seminaries in the country. It is also deeply symbolic. The government should be concerned aboutthis state of affairs. What sort of a message it sends to the world?
Informal estimates suggest that Pakistan has more than 30,000 madrassas across the country. And the majority belongs to the Deobandi sect, which incidentally is followed by a minority of Sunnis in the country. The much-touted National Action Plan promised geo-tagging and registration of all seminaries in the country. However, perhaps out of fear or a spirit of ‘compromise’, the progress has been painfully slow. The state is yet to begin the process of regulating madrassas including a framework to check their finances. This parallel system of education, covering millions of students fills the gap left by state’s inability to educate all children but there needs to be a wider debate on the usefulness of such parallel streams.
Pakistan can follow the examples set by countries like Indonesia by helping seminaries and leveraging their support in fighting extremism. Most of the pesantren (Indonesian religious schools) encourage religious diversity and tolerance. Compare that with some of the more provocative views preached in Pakistan. Pakistan’s growing radicalization is largely linked to the seminaries, widespread acceptance of their views due to state patronage in the past (for multiple jihad projects in the region) and the public schools textbooks that emphasise the supremacy of Muslims over non Muslims and legitimizing of violent means of jihad, otherwise a lofty term for self-improvement.
It should be emphasized that not all madrassas breed terrorism. Most are catering to poorer sections of the society. But the issue here is whether we should be encouraging millions of young children to gain education that has limited prospects and ends up making them feel marginalised in the society. The only viable option is for the state to develop a comprehensive plan of converting these seminaries into public schools. A consensus is needed for this to start. And it also requires giving up the patronage of selected groups to fight in Afghanistan or Kashmir. Pakistan’s battle against terrorism will be meaningless if this key issue is not addressed.
The parliament, civil society and the media have crucial roles to play in imagining a different kind of society for the future. It is time a high-level commission is appointed to chalk out a ten-year plan of integrating madrassas into the mainstream. Before that is done, a handful of madrassas, known for their role in supporting and nurturing terrorism need to be closed down.
Think local, invest local
At the beginning of the year the government offered assurances that Pakistan was facing no threat of food insecurity. Indeed, the country was said to be enjoying stockpile surpluses, covering wheat and rice among others. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, however, paints a rather different picture. Pakistan’s food trade gap looks set to hit $2 billion for the first half of the current fiscal year. This is a significant hike from the $470 million of FY 2015. It is bad news for the country’s current account deficit on its balance of payments.
Who is to be believed? It would be imprudent to rule out either assessment entirely out of hand. In his comments about surpluses, the Food Security and Research minister didn’t touch upon the matter of access to these stockpiles or whether, indeed, they were being hoarded to drive up local prices. He also failed to explain Pakistan’s resorting to importing rice from India and China. At the same time, poor performance of national food producing industries have been recorded. Also not to be ignored is the direct impact of our, at times, fast-changing environmental challenges on the latter.
So what is to be done?
In short, Pakistan needs to invest locally. This is still an overwhelmingly agricultural-based economy, with a sizeable rural population. With much of the latter consisting of daily wage earners or indentured labour, which is slavery by another name. These are not the folk who will get to cruise along to the latest fancy plaza selling the latest imported foodstuffs at inflated prices. This is not just about offering choice to the few who can afford it. This is a big business project that returns handsome profits for those who are part of the importing and distribution networks, with no trickle-down effect. To be sure, this is not a call to see Pakistan transformed into a dystopian state of totalitarian proportions. But it is a recognition that the more we are plugged into the global capitalist system the more safeguards we need to implement. For this is not a system designed to benefit countries in the Global South. As such, the government could consider incentives for people to buy locally. There is no shame in this. But the key is to learn from the Buy British campaigns, especially those of the 1980s. These came hot on the heels of Margaret Thatcher’s structured and deliberate decimation of local manufacturing industries. Britain has never recovered from this gross misstep that gifted it a “boom-bust economy”, rendering it forever the Sick Man of Europe. Pakistan must do its best to avoid the same fate, as already the signs seem less than promising. The PBS figures indicate the surplus years of FY 2014-2015 are simply not sustainable. Add to this the absence of IMF cash injections coupled with Pakistan’s scheduled repayments to the Paris Club — and the future looks less than bright.
