Had it been an ideal world, even the unfortunate yet expected losses of soldiers fighting on borders would not have occurred. However, when the horrors of terrorism are unleashed upon innocent civilians going about their business, far removed from the battlefield, the uncalled war zone that ensues amid screams and panic cannot and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. The fear and chaos that seem to have completely engulfed the country after yet another blast in Lahore’s shopping district killed at least nine people, wounding many more, on Thursday, serve as an uncomfortable reminder that terrorism can strike anywhere and anyone. With all politicisation of this national tragedy aside, the authorities could have played a more meaningful role in standing by the bereaved families and the injured as they braved their loss and shock. However, as before, the attack only served to put the indifferent officials back into a defensive mode; wading controversial statements in a futile attempt to save their own skin.
The conflicting reports that originally downplayed the blast as a mere “generator explosion”, only to later confirm the presence of an explosive device (that, too, by the CTD spokespersons) clearly validated the government’s resolve to at least paint an illusion of normalcy before the public even when the reality says otherwise. It is quite unfortunate that the present circumstances expose our vulnerability to the fast-increasing influence of militant outfits despite much-touted governmental claims of having the terrorists on the run. The ever-wider reach of these terrorist groups has claimed more than 100 lives in a series of suicide bomb attacks across Pakistan. Last week, an alleged supporter of the Islamic State struck a crowd of Sufi dancers at the shrine of Sehwan Sharif, claiming at least 90 lives. This attack on the country’s moderate voices occurred only days after a suicide attack near the provincial assembly in Lahore killed over 10 people that included two senior police figures in Punjab. The blood tapestry adorning the walls in all provinces and even the tribal agencies in the last few weeks has, thus, exposed as hollow all claims of establishing order and “breaking the back” of terrorists in Pakistan.
It is not to say that the civilian and the military leadership are sitting idle as terrorist organisations continue to satiate their civilian bloodlust in order to test the state’s resolve. An extensive counter-terrorism crackdown, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, has already been initiated by the armed forces across the country while yesterday’s blast saw the provincial law enforcement personnel evacuate the site of the explosion for further forensic investigation. Nevertheless, much more still needs to be done if the authorities actually aspire to undermine this ever-intensifying threat that has already thrown down many horrific gauntlets to the Sharif administration. In lieu of playing the old blame game, it is high time that all political elite gather to carve out a combined line of action against militant violence in the country. Given that the law agencies failed to prevent losses of precious human lives despite having received various bomb threats in the same market, Pakistani intelligence community, as well as police officials, also need to gear up to better anticipate such eventualities in order to take stronger preventive measures.
Stranded roads sans any usual roar of traffic, petrified families confined inside the so-called refuge of their homes, and the rumoured cancellation of numerous events in the local circuit, the militants have definitely stridden, if not succeeded, towards proliferating fear amongst the masses. Even if the government is not blamed for its lack of security provision to citizenry today, it would not be able to enjoy this immunity for long. In conjunction with the military-led operation, it should also work towards establishing more efficient civilian structures. Failure to do so would only highlight it as a fundamentally weak state, both in the eyes of militants and the general public.
Worldwide, human trafficking has become grave menace that is responsible for tearing apart individuals and their loved ones who are either forced to leave or are duped by traffickers for better economic prosperity. In Pakistan, such kind of trafficking has become a great scourge on which no concrete action has been taken by the concerned authorities, apart from those highlighted in the electronic media.
Women, children and young men are trafficked within and outside the country for beggary, forced labour and even prostitution in some cases. Certain traffickers seek hefty amount for false sense of security and impoverished families readily comply without any hesitation just for the sake potentially better employment opportunities.
The shrewdness of these traffickers is no less than a trap with bleak chances of escaping. It’s a complete money-making business with no regard of human lives. Those under forced labour or beggary have no monetary means to survive on their own with their travel documentation (if any) being taken away. The harsh conditions in which they live already stresses them out and they may not survive for long enough. On the other hand, those under forced prostitution are kept in solitary confinement and are abused on almost daily basis, an extremely cruel act to be precise.
For external trafficking, both illegal and official crossing points on Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran border are utilised. Once the points are crossed, people are purely at the mercy of the traffickers who may send them to any destination of their own choice whether by hook or crook. Popular destinations include Gulf countries and Turkey from where the trafficked individuals are further sent to Europe via Greece. The path is already risky and dangerous with some people potentially being killed due to suffocation or lack of adequate food if they were hidden in goods trucks.
The border regions are already porous with no concrete or rigid mechanism in place to check every single point. Although law enforcement agencies have tried containing trafficking measures, the efforts have largely remained futile given the number of illegal crossers. A core reason for the failure is corrupt practices taking place along the border areas where certain smugglers have a considerable amount of influence. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has claimed to nab numerous human smugglers in the past few years but the business is still thriving. Effective measures must be adopted for mass-scale combing operations against such kind of illegal activities.
Furthermore, those who would rather wish to go abroad by any means necessary must be provided with ample employment opportunities to make them stand on their feet. The European Refugee Crisis from 2015/2016 should remind traffickers that only misery lies ahead if they play with the lives of innocent people. Hence, awareness advertisements and seminars on the plights of human trafficking must be initiated at state-level for securing the lives of our future generations.
In recently released guidelines from the IMF headquarters in Washington, the lending agency has iterated the need for establishing a policy framework and environment to promote financial stability and sound development of Islamic banking. The guidelines noted that it is especially important to develop such a framework in the countries where Islamic banking has become systemically important. In its first executive discussion on the Islamic banking, the IMF noted Islamic banking continues to grow rapidly, in size and complexity, contributing to financial deepening and inclusion in many countries but this growth also poses a challenge to supervisory authorities and central banks.
