DWS,from Sunday 4th May to Saturday 10th May 2014

DAWN

WIRE SERVICE

DWS, Sunday 4th May to Saturday 10th May 2014

The DAWN Wire Service(DWS) is a free weekly news-service from Pakistan’s largest English language newspaper, the daily DAWN. DWS offers news, analysis and features of particular interest to the Pakistani Community on the Internet. DWS is sent by e-mail every Saturday.

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National News

Govt flouting court rulings in making key appointments

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: The government seems to be ignoring the orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) while also disregarding a key Supreme Court (SC) judgement, by continuing to retain the services of officials appointed directly to key positions in violation of the rules.

ISLAMABAD: The government seems to be ignoring the orders of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) while also disregarding a key Supreme Court (SC) judgement, by continuing to retain the services of officials appointed directly to key positions in violation of the rules.

The government issued a notification on January 13 of this year, making direct appointments in 23 key departments, exempting them from an earlier Establishment Division order that required appointments in public sector organisations to be made in accordance with the SC decision in the Khawaja Asif case.

Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui of the IHC had suspended the notification on April 26.

Former chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, in his verdict in the Haj corruption case of 2012, had also taken a firm stance against the reappointment of government officers who had reached the age of superannuation.

Then, prior to last year’s general elections, current defence minister Khawaja Asif challenged certain direct appointments on key positions.

The SC struck down these appointments and directed the government to constitute a commission to manage appointments in statutory, autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies as well as regulatory bodies and government-controlled corporations.

Following the order, there were reports that the government may install career civil servant Abdul Rauf Chaudhry as the head of such a commission. However, nothing came of it and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government continued its practice of directly appointing individuals to key positions, in contravention of the SC order.

But when Dawn approached recently-appointed Secretary Establishment Nadeem Hassan Asif for comment, he said he had no idea of the matter. “I have no idea about this,” he told Dawn when asked why key officers continued to be appointed directly despite the suspension of the controversial January 13 notification.

Under the notification, issued with the approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, direct appointments were made to key positions in the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority, Public Procurement Regulatory Authority, Pakistan Telecommunications Authority, Trade Development Authority, State Life Insurance Corporation, Competition Commission of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Pakistan Agriculture Research Council, Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, Evacuee Trust Property Board, Engineering Development Board, Pakistan Industrial Technical Assistance Centre, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority, State Cement Corporation, National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), Lok Virsa, National Telecommunication Commission, Telecom Foundation, Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) and the Alternative Energy Development Board.

The present government, which has been violating service rules through direct appointments, has also sacked several chairmen of key departments. The removal of former Nadra chairman Tariq Malik, the PTV managing director and Pemra chairman Chaudhry Rashid Ahmed are some such examples.

But Information Minister Pervez Rashid insisted that the government was going by the book while making these appointments. “Those who are being appointed by the prime minister are neither our relatives nor are they the favourites of any leader of the ruling party,” he said.

Recently, the government appointed Chaudhry Kabir Ahmad Khan, a retired bureaucrat over 65 years of age, managing director of the PTDC on a contract for two years. Another retired official, Zafarullah Siddiqui, was also appointed to the PTDC. According to both colleagues, both officers still hold their posts. The prime minister also extended the term of Intelligence Bureau chief Aftab Sultan, who was to retire after reaching superannuation.

Parliament panel moves to regain say in judges’ selection

Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD: After being little more than a ‘rubber stamp’ body for over three years since the Supreme Court gave the upper hand to the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), the Parliamentary Committee (PC) on the appointment of superior court judges is likely to announce next week a strategy for regaining its role in making the said appointments.

ISLAMABAD: After being little more than a ‘rubber stamp’ body for over three years since the Supreme Court gave the upper hand to the Judicial Commission of Pakistan (JCP), the Parliamentary Committee (PC) on the appointment of superior court judges is likely to announce next week a strategy for regaining its role in making the said appointments.

A sub-committee of the PC formed last year after conducting a series of meetings with representatives of the Pakistan Bar Council, provincial bar councils and major bar associations, has formalised the strategy for strengthening the PC’s role in the appointment of superior courts’ judges.

A meeting for giving final touches to the recommendations of the sub-committee has been scheduled for May 8. In the meeting eminent lawyers like S.M. Zafar and Barrister Wasim Sajjad, vice-chairman Balochistan Bar Council and president Peshawar High Court Bar Association have also been invited.

Senator Farooq H. Naek, head of the sub-committee, confirmed that a final meeting to decide the matter is going to be held in Parliament House next week.

The sources said that the PC may propose legislation for greater parliamentary oversight in the process of judges’ appointments as not only the lawmakers but the representatives of the apex lawyers’ bodies also recommended doing so.

According to sources, the legal eagles suggested to the committee that since the apex court made them ‘inactive’ through its decisions, the lawmakers can overturn the situation by bringing in a constitutional amendment in order to secure a greater role.

The sources claimed that some legal experts even recommended changing the composition of the JCP through an amendment and giving an effective role to the elected representatives of the lawyers in the said appointments as currently the judges of the superior courts are dominating the JCP.

Under the 18th Amendment, the JCP has been empowered to nominate and recommend for the vacant positions of the judges in the superior courts while the PC’s job was to endorse the recommendations or otherwise.

The controversy over the powers of the PC and JCP surfaced after then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, in October 2010 while hearing petitions against the 18th Amendment, ‘overpowered’ the PC and held that, “if Parliamentary Committee disagrees or rejects any recommendations of the Judicial Commission, it shall give specific reasons and the Prime Minister shall send copy of the said opinion of the Committee to the Chief Justice of Pakistan and the same shall be justiciable by the Supreme Court”.

After the said verdict, the government introduced the 19th Amendment, but did not give the JCP a final say in the appointment of judges. However, in Feb 2011, when the PC rejected the JCP’s recommendations about four additional judges of the Lahore High Court and two judges of the Sindh High Court, the sympathisers of the aggrieved judges brought the matter to the Supreme Court.

Deciding the petitions, the apex court observed that the PC was not mandated to evaluate professional capabilities. The said order, according to lawmakers, made the PC merely a rubber stamp.

Last year’s rejection of the JCP’s recommendation over the appointment of an additional judge of the LHC again triggered the debate of PC-JCP powers.

On Oct 11 last year, the JCP, headed by Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry recommended Hafiz Shahid Nadeem Kahloon as additional judge of the LHC. Mr Kahloon was among those few judges whose names were recommended by the JCP led by ex-CJP Chaudhry a few weeks before his retirement.

On Oct 25, the PC rejected the nomination of Mr Kahloon, after which a Lahore-based lawyer filed a petition in the LHC against the order of the said committee.

The LHC, on the said petition, has sought comments from the federal government for turning down the recommendations of the JCP and the matter is still pending before the court.

“We don’t want confrontation with any institution, but we are not ready to be used like a rubber stamp”, a PC member said.

He asserted that the judiciary is respectable for the parliamentarians and they should reciprocate by respecting the legislature.

Nine troops killed in Waziristan bomb attack

Pazeer Gul

MIRAMSHAH: Nine security personnel were killed and three others injured in a roadside blast in Ghulam Khan tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region on Thursday.

MIRAMSHAH: Nine security personnel were killed and three others injured in a roadside blast in Ghulam Khan tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region on Thursday.

Also on Thursday clashes between rival factions of Taliban in Shawal tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region left 10 militants dead and 14 injured.

Security officials confirmed the death of nine personnel in the Ghulam Khan tehsil blast.

They said a convoy was going to Zero Point from the Ghulam Khan camp near the Afghan border when one of its vehicles was hit by the blast on the Miramshah-Ghulam Khan road.

The explosive device had been placed on the road and detonated by remote control when the convoy was passing through the area.

The deceased were identified as Abdul Latif, Aziz, Roze Ullah, Saeedullah, Danish, Gul Alam, Sadiqullah, Naeemullah and Arif.

The injured were taken to the district headquarters hospital in Miramshah.

After the blast security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search for assailants.

Sources said helicopter gunships pounded militants’ positions in the area and destroyed several hideouts. According to local people, canon and mortar shells were also fired from a camp. But, there was no report of casualties till late night.

Meanwhile, the sources said that clashes between the Sanja and Shehryar groups of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) erupted in North Waziristan earlier this week had so far left 22 militants dead on both sides.

The clashes on Thursday started in the morning when militants of the Khan Said group attacked the position of Shehryar group’s commander Shamim in Wacha Mella.

According to the sources, both sides used light and heavy weapons.

They said elders of the Mehsud tribe were trying to broker a ceasefire, but had not achieved any success till late Thursday night.

Conditional go-ahead for Imran’s May 11 rally

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The government gave the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) a conditional go-ahead for a May 11 rally to protest against alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections.

ISLAMABAD: The government gave the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) a conditional go-ahead for a May 11 rally to protest against alleged rigging in the 2013 general elections.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a press conference on Thursday that written permission for the rally had been given, despite reservations from certain quarters. But, he added, the government had laid down certain conditions.

He said no ‘container-politics’ would be permitted and that containers would only be placed by the administration for security purposes. Only two other containers — one meant to be used as the dais for PTI chief Imran Khan and the other for journalists — would be allowed in the area.

He said nobody would be allowed to carry firearms, fireworks or any items that could be used as a weapon, such as sticks or batons. He said any vehicle found carrying such prohibited items would not be allowed to join the protest.

He said that women would not be allowed to bring their infants along, as that would be unfair to the children. Moreover, he said nobody would be allowed to use children as human shields. “If any vehicle has an infant onboard, it will be stopped,” he said.

Nisar also said the government wanted separate enclosures for women as far as possible.

Throughout the press conference, Nisar’s tone indicated that the government expected Imran Khan to play by democratic rules. But he sounded concerned about the intentions of Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) chief Tahirul Qadri.

He said nobody would be allowed to enter the Red Zone, adding that “visible and invisible security will guarantee this. If any vested interest or pressure groups think they can disturb the peace under the guise of the rally, they are mistaken. I assure you this will not be allowed,” he remarked.

He said that no vehicles will be allowed past the Kulsoom Plaza in Blue Area and the stage will be placed at Express Chowk, a few hundred yards from D-Chowk itself. The PTI has agreed to this, he said.

He said it had become a tradition to hold rallies and sit-ins around sensitive areas in the capital where important government buildings are located. This is a bad tradition. We will allocate a separate space in Islamabad for future rallies, some place where the security of the city is not threatened,” he said.

A mere 100 to 200 people can create havoc for the state by blocking sensitive locations such as the Red Zone. “Can any state compromise on the security of its institutions and key buildings,” he asked.

When asked about the government’s strategy if the sit-in was extended indefinitely, Nisar said the government was prepared for anything.

Nisar said the people of the twin cities would be inconvenienced by the rally for about 36 hours, but did not specify when those 36 hours would begin. He also said mobile phone services would not be suspended on May 11.

Talking about the PTI’s grievances, he said they had to do with election tribunals, Election Commission of Pakistan and the superior judiciary, but nothing directly linked to the government.

He said that this would be the first time that container owners would be paid for the use of their property.

He also did not take any questions about the attack on security forces in a Taliban stronghold, nor did he talk about the future of the peace process with the Taliban.

WHO says it is satisfied with steps taken by Pakistan

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is quite satisfied with the initial steps taken by the government of Pakistan to stop the spread of the wild poliovirus outside its borders, its polio chief Dr Elias Durry told Dawn on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organisation (WHO) is quite satisfied with the initial steps taken by the government of Pakistan to stop the spread of the wild poliovirus outside its borders, its polio chief Dr Elias Durry told Dawn on Thursday.

Dr Durry — who is currently in the United Kingdom — said he knew that Pakistan was doing a lot to prevent the export of polio.