Trading in peace
Pakistan’s grandstanding has paid off. By standing firm and refusing to re-open its border crossings with Afghanistan — it succeeded in dragging its neighbour to the negotiating table, with Britain playing the honest broker.
The government has played its hand well. In unilaterally sealing its border, it reminded Kabul that the most pressing issue remains that of militant safe-havens. Similarly, it highlighted the absurdity of expecting Pakistan to fully participate in the peace process when neither the Afghan government nor the Taliban have proved themselves ready to even talk the talk. And last but not least, it was a timely reminder that the two must deal with each other on equal footing, without either India or the US being conjured up as evidence of political cuckolding.
But this is not to let Pakistan off the hook. It can start by actively addressing Kabul’s fears that its territory serves as a strategic launching pad for both the Afghan Taliban the Haqqani network to hit hard back across the border.
Only then can Pakistan and Afghanistan sincerely sit down and focus on resetting the bilateral relationship in terms of trade and transit routes. While doing all this, both sides would do well to keep in mind that their routine fallings out go against the spirit of friendship and cooperation espoused by civil society from both sides. One such cross-border grouping is the Islamabad-based Beyond Boundaries. This private initiative comprises entrepreneurs and their warning could not be more pertinent. Namely, that while Islamabad and Kabul are wasting time on endless rounds of tit-for-tat manoeuvres — the region is moving on, preferring to do business with more reliable partners such as Iran and Central Asia. Islamabad and Kabul must get serious about peace if they wish to see a return to bilateral and transit trade levels that hit $2.5 million back in 2010.
The next few months are crucial for the region. Pakistan must play its due role in facilitating a peace deal within Afghanistan. Instability in the region will affect the country’s future. At the same time, Afghanistan should assure Pakistan’s security interests would not be compromised. This is where PM Nawaz Sharif, along with military commanders, has to show leadership and take Pakistan’s political forces into confidence in forging a national strategy for the region. The national security committee is the appropriate forum to deliberate the future roadmap.
There is no escape from the necessity of water. India and Pakistan are crossed by a vast river system that is the lifeblood of both. So vital is this system that it is covered by the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) that has held through three wars and a fractious peace ever since — and is recently under threat again. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has, of late, been making distinctly unconstructive comments about ‘water wars’ to the delight of nobody beyond his electorate. Thus it is that we welcome the report that two days of talks on water-related issues started in Islamabad on Monday 20th March.
The talks by the water commissioners of both countries are the first since March 2015. Although there is little in the public domain, there is chatter in the back-channels that America, China and the World Bank were active in ensuring that the talks went ahead, and seen in the wider context of the India-Pakistan suite of complex disputes the IWT is a foundation on which may be laid other activity — such as the reviving of the moribund composite dialogue that has been in the freezer since early 2016.
Threats of revocation of the IWT by Mr Modi appear to be off the table, and there are signs that the most recent talks may spawn other exchanges about Indian power projects, not all of which are to the benefit of Pakistan. Mechanisms exist for the resolution of disputes, and it is Pakistan’s contention that the International Court of Arbitration is the appropriate body — India disagrees.
Day Two of the talks demonstrated that India and Pakistan are not genetically incapable when it comes to finding common ground. India has agreed to a redesign of the Miyar Hydroelectric project it is being reported by Radio Pakistan, with further agreement on another inspection of the Lower Kalnai and Pakul Dul projects. It is flexibility like this around such crucial infrastructure for both countries that sows the seeds of optimism.
It is now clear that the World Bank and the Americans played their hands ‘at the highest level’ — diplomatic-speak for a discreet twisting of arms behind the arras — and while both may have different motives for doing so they are at least convergent and feed into the wider agenda of regional peace or at least the mitigation of tensions. The Chinese will not be unhappy with this outcome either particularly as the Indus rises in China as does the Shyok.
There are now to be secretary-level talks on the Ratle and the Kishanganga hydropower plants in Washington on April 11th, 12th and 13th. The proximity to the levers of power may be, but probably is not, a useful coincidence. Pakistan’s water and power minister has welcomed India’s decision to resume the secretary-level dialogue on the issue. One hopes both sides show enough flexibility so that equitable and sustainable solutions can be found to the mutual satisfaction of all.