While accounting for a small share of global financial assets, Islamic banking has established a presence in more than 60 countries and has become systemically important in 14 jurisdictions. Islamic banking involves operations, balance sheet structures, and risks that differ from their conventional banking counterparts. The IMF executive directors concurred that Islamic banking presents an opportunity for many member countries to enhance financial intermediation and inclusion and mobilise funding for economic development.
Although Pakistan finished the International Monterey Fund’s (IMF) loan programme last year, there are still numerous reforms that need to be undertaken to improve the economy of Pakistan. Other than asking Pakistan to privatise the loss-making public entities as well as governance reforms, the financial inclusion has also been one of the major recommendations of the global lender.
Pakistan has been trying to increase the financial inclusion of people, which is a major step in documenting the economy. A major hindrance towards the adoption of the system has been the interest based system. For that purpose, the Islamic banking is an excellent alternative and government should make efforts its adoption. In recent years, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has made efforts for the promotion of Islamic banking, but no real effort has been made by the private sector and the government. The growth of Islamic banking and its complexities pose new challenges and unique risks for regulatory and supervisory authorities. Against this background, IMF has proposed support for staff’s proposed approach to developing and providing policy advice on Islamic banking-related issues in the context of fund surveillance, programme design, and capacity development activities.
The IMF has the necessary experience for the promotion of Islamic finance and both SBP and IMF should work together for this purpose as the agency has been providing technical advice to member countries on Islamic banking issues for the past 20 years and has been cooperating with relevant standards setters and international organisations on efforts to develop supplementary standards for Islamic banking in areas that are not covered by existing international standards.
Political exigencies stood in the way of the PML-N government when it came to implementing the most vital points of the National Action Plan (NAP). Banned outfits were not stopped from operating under different names and seminaries were not registered and regulated as the government did not want to alienate religious parties. This provided an opportunity to terrorist networks to regroup and initiate a fresh offensive. A day after the launch of the army’s ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasad’ across the country, Lahore reeled under a second blast which killed at least nine. The Operation which is billed as a continuation of the NAP is therefore timely.
It is encouraging that the Pakistan army, navy, air force, and various security and law enforcing agencies are to actively participate in and ‘intimately support’ the armed forces’ efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism . The navy will be of use in the coastal areas while the air force and army would be needed to eliminate terrorists that might still be hiding in mountainous areas or concentrating themselves in places.
The most crucial fight against terrorism however is to be fought in the realm of thinking. The battle here cannot be won with the help of troops and weapons but through education and propaganda. Unless the extremist mindset is replaced by a tolerant worldview, the terrorist networks will continue to get fresh recruits from both seminaries and English medium schools. Extremism expresses itself in hatred against religions and sects other than one’s own and in considering individuals, groups or countries one differs with as enemies. To make society tolerant, bold action has to be taken against seminaries preaching sectarian or religious hatred. Also to thoroughly revise the curriculum taught in mainstream schools. Had the NAP been fully implemented a beginning would have been made in the direction.
Intelligence agencies will have to play the most crucial role in dismantling terrorism. NACTA, which has been neglected too long, needs to be urgently activated. It must be able to penetrate the terrorist networks to get actionable information to stop the terrorist attacks before they take place.
Confused, compromised and incompetent
Regulatory authorities in Pakistan have remained in the news for all the wrong reasons these past few weeks. The Supreme Court (SC) bench hearing the Panama Case gave a dressing down to both the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) chairman for not doing their job and complained that as a result they had to do it for them while neglecting other cases.
The NAB chairman in particular was grilled about his remarks that he was – much to the frustration of the bench – only answerable to “the regulators”. He maintained that the ‘law’ was his regulator to which the judges correctly pointed out that the law he was so confidently referring to expressly directed him to initiate an investigation. The chairman’s line of argument hence brings into question the independence of the institution he heads.
NAB has previously been criticised for doing too much pursuing minor cases in the presence of mega corruption cases that are it simply ignored. Similarly the FBR is unable to tax the wealthiest top tier and mid range tax evaders – traders dealing in cash only for example – instead resorts to mounting new indirect taxes on existing payers to meet its targets. More often than not these regulatory bodies amongst others are used as a tool for political victimisation as well.
The Lahore High Court (LHC) is correct in suspending a notification placing various regulatory bodies under ministries control stating that the federal cabinet had not taken approval from the Council of Common Interests (CCI) nor had it addressed the concerns of both the KP and Sindh provincial governments.
The separation between ministries and their respective regulators is essential for checks and balances. Unless corrupt elements that are present within regulatory bodies are not replaced with honest professional people to run them accountability will be delayed, unfair and in most cases nonexistent making it necessary for the courts to step in.
Hours after an explosion at an under-construction building in Lahore’s Defence ‘Y’ block there is still little that is certain. The number of dead is reported as 8 or 9, the number of injured as 21 — or 35. There have from the outset been conflicting reports as to the nature of the blast with the Punjab government Tweeting that it was caused by a generator explosion — contradicted both by the posting on social media of pictures of an unexploded generator at the site as well as a spokesman for the Punjab Police who said the explosion was caused by a bomb. By early evening there had been no claim of the blast by any group. In previous recent incidents there have been rapid claims by those saying they were responsible. Rumour was quickly rife, the most irresponsible of which was that there had been a second explosion in Gulberg. There had not and the rumour died away in late afternoon — but not until it had been widely reported across a range of media.
There was uncertainty even in the Punjab Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) which said that the blast…‘seems to have been made by some sort of explosive.’ The CTD went on to detail its uncertainty saying that it could have been caused by an IED activated by a timer, or a remotely activated device or a device that went off ‘in transit’. Thus far there have been no suggestions that it was a suicide bombing.
Presumably all this will be clarified in due course as the forensic teams comb the rubble, but as an exercise in how not to manage information in an event such as this we have before us a textbook example. Sections of the media did nobody any favours by airing and posting unverified and incorrect information and reports (the print media managed to avoid that pitfall in their online editions) and as darkness fell we were little the wiser. It is to be hoped that wisdom will blossom on Friday.