“It is very difficult to say that we have approved Pakistan’s request, but I believe that 15 days is not a long time. But Pakistan should continue to take steps to ensure that the international community is not affected by the poliovirus,” he said.

WHO Pakistan Country Director Dr Nima Saeed Abid was also hopeful. “I’ve learned that polio vaccination is now under way in the Polyclinic in the federal capital, which is a positive step,” he said.

“The WHO is committed to facilitating the government of Pakistan and will continue supporting all the steps taken to implement WHO recommendations to protect the world from polio,” he added.

In a statement on Thursday, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasneem Aslam said the WHO had issued recommendations, otherwise referred to as International Health Regulations. “The issue has been a topic of discussion between Pakistan and the WHO since 2012. Our representatives have been attending meetings regularly to discuss the issue,” she said.

She said Pakistan had pointed out the difficulties faced with regard to the unstable security situation in certain areas, the threat of terrorism and attacks on polio workers among other factors.

To compound the problem, a vaccination campaign had been used as a cover to launch a military operation on Pakistani soil.

“I am referring to Dr Shakeel Afridi’s case. This further reinforced negative perceptions about the agenda behind the campaign to eradicate polio. We have been trying to overcome that; religious scholars have been involved to try and educate the population,” the FO spokesperson said.

Also on Thursday, a separate counter issuing polio vaccination certificates became operational at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims).

Pims Vice-Chancellor Dr Javed Akram told reporters at his office that the cards would be issued to those intending to travel abroad.

“The counter is located at the Children’s Hospital, since we are short of space at the university hospital,” he said. The certificate will be free of cost and the counter will be operative from 8am to 2pm on weekdays and 8am to 12 noon on Friday,” he said.

HR activist Rashid Rahman laid to rest

Shakeel Ahmed

MULTAN: Funeral prayers of Rashid Rahman, lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s special task force, were held here on Thursday.

MULTAN: Funeral prayers of Rashid Rahman, lawyer and coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s special task force, were held here on Thursday.

Mr Rahman was shot dead on Wednesday night by two assailants at the HRCP office near Kutchery Chowk. Advocate Nadeem Parvaz, one of Rashid’s colleagues, and client Afzal Husain were also injured in the attack, but, according to hospital sources, they are out of danger.

Scores of people from all walks of life attended the funeral prayers at GPO Ground.

Mr Rahman is believed to be killed for defending an alleged blasphemer being tried in the Central Jail, Multan.

A pamphlet stating that Rashid Rahman met his fate because he tried to save a ‘blasphemer’ was dished out by unidentified people in the chambers of lawyers on Thursday.

“We warn all the lawyers to think before defending such matters,” the pamphlet reads.

Rashid Rahman was the nephew of veteran journalist and rights activist I.A. Rehman.

The Chehliyak police, on a complaint of Sheikh Khalid Jamil, brother-in-law of Rashid, lodged a first information report under Section 302 (Punishment of qatl-i-amd), 324 (Attempt to commit qatl-i-amd) and 7-ATA against two unidentified attackers.

According to Dr Tariq Nawaz Babar, who conducted the post-mortem, five bullets were fired at Rashid Rahman, and one of them shot in the head damaged his brain and neck vessels.

According to police sources, the weapon used in the attack was a 0.22 pistol.

They said police found six empties at the shooting scene.

Rights activist Asma Jahangir arrived in Multan and offered condolence with the grieving family. She met City Police Officer Chaudhry Sultan Ahmad at his office.

She told reporters that the killing of Rashid Rahman was the failure of the state. “It’s ironic that those killing the innocent people are justifying their crime besides claiming that no one can arrest them,” she said.

Ms Jahangir urged the chief justice of Pakistan to order an inquiry into threats hurled at Rashid Rahman and that why no action was taken on a complaint of Advocate Allah Dad Khan.

“They (judges) only take action under the contempt of court when the matter is relating to them,” she said.

She said it was the responsibility of police and administration to provide security to Rashid Rahman.

Bar associations across the country condemned the murder and demanded action against the suspects.

A joint meeting of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, Multan bench, and the Multan District Bar Association condemned the killing.

A press release issued by the bars, however, failed to condemn the murder in unequivocal terms.

“We want to make it clear that the respect of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is part of faith of lawyers like the entire Muslim nation and we will play our role to provide assistance in evidence related matters and bring the culprits of blasphemy” to justice, states the press release. “However, targeting lawyers is the violation of law and the constitution.”

They announced a three-day mourning and boycott of courts.

THREATS NOT TAKEN SERIOUSLY: Advocate Allah Dad Khan wrote on April 10 to the Punjab chief minister, the inspector general, the city police officer and the district bar association’s president, saying he was threatened by two lawyers and two other people who asked him not to appear in a blasphemy case.

According to the application, Rashid Rahman and advocate Allah Dad Khan appeared in the court of Additional District and Sessions Judge Shahbaz Ali Paracha in the central jail on April 9 as counsel for Junaid Hafiz, a blasphemy accused.

Inside the jail, before and during the hearing, both of them were intimidated and threatened by a group, including lawyers, who were there without any permission. At one point, during the arguments a lawyer appearing on behalf of the public prosecutor and another man advanced towards him. The lawyer, according to the application, asked Rashid Rahman to keep quiet “otherwise you will not come” to next hearing.

Two other people, including a lawyer, repeated the threat. He immediately made a verbal complaint to the judge, as intimidation had taken place right in front of him.

“These circumstances (have) forced me to bring all the (details of the) offence in (your) notice,” Rashid Rahman said in his letter, adding that if something happened to him, the responsibility would rest with Zulfiqar Ali Sindhu, Sajjad Ahmad Chawan (both lawyers), Ayub Mughal and a fourth man whose identity could be established from jail record.

Rashid Rahman was defending Junaid Hafiz who was charged on March 13 last year under Sections 295-C and 295-B. The next hearing is fixed for May 19.

Civil society activists held a candlelight vigil to pay homage to Rashid Rahman outside the Multan Press Club.

Sharif, Raheel discuss security issues

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met on Thursday Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif as part of ongoing consultations over security in tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met on Thursday Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif as part of ongoing consultations over security in tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Security situation in Karachi and Balochistan was also discussed.

“Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif called on the Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif at the PM House today. Army Chief briefed the Prime Minister on the security situation in Karachi, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

Thursday’s North Waziristan attack which left nine soldiers dead dominated the discussion at the meeting.

The statement quoted the prime minister as saying that “sacrifices rendered by our patriotic soldiers will not go in vain”.

Gen Sharif is said to have reiterated concerns about ongoing Taliban attacks against the army in tribal areas while the government has been trying to engage the TTP in dialogue.

“The attacks are taking place. It will impact the process,” a source at the prime minister’s office said about the future prospects of the government-militant talks.

In a public statement on the occasion of Martyrs’ Day ceremony, the army chief had warned militants of a tough response if they did not give up violence.

Blast kills two in Quetta

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: Two people were killed and 16 injured in a bomb blast along the Double Road here on Thursday.

QUETTA: Two people were killed and 16 injured in a bomb blast along the Double Road here on Thursday.

Police said the explosive device had been fitted to a motorcycle parked outside the main office of Nadra (National Database and Registration Authority). It was detonated by remote control.

After the blast security personnel cordoned off the area. Rescue teams shifted the injured to the Civil Hospital and the Combined Military Hospital. Four of the injured were stated to be in serious condition.

A police official, Imran Qureshi, said one person died on the spot and the other was taken to hospital, but he died during treatment.

The blast was so powerful that it was heard miles away. It badly damaged several shops and vehicles. Windowpanes of nearby buildings were smashed to pieces.

Bomb squad personnel said 10kg of explosives was used for the blast.

The Double Road is a commercial area where spare parts shops, car showrooms, motor garages and workshops and other shops are located.

Meanwhile, two children were injured in an explosion in Ittehad Colony, on the outskirts of Quetta.

Police said the children were playing when they found a device. When they touched the device it went off.

The injured children were taken to hospital.

Pakistan asks WHO for 15-day grace period

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of the federal and provincial governments held an emergency consultation meeting on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) travel advisory for Pakistanis going abroad.

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of the federal and provincial governments held an emergency consultation meeting on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) travel advisory for Pakistanis going abroad.

It was decided that WHO would be asked to assist Pakistan with the procurement of vaccine and the country would be allowed at least two weeks ‘grace period’ to put its own mechanisms in place before the restrictions on Pakistani travellers are enforced.

According to the health organisation, the poliovirus is being exported from three countries: Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria. The WHO declared it mandatory for people from these countries to receive the vaccine before being allowed to go abroad.

A participant of the meeting told Dawn that one of the first questions posed to WHO Country Director Dr Nima Saeed Abid was when these restrictions would come into force.

“He told the participants that the restrictions came into effect on the day of the announcement, i.e. May 5. He was then requested to talk to WHO headquarters in Geneva for a 15-day relaxation,” he said.

“Dr Nima assured the meeting he would do all that he could to secure the 15-day relaxation. The WHO country head also praised Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for what he referred to as ‘implementing WHO restrictions in Punjab, which is 62 per cent of Pakistan, within 24 hours,” he said.

Following the meeting, a WHO official told Dawn his team would press Geneva to grant the Pakistan government’s request for a 15-day grace period. “This request will hopefully be approved, with certain conditions. For example, one of the conditions may be that the head of state must declare a national public health emergency and establish immunisation counters as soon as possible,” the source said.

But an independent health expert Dawn spoke to said that despite the passage of 72 hours, no concrete steps had been taken to address the travel ban or fulfil WHO requirements.

“In fact, there seems to be a lack of communication between the health ministry and the PM’s cell for polio eradication. WHO has been asked to provide the polio vaccine for nearly 27,000 travellers who are expected to leave the country in the coming days. However, it is the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), and not WHO, that provides the vaccine globally,” he said.

“As per WHO recommendations, the government has to document high quality eradication activities in all infected and high-risk areas. But it is nearly impossible to document cases from North and South Waziristan. In the absence of proper documentation, the restrictions will last a minimum of 12 months,” he said.

“Pakistan broke its own 14-year record when as many as 59 polio cases were reported in just the first four months of this year. The WHO isn’t being as tough on Syria and Cameroon because the former has no cases reported this year while the latter had four,” he said.

The WHO official also took on the state minister for health, who had earlier slammed the body for imposing such restrictions on Pakistan. “It was in fact the International Health Regulations (IHR) Committee that imposed the restrictions. Dr Asad Hafeez was representing Pakistan in the meeting, but he obviously failed to do a good job,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, the Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, told a press conference that the government had asked WHO to assist with the procurement of vaccine. She also said Pakistan had sought two weeks for coping with the restrictions.

The minister said that WHO’s decision overlooked the security situation in Pakistan.

Police awaiting forensic report about ‘spy gadgets’ of US citizen

Imran Ayub

KARACHI: Police are ‘keenly awaiting’ the results of forensic examination of arms and ‘spy gadgets’ found in possession of a US citizen at Karachi airport, minutes before he was to fly to Islamabad, to ascertain the motive for his visit to Pakistan.

KARACHI: Police are ‘keenly awaiting’ the results of forensic examination of arms and ‘spy gadgets’ found in possession of a US citizen at Karachi airport, minutes before he was to fly to Islamabad, to ascertain the motive for his visit to Pakistan.

According US media reports, the man works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the key investigation and intelligence agency of the United States.

But a police official said the investigators were not aware about the association of the suspect neither the authorities in Islamabad had conveyed any message to them in this connection.

They were focusing more on results of the forensic examination of ‘illegal and weaponry objects’. In the process, he said, the investigators had not found the suspect ‘very much cooperative’.

“Apart from 15 bullets of 9mm calibre along with a magazine, we have also found three knives, spy cameras and devices and other gadgets which included a computer,” the SSP Malir, Rao Anwaar, said.