The sustainability of the IWT is worth diplomatic time and effort by Pakistan, largely because it is the only platform that offers ‘branching’ options as indicated above. Global climate change is going to mean that for India and Pakistan water trumps all other disputes in terms of the necessity of a resolution. The Indus river system(s) are going to experience fundamental changes in coming decade that will happen irrespective of local politics. The lives and wellbeing of over a billion people depend on the Indus waters and poisonous politics cannot be allowed to pollute them.
An unfortunate error
In a country where minorities of every description but particularly religious face discrimination every day of their lives, adding fuel to the discriminatory fires is never a good idea. Loss of life in attacks on minority groups, and not only religious minorities, is common. An area where there is widespread, indeed almost universal discrimination — is employment. There are millions of workers doing menial jobs for minimal wages, and some jobs appear to have become acculturated to particular minority groups. Advertisements for these small but important jobs appear regularly in the press, and an advertisement placed by the tehsil administration in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, District Bannu, has raised something of a furore.
The jobs on offer were 14 sweeper vacancies, permanent positions, at the Basic Pay Scale-2. The advertisement stated that the posts were open to ‘Christians, Hindus and Shias’. It also said that the posts were open to ‘all genders’ so long as they were in a specific age-band. This appears to be the first time that Shias have been specifically mentioned in such advertisements. It is unlikely that Shias are going to be happy to find themselves bracketed with other minorities in this way. The social media promptly and rightly lit up. There were hurried denials from all concerned saying that the advertisement was a mistake, that Shias should never have been mentioned and that a corrigendum will be published correcting the misinformation — but the damage has been done.
The public sentiment appears altogether more enlightened than the paradigm of those responsible for the advertisement, and is not buying the ‘clerical error’ story. The thrust of the public perspective is that the K-P administration should not be recruiting on the basis of minorities anyway, and that doing so merely reinforced perceptions of minority groups as in some way inferior, only worthy of the lowliest employment. This is a perception that this newspaper endorses. Even the head of the PTI, Imran Khan, Tweeted that he disapproved. It is precisely this kind of error — if it was an error and we have our doubts — that keeps hatreds alive. Cut the lame excuses and never let it happen again.
THE reopening of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a welcome and sensible move. The closure for over a month, after Pakistan accused Afghanistan of not doing enough to act against anti-Pakistan militant sanctuaries in eastern Afghanistan, had serious socioeconomic implications for the populations on either side and caused bilateral ties to plunge to yet another low. The retaliatory, knee-jerk response by Pakistan did not make sense then, nor does it appear to have achieved much. Predictable third-party intervention, this time by the UK, which for a while has stepped up its diplomacy in the wake of desultory US policy, has likely wrested compromises from both the Afghan and Pakistani sides, but it remains to be seen if private commitments are realised in public actions. The pattern of terror attacks causing a rupture in ties and then papered over until the next downturn has become distressingly familiar.
Clearly, cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan can help radically reduce terrorism and militancy in the region. Particularly when it comes to fighting the militant Islamic State group in the two countries, the possibility of security cooperation is obvious and real — neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan have any tolerance for an IS that has upended the political and security dynamics of the Middle East. Yet, lingering suspicions and mutual mistrust, particularly when it comes to strategic and long-term interests, on both sides has thwarted meaningful cooperation. But past failures and recent strains should not be reasons for diplomatic surrender. Just as Kabul cannot expect Pakistan to resolve the old problems — Afghan Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan and perceived foot-dragging over an eventual dialogue process — without addressing the new — anti-Pakistan sanctuaries in Afghanistan — Islamabad cannot expect the opposite. The security establishment here may want its demands addressed urgently, but Afghanistan either has limited capacity or lacks the will to address Pakistan’s immediate concerns.
Indeed, the common sense path is to ramp up security cooperation, using the full force of diplomacy to nudge the Taliban into a regional peace framework. An Afghan government that is pursuing peace with the Taliban may find itself in a better position to address Pakistan’s security concerns and strengthen border management and cooperation. Following the US and China, a third major power, Russia, is now attempting to broker a peace process — yet another opportunity for durable talks to be launched. Where previous efforts have been a failure there has been a perception on the part of Kabul or the Taliban that the dialogue is tilted against them. To assuage the doubts of the Afghan government, Russia has sent the right signal by extending an invitation for a regional dialogue, engaging Kabul and reiterating a path to peace for the Taliban. A negotiated peace is the only sustainable solution for all parties involved.