Waiting for Panama
Lawyers for the accusers and the accused in the Panama Papers case have now staggered over the finishing line and the Supreme Court on Wednesday decided that it was going to reserve its verdict. All concerned may now be in for a long wait as 26,000 pages of material — not all of it by any means to be regarded as ‘evidence’ in purely legal terms — is to be considered by the Honourable Justices. A short order, they say, was not appropriate in this case. A range of petitions against the Sharif family are at issue, and the attempt to unseat the PM by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf appears to have foundered on a paper reef of its own making. The Honourable justices have expressed their frustration at the twists and turns the case has taken with both sides introducing contradictory material, and any clarity as to proceedings was long lost. Much has been made of the inability to prove one way or another who was the owner of four flats in London, though a consultation of the UK Land Registry would have solved the matter in hours. The authenticity of documents have been questioned as has the veracity of various signatures. Virtually every page submitted by both sides. Both sides have said that if the case is found against them then there is something wrong, indeed broken, within the justice system.
At bottom the PTI was unable to deliver a knockout blow to the PM. Much of very considerable interest regarding the turbid and opaque financial affairs of the Sharifs has been exposed. None of this is enough to take down a sitting PM with a substantial parliamentary majority. The entire exercise may be seen as misplaced political vanity on the part of the PTI leader, who’s dogged flogging of the deadest of horses took him nowhere. The PM will survive, corruption within governance remains as it ever was and innumerable lawyers got considerably richer. And the winner was? Certainly not the people of Pakistan as they sit down to begin The Panama Wait.
Hindu marriage bill passed
It is a cause of much celebration that the Hindu marriage bill has been passed by the Senate and will soon become law. The rights granted in the bill should have always existed as opposed to being granted after a long-drawn struggle, but although it comes very late it is a most welcome achievement.
It has long been argued that the Constitution caters to all religions and has scope to accommodate to the needs and laws of different religious groups. But it clearly does not. In fact, Pakistan state and society points to anything but an equal space for all and there is widespread institutional discrimination against religious minorities, the impact of which can be seen all over and around Pakistan.
This particular bill be the first personal law for Hindus in Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, as Sindh has already formulated its own Hindu marriage law. A document named ‘Shadi Parath’, which will be similar to a Nikahnama for Muslims, will be signed by a pundit and registered with the relevant government department, finally getting rid of the absurdity that Hindu marriages are not recognised in Pakistan.
The bill is also most necessary in the wake of countless documented and undocumented cases of forced conversions and forced marriages. Too many girls and women have suffered in Pakistan on account of being abducted and forced to convert by Muslim men. Now, with this bill, Hindu women will have documentary proof of their marriage, preventing cases of forced marriages of already married women. A significant feature of the bill is also that it attempts to curtail cases of child marriages in the Hindu community with a minimum age of 18 set for both boys and girls as well as conversions of minors.
It is unfortunate that the Hindus in Pakistan had to face this level of persecution to secure a most basic right. It is hoped that the authorities duly recognise their failings in this long period and do everything it takes to make sure the law is not abused. The Pakistani state has a lot to prove to its minority religious groups.
TERRORIST outfits in the country have conveyed a chilling message over the last few weeks, and even yesterday in Lahore: no one is safe, neither civilians, nor law enforcement, nor the armed forces in the militants’ escalating campaign of urban terrorism. And what seemed inevitable in the wake of this violence has now come to pass. A military operation has been launched across the country with the stated objectives of eradicating residual terrorist threats, consolidating the gains made in counterterrorism operations thus far and tightening security along the borders. The operation, codenamed Raddul Fasaad, entails coordinated action by all wings of the armed forces as well as paramilitary organisations, civilian law-enforcement agencies and intelligence outfits. Even though the offensive has a countrywide canvas, Punjab — that has long been a hotbed of violent extremist groups that the provincial government has treated with kid gloves — is clearly the focus. This was underscored not least by the fact that the operation was announced after a high-level security meeting in Lahore chaired by the army chief Gen Qamar Bajwa.
Despite appearances however, Raddul Fasaad was not inevitable, had the government — both at the centre and in the provinces — not fallen short in countering extremism and terrorism. For this was the much-vaunted aim of the National Action Plan agreed upon in the anguish of post-APS Peshawar. The civilians were to supplement Operation Zarb-i-Azb that was targeting terrorists in northern Pakistan by taking action against hard-line madressahs, cracking down on terrorist cells in urban areas where such elements can easily find cover, initiating reforms in the criminal justice system, etc. Crucially, the centre and provinces had also pledged to craft a counter-narrative to push back against the poisonous ideology that has fuelled extremism in the country. Instead, they have demurred, obfuscated, clamoured for military courts and, most damningly, refused to acknowledge the dynamics of terrorism. Consider Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s statement that banned sectarian organisations could not be equated with terrorist outfits. Or take Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah’s shifting the blame for the Mall Road suicide bombing in Lahore on protesters gathered there, or the fact that groups like the ASWJ have taken out rallies despite being banned.
The reality is that a military force can only carry out kinetic operations; it cannot effect a change in mindset. And extremism is a mindset, one that has percolated through society for decades now. Only the government can counter it through an intelligent use of the resources at its disposal, that too if it displays a steely resolve that has been lacking so far. At the same time, even while recognising that a level of secrecy is necessitated by the situation, transparency must inform the operation: the military should clarify who it is targeting and specify a time frame for the campaign. A vague, open-ended engagement is never good strategy.