“Each and every object is being examined by our forensic team, but it may take time to reach the conclusion as the process is quite delicate and lengthy. It will definitely help ascertain the motive of the suspect’s visit to Pakistan.”

He said the investigators faced resistance from the suspect while decoding ‘password-secured’ equipment. An object or two were still there of which passwords had not been shared by the suspect, he added.

“He has been booked in under the defined laws. He is not a diplomat who is required to go through some other kind of process for such a crime. We only know that he is a US citizen who is here on a visit visa, but carrying arms and spy gadgets to travel to the country’s capital,” said SSP Anwaar.

A judicial magistrate remanded the US citizen, Joel Cox Eugene, in police custody in an illicit arms case. Magistrate Adam H. Ishaq handed over the suspect to police till May 10 with the directive to produce him on the next hearing with a progress report.

The suspect was arrested on Monday evening after the Airports Security Force found him carrying knives, 15 bullets of 9mm calibre along with a magazine and other gadgets at the Karachi airport during checking before his departure to Islamabad. Hours after his arrest the US media claimed that the suspect was an FBI agent.

The Washington Post, quoting officials in Washington, said the suspect, who is assigned to the FBI Miami Field Office, was in Pakistan on a temporary duty. The newspaper also quoted the father of the suspect, who confirmed his son’s association with FBI, but said he was scheduled to be in Pakistan for about three months for ‘office-type work’ with ‘a non-FBI-type’ entity.

Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: The US State Department said on Wednesday that the FBI official detained in Pakistan was there on a “temporary duty appointment”.

At a news briefing, the department’s spokesperson Jen Psaki confirmed that the detained official worked for the FBI and was sent there to work with the Defence Attaché’s office at the Islamabad embassy.

“We are coordinating with Pakistani authorities to resolve this” issue and hope that it would be resolved soon, she added.

Officials contended that the agent had forgotten a loaded gun magazine in his luggage and wasn’t ‘armed’. They also said that employees for the FBI and other US agencies are allowed to carry weapons in Pakistan when authorised.

HRCP lawyer shot dead in Multan

The Newspaper’s Staff Correspondent

MULTAN: Senior lawyer Rashid Rehman Khan, Special Task Force Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was killed and two other people were injured in an attack at the HRCP office near Kutchery Chowk on Wednesday night.

MULTAN: Senior lawyer Rashid Rehman Khan, Special Task Force Coordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was killed and two other people were injured in an attack at the HRCP office near Kutchery Chowk on Wednesday night.

Mr Khan was in the office along with a colleague, Advocate Nadeem Parvaz, and assistant Afzal Hussain when the attackers shot at them. They were taken to the Nishtar Hospital by Rescue 1122 staff, but Mr Khan was pronounced dead by doctors. Mr Parvaz was in critical condition.

Rashid Rehman had submitted an application last month to the District Bar Association president, police and the district administration, stating that he had been warned by two lawyers and two other people not to appear in a blasphemy case.

He had also informed the judge conducting the trial about the threats. However, SSP (Operations) Shaukat Abbas told reporters that the police had not received any application from Mr Khan.

Mr Khan, in his early 50s, was son of the late Ashfaque Ahmed Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Vietnam during the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government.

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif sought a report from the province’s police chief and ordered immediate arrest of those involved in the attack.

According to AFP, the deceased was representing a lecturer of the Bahauddin Zakariya University who had been accused of blasphemy in March last year. The case had been registered after pressure from right-wing student groups, said a student.

An official at the HRCP said no lawyer was prepared to take up the case for a year over fears of attacks from extremist religious groups.

But Rashid Rehman, who was a rights activist, decided to defend the accused.

During the first hearing in March, which took place inside a prison for security reasons, the lawyer received threats from the team representing the complainant.

“During the hearing the lawyers of the complainant told Rehman that he wouldn’t be present at the next hearing as he would not be alive,” said the HRCP in a statement in March.

According to the HRCP, he had been threatened in the presence of the judge.

According to AP, a senior police officer, Mahmoodul Hassan, said the lawyer had been receiving threats from unknown persons since February, when he decided to represent the university teacher in the case.

Worsening power situation angers Sharif

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Power shortfall is turning out to be political albatross for the PML-N government. Perhaps realising this, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went into a huddle again on Wednesday to look for ways of generating and adding more electricity to the national grid.

ISLAMABAD: Power shortfall is turning out to be political albatross for the PML-N government. Perhaps realising this, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif went into a huddle again on Wednesday to look for ways of generating and adding more electricity to the national grid.

He took people running the power ministry to task for increases in the hours of loadshedding, an insider told Dawn.

Mr Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who also attended the meeting, were furious when they were informed that shortage of fuel supply to power generation companies had caused the sudden shortfall in electricity. They called for immediate action against those responsible for the lapse.

“Not happy with the running of the ministry of water and power, the prime minister has virtually taken it over and wants daily reports on fuel supply to generation companies, process of recovery of dues and other issues related to loadshedding,” the source said.

A visibly annoyed prime minister asked the participants if they were genuinely interested in ending loadshedding. “I don’t need encouraging estimates but actual improvement on the ground. People are least interested in knowing about the percentage of electricity shortfall as compared to last year, they want minimum hours of loadshedding,” he was quoted as saying.

To check pilferage of oil being supplied to generation companies, he directed Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique, who had been specially invited to the meeting, to use freight trains for transporting oil from Karachi. Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources Shahid Khaqan Abbasi agreed that the move would help curtail theft.

Everybody concerned with the matters relating to electricity and management of loadshedding attended the meeting, including Minister of State for Water and Power Abid Sher Ali, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Resources Jam Kamal Khan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Dr Musadiq Malik and senior officials. Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Asif is not in the country these days.

With temperature exceeding 40 degree Celsius in several areas, demonstrations were held in different parts of the country last week against unscheduled and prolonged outages.

So far the PML-N leadership, which won general elections on the promise of ending loadshedding within months after coming to power, could only be heard requesting the people to be patient.

Though Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan is launching a movement against alleged incidents of election rigging on May 11, he will surely be criticising the government for its failure to end or at least contain loadshedding.

According to the insider, the meeting also discussed recovery of power dues from the provinces. Some provinces are said to be seeking to reconcile their electricity dues against other heads, some are playing politics when pressed for the payment.

Mr Sharif asked Abid Sher Ali to go ahead with his recovery drive but advised him to be careful and avoid getting involved in political bickering.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement that the meeting was informed that an additional 1,000MW would be available from hydel sources on May 11 and 3,500MW would be added to the national grid from the same sources by the end of the month.

Another 630MW would be added to the system with additional fuel supply to Muzaffargarh and Jamshoro power plants.

The prime minister directed the authorities concerned to reactivate dormant power stations. He asked the ministries of finance, petroleum and natural resources and water and power to ensure that the issue of fuel shortage was resolved in a few days and hoped that the outages would soon be significantly brought down.

Analysis: YouTube ban solution is in hand

Jahanzaib Haque

When is YouTube opening? The question has tormented Pakistan’s internet users since the release of the Innocence of Muslims trailer, and the consequent blanket ban in September 2012.

When is YouTube opening? The question has tormented Pakistan’s internet users since the release of the Innocence of Muslims trailer, and the consequent blanket ban in September 2012.

The answer was assumedly the responsibility of the then PPP government, which opted instead to let the issue slide and become the incoming PML-N’s headache. To its credit, the PML-N brought in the right person for the job — Information Technology Minister Anusha Rehman was among the most vocal and progressive voices in the previous government’s National Assembly Standing Committee on Information Technology. She was absolutely in favour of unblocking YouTube — so what went wrong? Plenty.

Since assuming power, the government has refused to tackle the issue seriously, opting instead to issue intermittent vague promises of an end to the ban, while near simultaneously insisting the ban would remain in place. This strategy may have worked indefinitely if it wasn’t for a petition filed in the Lahore High Court that resulted in a court ordered meeting in May between petitioners Bytes For All, members of the Ministry of Information Technology, including Anusha Rehman, and the heads of multiple government and corporate organisations, including the chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

The outcome of the meeting was positive and a joint submission by all stakeholders to the court is in the pipeline. This week, the National Assembly also unanimously adopted a resolution to lift the ban on YouTube, but stakeholders close to the issue are divided on whether these developments signal real progress.

“The National Assembly resolution is a big drama. A representative from YouTube has visited Pakistan three times in the last year but the minister refused to meet him,” a source close to the issue said, adding that Google submitted a solution in writing to the Senate months ago: interstitial warnings — a warning page before a video plays — that appears on every copy of Innocence of Muslims hosted on YouTube, not just in Pakistan, but globally.

Additionally, the source said Google also agreed to blocking any copies of the video in future if notified by Pakistan; however, a first list submitted by the government included numerous video block requests that were not copies of Innocence of Muslims. Given such tactics and massive delays on the part of the government, Google went ahead with this solution anyway.

“It’s really simple. Interstitials were offered to Pakistan just like they were offered to Bangladesh, which accepted the solution last year and ended the ban,” says Director of BoloBhi Farieha Aziz. “YouTube has already applied this, Pakistan doesn’t even have to request it — it’s been done. All that remains is for the PML-N government to make the decision to unban YouTube and move forward.”

For Google, this system was easy to implement as a stopgap solution until Pakistan introduces an intermediary liability protection (ILP) law, which the company has been demanding in order to establish a localised version of YouTube. The localised version of the site would give both Pakistan and Google greater flexibility in responding to such a crisis in future, but this option remains in limbo as ILP is part and parcel of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Ordinance which has remained in draft form for the last five years and was, ironically, the legislation Anusha Rehman worked on at length.

Those in the industry say Google is also not interested in ‘going down the Facebook path’ — a reference to the social network’s agreement with the government to restrict access to pages and groups as submitted by the PTA.

The agreement has been roundly criticised by human rights organisations due to its clandestine nature, and in light of the fact that Facebook pages such as that of Roshni.pk — an independent group lobbying for secularism in Pakistan — were restricted for local users by Facebook, while pages run by banned organisations and militant groups continue to operate with relative impunity.

According to those working on the issue, the interstitial warnings solution seems the only acceptable way forward in the short term.

“I can say with absolute authority there is no technical solution to blocking content on YouTube … even the government has realised that,” says Country Director of Bytes For All Pakistan Shahzad Ahmad, in reference to the recent joint meeting ordered by the LHC.

“Intermediary liability protection laws will also not be enough … mechanisms would have to be developed as simply imposing a law with no real systems in place will cause more harm than good,” he adds.

Given that interstitial warnings are already in place for Innocence of Muslims on YouTube and can be applied to any future videos that result in a crisis-like situation, ending the ban on YouTube appears to only be a question of political will — end the ban, flip the switch.

But what if interstitials are ‘not enough’ for the extremist elements that led the violent riots resulting in the ban on YouTube?

As Ahmad recalls, “This point has been brought up many times in the courtroom, and it has been used as a threat as well, with groups walking into sessions warning of dire consequences…but stopping danga fasaad is the state’s job, isn’t it? If mobs come out on the streets and break the law, should we fold over, or stay the course and do the right thing?”

The writer is the editor of dawn.com

Power crisis to ease with time, says PM

Khaleeq Kiani

KARACHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has urged the people enduring over 12 hours of loadshedding to remain patient for some time and promised that 4000-5000MW would to be added the national grid in three years and 21,000MW in eight to 10 years and the power crisis would be overcome.

KARACHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has urged the people enduring over 12 hours of loadshedding to remain patient for some time and promised that 4000-5000MW would to be added the national grid in three years and 21,000MW in eight to 10 years and the power crisis would be overcome.

“It is not possible to resolve this crisis in a day. It needs patience. You will have to be patient,” the prime minister said, adding that when he had come to power, the country was in the grip of darkness, the exchequer was in the red and poverty and unemployment were at their peak.