Extremists in politics
FOR many years now, electoral politics have been a vehicle for extremist elements in Pakistan to insinuate themselves into the democratic framework, even as they work to corrode the principles upon which it is based. With general elections due sometime next year, it is prudent to give some thought to how this process can be disrupted. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s statement in the Senate on Monday that a law is on the anvil to prevent leaders of banned organisations from taking part in elections must therefore be welcomed. However, the interior minister continues to display a troubling lack of clarity on the modus operandi of dealing with such individuals. For instance, he once again defended his meeting last October with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi on the grounds that the head of the banned Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat had arrived to see him as part of a delegation. He was nevertheless correct in pointing out that the cleric was allowed by the election commission to contest the polls in May 2013. And that is precisely why a specific law of the kind that Chaudhry Nisar has proposed is so necessary.
Pakistan has been fairly prolific in outlawing extremist organisations, particularly after a slew of them were banned in the aftermath of 9/11. But it has been a self-defeating exercise. With the leaders of these groups under no ban themselves, they continued to peddle their noxious rhetoric, while their organisations re-emerged with new names. This was particularly dangerous given that Gen Zia’s ‘party-less’ elections of 1985 had already driven political candidates into making alliances with sectarian groups who had recourse to mosques across the country from where they could rally supporters. In subsequent years, the expediency displayed by every government, civilian or otherwise, created even more space for such groups in electoral politics. Their leaders manoeuvred themselves into positions from where they could wield a preposterous amount of influence behind the scenes or even directly. In 2002, for instance, Azam Tariq, chief of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba — a predecessor of the ASWJ — contested, and won, a seat in the National Assembly from prison as an independent candidate. He was released by Gen Musharraf in exchange for his vote in favour of Mir Zafarullah Jamali as prime minister. Aside from enacting legislation to prevent such leaders of banned groups from standing in elections, the restrictions applicable to individuals under the Fourth Schedule should also be strictly enforced.
CPEC security cost
It was always a bad idea to bundle the cost of security for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor enterprise into the power tariff and pass it on to the consumers.
Now that the federal cabinet appears to have approved the decision, it falls on the tariff-setting power regulator, Nepra, to ensure that the rights of the consumers are protected against spurious items being added to their bills.
Nepra has taken suo motu notice of the matter and called a public hearing on April 4 to which all members of the public and other stakeholders are invited. This is a good opportunity for all civil society groups to register themselves as participants, as per the details available on the Nepra website, and submit comments and feedback on the proposal.
It is tempting for the government to add all manner of power-sector expenses, for which there is no room in the budget, to utility bills, but this temptation must be strenuously resisted.
Power bills are not surrogate revenue machinery. In this case, the total cost added to the bills will amount to 1pc of the capital cost of all projects per annum, which comes to roughly $155m going by the figures given by Nepra. The amount may not sound much at the moment, but it should be borne in mind that this figure will inevitably rise over time as the number of power projects increases.
With the passage of time, it is entirely reasonable to expect that the percentage being asked for will also increase, and other unanticipated costs will similarly be added to the bills. CPEC security is undoubtedly an important matter, but costs should be kept within the budget, and not billed to power consumers.
The proposal is yet another example of how the government has failed to properly forecast the costs it is to bear under the CPEC umbrella, and one can only wonder what other unanticipated expenses are going to arise as the projects move towards commercial operations.
Pakistan has an image problem. There is much disconnect between what the government says it will do and what it actually does.
Months after the country has seen the passing of progressive bills that protect (some of) Pakistan’s minorities — it is more than disheartening to see that the national census has rendered many of them invisible, as if they are irrelevant.
The Supreme Court should have acted earlier. For it forgot to take the government by the hand and show it how to conduct an inclusive census that might be worth more than the paper upon which it is written.
That Islamabad provides a separate category for the transgender community is a testament to the hard work of those groups in Pakistan that have tirelessly lobbied for the recognition of LGBTQ rights. Yet this win begins to smack of mere tokenism in light of the government’s resounding failure to provide separate documentation for Sikhs and the non-able bodied. The latter was included only upon intervention by the apex court. The government has sent its message loud and clear: it has no interest in understanding the intersectional burdens of oppression.
This needs to change. And it needs to do so at the political grassroots level. For too long, too many parties have allowed privileged men to run the show. This extends even to those who look in the mirror and proclaim themselves the most progressive of all. There is no commitment to discussing single-point agendas from multiple perspectives, starting with that of gender and religion. It is far easier to lump everything that may require a more nuanced approach under the ludicrously reductive banner: women and minorities. As if by way of not belonging outright to the majority — these two represent a single homogenous entity.
