After banking and telecommunication sectors, now the government is mulling to privatise more national entities keeping in view their morbid financial status. It has been reported in a section of press that the government will complete transactions of three major public sector entities including Pakistan Steel Mill (PSM), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL) by June this year. Different proposal
The affairs of the PSM and PIA have been in a mess for the last many years. Despite efforts to rs have been formulated for the privatisation of the said entities by the concerned authorities.evive these dead horses, odd circumstances led the situation from becoming bad to worse over the years. Large scale induction of staff on political basis and the poor performance of those sitting at the helm of affairs are cited as main reasons for the miserable plight of these organisations. There are a number of challenges for the government to successfully complete the privatisation process. These include employees’ concerns, opposition’s mistrust and transparency in deals. In the past, privatisation deals have not yielded the desired results. Mostly these deals were shoddy and aimed at obliging a few favourites or promoting cronyism. That is the reason the opposition has doubts about the process of privatisation of major national organisations.
The logic behind the government’s thrust to privatise state-owned and -run industries and institutions is to overcome the rampant corruption and inefficiency that has plagued these organisations for years. However, the solution to this problem is not the privatisation of all government-run industries but making the management and operation of these organisations more efficient by hiring competent professional managers and instituting policy changes.
Experts must be appointed to the Privatisation Commission to properly devise strategies for the efficiency of industries, particularly in the utilities sector. Privatisation of such companies in the past has failed because the private corporations tend to repurpose them to suit their own business interests, rather than the interests of the country. Privatisation also takes pension and other social security benefits from the employees. It is pity that when other states are focusing on industrial growth through the establishment of more and more industries, Pakistan is coping with the challenge of reviving its existing industrial units. Government functionaries talk about China and its progress in the industrial sector but fail to emulate their neighbour in these sectors. Government needs to overhaul the basic infrastructure of these organisations and purge them of all anomalies one by one. Even if government wants to privatise these national institutions, a proper mechanism needs to be followed to make the deals transparent. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has the reputation of having business oriented leadership and now it is the responsibility of incumbent rulers that they should apply their financial acumen and make these organisations profitable entities.
Sadat Hasan Manto, one of the greatest literary figures of the Indian subcontinent, has been all but forgotten by the Pakistani nation. Perhaps, it were his short stories that laid bare the hypocrisy in the subcontinent’s society or his scathing denunciation of the violence that occurred during partition that led to his noticeable absence from the collective memory of the Pakistani people. After all, introspection does not come easy and self-criticism is rarely palatable. And Manto’s sardonic commentary painted a picture grossly different from the glorified past of the Pakistani collective imagination. Even Manto’s short stories, which boldly explored topics about sexuality — noticeably female sexuality — and prostitution offended the sensibilities of those who claim to be the guardians of morality and decency of Pakistani society. Perhaps, their outrage had more to with the fear of seeing their own reflection in Manto’s characters. Of course, a society so used to hushing up its ills while engaging in some of the most toxic and oppressive practices does not take well when someone brings them into the open. Even in his own day, Manto was charged with obscenity several times under the colonial law. But this did not make Manto compromise on his intellectual integrity and he continued writing what he wanted to write.
Manto also showed an incredible degree of prescience regarding the pitfalls of Pakistan’s alliance with the United States shortly after partition. In his “Letters to Uncle Sam” he predicted accurately that the US support for the ‘mullah’ in order to contain communism would lead to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region. It is astounding that Manto at that time had the foresight and sharpness of mind to contend that the future of Pakistan would be one in which widespread censorship would be imposed under the garb of protecting religiosity. Or perhaps, for Manto it was the natural destination for a country that was already using its Islamic credentials to secure the support of the United States.
Interest in Manto might have been revived to a limited extent by the Pakistani biopic “Manto,” but the society that he criticised is far down the road that he feared the most. Where criticism is conflated with treason and sometimes even worse and where a large segment of society rejoice in the mere idea of forcefully curbing free speech, it is no surprise that writers like Manto have been relegated to the fringes of the literary discourse. As his death anniversary passed on 18th January, perhaps this year the writings of literary figures like Manto should be promoted, not for them, but for the sake of Pakistani society, which is increasingly falling deeper in the abyss of bigotry and intolerance.
It is quite unfortunate that despite understanding the disastrous impacts of the incessantly alarming rise in tension between Pakistan and India upon their economies on top of regional security, their political leadership have not yet deliberated upon any durable political solution. While the PML-N government has consistently reiterated invitations to New Delhi for a dialogue on the Kashmir dispute, the Indian leadership does not appear to be in a mood to resuscitate the exacerbating ties. In his inaugural address at an annual conference held in New Delhi on Tuesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a swipe at Pakistan and clearly signalled a strategic standstill of his administration’s foreign policy. In lieu of extending peace prospects to soothe relations between the two countries, he negated any plan of doing so, further stressing that India will not hold talks with Pakistan as long as it continued to support terrorism.