THE observation made by the Supreme Court is manifestly true. Accountability of high officials has broken down because the institutional system of checks and balances is not functioning. Good sense and propriety may have stopped the court from going further in its observations, but the facts speak for themselves: by design or through neglect, the political leadership of the country has allowed oversight and investigatory watchdogs to be rendered toothless. The Supreme Court named three institutions, NAB, the FIA and the FBR, though the scope of the institutional breakdown is much wider and encompasses everything from regulatory bodies to criminal investigation authorities. Nothing works as it should and when green shoots do appear, when there is a nascent flowering of individual initiative and daring, the potential threat to the powers-that-be is quickly smothered. As the exasperated court noted, supposedly independent watchdogs and investigatory bodies not only do nothing, but are often proud of and defiant about their dismal record. The sclerotic accountability system, if not retooled and re-energised, could become a threat to the democratic order itself. Time and again, threats to the democratic order, from within the system and by anti-democrats, have tapped into public disenchantment and been built on the refusal of the political class to submit to the rule of law, transparency and accountability.
What can be done? The political protagonists from the 1990s appear to have learned at least one lesson: accountability should not be used as a political tool against their opponents. But the PPP and PML-N have gone from one extreme to another — from accountability as vendetta to accountability as nonexistent, even when it is desperately needed. More than eight years of democratic transition has produced not one suggestion of note by either the previous government or the present one that could further the cause of public accountability. True, the PTI has made anti-corruption the cornerstone of its politics, but too many compromises inside the party and too few legislative or institution-strengthening ideas in the assemblies have left it with little achieved on its signature policy issue. Meanwhile, a judicial system based on adversarial, common law canons does not create the space for energetic intervention by the courts. As evidenced by the Panama Papers hearings, the courts have few options when other institutions choose to stall. Perhaps a stinging, well-argued judgement will help break the impasse.
IT is heartening to see the corporate sector regulator, the SECP, start moving more energetically to curb abuses by brokers in the stock market. Ever since the owner of M.R. Securities made off with his clients’ money, the apex regulator has been pursuing the matter, taking the authorities at the Pakistan Stock Exchange to task for their negligence, teaming up with the State Bank to curb the illegal use of leverage through badla in making deals with client money, and monitoring closely the positions held by a large number of brokers to ensure that they are sound in terms of regulatory compliance. All this is exactly what one expects from the apex regulator, and it can only be hoped that the new management of the PSX will cooperate better with this exercise to enforce the rules, and that the State Bank will also be proactive in lending its powers and expertise to help.
But there is one overriding priority that must be kept in mind when going through this exercise. The investors who lost their money due to the flight of the owner of M.R. Securities must be reimbursed. This will not be easy since there will be disputes over who is owed how much. But protecting the investors’ money is the main priority around which the regulatory framework for the stock market should revolve, and making that a central concern will be a useful way in which the SECP can chart its course forward. Other than this, there are numerous other examples, such as late filing of financial results by listed companies, greater oversight of the veracity of the numbers, tighter vetting of a company’s credentials prior to an IPO, and much more. Tightening up the investment environment in the country begins with regaining the trust of the investors who lose their money due to the flight of brokers. Pakistan’s stock market has a bright future ahead of it, but it must go forth into this future with the full confidence of its small investors.
The desperately misguided quest of the PML-N government to revive military courts will continue today and, improbably, the government may be contriving to make a terrible situation worse.
A parliamentary meeting has been brought forward and the government’s intense lobbying will now take place with news of a new military operation dominating the national discourse overnight. The government may try and bulldoze the principled and sensible parliamentary resistance among elements of the opposition, but what would be even more shocking is if the government makes a rumoured concession to the religious right on the issue.
As reported in the media and openly acknowledged by the JUI-F in particular, the resistance on the religious right to military courts is not because the courts are anathema to the rule of law, but that they were instituted only for religiously inspired and sectarian militants. The religious right is demanding that if military courts are to be revived, no explicit reference is to be made to religion or sectarianism in the framework for the courts.
The context is vitally important. In the wake of the APS Peshawar attack, when the military leadership effectively forced parliament to give the army powers to try civilians for terrorism-related offences, the only resistance that parliament was able to put up was to keep the focus of military courts somewhat narrow — permitting only the trial of so-called jet-black terrorists waging war in the name of religion or sectarianism.
The explicit reference was introduced to prevent the military from expanding the use of the courts to other civilians deemed to be waging war on the state, such as the Baloch separatists. Perhaps the MQM too was concerned that, with the Karachi operation still relatively new and allegations about the party’s links to India being aired publicly, political parties could be targeted by military courts. Other parties may have had similar concerns about legitimate political or regional struggles being caught in the fundamentally undemocratic pincers of the military courts.
It is vital to stress that military courts were a distortion of the Constitution and the rule of law that no democratic society ought to have inflicted on it.
There is no scenario in which such courts are justifiable. But that does not mean military courts cannot be made even worse in practice. The government’s craven capitulation to the military would be compounded if it succumbs to political pressure from the religious right to exclude the specific references to religiously inspired or sectarian militancy in a revived framework for military courts.
From a slippery slope to the floodgates opening, the changes being demanded by the religious right are unconscionable and have frightening implications. The PML-N government will be no less to blame if military courts are revived, especially in an expanded form.
Consider what the government could have achieved if it had directed its lobbying efforts towards criminal justice reforms.
IT was only a few months ago that we heard our State Bank governor hail Islamic banking for having “more stability and resilience” than traditional banks, and point towards the various directions where Islamic banking can make a greater contribution. The poor penetration of the small and medium enterprise sector as well as small farmers and low-income housing is among these. Instead, Islamic banks have preferred to stay with the same customers that traditional banks cater to — government and large corporates, with a small but growing consumer segment. Additionally, the regulatory framework for Islamic banks needs more attention given that the segment’s share of the total banking industry has hit a plateau at 13pc. Without branching out into the currently unbanked sectors while hitting a plateau in its growth means that Islamic banks are likely to build up more friction against conventional banks in the days to come. This growing competition only underscores the need to ensure that the regulatory framework is capable of dealing with the unique challenges faced by this nascent industry.