Speaking at the ground-breaking ceremony of a 660MW coal-based power plant at Port Qasim here on Tuesday, Mr Sharif said it was the first under the Pakistan-China economic corridor project in which Beijing would invest $33 billion.

He said the ground-breaking of another 660MW unit of the project would take place in a few days. In all, he announced initiation of work on 15,800MW coal-fired power projects in Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab. “It is not easy to put together $2bn investment in less than 10 months,” he said referring to the estimated cost of the 1,320MW Port Qasim project co-sponsored by Power Construction Corporation of China and Al-Mirqab Capital of Qatar.

He said this demonstrated international interest in Pakistan and also a success of his government’s economic and foreign policies as friends like China and Qatar were coming forward to support the country.

Former Ehtesab Bureau chief Saifur Rehman, who was behind an investigation campaign launched against independent power producers during the second PML-N government, has played a key role in persuading the Chinese and Qatari firms to invest in the Port Qasim project. Mr Rehman accompanied the prime minister at the ceremony.

Managing Director of the Private Power and Infrastructure Board N.A. Zuberi, who had signed the project’s agreement with the Chinese and Qatari firms, could not attend the ceremony because he has been arrested by the National Accountability Bureau in connection with the rental power project scandal.

The prime minister said that after coming to power he had spent most of his time on resolving the energy crisis, adding that the Port Qasim project would reduce tariff because of its low generation cost and provide affordable electricity to the people after its completion in 2017.

He said Al-Mirqab Capital was also interested in two projects of 660MW at Gadani where he would launch a 6,600MW coal power park in a couple of weeks.

He said he would attend the ground-breaking of the first 660MW plant in Thar and Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah would be happy to know that 10 projects of 660MW each would be set up at the mouth of Thar coalmine.

Besides, work on four coal-fired projects of 660MW each in Punjab’s Rahimyar Khan, Sahiwal, Jhang and Faisalabad and a 1000MW solar power plant in Bahawalpur will be completed soon. The prime minister said the 4,200MW Dasu power project in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 4,500MW Diamer-Bhasha dam in Gilgit-Baltistan would be launched soon.

The prime minister said his government was working on energy sector projects in all the four provinces and noted that the country had achieved 23,000MW capacity in 65 years of which only 13,800MW was now available, but he would add 21,000MW to the national grid in eight to 10 years.

He said that not only the energy sector projects but motorways, highways and railway tracks were also part of the $33bn Pakistan-China economic corridor and he was pushing forward the inauguration of Karachi-Lahore motorway as part of the corridor.

Mr Sharif recalled that when he had started the Lahore-Islamabad motorway project 20 years ago, he was criticised by all quarters but now they were praising his decision. He asked why no other leader started Karachi-Lahore motorway, why the previous governments did not start energy projects before shortages appeared and why his government was now expected to deliver on all fronts, from power generation to motorways and road construction.

He praised the Chinese government for its contribution to Pakistan’s development and financing of energy projects at a time when the country’s economy and banks did not have the capacity to finance more than one power project.

Economics driving foreign policy: PM

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Tuesday that his government’s foreign policy was driven by economic considerations and focussed on opportunities being offered by the resource-rich Middle East.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Tuesday that his government’s foreign policy was driven by economic considerations and focussed on opportunities being offered by the resource-rich Middle East.

The prime minister, who was speaking at a conference of the country’s envoys to Middle East and Gulf countries, sent out a message to Tehran ahead of his May 11 visit to Iran that Pakistan’s “special relationship” with Saudi Arabia was not at the cost of ties with Iran.

The three-day conference deliberated on how to maintain balance in ties with regional countries, particularly between arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The prime minister mentioned “special relationships with fraternal countries in the Gulf and Middle East” as reflected by the recent high-level exchanges with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

The growing closeness between Islamabad and Riyadh has caused concerns in Tehran.

But Mr Sharif’s message for the Iranian government was: “We have an equal aspiration to forge closer bilateral ties with all countries in the region. Our efforts to develop bilateral ties with one country are not, and will not be, at the expense of another. Pakistan remains ready to take two steps to greet a hand extended in friendship.”

He explained the rebalancing of foreign policy nuances by his government and attributed it to the need for greater integration with the rest of the world and efforts to strengthen economy.

“Foreign policy has also virtually become economic policy. My emphasis on economic diplomacy stems from this belief,” he said.

With its booming energy sector, developing infrastructure, thriving services sector and enhanced focus on connectivity, Middle East offered immense opportunities, he said.

Answering critics at home who accused the government of changing policy on Syria under Saudi pressure, and at the same time reassuring wary Iran, the prime minister said his government would continue a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

Mr Sharif said his government desired peace and tranquillity in Middle East.

Pakistan’s policy towards transition in the Arab world would continue to be guided by the principles enshrined in the United Nations’ charter.

In pursuance of the principles, Pakistan remained neutral during the early phase of Arab Spring which brought about changes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Mr Sharif said the defining principle of Pakistan’s foreign policy remained “peace for development” — building a peaceful external environment so that the core national objective of economic development could be advanced.

“On the external front, our central emphasis has been on building a peaceful neighbourhood. Accordingly, I have pursued a policy of constructive engagement with all our neighbours,” he said.

He urged the envoys to intensify economic diplomacy, ensure welfare of Pakistani diaspora and project Pakistan’s positive image.

16 killed in fresh Taliban infighting

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

MIRAMSHAH: Sixteen people were killed in clashes between rival Taliban groups in Shawal area of North Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday.

MIRAMSHAH: Sixteen people were killed in clashes between rival Taliban groups in Shawal area of North Waziristan tribal region on Tuesday.

Sources said the clashes started in the morning after an attack by militants belonging to the Khan Said alias Sanja group on positions of Shehryar group and continued intermittently till late night.

They said both sides used light and heavy weapons, including rockets and mortars.

Another source claimed that the two groups had been attacking each other’s positions for three days.

The fighting between the two groups claimed over 50 lives in April. Several important militants, including Amir Hamza of the Sajna group and Kashid Mehsud of the Sheryar group, were among the dead.

Meanwhile, two people were killed and two injured in a bomb blast in Zafar town of Miramshah on Tuesday.

The dead and the injured belonged to the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.

FC, Iranian border security force to set up hotline

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to repair bilateral ties frayed by recent developments, Pakistan and Iran agreed on Tuesday to establish hotline between the Frontier Corps in Balochistan and the Iranian border security force.

ISLAMABAD: In a bid to repair bilateral ties frayed by recent developments, Pakistan and Iran agreed on Tuesday to establish hotline between the Frontier Corps in Balochistan and the Iranian border security force.

“We have also proposed setting up of a hotline between directors general of military operations of the two countries,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said at a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli on Tuesday after a round of formal talks between the two sides.

On Feb 6 this year, terrorist group Jaish-ul Adl, alleged to have been operating from Balochistan, kidnapped five Iranian border guards. On March 17, the Iranian government threatened to send its security forces into Pakistan if it did not act to free the guards.

Four of the kidnapped guards were freed in early April, but the fate of the fifth guard could not be known.

Chaudhry Nisar reaffirmed Islamabad’s position that the kidnapped guards were never in Pakistan and that the question of the fifth guard’s presence in Pakistan did not arise at all.

But the Iranian minister said Tehran had already provided images and documents about the terrorist group and would give more information to Islamabad.

Mr Fazli said Iran and Pakistan had agreed to conduct joint operations against terrorism where necessary, but Chaudhry Nisar clarified and said: “If there is an issue on this side, Pakistan’s security forces will carry out an operation and if it is on the other side, the operation will be conducted by Iranian forces.”

The two sides discussed issues of security, cross-border terrorism, smuggling, human trafficking, greater intelligence sharing, cooperation between the security and intelligence apparatuses and promotion of economic ties.

Chaudhry Nisar said different aspects of bilateral relations came under discussion and “both sides agreed to form a joint task force or commission to work out an agenda for the coming visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Iran”.

He said the PML-N government wanted that ties with Iran reflected aspirations of the two nations and served as a model for others. “We have common faith, history and culture and sky is the limit for our relations. Any irritant must be removed and we must grab this opportunity.”

In reply to a question, Chaudhry Nisar rejected any violation of Pakistan’s borders by Iran and said no such incident had taken place. “This is an unfair question. I do not know where you get this misleading information from,” he told the questioner.

In reply to another question, he said Pakistan had the best of relations with Saudi Arabia and the best of ties with Iran.

About the implementation of security agreement with Iran, he said Pakistan had some concerns and was in the process of evaluating its response. “We have done our homework and will move speedily.”

In February last year, the two countries had signed a security agreement envisaging cooperation in combating terrorism and drug smuggling.

Mr Fazli said promotion of good relations with Pakistan and other Islamic and regional countries was the cornerstone of Iranian foreign policy. He said Iran also wanted to have good relations with Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan and Iran were taking steps for implementation of a security agreement. The Iranian parliament had already ratified the agreement, he added.

Mr Fazli suggested a meeting of interior ministers of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve the situation in Balochistan.

Earlier, the Iranian interior minister called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“Pakistan attaches great importance to its brotherly relations with Iran and seeking a peaceful neighbourhood remains a policy priority of my government,” Mr Sharif told the Iranian minister.

He called for steps to bolster economic ties. “We need to promote strategies aimed at reinforcing our border regions through physical connectivity and joint border trade markets.”

The prime minister observed that his visit to Iran would not only serve as a political affirmation of brotherly bilateral relations but would also set a new direction for future based on mutual trust, confidence and partnership.

Pakistan struggles to cope with aftermath of WHO polio curbs

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is still reeling from the fallout of the travel restrictions imposed on it by the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of polio virus.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is still reeling from the fallout of the travel restrictions imposed on it by the World Health Organisation to prevent the spread of polio virus.

The Ministry of National Health Services is expected to hold a meeting on Wednesday with representatives of provincial governments and other stakeholders to discuss the developments following the imposition of WHO restrictions.

The ministry is also likely to hold a press conference to inform the public about the steps being taken by it.

On Tuesday, four women legislators moved a call-attention notice in the National Assembly. Minister for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, informed the house that the government was developing a strategy to combat the virus. She said provincial health ministers were being taken on board and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was taking personal interest in the matter.

Mr Sharif had met the head of the WHO to discuss the issue, she added.

“Religious scholars are also getting involved with the campaign and the Imaam-i-Kaaba was expected to visit Pakistan soon to augment the government’s efforts,” she said.

Also on Tuesday, Khawaja Salman Rafique, the Punjab chief minister’s adviser on health, told DawnNews that his government would seek to enforce a similar immunisation regime at entry and exit points of the province. Of all the provinces, Punjab is the one with the lowest reported instances of polio.

Mr Rafique said all children entering Punjab, either from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or Sindh, would be required to present a proof of immunisation or take polio drops on the spot.

Passengers on various international flights appeared confused on Tuesday and most of them had no idea what the restrictions meant for travellers.

Islamabad airport manager Ayaz Jadoon told Dawn that they had not received any instructions yet about polio certification from the health department. The Civil Aviation Authority was operating a ‘health counter’ to facilitate passengers.

Immunisation counters are operative at Lahore and Karachi airports because of an existing requirement for passengers travelling to India.

Sources said similar counters would soon be operational at Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta airports.

The added burden of acquiring an immunisation certificate has made life difficult for Pakistanis travelling abroad.

“It’s hard enough getting all the documents ready for our visa, now we have to provide proof of vaccination too. This is too much,” said Nida Ahmed, who is scheduled to fly to Kazakhstan for a conference next week. Ms Ahmed said she wasn’t sure what the new rules were. “So I’ll call up the embassy tomorrow and find out whether I need to get vaccinated again.”