The very fact that Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbour has repeatedly made veiled references to not only its alleged harbouring of extremists but also its biggest infrastructural breakthrough — the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor — calls for immediate attention. Although the mega project is being celebrated for its potential in enhancing trade across the region, India believes this investment as a unilateral attempt to “undermine (its) sovereignty.” This vehement opposition can be construed in the light of the CPEC’s significant impact upon India’s plans of engineering a similar strategic alliance with Iran and Afghanistan. No matter how strong its economic concerns in the wake of an ever-increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean theatre may be, India should not have overlooked an equally extensive security challenge that these unresolved ties may pose. These extraordinary displays of heated rhetoric cannot achieve anything more than garnering some local audiences for the upcoming state-level elections. If venturing down a never-ending path of baseless accusations and verbal attacks is what Modi wanted, he has definitely succeeded. However, it would have greatly benefitted his administration had he tried wooing voters with sustainable financial policies and societal welfare in lieu of spelling out the old mock tale of regional hostility. After all, simmering tensions between the two countries would not hold much appeal for people — with the exception of hawks — awaiting economic development across the border. Even though Modi’s recent statement only serves as an extension of his committed non-cooperation with Pakistan, such policies would not fare well even for his own country. It should be remembered that his previous crusade to isolate Pakistan globally has already brought about the cancellation of the annual SAARC summit as well as a devastating breakdown of soft diplomacy in the form of crossfire between the two film industries. India has even gone to the extent of abrogating the decades-old Indus Water Treaty in its nationalist frenzy to undermine Pakistan. Nonetheless, had India considered how it would manage to retain international investors that its leadership seems to be assiduously obsessed with amid security fears, it might have thought better than facilitating the already widened conflict. As for Pakistan, India’s blossoming relationship with the US president-elect, Donald trump as well its intent to carve out a synergy with China should ring alarms bells for its leadership. While the country would highly benefit from economic gains if regional peace ensued, it can definitely not afford to lose two of its strategic allies to India.
Obama left a legacy for which he will be remembered in the US and the world at large.
Obama had his drawbacks. Leading from behind, he imposed a war on Libya destabilising a prosperous and united country. His interference in Syria caused a bloody civil war that led to tens of thousands dead and millions displaced.
His positive domestic legacy includes Obamacare, rescue of the economy from the worst financial crisis where Bush had landed it and reduction in unemployment. Obama administration pioneered a historic deal with Iran that prevented the latter from acquiring nuclear weapons in return for an end to sanctions. He established diplomatic relations with Cuba after moiré than 50 years. Last month the US abstention from negative vote helped the UN to demand an end to Israeli settlements.
Over 16 million Americans benefited from Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA). Despite his having inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression, the economy witnessed a gradual improvement under him. Unemployment, which stood at 7.6 pc when he took over in 2009 and reached 10% in October 2009, was reduced to 4.6%.
It goes to Obama’s credit that he realised the urgency of measures to control the earth’s warming. At Paris led by the US over a hundred countries agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels: The steps Obama took at home included unprecedented investments in clean energy, the largest protections of public lands and waters in history, and the first-ever national carbon pollution standards for power plants.
It was unthinkable before 2008 that a black man with Hussain as part of his name could one day be elected the US President. The jubilations In Chicago’s Grant Park after he won on 4 November 2008 indicated that the elections had ushered in an era of hope and optimism and the entire America was united. Obama’s victory sent a positive signal to blacks and Muslims all over the world.
What happened after Trump‘s victory is the opposite. The US stands divided as never before. Instead of hope there is fear about the future. Trump has spread hatred against the migrants and the Muslims. His views regarding Israel, Iran and China can make ongoing disputes more complicated. His protectionist utterances like bidding farewell to international trade agreements and increasing duties on imports manifold could upset the economic system and reduce the volume of international trade. Trump has made fun of the climate change and has nominated an individual to the Environment Agency who has all along opposed Obama’s energy policy. In case he really pursues these policies, mankind would be living in a world more dangerous than before the 2016 US presidential elections
Strange case of lawmakers’ fake accounts
The great detective Sherlock Holmes would consider it quite a “three-pipe problem”
We are well accustomed to ghost-schools, ghost-teachers, ghost-pensioners and even ghostlier projects, but ethereal bank accounts still stretch the most credulous nature. So imagine the consternation and shock of prominent lawmakers Raza Rabbani, Khursheed Shah, Ayaz Sadiq, Aitzaz Ahsan and Maulana Fazl ur Rehman when informed of deposits and transactions of millions of Rupees in accounts bearing their names, about which they had not the slightest clue or connection. Financial bloodhounds of the State Bank and the Federal Investigation Agency have been unleashed to get to the bottom of the great hoax and its methodology, motives and ends. Character assassination, money laundering or terrorism, even?
Meticulous modern banking procedures make this swindle more bizarre and surreal. Opening an account is a severe and tedious process, involving an introduction, original CNIC, photograph, proof of profession or business, specimen signatures, and other verifications before the banker signs the application form. A landmark London High Court decision is a warning for all bankers everywhere, ‘the bank acted negligently as it was guilty of not taking reasonable precautions before opening the account’.
The case should not present too many difficulties for the investigators because the banker opening the account is directly responsible for any later fraud. Second, the transactions will have a documented money trail of the actual payer and payees, unlike another ongoing high-profile case which has confounded judges, lawyers and laymen alike.
Politicians are prone to making statements that are disconnected from reality. It is part and parcel of being a politician, they are expected to periodically make fools of themselves, and Pakistan People’s Party Co-Chair Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has just dived into the deep end of the foolery pool. He and his party are to ‘politically conquer’ Punjab, quoth he. Young Bilawal is of course entitled to his opinion as is anybody, but recent history indicates that any possibility of such an outcome to his newly-announced ‘mass contact’ campaign is suggestive of the unwise ingestion of hallucinogenic fungi.
Population-wise the province is larger than all other provinces put together and is firmly in the control of the Pakistan Muslim League — Nawaz (PML-N) and has been for many years. The PPP was roundly trounced in the 2013 elections winning 8 seats out of 371 in the Punjab assembly and was similarly laid low in the recent local bodies elections as well. More than one analyst has commented to the effect that the PPP of today was little more than a pressure group rather than a political party of note and weight. Predicting victory against odds like that is folly of the highest order.
The team that are to accomplish this feat — ‘saving Punjab’ though from what is unclear particularly as it leads the country developmentally and economically by some way — is aided by PPP Central Punjab President Qamar Zaman Kaira who maintains that the PPP will ‘thrash’ the PML-N in 2018. This is indicative of no more than he and his leader both eating out of the same bag of mushrooms. Reference is repeatedly made to the ‘four demands’ of the PPP which have connections to the Panama Papers affair and which the PML-N government can safely choose to ignore — and have. Claims that the PPP would have fared better in the last elections had they not been rigged are risible. If Bilawal is to make any inroad he needs dynastic surgery to separate himself from the dead weight of his father. The real struggle to come is for the heart of the party, not the conquest of Punjab.