In a report released this week, the IMF has given some pointers regarding the areas where the governance and regulatory framework needs to be strengthened, and where the State Bank might want to focus. Two potential problem areas that the report points to are liquidity management and the proliferation of hybrid products. Since Islamic banks are shut out of two of the largest markets that banks operate in — overnight lending and government securities (other than sukuks) — they are finding it increasingly challenging to locate profitable areas to lend to. The growth of hybrid products is of particular concern, because in some cases the State Bank has actually used its own muscle in the industry to push some of these products, like bai muajjal contracts, onto reluctant partners. The IMF argues that such hybrid products present challenges like “the emergence of new complex risks, the applicability of existing prudential regimes, governance and consumer protection issues, and reputational risk”. In addition, the regulatory framework needs further work in areas like “deposit insurance, lender-of-last-resort (LOLR), and effective bank resolution regimes” according to the report. Given the reality that Islamic banks are now facing, it is increasingly important that their operations and product offerings be regulated tightly so that they are held to the highest standards of morality by contributing to the development of the country while safeguarding the trust of the depositor.
IT is sad to see a group of educated professionals so carelessly lose the support of those they are in contact with on a daily basis. The Young Doctors Association in Lahore — in fact, in Punjab generally — is today a source of frustration given the stories its members routinely generate. This is a far cry from their just struggle for better working terms a few years ago. Now the same group of doctors is routinely dressed by the once-friendly media in robes reserved for killers. The latest protest came after authorities raided a hospital on Monday to arrest a doctor allegedly involved in graft. The emergency ward of the Services Hospital in Lahore, where the raid took place, and the outpatient departments at seven teaching hospitals in the city were forced to close. The Young Doctors demanded legal action against the raiders whom they accuse of employing violence during the incident. The signals from the public on the other hand indicate that not many are prepared to accept the doctors’ version as the truth. There have been far too many instances in the recent past where the doctors have stopped work in order to register their protest. Culled from the news reports the growing suspicion is that many of these strikes might have been without a genuine cause, or for narrow personal interests.
On Wednesday, amid a public outcry, the protest was scaled down. The strikers said they were limiting the suspension of work to the Services Hospital and the Children’s Hospital, allowing the outpatient departments at the five other hospitals where operations had been halted to reopen. The Children’s Hospital? Surely this is the height of callousness. Even if the reopening of some hospitals was meant to bring a semblance of sanity to the protest, much more is needed to restore the people’s confidence in the justness of the mercurial doctors’ case. That can only happen when these strikers are seen to have distanced themselves from the personal pursuits of a few individuals.
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The incessantly overlooked yet increasingly visible horrific footprint of the self-styled Islamic State cannot be underplayed any longer. Last week’s attack on a crowd of Sufi dancers at the shrine of Sehwan Sharif clearly validated an alarming emergence of another threat that can perpetuate horrific spectacles of sectarian carnage to further its regional prevalence. Given the ease with which the IS was found to previously operate through a network of local facilitators, a recent report by the Counter-Terrorism Department has apprehended the provision of a “fertile growth area” for the group in not just Sindh but also other parts of the country. In the light of the alleged ideological affinity that the perpetrators of a gun attack on Ismailis in Karachi in 2015 shared with the IS, the study has strongly warned the authorities against an additional number of coalitions between other militant groups; asking them to tighten their group to prevent an even graver challenge befalling upon law enforcers.
Despite an obvious presence of both the IS literature in the suburbs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as its recruiters in Lahore amongst other cities two years ago, a categorical refusal of their existence marked the official stance until recently. This spectacular oblivion, perhaps to satiate their appetite for decreased militancy, if not normalcy, is largely responsible for our inability to even initiate an efficient line of action against its fast-expanding influence, which, in turn, has paved the way for a ratcheted frequency of attacks. It is not just the state’s credibility that is at stake here. Our long and increasingly dark fight against militancy has not yet fared the promised results. Law-enforcement authorities and the armed forces are still struggling to vanquish the innumerable terrorist strongholds spread across the country notwithstanding their unrelenting determination and fearless valour. Amidst such circumstances, any possible alliance between militant outfits or the entrance of another body hell-bent on spreading its ultra-radical teachings at the expense of peace and tolerance can only spell a drastic doom.
Fundamentalist interpretations of Islam have already facilitated an onset of instability, chaos and bloodshed in not just the Muslim countries but the world over. At least 143 attacks have already been conspired in over 29 countries by the IS in the last three years; its deadly tentacles killing around 2000 people, injuring thousands more. A terrorist group of such grave existential threat cannot and should not be allowed to perpetuate its ideology in Pakistan. As is already being done, sweeping security crackdowns on all suspected hideouts as well as military collaborations with the Afghan government against militant sanctuaries should, definitely, be pursued as a directed offensive. However, this military action can only be a part of a broader strategy that the state pursues. Killing people might restore public faith in the governmental ability to regain control over the disorder prevailing the country but might not achieve anything more significant.
Former president Asif Zardari has already struck the right tone in his remarks on Monday; railing against the madrassahs “promoting terrorism in the country”. After all, extremism would have long died a natural death had it not been for its ever-increasing followers and sympathisers. This trajectory can only be understood in the context of the ideological drift that some of these madressahs have long facilitated the terrorist networks with. Corrupting young students with highly radicalised versions of so-called Islamic injunctions, compelling them to partake in massacres only to further their own evil agendas, is what the IS and many others have been doing for years. It is the state’s responsibility, however, to weed out all sinister institutions in order to cleanse the national narrative of violent ideologies. Moderate traditions, which have long been synonymous with this land of tolerance, diversity and Sufism, should once again be integrated into the society. Only these interpretations hold the power to undermine the rapidly gaining influence of fundamentalism and sectarian bloodlust.
Marching in Punjab
Following an uptick in violence across the country and in particular the attack on the protestors on Mall Road in Lahore, the Punjab government has finally agreed to seek the help of Rangers in efforts to eradicate terrorism and extremism from the province, overcoming its reluctance to involve the paramilitary force in the task of improving law and order situation. Over the years, the provincial government had brushed aside a suggestion to seek the centre’s help in tackling terrorism, maintaining that its own police and Counter-Terrorism Department were capable of doing the job. But the recent incidents over the past few weeks amid rising pressure from the opposition of terrorist sanctuaries in Punjab have perhaps resulted in the change of stance by the provincial authorities.