Senior citizens were also greatly inconvenienced by the sudden implementation of the WHO travel restrictions. “My aged husband and I spent three hours on Tuesday in the ministry of national health services waiting for someone to administer polio drops to us,” a woman told Dawn.

“We were severely inconvenienced and the ministry was crowded with would-be travellers who had shown up to get shots at the last minute,” she said.

Travel agents also appeared to be unaware of the new rules. Mohammad Khurram, who runs a travel agency in Blue Area, said he had no idea what the restrictions would mean for those who had already bought their tickets. “When the government makes an announcement, we will be able to facilitate our customers accordingly,” he said.

Meanwhile, the WHO sent a 16-page specimen ‘International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis’ to the ministry of national health services, which the international body recommended be used by travellers. The certificate requires minute details, such as the name, details of the brand name, manufacturers and batch number of the vaccine administered.

A WHO official told Dawn that the travel restrictions on Pakistan came into effect from May 5. “It is now mandatory for the government to ensure that each individual who wishes to travel abroad should have proof of vaccination,” he said.

The official said that although other countries were not under obligation to prevent travellers from Pakistan from entering, they had the prerogative to turn back passengers who failed to produce proof of immunisation.

Health officials advised those intending to travel abroad should visit public sector hospitals for vaccination and to obtain a bona fide certificate of immunisation.

Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences Vice Chancellor Dr Javed Akram told Dawn that they had ordered nearly 4,000 immunisation certificates which would be available to anyone who came to the hospital for a polio shot.

“The certificates will be issued free of cost and from the time you walk into the hospital, the process should take a mere 15 minutes. The certificate will be valid for one year and if someone misplaces it, they can always get a duplicate issued from the same place,” he said.

“Counters are being established at airports, but they will be used only in case of an emergency. I would advise everyone to come to get their certificates from Pims.”

Dr Akram debunked rumours that the polio vaccine was unsafe for adults, explaining that even though they might have been inoculated as children, it was perfectly safe for adults to consume a few more drops of the vaccine.

“The virus attacks the spinal cords of children less than five years of age. Although adults cannot contract the disease per se, they can still carry the virus,” he said.

Several embassies in Islamabad were unclear what the WHO’s travel restrictions meant for Pakistanis wishing to travel abroad.

“The US embassy in Islamabad is evaluating the WHO’s recommendations. At the moment the embassy has no requirements regarding proof of vaccination from visitors travelling to the United States,” said Meghan Gregonis, a spokesperson for the US embassy.

An official of the Indian High Commission told Dawn their their government already required travellers from Pakistan to produce proof of vaccination, without which they could not apply for an Indian visa.

WHO puts shackles on Pakistan over polio

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: The inevitable has finally happened. To prevent the possible spread of the polio virus from Pakistan to other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decided on Monday to impose strict travel restrictions on the country.

ISLAMABAD: The inevitable has finally happened. To prevent the possible spread of the polio virus from Pakistan to other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decided on Monday to impose strict travel restrictions on the country.

The decision was taken on the recommendation of the emergency committee of WHO, which had met on April 28 and suggested imposing travel restriction on Pakistan because of the continuous increase in polio cases in the country.

An official who works for WHO said that last year 60 per cent polio cases were a result of the international spread of the wild poliovirus. There was evidence that adult travellers contributed to this spread, he added.

Although polio only affects children, adults can be carriers of the disease.

The Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, said that the government would try to address the concerns of the WHO so that by the next assessment (the decision will be reviewed in three months), the travel restrictions are reversed.

She said that the restrictions had been imposed on Syria and Cameroon along with Pakistan, while seven countries were warned to control the virus.

“I tried to avoid the ban by suggesting that the sanctions should be applicable on the Federally Administered Tribal Area, but the WHO said that it only dealt with international boundaries.”

Pakistan’s polio problem

The spread of polio in Pakistan has been a big worry for the past few years.

The virus strain of polio found in the country has affected as many as five countries over the past two years, becoming a serious threat to other countries.

Individual countries had already taken steps to stop the spread.

In February, India had banned the entry of travellers from Pakistan unless they had taken Oral Polio Vaccination (OPV) at least six week before the visit.

Saudi Arabia had back in 2000 made it mandatory that every Pakistani (children and adults) had taken OPV at the time of entry in that country.

Within Pakistan, each successive year has witnessed a higher number of children diagnosed with polio.

For example, in the first four months of the current year, 59 cases of polio have been recorded. The corresponding period last year witnessed only eight cases.

There is no single reason for the spread of the disease; the factors range from irrational fears to a limited campaign to militancy.

Many people appear to believe that the polio vaccine can cause fertility problems or that it is against Islam. The inefficacy of the drugs being used to vaccinate is also a problem as is the internal displacement due to which children have missed doses.

The problem was compounded by the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 – Dr Shakil Afridi is seen to have helped traced Osama through a fake polio vaccination drive, which too prejudiced people against the campaign. And since the incident, the Taliban and other militants have also opposed the polio vaccination campaign more aggressively.

All these factors have ensured that the government efforts remain sketchy at best.

An official of the ministry of national health services said that despite all the efforts of the ministry to raise awareness about the Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) in December last year, 47,099 children were missed all over Pakistan because their parents refused the vaccination.

And the resistance by the militants can be gauged from the fact that 40 polio workers and security officials have been killed during polio campaigns.

WHO meeting

According to an official statement issued by WHO, the April meeting was attended by representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.

Calling the spread of the disease an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk, the Emergency Committee of WHO said that “During 2014, international spread of wild poliovirus is being done from three of the 10 states that are currently infected. In central Asia, the virus is travelling from Pakistan to Afghanistan; in the Middle East it is travelling from Syria to Iraq and in central Africa it is travelling from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea.”

It then recommended that “all residents and long-term visitors (less than four weeks) receive a dose of OPV or IPV between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel”.

The meeting also pointed out that seven states – Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria – were infected with Wild Poliovirus, but they were not exporting the virus.

The WHO approved recommendations on Monday and decided to reassess the situation after three months.

Logistics to be worked out

It is already evident that is going to be a logistical nightmare to ensure Pakistani travellers have taken the drops before proceeding outside the country.

The government will not only have to set up a system of administering the vaccination but also issue a certificate. In addition, it will have to ensure that this facility is available to all those who use different exit points across the country.

Not everyone is convinced that the government has the resources to do this.

Dr Waseem Khawaja, a health expert, said that it would not be easy for already overburdened government hospitals to issue polio vaccination certificates to travellers. “Additional human resources and counters will be required.”

He pointed out that a majority of travellers, especially those going to the Middle East, would have to be educated and informed about the issue.

The health minister explained that she had called a meeting on Wednesday to formulate a strategy to deal with the travel ban.

“Certificates of polio vaccination will be issued from every hospital. We will also try to make arrangements to give the vaccine to people at airports as they are proceeding abroad. I am trying my best to ensure that no fee is charged for these polio certificates,” she said.

According to the minister, the restrictions would be implemented as soon as possible but not on those who had already reserved their seats.

She said that the government would try to start polio vaccination in Fata.

Meanwhile, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that Pakistan was in contact with WHO over the travel restriction.

Nawaz hopeful of Taliban talks success

From the Newspaper

LONDON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he still hopes that talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan can succeed, despite the militants having ended a ceasefire.

LONDON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif says he still hopes that talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan can succeed, despite the militants having ended a ceasefire.

Speaking to BBC Urdu in an interview in London, he said talks offered the ‘best option’ of ending the country’s long conflict.

Accoprding to a report on BBC website, the prime minister said he believed his talks strategy could “bring peace without any further bloodshed”.

“If we can make this process somehow successful, I think it will be the best option.”

There are reports that some people in Pakistan are worried the talks will allow the militants time to gain strength and regroup. And observers doubt the militants are willing to respect the constitution.

From its bases mainly in the north-west, the TTP is committed to enforcing its austere version of Islamic law or Sharia across Pakistan.

But Mr Sharif said the militants would have to respect the constitution and lay down their arms.

“This of course is the number one condition that has to be met.

“We are making progress on these issues. Let us see if the next round of meetings are successful and we can find a way to make headway in the talks we are holding with each other.”

Few observers, the BBC report says, think it likely the militants will accede to the government’s demands. On the other hand, the powerful army is watching the talks anxiously, reluctant to hand over hard-won gains to the militants.

Two rounds of negotiations have already been held. The prime minister said it would take two or three more meetings for the sides to know “how sincere we are with each other and how the talks are progressing”.

He added that security had improved while the talks have been under way.

Violence has fallen from the levels seen last year, but since the brief ceasefire ended in mid-April, there have been more attacks in Pakistani cities. Air strikes on militant strongholds in the country’s tribal regions have resumed.

The Taliban say they remain committed to peace talks, but accuse the government of being silent about their demands – which include the release of prisoners.

Reported cases

From the Newspaper

A total of 59 polio cases reported in Pakistan in 2014.

A total of 59 polio cases reported in Pakistan in 2014.

Fata: 46 cases [North Waziristan 40, South Waziristan four, Khyber Agency one, F.R. Bannu one].

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa: nine cases [Bannu 5, Peshawar 4].

Karachi: four cases [Gadap two, Orangi Town one, Baldia one].

Punjab: The last case reported from Toba Tek Singh was in December 2013.

Balochistan: The last case reported from Sheerani district was in October 2012.

Govt papers over problems with army

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: The government seemed trying to paper over its problems with the military as one minister dismissed them with an unusual abandon in the National Assembly on Monday.

ISLAMABAD: The government seemed trying to paper over its problems with the military as one minister dismissed them with an unusual abandon in the National Assembly on Monday.

Apparent differences within the opposition helped the ruling PML-N overcome protests and some fireworks as it took upon itself to offer a debate on law and order, pre-empting different adjournment motions of opposition lawmakers seeking separate discussion on issues including the government-military relationship.

And the move brought Minister for States and Frontier Regions retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch to declare that democracy faced “no danger” from the army or its present chief. “The army’s command at present is in the hands of the most professional, competent and non-political chief, (and) democracy has no danger from him,” the minister said in his Urdu remarks.

Nobody had yet talked in the house of any threat to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s 11-month-old government from the military, and the minister’s response to a couple of rather muted opposition speeches raised questions of whether he should have talked at this forum in such a carefree manner.

In an obvious reference to joint protest marches plan­ned by opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehrik of Allama Tahirul Qadri on Sunday on first anniversary of the May 11, 2013 general elections to protest against alleged rigging of that vote, Mr Baloch further said: “The army will never become a party to wrapping up democracy … and will not play with the will of the people.”

While Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the most senior member of the prime minister’s cabinet, left the house before the start of the debate on law and order, and Defence Minister Khwaja Asif too was not present to speak about affairs concerning the military, it fell to the lot of a rather lower-profile Mr Baloch to speak on one of the most important issues agitating the minds of people just as the government is about to complete its first year in office.

An obvious attempt by Chaudhry Nisar to avoid speaking on the subject raised doubts whether Mr Baloch’s choice of words would find favour with higher echelons of the ruling party.

Initial opposition protests against the government’s move to sideline their adjournment motions proved short-lived after the main opposition PPP did not press the issue much, leaving only the second-biggest PTI and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid Ahmed to agitate the issue.

Sheikh Rashid provoked some rival shouting from the ruling party after he accused the government of “wanting to deceive the nation” and demanded that the house pass a resolution expressing solidarity with an “important” national security institution.

This was a reference to the Inter-Services Intelligence as response to a perceived humiliation of the country’s top intelligence agency by a private television channel by blaming on it a mysterious April 19 shooting that wounded a channel talk show host, Hamid Mir, while driving on a Karachi road.

The PTI and many other critics accuse the government of taking sides against the ISI in the affair, which led to speculation of a further stra­ining of the government-military relationship that started with an apparently humiliating indictment of former president retired Gen Pervez Musharraf for high treason.