Empowering the Rangers
It is reported that the Sindh government has decided to extend the special policing powers of the Rangers in Karachi for another 90 days. It is further reported that the senior leadership of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had directed Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah to make the three-month extension. The extension of powers under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 allows the Rangers to carry out raids and arrest suspects. The last extension expired on Monday 16th January, and the Sindh government had the choice of allowing it to remain lapsed or make an extension. It was correct to choose the latter.
Any ‘controversy’ around the extension of Rangers powers is largely manufactured. There have been disagreements between Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan and various members of the Sindh government over the role of the Rangers. Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah is said to have been displeased at raids on the offices of Anwar Majeed, a former close associate of former President Asif Ali Zardari which were timed to coincide with Mr Zardari’s return to Pakistan. Apart from documents the raids netted 17 Kalashnikovs, 4 pistols, 3,255 rounds of ammunition and 9 ball bombs.
The cleaning up of Karachi is no ordinary policing operation. The police forces are highly politicised and deeply corrupt. They are in the pockets of criminals and terrorists alike. The Rangers are not, and the renewal of their powers has proved to be effective in the past in reducing crime and incidents of terrorism, and will be effective into the future for as long as necessary. The renewal of Rangers powers should be a matter of routine rather than a political ping-pong match every quarter. There is criticism that the Rangers are heavy-handed, more so than the police and that may well be true — but then again urban warfare such as is being waged in the city was never going to be pretty or palatable. If the city is ever to be truly pacified, de-weaponised and de-criminalised then the Rangers are a vital tool in that process. No pain no gain goes the saying. Continue as before, gentlemen.
Improvement in economy
For a country that has been expected to be on the brink of failure, predictions that Pakistan may be the fastest growing economy in the Muslim world is good news. In the world in general, Pakistan is predicted to have fifth place, with India expected to be world number one followed by Vietnam.
In the past few months, Pakistan’s stock exchange has been on the rise, showing unprecedented growth and investor confidence. It is both important to be hopeful as well as tread with caution. All growth and economic success must also bring with it social change that ensures better standards of living for all.
As a society, we must continue to ask who the economy is growing for? Who does it benefit? If the benefit is only to a small minority and the right to housing, education and quality healthcare remain out of the reach of ordinary citizens, then this success will not be of much worth to most of our people.
If the numbers of beggars on the street or homeless people is any indication, then it does appear, from a general overview, that class barriers are worsening in Pakistan. Real estate prices have gone so high that it is becoming out of reach for even middle-income families to live within the cities.
Over the years we have seen signs of development with roads and bridges, but development that helps the majority and makes basic necessities within reach for all does not seem to be in sight.
Moreover, it is also important not to limit our comparisons to being the best in the Muslim world because shared majority religion and economic growth are two different things. The ‘Muslim world’ is not a unified block that can be compared, but a number of countries with different histories, politics and geographical locations. We hope that Pakistan continues to grow for the better not only when compared to countries that share a common religion but in Asia and beyond.
IN the Senate opposition’s rejection of a government-sponsored ordinance amending the NAB law, a host of issues appear to have become entangled. First, in disapproving of the hastily promulgated presidential ordinance merging the rules governing voluntary returns and plea bargains — and in doing so, making court permission mandatory before either option can be authorised by NAB — the opposition has sent yet another signal against the misuse of presidential ordinances. Presidential ordinances are a constitutional legislative mechanism designed to be used in exceptional circumstances when the normal, parliamentary legislative is not available. But as an opposition senator pointed out on Wednesday, the ordinance amending NAB was promulgated after the Senate session had already been convened. In essence, like all governments before it, the PML-N has found it legislatively convenient to rely on ordinances and only later turn to parliament to force through the existing law. The practice undermines parliament’s relevance, and surely prevents the strengthening of the democratic process and institutions. It should cease.
Second, the government’s approach to the issue of accountability. In the face of court pressure and public outrage, the government acted quickly to try and defuse some of the justified anger at the woeful state of accountability. But the government’s response also betrayed a willingness to only do the bare minimum. It is also reasonable to question if the Panama Papers hearings in the Supreme Court played a role: was the government only acting quickly on the NAB front because doing nothing on accountability would be politically damaging? In truth, it does not appear that the government takes the issue of accountability seriously at all. Had the government been serious, a review of the accountability laws would have been conducted expeditiously and parliament would have been tasked to overhaul the system. But three and a half years into the government’s term, an ad hoc approach still reigns.
Third, what should be the principles underpinning a new accountability regime? The voluntary settlement and plea bargaining system put an emphasis on recovery of ill-gotten wealth and assets — but they achieve little in terms of deterrence. Surely, if a senior public servant faces no mandatory minimum jail sentence, the temptation to indulge in corruption will remain high. After all, the end of employment with the state and returning only the assets the state is able to trace would be a reasonable risk for many to take. An effective accountability regime would emphasise both recovery and deterrence, and the latter is difficult to achieve without mandatory minimum sentences. A graduated approach could be put in place whereby petty corruption is treated differently to institutional corruption by the accountability system. Creating an effective and just accountability system is politically difficult and institutionally disruptive, but it is necessary if Pakistan is to become a modern, law-based state.