The decision in this regard was taken at a meeting of the Provincial Apex Committee presided over by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. The determination of modus operandi for calling in the Rangers is under process. Amid pledges of continuing the fight till the last terrorist is eliminated,an immediate joint operation was authorised, and Apex Committee meetings were resolved to occur more often in the future. Since the APS attacks in 2014 and the subsequent announcement of National Action Plan (NAP), the government has been criticized for not going all out against the terrorists and the opposition parties had been calling for a Karachi styled operation in Punjab. In recent times, the provincial government has come in action, in particular against the sectarian outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) while initiating other combing operations as well.
The initiatives such as the Safe City Project are laudable, but there should be no lapse with regards to violation of law and order under any circumstances. Over the years, different sectarian outfits, as well as the radical organisations like Lashkar-i-Tayyiba (LeT), have enjoyed safe havens in the South Punjab region. The action of the provincial government against these outfits in recent times is appreciable, but it should not be just a political gimmick. The cameras being installed under the Safe City Project must be put to full use to monitor any untoward movement, as well as sharing of intelligence among the agencies. One of the major focus of the government should be the many religious seminaries operating across the province.
The registration and keeping a check on them was an essential point of the NAP that has not seen any progress. To check the ever-increasing number of these seminaries as well as the nature of education being implemented there, the authorities should devise a framework to monitor them as well.
The jurisdiction of the Rangers and the local law-enforcement authorities must be clearly defined so that there is no untoward incident in this regard. Reports in the media suggest that the Rangers are expected to assist the Police and Counter-Terrorism Department, rather than leading the operation. The foot-dragging approach taken by Punjab until now cannot play well with other provinces where Rangers’ operations have been done. All the authorities should be on board for across the board elimination of terrorists if the country is to rid of the menace.
The debut of the Pakistani team at the Asian Women’s Rugby Sevens in Laos augurs well for the future of female gender’s participation in sports. The world of sports is considered a no-go area for women in Pakistan as they are still struggling to make their mark and get due recognition of their talents. Besides facing rivals, woman athletes in Pakistan tackle additional challenges like cultural barriers, gender discrimination and religious bigotry in pursuit of their ambition of becoming players of international repute.
In Pakistan, women’s involvement in sports is strongly mediated by socioeconomic status and ethnicity. Based crudely on a gender duality in which sport is valued as a masculine activity, women are not encouraged to take part in any sports activity. All exultation is reserved for men in this male-dominated society. Though a number of female players in different games have shown their mettle, yet they remain unrecognised and unrewarded. In such a scenario, if a women’s team features in an international event, it is no mean feat. The joy of participation in an international even was aptly described by Pakistan rugby player Mehru Khan, who said that it’s a huge deal for everyone that the women are playing rugby. Reportedly, in a country of more than 200 million people, where women are believed to be half of its population, only men’s cricket gets recognition. Cultural barriers make it difficult for sportswomen to get due encouragement to take up either team or individual sport — especially contact sports like rugby. In Pakistan, opting for a sport like rugby, this is like out of the mould for our society. Still there is no dearth of talent in the country. In the rugby event, Pakistan finished above Nepal in the seven-team Rugby competition in Laos, which also featured winners South Korea, India, Malaysia, Philippines and Laos. Meanwhile, Pakistan women cricket team has managed to qualify for the ICC Women’s World Cup in England.
These are encouraging developments and all Pakistani women should feel proud of these achievements. Already, women are not treated equally in Pakistan. Males are given priority over females in a country where females are more in number. The government should introduce laws that prohibit gender discrimination and offer remedies for such behaviour in the field of sports and other sectors. The society in general needs to change its perception about women’s participation in sports. At individual level, everyone needs to support female athletes so that they could play their role in projecting a positive image of the country abroad.
Amidst reports of Pakistan’s heavy artillery being shifted to the Pak-Afghan border comes the announcement from the COAS Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa that Pakistan and Afghanistan will fight terrorism which constitutes their “common enemy” together. The statement indicates the victory of sanity over irrationality. The COAS has clarified that enhanced security measures taken along the Pak-Afghan border were aimed at fighting the common enemy who are “terrorists of all hues and colour.” Gen Bajwa has also welcomed proposals from the Afghan authorities for a result oriented coordination aimed at the elimination of terrorism. Earlier, the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai had expressed readiness to work with Pakistan’s military and civilian government ‘at all levels’. One hopes talks will be initiated soon at the highest level between the civilian and military and leaders of both sides to devise concrete measures to reduce the prevailing tension as well as to remove the residue of doubts and suspicions between the neighbours. Peace can neither be ensured in Pakistan nor in Afghanistan unless both countries join hands to fight terrorists who are a threat to the entire region and who make use of differences between the neighbouring countries in pursuit of their perverse agenda.
There is a need to realize that there are elements on both sides that thrive on suspicions persisting between the two countries. The ones on Pakistan’ side are likely to proclaim that the conciliatory posture by Kabul has been dictated by shelling across the border and the forward positioning of Pakistan’s artillery and thus it constitutes a victory for Pakistan. Their counterparts in Afghanistan would interpret Gen Bajwa’s statement as a sign of Pakistan blinking first in the eyeball to eyeball confrontation on account of foreign pressure. As talks begin between the two countries, the lobby of mischief mongers would become more active. There is a need to realise that any move towards conciliation is a victory for both and a defeat for the terrorist networks who are common enemies of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Waiting for the Rangers’ performance now
Rhetoric won’t work anymore
Grudgingly, Shahbaz Sharif has agreed to seek the Rangers’ help to combat terrorism. The insistence on self-reliance is commendable provided one can deliver. It turns into empty bravado if the government fails to deliver again and again. This is precisely what has happened in Punjab leading to unnecessary loss of life and property and causing a sense of insecurity in the province.