When it comes to the census’ treatment of Hindus and Christians — these groups face one of two options, identifying themselves as “marginalised” or as “other”. Sikhs are not alone in being left out of this numbers game. The same fate has been dealt to the Parsee and Baha’i communities.
Even more worrying reports have emerged where census teams have been asking people to declare their sect. While it good to have reliable data, the sectarian issue is explosive given the acts of violence that have been perpetrated in the name of sectarian hatreds. The government should reconsider, and take appropriate action.
We urge the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take notice of glaring omissions in the census. And we also urge the prime minister to remember one thing. The call for us to begin thinking as Pakistanis begins with you.
That’s the thing about vengeful democracy. It has habit of coming back and biting one where the sun doesn’t shine. The prime minister was dealt a timely reminder of this when the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) shot down his tit-for-tat references filed against Imran Khan.
The disqualification reference filed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leaders Imran Khan and Jehangir Tareen was thrown out by ECP due to lack of substantial evidence. The reference was decided beyond the stipulated timeframe of three months due to deliberate delays on part of both parties. PML-N has decided to challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The moral advantage at this stage goes to Khan, who has been relentless in his hounding of the PM over Panamagate. Yet fortunately for the latter, the question of morality has no place in Pakistani politics. This is something that the PPP — the architect of vengeful democracy — knows only too well. With an eye on next year’s elections, it is focusing firmly on making a return to the Punjab. The PPP knows how to talk big. It also knows how to keep quiet when the time comes to deliver. Its U-turn on military tribunals is a case in point. At the end of last year, party chairman Bilawal Bhutto promised to bring Nawaz to his knees unless he conceded to four key PPP demands. Top of the list was the passage of the Panama Papers Inquiry Bill 2016. Without this the PPP, Bilawal warned, would refuse to go the Supreme Court. Given the lack of transparency in Pakistani politicking the citizenry might well be forgiven for wondering if this is some sort of well- choreographed game from childhood times of yesteryear. And that each time the music stops — the one left holding the parcel must do the other’s bidding. In this latest reinvention — it becomes a strictly two-party game.
True, the PPP did submit its bill and rushed it through the Senate, where it enjoys a majority. Now the burden falls upon the National Assembly, returning the advantage to the PMLN. More than likely this will result in going back to the drawing board. For all its talk about Panamagate, the PPP has yet to play its due role as the opposition party. Beyond running the government and maximising its electoral gains, the PML-N bears the responsibility to foster democratic values in the country. Questioning the wealth of ruling family is the right of opposition parties and the public. PMLN instead of politicking should set an example of open, transparent accountability process even if it leads to short-term losses. Needless to say, Pakistan’s political parties have to build trust in the democratic process. Given the way serious issues of corruption, tax evasion and accountability have been handled, meaningful change seems unlikely.
Zardari on TV
Asif Ali Zardari is serious about his return to politics. But is hosting a talk show, the best way to do that?
That he has chosen a channel rumoured to have the support of powers-that-be, underscores the seriousness of his mission. Especially given the recent comments from his former ambassador about what the then president knew about the CIA-JSOC presence in the country during his tenure. With this set-up, everyone is a winner. For Zadari’s part, what better platform from which to launch his own bid to return to political power? Already there have been murmurings of contesting a by-election that will send him to the National Assembly. It remains to be seen whether he will use his weekly slot to become the electronic face of Bilawal’s own electoral campaign, which he hopes will take straight to PM House. But one thing is clear: Zardari’s outburst two years ago against an ever-aggressive Army interfering in the politics of the country are all but forgotten. Also seemingly forgotten is the very hard work that goes into electioneering. One has to wonder where the PPP co-Chairman will find the time?
He is sharing the screen, as it were, with Gen Musharraf. The latter has pledged to return to Pakistan to face all pending charges against him provided the Army arranges for top-notch security. Yet if the tenets of a free and fair trial are to up upheld — this must surely extend to not allowing a defendant to actively using the media to influence hearings in his favour. These two can count as their colleagues Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Canada-based cleric who sat alongside Imran Khan in the massive move to oust the government almost three years ago. The PTI’s Shafaqat Mehmood and the PPP’s Qamar Zaman Kaira are also being given airtime. Yet if Zardari believes that this uniting on a single-point anti-Nawaz agenda is all that is needed to win him votes he might well be in for a rude awakening. For the time of riding the sympathy vote is long gone. It will simply not do to hit the campaign trail by remote control. PPP is in disarray and its vote-bank is frittering away as the recent elections have shown.