Killed for ‘honour’
ZEENAT Rafiq was one of around a thousand women murdered in the name of honour in Pakistan last year. In the vast majority of such cases, the wheels of justice do not merely turn slowly; they do not turn at all. In Zeenat’s case however, there has been a reckoning. An anti-terrorism court in Lahore on Monday sentenced her mother, Parveen Rafiq, to death and her brother to life imprisonment for murdering the 18-year-old on the pretext of honour. The young woman’s killing in June last year had repulsed the nation, not only for the gruesome manner in which it was carried out — Zeenat being doused with kerosene and set alight — but also because it was her own mother who had torched her and then reportedly exulted over her actions. Even for Pakistan, inured to the slaying of women by fathers, brothers, husbands and the occasional uncle or brother-in-law, maternal filicide is a bridge too far.
The back story was a familiar one: a woman marrying of her own free will and a family determined to mete out the ultimate punishment to her for having ‘shamed’ them. While this paper continues to oppose the death penalty, one must note that there has been accountability in Zeenat’s case. Most ‘honour’ killers go scot-free courtesy the legal loophole whereby families of victims can forgive the perpetrator, a particularly grotesque provision in the context of honour killings where the victim’s family and the perpetrator are often one and the same. However, that the accused in this instance have been punished owes more to the fact they were charged under the Anti Terrorism Act rather than the legal landscape for this terrible crime having changed significantly.
Although parliament in October 2016 enacted amendments to ostensibly strengthen the law against such murders, the legislation falls short on an important front by not making honour killings non-compoundable, that is, one in which a compromise cannot be effected. Instead, it does little more than prescribe imprisonment for life, ie 25 years, for those found guilty of the crime — and that too is subject to judicial discretion. That is not enough to serve the ends of justice, particularly given the problem has its roots in the society’s cultural mindset. These legal shortcomings should be addressed and police, prosecutors and judges trained to appreciate that so-called honour is never a mitigating factor in murder.
WITH half its adult population excluded altogether from the financial system, Pakistan is well positioned to reap the gains of financial inclusion. While the other half is served in some capacity or the other, only 16pc of the total is formally banked, meaning most of those using the banking system do so peripherally, such as presenting a cash cheque to collect payment. The National Financial Inclusion Strategy has made some gains through the use of mobile banking instruments, but much room for growth remains. Big push strategies are key to this, such as routing all government payments through mobile banking channels. The gains from a growing financial inclusion approach are innumerable, starting with documentation of small ticket transactions, but also for business ventures that are made possible, and the voluminous data that can be mined to fine-tune other policy measures.
One such step has just been taken in the form of a partnership between Nadra and Mastercard. The idea is to make every CNIC a potential payment portal, and use the CNIC number and Mastercard’s clearing system to vastly increase the potential population that can be targeted in further financial inclusion initiatives. The idea will take time to find traction, but it deserves sustained attention from all concerned, within Nadra and the State Bank to ensure that it eventually strikes roots. Nadra is an example of how large databases can be potential game changers enabling further business development. Their database has proved invaluable in promoting mobile communications as well as financial inclusion initiatives. Now it looks like the ground is being laid for a giant leap into a future where even international remittances can be sent electronically directly between sender and beneficiary. The potential of such partnerships is enormous. Innovative approaches such those being deployed in the financial inclusion efforts are the real unsung game changers that are currently being rolled out.
Reports of forced conversions of Muslims girls to Hinduism in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh paint a sorry picture of the state of religious freedom in India. A country that self-avowedly subscribes to the principles of a particular brand of secularism in which the state does not keep out of matters of faith but rather treats all faiths equally has failed to uphold its founding basis if forced conversions of the country’s religious minorities are carried out with impunity. Indeed there is a strong class factor to all of this as well as it is often the poor in the countryside who have to face such treatment; very few would dare to forcefully convert a family member of the rich and powerful. And it is also true that those belonging to underprivileged socioeconomic classes are less open to the idea of interfaith marriages or conversions, and hence in some cases an elopement may be passed by them as a forced conversion. However, even if forced conversions do not make up for the majority of the cases of religious conversions and marriages, they still merit the utmost condemnation and the state as well as the central government of India should be held accountable for it.
Religion is an important marker of identity in South Asia, both at the societal as well as the political level. Deeply ingrained in the psyche of the South Asian people, religion often lends sanction to anachronistic cultural practices as well as act as a major means of mobilisation. Religious sentiments often dominate judgment and perceived religious oppression or injustice can trigger fiery mobs that can fuel the conflagration of inter faith disputes and lead to bloodshed. Part of the reason behind the penchant of South Asian people to at times forsake the principles of tolerance in place of a vengeful brand of religious chauvinism is the history of colonialism particular to the region in which binary categories were created and then reified through the formal instruments of the colonial state. Marking the fields of struggle along religious lines by distributing resources and dispensing patronage, the colonial state laid the foundations of the “us” versus “them” mentality that pervades the psyche of a big part of the South Asian people.
Of course, this is not to say that the bigotry that is witnessed today is only to blame for the British policy of divide and rule. It has been 70 years since the British left South Asia, and the inability of the people of South Asia to transcend these categories points to an apathy on their part to be more inclusive and tolerant. This also not to paint the people of as big a region as South Asia with the same broad brush as of course there have been movements and attempts from within the region to shun bigotry. Right now, all eyes are India to see of it really would uphold the principles of inclusivity and religious freedoms that it so often claims to espouse in front of the international comity of nations.
Chief Executive Officer of eBay, has termed Pakistan among the fastest growing e-commerce markets in the world. In a Facebook Live session of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Devin Wenig was asked a question regarding his thoughts on Pakistan and emerging markets. “It’s the fastest growing markets we have around the world. Anywhere where wealth is growing, and technology is being adopted, e-commerce is being adopted like crazy,” said Wenig in his remarks also carried by a section of media here. The eBay CEO said that the perfect opportunity for e-commerce was in countries where people were growing in wealth and did not have access to goods. When asked as to why eBay was not in Pakistan, Devin Wenig said eBay did not have a local Pakistani version. However, there were customers shopping from the country on various eBay sites.