Instead of displaying a solid performance, Punjab government fed the public with statistics. Separate figures for search operations in general and of body search of individuals at police check posts, of arrests in general and arrests for misuse of loudspeakers and for hate speech, People targeted in separate categories were generally in thousands. It was never revealed however how many were successfully prosecuted. Then there were terrorists (or suspects?) killed by the trigger-happy Punjab police in encounters.
The government meanwhile denied that anyone in the ruling party had ever had contacts with the terrorists or provided assistance to them despite reports to the contrary.
What the public wanted was results. The government first appealed to the terrorists to spare Punjab without caring for the effects of the statement on other provinces. While the notorious LeJ leaders thrived in Punjab and travelled with escorts inside and outside the province, there was no end to the killing of members of the Shia community in Lahore and other places in the province. Some of most horrendous terrorist attacks took place in Punjab both before and after the adoption of the National Action Plan.
Much will depend now on the nature and extent of support to be provided by the Rangers which remains to be finalised. The Punjab Apex Committee has promised indiscriminate action against banned outfits. All linked to banned networks would be arrested, sources of financial assistance to banned organisations would be shut down, and the facilitators of the terrorists won’t be spared. Brave words. What is at stake now is not only the reputation of the Rangers but also of the Apex Committee. While the people wait for results we wish both Godspeed.
Attacks on a single target by multiple suicide bombers are relatively rare. Three attackers made a frontal assault on the Charsadda sessions courts through the main gates, firing as they came and throwing hand grenades in a determined attempt to storm the crowded building. The police and security forces fought back killing two of the attackers, the third died when his vest detonated. At least six people were killed in the attack and approximately 20 injured. These figures may be subject to revision. There can be no doubt that the first-tier response of those guarding the building saved many lives.
The attack was swiftly claimed by the Jamaatul Ahrar (JA) which is a branch of the TTP franchise, and demonstrates the breadth of operational spread that the JA has — from Sehwan in Sindh to Charsadda in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, a 40-minute drive from the provincial capital of Peshawar. The JA said in a call to the media that the attack was a part of their Ghazi operation, as was the attack on the Lal Shahbaz Qalander shrine, and the JA is emerging as the most active current player in the terrorist constellation.
Laudable as the valiant efforts were of those on duty at the gates of the court, questions have to be asked yet again as to whether or not the attack constitutes an intelligence failure. The logistics behind the attack would have been complex in terms of weapons, explosives and other munitions — but not so complex as to be beyond the capacity of resourceful terrorists, who would have needed a place to eat and sleep prior to carrying out the attack. There is a well established substructure that now exists within the country that is populated by a range of groups under a generic TTP banner. Included within that population is Islamic State (IS), a reality long denied at a senior level of government. There is a gaping hole where there ought to be a plan, and it is not possible to arrest and detain a way out of the terror maze. Dial back the delusion before it is too late.
The Panama Papers case seems to be trudging to a weary end. The reams of paper submitted by all sides have proved inconclusive of anything beyond a parsimony with old-fashioned honesty by all who have had any dealings with the matter. What started as an effort by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to unseat the prime minister has evolved into a series of ever damper squibs with the occasional bigger bang interspersed to keep the audience awake. The court is littered with conflicting and partial submissions, unclear money trails, poorly-delineated definitions of property ownership and an overarching structure composed of dissembling, prevarication and common-or-garden deception.
Insight has been gained into the financial dealings of the Sharif family, the latest going back 17 years. NAB submitted a document on Monday February 20, that claims that the family had received over Rs1 billion through ‘illegal and fraudulent means’ and as such they were liable to be tried under anti-corruption laws. The bench expressed incredulity as to how and why Rs1.2 billion remained unaccounted for.
If the papers seen by this newspaper are the true reflection of reality then the entire Sharif family is implicated in receiving ‘ill-gotten money’ whilst ‘working in collusion and connivance together’. Whether this latest revelation is going to be enough to unseat the PM has to be at best doubtful. It reveals a trail of financial skullduggery and indicative of a culture of concealment and deception regarding financial dealings that stretches back decades and spans generations. No member of the family has thus far been successfully convicted of anything, and the Panama Papers provide precious little prospect of the bench finding the PM guilty. The best that can be hoped for is that the bench may ask NAB to reinvestigate the Hudabiya case, with the PM nominated as an accused. The Panama Papers may eventually prove to be the least of the Sharif family worries.
Shahid Afridi resignation
There was a sudden roar which came from the crowd after a Pakistani batsman, Mohammad Hafeez, was dismissed. It didn’t fall on everyone’s ears as an oh-no cry; quite surprisingly, it felt like the crowd was happy to see the batsman walk back to the pavilion. Maybe it was because he dropped Ravindra Jadeja early in the match, maybe it was because he got captain Misbahul Haq run out, maybe it was the slow and steady 117-ball 75 that he had just scored; but most probably, it was because the majestic all-rounder, the heartthrob of Pakistani cricket fans, the man who was always feared to change the game in a matter of overs, the big-hitting, swashbuckling Shahid Afridi had just walked down the stairs.
The stage was set in Mirpur for Lala — 46 needed off 39 balls in the final of 2014 Asia Cup. If not him, no one knew who could do the unthinkable from here for Pakistan. He lost the only remaining batsman Sohaib Maqsood soon, but didn’t lose heart — Afridi, known for going big or going home, once again did what he always did. Pulled over midwicket for a six, lap-swept one over keeper’s head, swept towards square leg and when it mattered the most, with nine needed off four balls, he gave Ravi Ashwin’s spin deliveries his all. He didn’t time any of those two sixes, but as they always said, Afridi’s mishits usually do go the distance; and, on that day, they did. A bunch of Pakistani supporters were ecstatic, the world stood in awe, anyone and everyone praised Lala for his heroics, but, this wasn’t the first time and most importantly this wasn’t the end. Afridi retired on late Sunday, saying good-bye to the only format he played in — T20Is — but the show will not stop. We will see more of Lala in T20 leagues; however, as much as we despise him for his self-destruct approach or however much we love him for his belligerent performances, we’ll certainly miss watching him in All-Greens for Pakistan.