The larger question is why should a former President don the mantle of a TV talking head. Mr. Zardari is best advised to focus on the crumbling fortunes of PPP and allow Bilawal to infuse fresh ideas and energy into the party. The sooner that happens the better it will be for the PPP and the country.
The government’s focus deficit on some of the most essential issues betrays the lack of vision in the PML-N leadership. The way the census exercise is being hurried through without a prior brainstorming on the part of the policy makers shows they are unaware of the relevance of the census in national life.
The Council of Common Interests (CCI) was the right forum to discuss the various aspects of the census and resolve the complications that are likely to arise during its conduct. As the government was initially unwilling to conduct the census it avoided holding the CCI meeting for nearly a year despite the constitution binding the government to call the meeting every three months. Pressured by the Supreme Court it finally announced the date for the census but did not hold discussion on some of the highly relevant and sensitive details. Apparently for the PML-N leadership it was no more than a simple head count, which in fact it is not.
In order to be of use in planning the country’s future the census must collect all relevant data. The Census in 1981 under the guidance of Dr Mehbub-ul-Haq collected district and tehsil-wise statistics about literacy rate among males and females, number of government hospitals, kilometres of metalled roads, percentage of households provided electricity, clean water, number of factories and labourers employed, number of telephone connections and telegraph offices besides the languages spoken. The rich data, painstakingly collected, brought under focus not only inter-provincial but also intra-provincial disparities and provided a basis for the later extension of provincial autonomy which proved the first major step towards removing a sense of deprivation.
It was after public protest that the ongoing census provided a special column for transgender community and the disabled people to assess their numbers which would help the government make policies to bring them into the mainstream economic activity and enjoy a respectable place in society.
It was highly mendacious to deny the Pakistani Sikh community their identity. There is a need to urgently rectify the blunder by enumerating the Sikhs as a separate religious community.
Lighting up the reality
A small but significant incident in Sahiwal speaks volumes
Despite official hype about an alleged economic miracle, duly supported by selective statistics and often fudged figures, even a minor event can light up the reality better. The truth cannot remain hidden with a lively media and social media, which explains why both are being targeted in ominous advertisements. No petitioner dare challenge the government’s present blitz of self-congratulatory announcements, repeated nauseatingly on the favoured channels. Taxpayer’s money is being wasted unchecked on this distorted self-aggrandisement.
Another pathetic scene has been shown and reported umpteen times, without ever changing. The announcement of a few measly jobs draws thousands of aspirants, who wait with saintly patience in a line that stretches to the horizon. True to form, 57 openings in Grade one positions advertised by the Directorate of Colleges in Sahiwal, drew a regular army division of hopeful optimists, about 12,000 of them, who swamped the Government Postgraduate College Sahiwal cricket ground on Sunday. Another alarming, but now commonplace aspect in such cases, revealing the desperation of unemployment, was that menial posts of peons, laboratory attendants, drivers, kitchen staffers, conductors, midwives, sweepers, gardeners and watchmen, with matriculation as basic qualification, attracted about forty percent Bachelor and several Masters degree holders.
Millions of educated unemployed are just the tip of the country’s manpower dilemma. Competitive skills, imparted in state of the art institutions, both governmental and in the private sector, with modern machinery and techniques, are also denied it in a practical and meaningful manner. Because of this neglect, most of our workforce are only employed in lowly jobs in the Middle East, and are losing even blue-collar positions to better trained, English or Arabic speaking migrants from elsewhere. Inward remittances, one of the staples of our budget, have declined sharply.
The squabbling politicians with their misplaced priorities are nonchalant in tackling the major issues, they recoil timidly before a frontal challenge. With immediate and intensive acquisition of modern skills, our vast workforce can be gainfully employed in CPEC projects, otherwise it is condemned to be merely international coolies.