Last year Anusha Rehman, Minister of State of Information Technology and Telecommunication of Pakistan, had stated that Pakistan would soon invite the technology giants including eBay, Amazon, etc. to Pakistan, but no significant development has been madein this regard despite the passage of IT policy. On the flip side, this has resulted in a boom for the local startups to fill the gap of the ever growing e-commerce market. Following the auction of 3G/4G licenses in 2014, Internet penetration has increased manifolds, and the latest figures suggest that approximately 37 million people are using the services which are expected to grow further in coming years. With the expansion of internet user base came, the emerged the e-commerce market. Over the past few years, a positive trend has been seen in online shopping as other than the eBay and Amazon equivalent, many retail, as well as other brands, have been moving to online market. Many international trends including the Black Friday sales have made a mark in Pakistan and figures suggest a healthy growth in the industry.
While the growth of e-commerce is a positive sign, payment mechanisms remain a major hindrance for the entry of world e-commerce giants in Pakistan. Pakistan is a cash reliant country where the number of people using the banking channels for transactions remains low, and the operating e-commerce sites have been relying on cash-on-delivery as the primary source of sales. This is where both the private sector and the relevant government ministries come in to ensure the financial inclusion of people as well as securing the online payment methods.
The recent stats from the online shopping portals suggest a positive trend in the use of online transaction methods, and the international e-commerce giants will be monitoring the situation closely as Pakistan is one of the fastest growing markets with a healthy spending power. Therefore, steps need to be taken to expand the financial inclusion of people not only through conventional banking but other mechanisms including mobile wallets, branchless banking, etc.
Afghan peace process
Pakistan military establishment has reaffirmed its commitment to the Afghan peace process, emphasising an Afghan-led and owned reconciliation process. During a meeting with US Central Command Chief General Joseph Votel at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa also called for an end to the blame game in the wake of rhetoric used by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accusing Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban.
Pakistan claims that it supports peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government and it is ready to play its role for the establishment of peace in Afghanistan. The commitment shown by the Pakistan army is commendable but in practice there are some alleged ambiguities in the policy. There are allegations that Pakistan has not cut covert ties to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network. Regarding Pakistan’s role in convincing the Taliban to come to the negotiating table, the UN is wary of Pakistan’s dual policies. It is reluctant to trust Pakistan due to its security agencies’ alleged involvement in Afghanistan and their links with the Afghan Taliban. There are accusations that the security agencies are continuing to use the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network as strategic assets.
No doubt the peace process is fraught with many problems and challenges. There are reports of divisions among the Taliban while insurgent attacks are increasing in Afghanistan. There are concerns about the ability of Pakistan to convince the Taliban to come to the negotiations table. The situation is heading towards more chaos as fighting is raging in Afghanistan. In this situation, Pakistan cannot be immune to this civil strife in its neighbouring country. Wisdom demands that Pakistan should get rid of its dual policy towards the Taliban and convince them to hold talks with the Afghan government. There is a need to find a political settlement to the present stalemate between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The revival of Afghan peace talks is the only way out for Afghanistan to achieve lasting peace and stability. A peaceful Afghanistan will ensure stability in its neighbouring states, primarily Pakistan. Pakistan needs to play its active role in convincing the Taliban to come to the peace table and if they are divided it will be a little bit tougher, but the peace process must be persisted with. Pakistan should adopt a consistent policy and avoid a contradictory role that could prove a failure in the end. If Pakistan wants to win the NATO’s trust, it has to completely abandon its support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network’s continuing to fight and nudge them towards negotiations. This is the only solution for bringing a lasting peace in the region.
Nawaz Sharif has traveled to Davos to meet world leaders on the sidelines of the WEF. He is particularly keen to meet the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to bring to his notice the critical situation in India-held Kashmir. Two more Pakistanis have meanwhile shared their views with the participants at the Forum. Former COAS Raheel Sharif who spoke on Tuesday underlined the need for worldwide intelligence sharing to combat terrorism. Oskar winning Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who has been acclaimed for her documentaries, spoke about her work and its impact on the world along with India’s Karan Johar.
The dominating theme at the Forum this year was the rising inequality that has led to the emergence of right wing radicalism withpopulist leaders threatening international economic order and liberal democracy. The rise of Donald Trump, the vote for Brexit and the radical wave sweeping Western Europe have aroused worldwide concern. The theme chosen of the Forum this year was“Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” Prof Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF had underlined a week earlier that no sustainable growth is possible without social progress and social responsibility. An Oxfam report published on the eve of the annual meeting of WEF underlined the theme. Eight super rich persons, it maintained, owned more than the poorest half the world.
Rejecting Trump’s protectionist views, Chinese President Xi made it clear in his address that no one will emerge a winner in a trade war. He also underlined the danger of Trump’s belittling of environmental concerns. Echoing President Xi, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry said trade is not to blame for job losses.
There is a need on the part of the managers of Pakistan’s economy to see the writing on the wall. Pakistan too could be overtaken by a radicalist upsurge if the leaders of the mainstream parties were seen to be taking away billions from Pakistan and hoarding them in foreign banks or investing them in real estate or other businesses abroad in foreign countries caring little for millions of Pakistanisliving under the poverty line.
The opposition is right
Government lethargic regarding judicial reforms under National Action Plan
When the 21st Amendment was passed in January 2015, providing a constitutional umbrella to military courts, parliamentarians were generally averse to the idea. But the December 2016 terrorist attack on Peshawar Army Public School forced their hand, albeit with the provision of the two year sunset clause. Central to this arrangement was the government pledge to reform the criminal justice system and strict implementation of the 20-point National Action Plan.
At a Parliamentary Panel meeting on Tuesday on the future of the military courts, whose tenure ended on January 7, the opposition protested that the PML-N had done nothing meaningful on national security. The government was being non-serious and the glaring absence of the Interior Minister from the meeting was the proof. It must be said that the deliberations should have started much before the known cut-off date, with the Prime Minister and the Interior Minister attending. The military courts will now remain in a state of limbo indefinitely.