But Mr Baloch, while assuring the house that the government would bring the Karachi attackers to justice, used quite strong words as he denounced the television channel for its coverage showing the ISI in bad light and for what he called sowing of misgivings about the Musharraf trial.

Earlier, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement walked out of the house and did not return for the remainder of the sitting after one of its members, Abdul Rashid Godil, while speaking in the debate, protested against the alleged targeting of his party workers in the ongoing anti-crime crackdown in Karachi.

27 missing persons traced

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court-appointed commission on enforced disappearances claimed on Monday that it had resolved 27 missing person cases last month, saying that most of these persons were found detained at various “internment centres” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court-appointed commission on enforced disappearances claimed on Monday that it had resolved 27 missing person cases last month, saying that most of these persons were found detained at various “internment centres” in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The figures, released by the two-member Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances, headed by retired Justice Javed Iqbal, revealed that the number of missing people had been increasing constantly — 1,846 cases had come to light since Jan 1, 2011, the day the commission started its work.

According to the list of traced persons, six are detained at an internment centre in Lakki Marwat, four in Kohat and five in two internment centres in Swat Valley, from where most of the persons have gone missing. Six persons have returned home on their own while one named Hafiz Hassan Akbar, son of Muhammad Akbar Shah, is in “judicial custody”.

The official announcement, however, is silent about the reasons and charges for which these people have been kept at the internment centres. It is also not clear whether these centres are being run by the military or civilian authorities. There is also no answer to two key questions — who had picked them up and who disclosed their whereabouts.

The commission, however, reiterated its “commitment and determination to make all-out efforts to trace the missing persons”.

Former IG Muhammad Sharif Virk is the other member of the commission.

The commission said there were 138 missing person cases pending before it on Jan 1, 2011, and since then it had received 1,846 new cases, bringing the total to 1,984.

The announcement comes one week after a police action against the protesting relatives of missing persons in Islamabad and registration of cases against 300 people for allegedly holding an “unlawful” rally and “attacking” security personnel.

The commission, constituted on the directives of the apex court four years ago, has so far disposed of 657 cases, according to the announcement. The commission said it had succeeded in tracing 27 persons last month when it held its proceedings in Islamabad. Four of the 27 cases do not relate to the “missing persons” — the term used in the country after former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf declared his support to the US-led “war against terror” after the 9/11 attacks.

Relatives and families of the missing persons accuse intelligence and security agencies of picking up these people for their alleged links with terrorist organisations. The cases of missing persons have mostly been reported from Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas.

The persons who have been traced are: Sharifzada s/o Bakhtzada; Fazal Subhan s/o Muhammad Yousuf; Mian Syed Azim s/o Mian Syed Jaffar; Tahir Ali s/o Said Nabi; Azam Din s/o Pir Zadin and Noor Hadi s/o Bacha Khan (Lakki Marwat interment centre); Sabir Ali s/o Wazir Zada; Yousuf Shah s/o Khadim; Asghar Muhammad s/o Muhabbat Khan and Kamal Ahmed s/o Ahmed Khan (Kohat); Barkat Khan s/o Barkat Zarin; Imtiaz s/o Abdul Ghaffar and Attaullah s/o Sultanat Khan (Paithom, Swat Valley); Muhammad Zarmeen s/o Muhammad Zareen and Zafar Ali s/o Muhammad Zubair (Fizagat, Swat Valley).

The six persons who have returned home are: Zareef Khan s/o Adam Khan; Khubabur Rehman s/o Kamal Rehman; Sher Muhammad s/o Rafiqul Bari; Muhammad Amir Iqbal s/o Abdul Ghaffar Khan; Karim Khan s/o Unknown and Khaista Rehman s/o Rasool Muhammad.

FC claims killing 10 militants in Panjgur

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: At least 10 suspected militants were killed in a clash with Frontier Corps in the mountainous area of Panjgur district on Monday.

QUETTA: At least 10 suspected militants were killed in a clash with Frontier Corps in the mountainous area of Panjgur district on Monday.

Balochistan Home Minister Mir Sarfarz Bugti said at a press conference that the Panjgur Rifles of the FC were carrying out a search operation against militants when the shootout took place.

The operation, he said, was launched on the basis of intelligence reports that militant organisations were running training camps in the remote mountainous area.

Militants attacked FC personnel with rockets and advanced weapons, causing injuries to three soldiers. He said that the FC team fired back and killed 10 assailants. “A number of militants escaped after the encounter, the minister said.

Mr Bugti said that bodies of the militants would soon be presented before the media.

He said that the injured FC personnel were taken in a helicopter to the Combined Military Hospital in Quetta.

According to the minister, the operation started early in the morning and continued till evening. Security forces destroyed a network of training camps and hideouts of militants and seized a heavy cache of arms and ammunition.

“Militants belonging to different banned organisations — including the Baloch Liberation Army, United Baloch Liberation Front, Baloch Republican Army and United Baloch Army — have been involved in the killing of innocent people and other subversive activities in different parts of Balochistan,” the minister said.

FC spokesman Wasay Khan claimed that three hideouts and two vehicles of militants were destroyed.

He said that helicopters had been used to transport FC personnel to the mountainous area.

He accused the slain militants of having been involved in attacks on rescue workers in the earthquake-hit district of Awaran and employees of Frontier Works Organisation working on the NA-85 highway project in Panjgur.

Water release cut hits power generation

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: With hydroelectric power generation declining further by up to 600 megawatts, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) is under pressure to bail out power companies as electricity outages have gone beyond an average of 10 hours a day.

ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: With hydroelectric power generation declining further by up to 600 megawatts, the Indus River System Authority (Irsa) is under pressure to bail out power companies as electricity outages have gone beyond an average of 10 hours a day.

According to sources, Irsa has been reducing discharges from water reservoirs for the past two days due to increasing flows in river Kabul. “This has upset the power authorities,” said the sources, adding that the Ministry of Water and Power had desired higher discharges from reservoirs to partially offset the peak energy demand.

An official said the ministry had asked Irsa to review its discharge pattern but the authority had declined to oblige because the provinces were not ready to increase their demands for irrigation at this stage.

Irsa informed the government that it would continue with the priority of building up storage at this stage as the Kabul and Chenab rivers met provincial irrigation requirements in the early part of the new cropping season.

The sources said the power shortage could increase over the coming days amid increasing temperatures in the catchment areas and resultant better flows in rivers not contributing to dams, like Kabul and Chenab.

Officials said the further cut in discharges from the two dams was expected because of improved Kabul flows and none of the provinces had any problem with the prevailing discharge pattern because their indents were being fully met.

Irsa was releasing about 47,000 cusec of water from Tarbela Dam and 50,000 cusec from Mangla two days ago when the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda) produced an average of 3,200MW, with a peak of 4,000MW.

It curtailed the discharges to 35,000 cusec from Tarbela and 45,000 cusec from Mangla, thus cutting down hydropower generation by 400-500MW.

On Sunday, Irsa made another cut to 30,000 cusec from Tarbela and 38,000 cusec from Mangla.

The officials said the river Kabul flow had risen to 75,000 cusec from 50,000 cusec a couple of days ago because of a sudden increase in temperatures in its catchment areas leading to snow melting.

Likewise, river Chenab was also contributing reasonably to the irrigation system as its flow increased from 25,000 cusec to 35,000 cusec. Flows in both these rivers were expected to increase in coming days as temperatures went up, the sources said.

Meanwhile, people continued to face hardships due to frequent outages.

Both cities and villages faced loadshedding almost on an hourly basis, exceeding the power shutdown schedule of eight to 10 hours in urban and over 12 hours in rural areas.

The massive loadshedding has disrupted the routine business.

“We were expecting that the situation would be better this summer than last year but it is almost the same,” a resident of Lahore said.

According to the National Transmission and Dispatch Company (NTDC), the total power generation on Sunday morning was 11,200MW. “Since the total demand was 14,200MW, there was a shortfall of 3,000MW,” an NTDC spokesman told Dawn.

He said the situation would improve after release of the required water from Tarbela.

The spokesman expressed the hope that “Sunday’s downpour will also help in improving the situation”.

Soldier killed in firing from Afghanistan

Anwarullah Khan

KHAR: A Pakistani soldier was killed when bullets fired from across the Afghan border hit a checkpost in Bajaur Agency on Sunday, administration officials said.

KHAR: A Pakistani soldier was killed when bullets fired from across the Afghan border hit a checkpost in Bajaur Agency on Sunday, administration officials said.

The Frontier Crops checkpost that came under attack is located along the border in Ghakhi area of Lovi Mamond tehsil, 30km from here.

FC personnel fired back but there were no reports about any casualty, they said.

“Amid uncertainty about the perpetrators of the assault, the administration in collaboration with security forces and village defence committees has launched an investigation into the incident,” said an official.

Meanwhile, the political administration of Bajaur demolished the house of a suspected militant on Sunday.

Officials said the Levies personnel blew up the house of Zameen Khan in Nazar Meena area of Barang tehsil.

Key official’s arrest may leave govt red-faced

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: In what seems like a move tailored to embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has picked up the head of a government-run power board — who is supposed to be a key part of the ground-breaking ceremony for a 1,320 megawatt power project scheduled to be held in Karachi on Tuesday.

ISLAMABAD: In what seems like a move tailored to embarrass the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has picked up the head of a government-run power board — who is supposed to be a key part of the ground-breaking ceremony for a 1,320 megawatt power project scheduled to be held in Karachi on Tuesday.

According to NAB spokesperson Ramzan Sajid, the bureau arrested on Sunday three people in connection with a Rs22 billion rental power project (RPP) scam. The three men picked up are Private Power and Infrastructure Board (PPIB) Managing Director N.A. Zuberi and two former chief executive officers of Lakhra Power Generation Company Limited (LPGCL-Genco) Anwar Brohi and Muhammad Jamil. The former was taken into custody from Islamabad while the other two were picked up from Karachi.

The NAB spokesperson said the bureau was investigating the allegedly illegal award of contract to M/s Karkey Karadenize Electric Uretium, a Turkish company, for the commissioning of a rental power project in Karachi. An agreement to this effect was signed between Karkey and LPGCL, he added.

“The three men in custody are accused of causing massive losses to the national exchequer by extending undue favours to the Turkish firm,” he said.

He said the estimated losses recoverable from Karkey amounted to nearly $128.14 million, in addition to a mark-up of about Rs120m. Nearly Rs672.70m is to be recovered from the public office holders responsible, he said, adding: “The accused will be produced before an accountability court so we can obtain their physical remand.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to be the chief guest at the ground-breaking ceremony of the coal-fired Port Qasim Power Plant on May 6, a project supervised by the PPIB. The ceremony is likely to be attended by foreign delegates and investors, invited by the PPIB to invest in the power sector.

In this context, the PPIB chief’s arrest could undermine the confidence of foreign investors and may embarrass the prime minister when he meets these foreign delegates at the ceremony.

According to the Prime Minister Office, on Aug 29 last year, M/s QINVEST LLC, Doha, Qatar, M/s Power Construction Corporation of China (Power China), M/s SEPCOIII Electric Power Construction Corp, the government of Punjab and PPIB signed an MoU for the development of 10x660MW (2x660MW in phase-I and 8x660MW in phase-II) coal-fired power project for the coastal areas of Gadani in Balochistan.

The project to be commissioned on Tuesday is a joint venture of Sinohydro Resources Limited, China, (a wholly owned subsidiary of M/s Power Construction Corporation of China) and M/s Al-Mirqab Capital, Qatar. They will undertake the development of two 660MW coal-based power projects at Port Qasim. A ‘Notice to Proceed’ was issued by the PPIB to sponsors on March 6 this year.

Despite repeated attempts, a PPIB spokesperson was not available for comment.