As the state struggles to contain and put an end to a continuing spell of violence, the military leadership has emphasised that Pakistan and Afghanistan must “fight [a] common enemy, ie terrorists of all hue and colour”.
In comments attributed to Gen Qamar Bajwa by the ISPR, the army chief asserted in a security meeting that border cooperation and coordination between Afghanistan and Pakistan is essential. Gen Bajwa is also reported to have reiterated that “Pakistan and Afghanistan have fought against terrorism and shall continue this effort together”.
The evident shift in tone of the military leadership from anger and the threat of unilateral action across the Pak-Afghan border to coordinated action against the mutual threat of terrorism is precisely the bedrock on which long-term policy needs to be built. The past is a clear indicator of the futility of unilateralism or the pursuit of policies by either country that the other does not support.
Clearly, a bilateral framework of cooperation must accommodate exigencies and there is an urgent need to address the current spate of violence inside Pakistan. As the Charsadda attack yesterday indicates, Pakistan is facing a wave of terror attacks that is reminiscent of the very darkest days in the long fight against militancy.
The ebb and flow of militancy in the two countries requires flexible priorities and Pakistan is right in insisting that the anti-Pakistan militants who have found sanctuary in Afghanistan be targeted urgently. If Afghan security forces or the US-led foreign military contingents are unable to act decisively against them, then Kabul should consider allowing Pakistani forces to operate in the border regions where those militants are believed to have found sanctuary.
What Pakistan should be mindful of is to not conduct operations, especially putting boots on the ground, in Afghan territory without Kabul’s consent. Difficult as the border region is, mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty must form the basis of a common policy against terrorism.
From US drone strikes to the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, Pakistan has always publicly protested any incursions into its terrain. It does not behove authorities here to deny Kabul even symbolic control over Afghan territory.
Unhappily, the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani does not seem eager to heed the advice and take up the offer of Gen Bajwa.
In comments in Germany recently, Mr Ghani appeared to cling to a sceptical view of Pak-Afghan ties rather than reach out to Pakistan in its hour of grief. But the same ISPR statement on border cooperation notes that the “COAS also welcomed recent proposals from Afghan authorities”, suggesting that perhaps Mr Ghani and his advisers have been more open to mutual cooperation in private. If so, the emphasis should be on the cooperative steps that can be taken along the Pak-Afghan border.
THE Pakistan Cricket Board has decided. It is ready to stage the PSL final in Lahore even if some of the big foreign players opt out of the show because of security reasons. The board now says it has the backing of all five franchises that make up the league, and it has provided a list of foreign cricketers who are willing to play in Pakistan. The franchises which qualify for the final, scheduled for March 5, can choose from among the players on this list. Or they can rely on Pakistani talent in their squads to see them through to the title. But whichever option they exercise, it will not be an ordinary game or ordinary final. This is going to be a statement of resolve by the country, a landmark in its fight to protect its people’s right to live by their own, long-nurtured values. It is going to be a statement that Pakistan had to issue sooner or later, even if it is a sensitive matter. The board is perhaps more confident after its plans for a Lahore final got the nod from those at the helm in Pakistan, and especially the army chief’s backing.
Pakistan cricket has suffered badly ever since the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore in March 2009. All attempts at revival since have been unsuccessful, bar a short visit here by a Zimbabwe team. There has been a serious loss of revenue while the impact of this home drought on Pakistani cricketers has been grim. The lack of international exposure on Pakistani soil is often evident in the half-cooked performances of some of the young players who have been growing in isolation — with little access to the innovations and new techniques of international cricket. The search for restoration of the old order has seen PCB bosses knocking on many doors, but the required support — some may call it a favour — has not been forthcoming. This leaves the board with little choice but to take the ‘local route’ for yet another attempt at bringing high-level international cricket back to the waiting fans here. This is not a bad script at all: Pakistani talent has been showcased in the PSL games in the UAE and considerable interest has been generated. A successful holding of the final on home turf should in all likelihood necessitate fresh evaluations and hopefully some positive projections about this country.
ANYBODY who has had to deposit dollars or other foreign currency purchased from the open market knows the absurd obstacles that stand in the way. Routinely, bank tellers will examine the currency bills, almost literally under the microscope, and refuse to accept those that have even a slight mark on them, no matter how minuscule. Moreover, they often refuse to accept older issued currency. One could be purchasing dollars for any reason — for remitting to a child studying abroad, or making a payment to a friend or sending to relatives outside the country — but this absurd ritual of locating clean currency bills is experienced by everyone. Recently, the State Bank issued instructions to all banks to show a little more generosity when applying standards of purity to incoming foreign currency bills, but it is doubtful that the lecture will have much effect. After all, the banks claim they have to check the notes to satisfy the State Bank, where all foreign currency bills have to ultimately be deposited.
So how do we get rid of this absurd exercise, which imposes myriad costs upon people in need of foreign exchange? This is not an idle question for the rich. The nuisance that the State Bank is trying to address actually points to deeper problems in our foreign currency markets. The periodic bursting of the spread between the kerb and interbank rate for the dollar is another example. This also grows out of a disarticulation of the forex markets that connect banks and exchange companies. The disputes between the latter two are no secret, and quite often the State Bank is forced to step in to mediate and settle their differences. But where spreads are concerned, there is at least some sort of a benchmark that one can peg the discussions on. In the matter of soiled and marked bills what can be done is to stress the importance of a little common sense. And sometimes that is a lot harder than any complicated policy exercise.