Gen. (ret) Raheel Sharif has spoken emphatically in favour of military courts, calling them need of the hour and helpful in Pakistan’s war on terror. The conviction rate of military courts speaks for itself: 96.4 percent, as compared to the civilian Anti Terrorist Courts’ rate of 37 percent in KP, 21 percent in Punjab, 9 percent in Sindh and 7 percent in Balochistan. But questions of due process, fair trial or ‘condemned unheard’, always persist in case of military courts. Many of their decisions have also been stayed by the High Courts.
The government needs to confront terrorism with clarity and vigour in broad consensus with the opposition. Bold implementation of all the 20 points of the NAP, creating specialised rapid response forces to tackle the sophisticated tactics of terrorists, carefully monitoring seminaries, ensuring regular meetings of the Joint Investigation Directorate, plugging the legal loopholes, competent prosecution, witness protection programme, security of presiding judges, scientific collection of evidence and forensic laboratories to analyse it, are all essential tools against terrorism. But time is fleeting.
A rare window on the military mind has been provided by former Chief of Army Staff General (retd) Raheel Sharif speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday 17th January. This is a prestigious platform and the General was part of a panel discussion titled ‘Terrorism in the modern age’ at which participants acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism. There is indeed much to laud in the efforts of the army to roll back what could have become an existential threat — but there was an undercurrent to what the general had to say that bears closer inspection.
General (retd) Sharif spoke of the success of the military courts as a tool to combat terrorism — failing to mention that the courts were not transparent, never open to public scrutiny and delivered their verdicts anonymously. The government is currently mulling whether to extend the life of the military courts their mandate having expired on 7thJanuary. It will be recalled that the courts were established to give the government time to enact revisions in the justice system — which it has not done — and now the state hovers between opaque military courts and a justice system that all sides admit to be flawed.
The hole in the General’s argument that ‘unusual times require unusual arrangements’ and that human rights and freedom of speech can be an impediment to the fight against extremism, is that a balance must be struck between civil and military needs and that those freedoms of expression and human rights are at the core of state values and must not be eroded whatever the supposed justification. Once lost they are difficult to regain, their dilution is to the detriment of wider society and the integrity of the state and if necessity does require a suspension of those rights then it must be temporary. Very temporary. The General (retd) is entitled to his views and their robust expression and we entirely support his purely military perspective in a long, complicated and costly battle. That said there must be no surrender of the fundamentals of mature statehood, and military imperatives are not the only paradigm in play.
Ethics has never been a strong suit of Pakistani institutions, be it education, medicine, business or government, despite the morals on which this country was founded. The stent scandal coming out of Punjab in which government hospitals are suspected of foul play is unsurprising but disappointing. Well-reputed hospitals have allegedly been overcharging patients and executing the procedure when not medically necessary. The most obnoxious of these reports, however, was that patients were charged for angioplasty procedures without ever going under the knife or using modern techniques. It is outrageous that those individuals wielding such power were given an opportunity to exploit patients and their families.
It would not be an extreme measure to suspend or strip certain actors involved in this scandal of their licences and titles. Limits have been crossed when precarious conditions of patients are mocked and manipulated for somebody’s financial benefit. Given that this was happening under the nose of government officials as the alleged wrongdoing was being carried out at government hospitals, it is curious that the Punjab government was slow to respond, fittingly after which the Supreme Court took suo-motu action and requested the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to deliver a comprehensive report. Ethics training needs to be extended to pharmaceutical companies, which are superfluous in offering kickbacks to physicians to promote their brands, surmounting to a multimillion dollar industry. That representatives from pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies are allowed anywhere near patients in life and death situations reeks of immorality. A system of checks and balances must be extended to all government and private hospitals nationwide with patient testimonies. The FIA and the Supreme Court have a critical responsibility of taking those involved to task so as to help citizens start rebuilding trust in professionals responsible for their lives.
ANOTHER plan has been approved to get the ill-fated steel mill out of government hands. This time, the Privatisation Commission board has agreed to a proposal to lease out the mill for a period of 30 years to any interested party. If successful, and that is a big if, the proposal might yet see the realisation of a dream that is more than a decade old already: the handing over of the steel mill to an operator more suitable to manage it efficiently than the government of Pakistan. This would be a step forward. Ever since the Supreme Court killed the privatisation of the mill in its famously controversial judgement of 2005, the mill has been struggling. Today, it has accumulated losses close to Rs166 billion, as well as untold billions invested in the myriad ‘rescue packages’ that have been necessary over the years to meet its running expenses and ‘replacement imports’. Meanwhile, its output has floundered and one plan after another for its revival has been dead on arrival. The latest one, which involved handing it over to the Sindh government, seems to have died a natural death after the provincial government’s conspicuous lack of enthusiasm.
The real cost of that controversial judgment in 2005 will be tallied up by future historians. For now, it’s enough to say that it runs into billions of dollars. For a government that has twice approached the IMF for a bailout due to dwindling foreign exchange reserves since 2005, this is clearly an unacceptable cost. Multiple governments have made the effort to try and revive the mill through their own efforts, but have failed. By now, it ought to be abundantly clear to everyone that there are very few options left. Holding on to the mill is prohibitively expensive for a cash-strapped government, and seeking its revival as a public entity is something everyone has failed at. So if privatisation has become too controversial due to the politics of our time, perhaps the proposal just floated by the commission is worthy of consideration. The conditions attached to the proposal are stringent. The interested party would not be allowed to sell the mill, its assets or its land. They will have to invest their own money for plant upgradation. The accumulated losses will have to be cleared by the government. But if the investor can turn the entity around, then the proposal deserves to be given serious thought.