Separately, a source in the water and power ministry told Dawn that most of the major players in the Rs22bn RPP scam were roaming free, while those who were not behind the corruption were being grilled. Some of the main accused who are still not in NAB custody include former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf, former federal minister Shaukat Tareen, former water and power secretary Shahid Rafi and Fayyaz Elahi, former managing director of PPIB.

Focus now on Afghan families displaced by landslide

AP

ABI BARIK (Afghanistan): As Afghans observed a day of mourning on Sunday for the hundreds of people killed in a horrific landslide, authorities tried to help the 700 families displaced by the torrent of mud that swept through their village.

ABI BARIK (Afghanistan): As Afghans observed a day of mourning on Sunday for the hundreds of people killed in a horrific landslide, authorities tried to help the 700 families displaced by the torrent of mud that swept through their village.

The families left their homes due to the threat of more landslides in the village of Abi Barik in Badakhshan province, Minister for Rural Rehabilitation Wais Ahmad Barmak said.

Another reason for the evacuation was the threat of flooding caused in part by the landslide itself, said Mohammad Daim Kakar, from the Afghanistan Natural Disaster Management Authority. He said the shifting earth had made it difficult for water to drain through the valley — a serious concern as rain continued to fall on Sunday.

Engineers are working on a plan to divert the water, he said.

Aid groups and the government have rushed to the remote area in northeastern Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan and China with food, shelter and water. But for those affected, help was slow to arrive.

“My family, my wife and eight children are alive, but have nothing to use as shelter. We have nothing to eat,” said Barat Bay, a 50-year-old farmer and father of eight.

“We have passed the last two nights with our children at the top of this hill with no tent, no blanket.”

Kakar, who visited the area on Sunday, acknowledged that aid had yet to reach some people but said their efforts were complicated by villagers from areas unaffected by the landslide also coming to claim the aid.

A spokesman for the International Organisation of Migration, Matt Graydon, said the group was bringing in solar-powered lanterns, blankets and shelter kits. He said after a visit to the area that some residents had gone to nearby villages to stay with family or friends while others had slept out in the open. “Some people left with almost nothing,” Graydon said.

Authorities visiting from Kabul gave $800,000 to the provincial governor during visits on Saturday and Sunday to use in the aid effort, said Kakar and Barmak, who promised that the government would pay more if needed.

President Hamid Karzai designated Sunday as a day of mourning for the hundreds of people who died when a wall of mud and earth broke off from the hill above and turned part of the village into a cemetery.

Authorities still don’t have an exact figure on how many people died in the landslide, Barmak said, and estimates have ranged from 250 to 2,700.

The government had identified 250 people who died and estimated that 300 houses were buried under tons of mud, Barmak said.

It would be impossible to dig up all the bodies, but many people continued to look on their own, said Abdullah Homayun Dehqan, the head of Badakhshan province’s National Disaster Department.

He said officials met community elders on Sunday in Faizabad, the provincial capital, to see whether they wanted the government to continue digging, but said no final decision had been made.

Friends and foes in NA keen to hear from PM

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: As the National Assembly begins its first session of the summer on Monday, friends and foes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would both surely be keen to hear from him on some of the burning issues that face Pakistan as the government completes a full year in office.

ISLAMABAD: As the National Assembly begins its first session of the summer on Monday, friends and foes of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif would both surely be keen to hear from him on some of the burning issues that face Pakistan as the government completes a full year in office.

But with the experience of his parliamentary conduct from the past 11 months fresh in their minds, lawmakers will be kept guessing whether the prime minister will come to the session at all. No matter that the hottest topic for debate around the country is the perceived troubles in his government’s relations with the military. No matter even that certain groups have vowed to take to the streets to challenge the election that brought him into power for the third time.

The session, tentatively scheduled to continue until May 16, is likely to be the last regular session of the current financial year before the government unveils its second budget in early June.

Amid heated political discussions outside parliament, which coincided with a sudden rise in temperatures after an unusually wet spring, the house just might see some fireworks at the start of the session, while more might follow in the days to come.

It remains to be seen whether the government prefers to inform the house on certain important issues or will it let opposition parties seek debate through adjournment motions, or simply raise such matters in speeches on points of order.

But opposition parties are likely to demand — as they have done in the past, albeit with limited success — that the prime minister “take them into confidence” on issues such as the alleged standoff with the army, from the treason trial of former army chief Pervez Musharraf to the currently stalled peace talks with Taliban rebels.

Any attempt by Defence Minister Khawaja Asif to assuage opposition fears, regarding the military’s grouse, has little chances of success. This is because some of his own outbursts, including those recently as well as those from the distant past, have been blamed by his critics for straining relations with the army.

And for some months now, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan — who is in charge of the peace process with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — is being viewed as a red rage by the opposition in both houses of parliament.

The prime minister has come to the lower house only a few times since the present government took office in early June, hardly keeping a promise made on his last visit to the house in late February — when the interior minister announced a new national security policy — that he would not disappoint lawmakers with a prolonged absence.

The opposition-controlled Senate has been even more unfortunate, not graced by the prime minister even once during his present term. An unprecedented opposition-forced amendment in the Senate rules of business last month now requires the prime minister to attend house proceedings at least once a week. But this too was ignored with obvious disdain.

The ruling PML-N has an idea what mood the opposition will be in at a meeting of the joint business advisory committee, called by Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq for Monday afternoon. Scheduled to take place before the start of the session at 4pm, the committee will formally decide the duration of the session and possible business to be transacted.

Apart from issues like the government-military rift and the prospects of peace talks with the TTP following their refusal to extend a ceasefire, the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and its allies are likely to bring up their grievances in the house. The PTI has been complaining about the alleged rigging that took place in the general elections of 2013 and has planned marches on the first anniversary of that vote.

The PPP has made it clear it will have no truck with the PTI-led protests. It has also distanced itself from allegations that the PML-N government had taken sides against the Inter-Services Intelligence in a row with Geo TV over the mysterious shooting that wounded senior journalist Hamid Mir in Karachi last month.

It will be worth watching what stance the JUI-F takes in the new session, especially after two of its lawmakers resigned from their cabinet positions last month over not being given portfolios of their choice.

It will also be interesting to see whether the MQM sticks with the PPP in the National Assembly, after recently joining the government of Sindh.

Protesters torch D.I. Khan sugar mills

Irfan Mughal

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Protesting against the death of their relatives in a drain of toxic effluent, enraged villagers ransacked a sugar mills and set its building on fire in the Ramak area of Dera Ismail Khan on Saturday.

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Protesting against the death of their relatives in a drain of toxic effluent, enraged villagers ransacked a sugar mills and set its building on fire in the Ramak area of Dera Ismail Khan on Saturday.

Police arrested seven employees, including the general manager and production manager, of the Chashma Sugar Mills No 2 after registering a case against them in connection with the death on Friday of 10 people in the drain filled with effluent from the mills.

Police had initially clai­med that at least 13 people had drowned in the drain.

The protesters gathered outside the factory and entered it after smashing its main gate.

They ransacked its main building and torched the ethanol plant, GM’s office, zonal office and record office.

Police had to resort to baton-charge and firing in the air to disperse the protesters. Four protesters and a police constable were injured.

Meanwhile, the 10 victims of the incident were buried in Palwan village on Saturday. Thousands of people attended the funeral prayers.

Police said a case had been registered on the complaint of Allah Ditta against the arrested employees of the mills.

The complainant told police that his son Bashir Khan and a colleague of his were harvesting wheat when they heard cries of two women who had been stuck in the drain and were calling for help.

“Bashir fainted after jumping into the drain to rescue the women. Other people busy in harvesting work also rushed to the drain. They too tried to rescue the women but got stuck in the toxic effluent and lost their lives,” he said.

The commissioner of Dera Ismail Khan has constituted a three-member committee to hold an inquiry into the incident and submit a report in 15 days.

Several sugar mills in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are functioning without proper arrangements for treating their effluent.

They pollute rivers and lakes by discharging into them the untreated effluent. Complaints to the authorities go unheeded .

FC man dies in Bolan blast

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

QUETTA: A Frontier Corps soldier was killed and another seriously injured when their vehicle hit an explosive device near Dhadar area in Bolan district on Saturday, official sources said.

QUETTA: A Frontier Corps soldier was killed and another seriously injured when their vehicle hit an explosive device near Dhadar area in Bolan district on Saturday, official sources said.

A Frontier Corps spokesman said the vehicle was carrying the FC personnel when it was hit by the roadside bomb, injuring two of people.

One of the wounded personnel died while being taken to hospital.

The vehicle was damaged because of the impact of explosion, the spokesman said.

Troops kill two key TTP men

Sailab Mehsud

LADHA: Two leaders of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed in clashes with security forces in the Bober area of South Waziristan, officials said on Saturday.

LADHA: Two leaders of the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were killed in clashes with security forces in the Bober area of South Waziristan, officials said on Saturday.

Irfan Mehsud, son of Azam Tariq, a member of the central shura and former spokesman for the TTP, was killed in an exchange of fire with troops as sporadic clashes continued in Bober. An official source identified the other slain leader as Wafadar Mehsud.

Officials claimed that five TTP supporters had also been killed in clashes on Friday and Saturday.

Security forces and supporters of TTP leader Khan Said alias Sajna have been engaged in fighting since Monday. His supporters, including foreigners, have set up hideouts in Bober.

Sources in the TTP confirmed the killing of Irfan Mehsud. About Wafadar Mehsud, they said he had sustained minor injuries in the fighting.

They claimed that eight soldiers had been killed in clashes, but officials did not confirm that.

Militants said security forces, backed by helicopter gunships, had launched an undeclared offensive and destroyed their hideouts in Bober. They admitted that troops had made an advance in the area.

They said nomads had been cau­ght in the conflict and families who had returned to their homes only recently after having been displa­ced earlier had again moved to safe locations. They claimed that several women and children had suffered injuries in artillery shelling.

Footprints: The Trek back to Tirah

Hassan Belal Zaidi

It’s been a long road for the internally displaced from Tirah. On the run from their homes since the military launched an operation there in the middle of last year, thousands of people have been refugees in their own land for months. But now, as the time comes for them to return, they have all sorts of apprehensions.

It’s been a long road for the internally displaced from Tirah. On the run from their homes since the military launched an operation there in the middle of last year, thousands of people have been refugees in their own land for months. But now, as the time comes for them to return, they have all sorts of apprehensions.

But almost none of them are to do with the Taliban. Nor are they particularly worried about the prospect of going back to ruined homes. No, their concerns are more tangible. Food, water, transport and, above all, money.

As we pull up outside Jerma Point in Kohat district, one of the repatriation points for the various tribes from Tirah, we are greeted by a sea of men and vehicles. Soldiers in uniform keep a watchful eye over tribesmen scurrying about, heaving their luggage onto trucks and buses. There are no women here and very few children: the collection of aid is a messy business. “This is no place for women. When we have loaded our vehicle, we will go and pick up our families,” says a man standing next to his nearly full truck.

As we walk in, we are greeted by the camp management staff. Wahab from the Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) shows us around. “IDPs are issued slips that entitle them to receive supplies from different aid agencies. Each family is then allotted a vehicle and when we have enough cars for a convoy, we bid them adieu.”

Since he isn’t allowed to speak to the media, he apologises for not being able to tell us more. But he is kind enough to show us around the facility that houses at least four warehouses, each packed with relief goods and other essential items. The care packages most families receive are tailored for large households. There are three different packets: a health and hygiene kit, rations and non-food items (NFIs).

“We have until the 30th to get as many people as we can back to Tirah. But joplan banatay hain woh zaruri nahinachieve bhi ho jaye,” he tells us with a knowing smile.

When we arrive at the officials’ tent, we are greeted by a fine feast of spring rolls and fruit cake. This tea-party-in-a-tent is presided over by Khyber Agency Political Agent Shahab Shah.