Pakistan has earned enormous goodwill by announcing the immediate reopening of its border with Afghanistan. The move to close border crossing points, especially the ones in Torkham and Chaman, was taken a little more than a month ago following a deadly wave of terror attacks in Pakistan. It was clear from the start that the decision, though considered unusually harsh by Afghanistan, was one that had to be rolled back sooner than later. The colossal economic losses, in the end, were just unsustainable.
Notwithstanding the pain and anguish suffered by transporters and traders over mounting losses as well as the wide disruption it caused in the lives of ordinary people, there was a national security imperative that underpinned the blanket suspension of all transit trade and cross-border travel — and few could argue against its efficacy. The country’s security, after all, is non-negotiatable and should trump most other concerns.
By signalling to the Afghan authorities that the border closure was indefinite, Islamabad gave off the impression that it was in mood to ease up on the measures. In hindsight, considering the humanitarian crisis sparked by the sealing of crossing points, the authorities could have acted sooner or provided more temporary opportunities for transporters, traders and ordinary travellers to enter Pakistan from Afghanistan and vice versa.
Some domestic compulsions may have also led to the sudden reopening of the border.
Just a day before the dusty border town of Chaman wore an unusually bare look. Nearly all its shops were closed and its teeming streets emptied out. Anyone living in and within the vicinity of the town had been bracing for this for quite some time. In many ways the shutter-down strike — in protest against the indefinite closure of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point — was inevitable. The strike was called by an umbrella grouping of traders, who were probably among those worst affected by the border closure.
In essence, all border towns such as Chaman and Torkham are heavily dependent on the massive flow of trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And that dependence, as far as anyone can see, is mutual and not to be trifled with. For the daily wage earners in Chaman, the border measures had been devastating. In the space of days they found themselves jobless. For the endless stream of transporters and traders who were previously making crossings these stopovers at Chaman provided comfort and relief. But since Feb 17, when the Chaman border was originally shut, much of that relief evaporated.
Earlier local authorities had told Kabul that Islamabad would consider reopening the border only after its neighbour agreed to hand over 76 high-profile militants who have sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Not much had been done about it. And here’s where Kabul still needs to act in reciprocation.
Given that Pakistani authorities opened the border crossing points at Torkham and Chaman for two days earlier this month, Kabul was shown that there is a wellspring of empathy, at least locally, for those whose lives had been disrupted. The temporary reopening on March 7 and March 8 helped ease some of the suffering of transporters, traders and other travellers but not nearly enough. Still some of our tribesmen have been most generous to those stranded by the closure, providing transporters free meals, sheltering women and children, and settling some of their debts. But their generosity was clearly stretched to the limit.
There were other alternatives to reopening the border. Officials could have drawn up a regular schedule that would enable frequent and those with valid and legitimate documents to cross the border. By fixing tentative dates for such crossings, the authorities could have prevented needless suffering. Maybe next time.
Curiouser and curiouser
It was on a quiet suburban street in London on September 16, 2010, that Imran Farooq was murdered, stabbed and battered to death by two men in broad daylight. He was a leading figure in the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and at the time of his death may — or may not — have been involved in a move against the leader of the party, Altaf Hussain, who is also based in London. His killers fled, eventually to be arrested in Pakistan along with another man said to be implicated. With three in custody and confessional statements from two of them, it would on the surface appear to be simple enough to process an extradition for all concerned so that there can be a trial in the UK of those suspected of the Imran Farooq murder.
There is no extradition treaty between Pakistan and the UK but extraditions do happen particularly in cases involving violent crime. The arbiter in the UK is the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which decides on the available evidence whether a prosecution is likely to succeed or not. Inexplicably the British government has failed to process a CPS request to extradite Mohsin Ali Syed which is extant from early 2016. Such requests have to go through the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before being passed to the relevant authority in Pakistan — and the process appears to be firmly stalled. Attempts to discover why have been stonewalled feeding, not unjustifiably, suspicion in several quarters in Pakistan that the lack of action is not unconnected to the possibility that the UK sees the continued presence of Altaf Hussain as something of a diplomatic asset, which allows a degree of leverage from afar in Pakistan by the British government. This is by no means as far-fetched as it may sound, and the distinctly ambiguous position of the British government over many years in respect of the MQM and its exiled leader do nothing to defuse such suspicions. It would appear that Altaf Hussain leads something of a charmed life in exile, almost a mirror of the culture of impunity that prevails in his country of origin. Hardly the finest hour for British diplomacy.