Dr Arif’s persecution
THE farce that is the ‘case’ against Dr Hasan Zafar Arif is being taken to ever more dangerous extremes. The elderly, retired philosophy professor, who suffers from a heart condition, is to stand trial for the ‘crime’ of having facilitated and listened to hate speech — a reference to the incendiary address delivered last July by Altaf Hussain, whose party he joined but recently. Dr Arif’s ordeal began in October when he was arrested by the Sindh Rangers along with another member of MQM-London from outside the Karachi Press Club where they were to address a news conference. First, he was detained in Central Jail for two months under the oppressive, colonial-era Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance and subsequently remanded to prison by an antiterrorism court on charges registered under sections of the penal code that included, among others, those pertaining to promoting enmity between different groups and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, as well as Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Last Wednesday, the administrative judge of the ATCs sent his case for trial.
The state is courting ridicule by proceeding in this manner against a renowned educationist with several achievements — both national and international — to his credit. Amnesty International has launched an appeal for action pointing out the multiple violations of Dr Arif’s rights to due process and proper medical care, and urging Pakistan’s civilian leadership to address these concerns. As anyone who is aware will vouch, the life of this scholar has always been animated by progressive ideals, in support of causes that have earlier put him in the cross hairs of dictatorial regimes. To accuse him of furthering the cause of terrorism only exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of the forces that have, for some time now, resorted to political victimisation on the pretext of tackling crime and fighting terrorism. The truth is that whether or not one agrees with his politics, Dr Arif is a prisoner of conscience whose only ‘crime’ is that he belongs to the MQM’s London-based faction.
Suo motu on stents
WITH the number of people fitted with coronary stents growing at a very rapid pace, the Supreme Court now wants to know how many patients have actually needed the medical device. The court has asked the FIA for an investigation. Besides wanting to ascertain if a stent implant was necessary or even carried out, another concern of the chief justice is to find out if the patients were charged an ‘exorbitant’ price. Some other questions that need answers relate to the quality and efficacy of the devices as well as the level of awareness regarding the procedure among the attendants. Media reports indicate that patients and their attendants are often in the dark about what a stent implant entails, and may end up being swindled by a greedy medical enterprise that preys on the sick.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was recently told that hospitals in his province were using unregistered coronary stents — despite the existence of DRAP, the drug regulatory authority. It is a shocking piece of information since the general public appears to think that at least this is an area that is being closely watched given the sensitivity of the life-saving ‘business’ — or families might be too worried about patients to ask too many questions about routine procedures and devices that are used to save lives. Indeed, it is quite likely that a majority of cardiac patients would be at risk without the insertion of a stent, and are, in fact, being given the right medical advice by expert doctors. But then, if there is any unusual medical procedure taking place in their vicinity, doctors, especially the specialists among them, have a duty to report it and to help stop it before it becomes a regular practice. Now the reports, even without being backed by FIA findings, threaten to bring stent implantation into disrepute, opening the floodgates to yet more criticism that could condemn the entire healthcare system of the country.
It is said that the big hospitals in the more privileged and supposedly more secure Lahore — Mayo, PIC, et al — have all been getting their supplies of unregistered coronary stents. They will now be under probe by the FIA amidst fears that matters could be worse in smaller towns, given that ‘stenting’, as it is sometimes called, has emerged as a safe, routine procedure to treat coronary blockages. The fact that healthcare in the country needs constant monitoring by the authorities cannot be emphasised enough. Indeed, it would seem that, in a variety of illnesses, even well-qualified doctors are capable of acting as quacks and are not averse to prescribing expensive drugs and procedures that may not be needed — all this in order to make extra money. Unless there is greater vigilance and suitable penalty for those who play with their patients’ health, such unethical practices will not stop.
The US-based World Kashmir Awareness organisation has expressed the hope that the future United States President Donald Trump would help resolve long-standing Kashmir dispute to establish durable peace in the region. The organisation’s Secretary General Dr Ghulam Nabi Fai, in a statement addressing the president-elect, said he hoped that he would help mediate on the issue to get the Kashmiris their right to self-determination. Referring to Trump’s promise during his election campaign to help resolve the Kashmir issue, Fai said the sentiments expressed by him was both humane and pragmatic and should get bipartisan support. “We believe that your desire to mediate and bring the parties together is extremely valuable right now,” he said and added that the Kashmiris do not visualise a settlement that would be unrealistic. “But we do ask for a solution that would be in accordance with the wishes of 20 million people of the state, impartially ascertained.
Dr Fai said that the outgoing President Barack Obama had also promised to help resolve this issue when he took over the presidency in 2008 but did nothing substantial or noteworthy to follow through after he assumed his role. The current US policy towards India has led the Indian government to believe that all it needs is some political maneuvering to dissipate foreign concern over the appalling situation in Occupied Kashmir.
The resolution of Kashmir dispute is necessary not only for the peace and security of South Asia but also the peace, security and stability of the entire region, including Afghanistan. Kashmiris have been living under strenuous conditions for the past six and a half decades, and deserve their right to self-determination. President-elect Trump had signalled his intention towards resolving the issue in his pre-election campaign, but the words hold little value as the outgoing President Barack Obama had also promised to assist in resolving the issue when he took over the presidency in 2008 but did little to follow through after he assumed his role.
The recent spike of protests following the killing of Burhan Wani last year was widely covered by the international human rights organisations, but the power capitals made little to no effort to force India to come to the table to resolve the decades-old issue. The issue was hardly discussed at the previous annual United Nations General Assembly session, where despite Pakistan’s aggressive diplomatic efforts, the outgoing UN Secretary General had refrained from mentioning the issue in his address.
Whether Trump will be able to convince the concerned parties to find a solution to the issue is to be seen, but Kashmiri rights organisations have pinned high hopes on Trump’s ability to strike deals. Whether that experience translates into something substantial, only time will tell.
The peace in the region is of extreme importance as without resolving the issue theregion will stay exposed to the danger of a nuclear war. Therefore, it is utmost necessary to bring Pakistan, India as well as the rightful leadership of Jammu and Kashmir to find a solution for the elusive peace in the region.
Petrol prices hiked
Prices for petrol and high-speed diesel have been increased byRs 1.77 per litre and Rs 2 per litre by the government. This rise reflects the general upwards trend of the global prices for crude oil and petroleum products. The primary reason for this increase is that an agreement has been reached between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) - the international cartel of oil producing countries including Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia etc and non-OPEC countries such as Russia to keep a maximum bar at the amount of production of oil. This will keep the supply of oil in the market restricted which would increase the overall price of crude oil in the international market.
Domestically, Pakistan has been reaping the benefits of the low crude oil price in various ways. Firstly, it has freed up a great chunk of its annual budget, which previously was used up for paying for its oil imports, to stick to and fulfil the conditions of the IMF’s loan program. The inflation level was kept down for almost all of the goods sold within the domestic market barring some exceptions for which other factors had come into play. The benefit of low prices was also partially passed down to the consumers who experienced relief with regards to fuel prices. Suffice to say, the low oil prices proved quite useful for Pakistan’s economy.
However, the question whether Pakistan’s economy can fend off any future upwards volatility in the oil prices needs further probing into. It is essential that Pakistan’s economy develops enough resilience to the prices in the international oil market, even though the forecasts of the international oil market indicate that the price of crude oil and petroleum products will remain low for the foreseeable future. The reason being the same as the one that caused the crash in oil prices previously i.e. the abundance of oil supply in the international market.
A couple of years ago, the US had jacked up domestic production of crude oil, revolutionized from the process of fracking, in order to decrease its reliance on oil imports. The OPEC, alongwith the major non-OPEC oil producers such as Russia, refused to lessen their production in fears of losing their market share bringing the prices down.
With the aforesaid new agreement in place, the prices will start to crawl up in the international market temporarily. Because the higher prices will induce the fracking industry within the US, which was sitting idly by due to the lessened demand, to start its oil production again and make profit, thereby increasing the oil supply in the market. With this forecast, Pakistan can expect to stay comfortable. However, for a long-term approach, depending upon the low oil prices is a riskier option than to invest in domestic supply of energy, renewable and otherwise, to marginalize dependency on oil imports.
On 15th of May of the year 2016, Germany ran entirely on renewable energy, shedding its dependency on oil imports for its energy demands; and, providing a roadmap for countries unable to meet their energy demands domestically. Can the concerned quarters take heed?
Oil price hike, gas and power shortages and PML-N’s campaign power base
For Punjab, this is the annual season of scarcity. Water level in the limited reservoirs is at its lowest ebb, causing a decrease in hydel production and ensuring that load shedding persists even in winter. Domestically produced gas, whose reserves we have frittered away within decades, is also a major headache, as people turn to heat energy appliances, raising demand. To make matters worse for consumers, the government has chosen this testing time to hike the prices of some petroleum products. Such increases, even nominal, provide an excuse to businesses to jack up prices universally, from transport to tomatoes. It definitely raises the bread-basket higher and creates shortage of commodities through hoarding.
The most annoying part is that this shortage pattern goes on year after year, with nothing to show for it but broken promises and false hopes. And it spawns another dangerous paucity, that of patience in people whose daily life has been turned upside down. The gas shortage is especially depressing, as the process of cooking timely meals for the family is severely disrupted. The government has diverted gas to irate domestic consumers at the expense of industry, but also affecting some power plants leading to a 600 mega watt cut in production. But the gas pressure is still insufficient for domestic needs of five million consumers of Punjab and KP.
This should ring warning bells for the ruling PML-N. It had itself politicised such shortages when in the opposition, making tall promises of ending load shedding in six months, which never materialised, apart from other public theatrics. But its lack of concerted and vigorous energy policies, its indecisive nature, and its warped sense of priorities, made change impossible. Both the PPP and the PTI are exploiting the petrol and high speed diesel hike for gleeful government-bashing, and with the country’s longest election campaign under way, the situation bodes ill for the PML-N in its Punjab fiefdom and stronghold, which is under siege by Imran Khan.
Relations with Afghanistan
Slow and steady
Afghanistan is ill-equipped to cope with the unending acts of terrorism for both internal and external reasons. The Afghan government and society are badly polarised. Within the Afghan government there are sharp differences between President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. The government’s writ does not extend to vast swathes of the country where ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban and TTP have set up headquarters. The country is divided on ethnic and sectarian lines. There are deep differences over attitude towards the Taliban with an advisor to the High Peace Council calling them “a sacred group” and Abdullah Abdullah demanding that the network be crushed. There are divisions over policy towards the US, Russia and Pakistan. The number of US troops in Afghanistan has meanwhile shrunk and there is uncertainty about the policy the Trump administration is going to follow.
It was an appropriate move on the part of COAS Bajwa to talk to President Ghani on the phone a second time. It goes to Gen Bajwa’s credit that he held out a hand of friendship despite accusations by Afghan officials that Pakistan was behind the terrorist attacks leading to anti-Pakistan protests outside its embassy in Kabul and in Herat.
It is in Pakistan’s national interest to do the maximum within its power to help bring peace to the neighbouring country. As long as Afghanistan remains destabilised terrorists will continue to use its soil as a spring board to launch attacks inside Pakistan. Pakistan’s strategic interests demand that the Afghan border remains a source of satisfaction to it. Pakistan needs friendly relations with Kabul to be able to benefit to the maximum from TAPI and CASA-1000 and expand its trade with Central Asia. It is necessary for Pakistan to cultivate good relations with Afghanistan irrespective of the blame game from the other side which is unlikely to stop anytime soon. All the more so in view of the polarisation in the neighbouring country where one side is bound to oppose relations with Pakistan when the other wants conciliation and cooperation.