Information officers from different NGOs interview those who have complaints. They are from the Protection Cluster, which looks after the rights of those affected by humanitarian crises and ensures that the displaced aren’t treated unjustly.

Inside the main tent, a volunteer from the Sarhad Rural Support Programme records the complaint of a Sikh family. When we try to eavesdrop, the man flashes me a welcoming smile. His interviewee is Sawinder Singh, originally from Maidan in the Tirah Valley. He says nearly 50 Sikh families had relocated to a Shia-dominated part of Orakzai Agency ever since the fighting broke out again. “I’m not here for a handout. We have resources; we can afford to live on our own. But what we really need is the ijazat nama which makes it convenient for us travel to and from our area.”

He’s speaking to the man from the Protection Cluster because his and 15 other Sikh families are not among those registered as IDPs at Jerma Point. “We are Pakistanis, who shouldn’t need to be ‘registered’ anywhere. We have our CNICs, we own property in our areas, what more proof does one need?”

The man from Protection is sympathetic yet dismissive, saying simply, “They never submitted a VRF.” Short for Voluntary Return Form, this is the first thing UN agencies and the various Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) ask displaced families to fill out. This is especially important for those living off-camp, i.e. with host families or in lodgings not provided to them by the government.

“We’ve run an extensive information campaign, on radio and in the local print media. But these people still don’t come. We’re now putting them down for the time allotted to non-registered returnees,” the Protection volunteer says.

Outside the secure confines of the distribution point, it’s a different world. There are large congregations of men, huddled up in solemnity. We approach one of these mini jirgas and try to listen in. We are told the man in the centre is Said Wazir of the Malikdeen Khel tribe. He is another volunteer who has gathered up the CNICs of those tribesmen who are still unregistered and not eligible to receive supplies and transport. The heaving mass of humanity argues about what the terms of the agreement will be. Wazir knows that they are not getting a cash handout, so he periodically gets up and threatens to walk off when the men start talking about money. But Wazir is not an NGO worker; he’s just a conscientious man who decided to take the initiative.

Back in the compound, as the rush of insistent returnees dies down for the day, the various aid agencies and Protection volunteers gather to take stock of the day’s work. Assistant Political Agent Nasir Khan presides over the proceedings. It’s like a classroom; the teacher turns to each person in turn, they say their name, their organisation’s name and list out their accomplishments for the day. Details of focus group discussions conducted, grievances recorded, supplies disbursed.

More than 7,500 families are to be repatriated in this round of returns. The men heave a collective sigh as the camp closes down for the day. It’s not over yet, they all seem to be thinking.

Witness in Mumbai attacks case claims Ajmal Kasab is alive

Malik Asad

ISLAMABAD: In a dramatic turn of events, a key prosecution witness in the Mumbai attacks case claimed to have met Ajmal Kasab recently.

ISLAMABAD: In a dramatic turn of events, a key prosecution witness in the Mumbai attacks case claimed to have met Ajmal Kasab recently.

Mudassir Lakhvi, headmaster of the Government Elementary School in Faridkot village, Okara, appeared before the Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) to record his statement during the trial of seven suspects, the alleged mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid, Mazhar Iqbal, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younus Anjum, accused of involvement in the attacks on Nov 26, 2008.

Kasab was the lone surviving member of the team that rampaged through the port city of Mumbai. He was arrested by law-enforcement agencies following the attacks, tried and then executed by hanging in November 2012 in a Pune prison.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) produced the headmaster to verify the record which was obtained from the school in question, where Kasab is said to have been enrolled between 1997 and 2000.

Proceedings of the Mumbai attacks case had been declared in-camera by ATC Judge Atiqur Rehman, but sources privy to the trial told Dawn that during his cross-examination by defence counsel Raja Rizwan Abbasi, the headmaster claimed that he had met Ajmal Kasab only a few days ago.

The revelations shocked everyone in the courtroom because this was something the defence counsel did not expect to hear during the cross-examination.

Chief prosecutor Mohammad Azhar Chaudhry, raising an objection, claimed that this was not relevant to the proceedings of the trial.

But he did ask the court to allow the prosecution to re-examine the witness as this change in stance could be based on mala fide intentions.

According to the prosecution, Muddasir, in an earlier statement given to the FIA, said that he did not know Ajmal Kasab and only handed over the admissions register, attendance sheets and some other material to the investigators.

Sources in the prosecution admitted the possibility that Muddasir might have changed his statement out of fear.

They said the prosecution would re-examine the witness and, if necessary, Mudassir could be declared a ‘hostile witness’, rendering his testimony invalid.

The sources also said that certain members of the prosecution team as well as an investigating officer had received threatening calls while in a meeting at the FIA headquarters in Islamabad. They said the unknown caller warned the prosecutors of dire consequences if they continued to argue against the suspects.

CJ takes notice of rape case

The Newspaper’s Staff Correspondent

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has taken notice of the alleged rape of a minor Christian girl and ordered the Punjab IGP to submit a report on Saturday.

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani has taken notice of the alleged rape of a minor Christian girl and ordered the Punjab IGP to submit a report on Saturday.

The suo motu notice was taken on Thursday on a media report suggesting that the seven-year-old girl had been allegedly raped by four Muslims at a village in Daska, Sialkot. She was admitted to the ICU of DHQ Hospital in Sialkot in critical condition. Instead of registering the case, the report alleged, police helped local people in abducting and pressurising the girl’s father to reach an ‘agreement’ with the rapists.

The victim’s family contacted a human rights organisation which moved a writ in a local court seeking immediate action against the culprits and recovery of the victim’s father.

As a result, police registered an FIR and arrested two of the culprits, but the girl’s father is still in police custody.

An appeal was also made to the chief justice to bring the culprits to book in the interest of justice.

White House under lockdown after items tossed over fence

Reuters

WASHINGTON: Two individuals threw items over the White House fence on Thursday, triggering the second lockdown at the president’s residence this week.

WASHINGTON: Two individuals threw items over the White House fence on Thursday, triggering the second lockdown at the president’s residence this week.

President Barack Obama was travelling in California and was not at the White House when the items were thrown.

A spokesman for the Secret Service said the two people had been taken into custody and the suspicious items were being examined.

A car that trailed a motorcade carrying Obama’s children on to Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House led to a security lockdown on Tuesday that lasted more than an hour.—Reuters

Fear of major incident stalks Varanasi

Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI: Triggering a violent incident or politically exploiting one it has not directly manufactured has been a forte with Hindutva, and on Thursday this eerie feeling was on everyone’s mind in Varanasi: what is the trigger the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is scouting for to communalise a tough election Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate, faces in the Hindu temple town of an otherwise fabled syncretic appeal.

NEW DELHI: Triggering a violent incident or politically exploiting one it has not directly manufactured has been a forte with Hindutva, and on Thursday this eerie feeling was on everyone’s mind in Varanasi: what is the trigger the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is scouting for to communalise a tough election Narendra Modi, its prime ministerial candidate, faces in the Hindu temple town of an otherwise fabled syncretic appeal.

It is in the light of this desperate need to up the ante when the going looks formidable for him that Mr Modi has called for peaceful protests by his supporters against the Election Commission itself. Peaceful rallies in the Hindutva’s experience usually spell trouble for its opponents. As the fulcrum of the last 41 races due on Monday Varanasi has become a veritable fortress, mostly to keep the elections peaceful.

The Election Commission has come down hard on any party straying from its hidebound rules required to keep everyone on the prescribed path. Last week the authorities in Varanasi had cancelled the passes of human rights activists who were canvassing on the roads against Mr Modi, on the grounds that they were indulging in political activity unrelated to the definition of promoting the idea of rights. The activists were naturally miffed, and they promptly accused the administration of being pro-Modi.

On Wednesday, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party’s turn to be told to cancel a rally for Mr Modi, rather specifically on security grounds. He could carry on with two other programmes scheduled in Varanasi on Thursday – namely, hold a meeting with intellectuals and go to the Ganga for prayers or a holy dip. The BJP accused the Election Commission of bias, and Mr Modi called its nominee in Varanasi a partisan without clearly naming whose partisan the officer was.

All this is believed to indicate that everything is not going according to the BJP’s happier expectations in the elections so far. After an opening burst accompanied by shrill media support, Mr Modi’s communal appeal seems to have hit the doldrums. His early elections rallies were held in the shadow of mysterious bomb blasts in Bihar, and by frenzied communal onslaught against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh. The penultimate round with 64 seats in the fray took place on Wednesday in the wake of the killings of Muslims in communally fraught Assam.

Mr Modi quickly used the bloodletting to state a brand new policy if he wins with a view to engaging voters in West Bengal. Hindus from Bangladesh would be welcomed as brothers because they belonged to the culture of goddess Durga, he declared. Muslims would be treated as infiltrators. No-one bothered to convey any semblance of protest to the Election Commission over what was a blatantly sectarian appeal, traditionally banned during an election.

The BJP’s attack in Varanasi began with its decision to cancel all of Mr Modi’s programmes scheduled in the city on Thursday, accusing district electoral officer Pranjal Yadav, who is the returning officer and the DM of Varanasi, of acting under pressure from the state government.

Later, senior leader Arun Jaitley wrote to the Election Commission accusing the electoral officer of harbouring a ‘partisan attitude’.

However, the attack got sharper on Thursday morning as Mr Modi himself tweeted alleging that the EC was not concerned about the neutrality of institution.

“My profound apologies to Ganga Maa for not being able to perform Aarti today. Wish these people know that a Mother’s love is above politics,” Mr Modi said.

In response to Mr Modi’s emotional pitch, Mr Arvind Kejriwal, the Aam Aadmi Party’s candidate in Varanasi, asked a penetrating question. Why could Mr Modi not go far a quiet prayer at the Ganga as he, Mr Kejriwal, had done? Mr Kejriwal rubbed it in: He was going for the prayers again to Ganga, this time with his wife.

AAP spokespersons have repeatedly warned of a major incident stalking the elections. “By today’s count we are confident of a big win,” said Mr Anand Kumar. “Barring any sinister or untoward event we will be victorious.”

The Chief Election Commission, drawing the BJP’s attention to “the fact that any past and current grievances presented by your party or any political party in connection with the ongoing elections have always been given prompt consideration”, said it “is surprised and disappointed that your party has chosen to hold protests over the aforesaid matter, which was being sought to be resolved in accordance with law and the ground situation”.

Stating that “commission has been in the process of ascertaining full facts and was due to respond to your letters at the earliest possible,” the CEC told the BJP that “this has been done even as the commission was busy transacting heavy work on poll day today”. Barring perhaps the BJP, everyone else, including the Election Commission, is worried about what Indians euphemistically call an “untoward incident”.

Court removes Thai premier, 9 ministers for abuse of power

AFP

BANGKOK: Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed on Wednesday Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers for abuse of power, leaving the government clinging to power but the nation still locked in a political crisis.

BANGKOK: Thailand’s Constitutional Court dismissed on Wednesday Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and nine ministers for abuse of power, leaving the government clinging to power but the nation still locked in a political crisis.

The cabinet swiftly appointed a deputy premier — Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan — to replace Yingluck, the younger sister of billionaire former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, as the ruling party struggled to regain its footing after the judicial blow.

The court, which has played a key role in deposing two other Shinawatra-linked governments in recent turbulent years, ruled unanimously that Yingluck acted illegally by transferring a top security official in 2011.

“Therefore her prime minister status has ended… Yingluck can no longer stay in her position acting as caretaker prime minister,” presiding judge Charoon Intachan said in a televised ruling.

Nine cabinet ministers who endorsed the decision to transfer Thawil Pliensri were also stripped of their status.

But fears that the court would dismiss the entire cabinet proved unfounded.

Niwattumrong, a Thaksin loyalist who is also commerce minister, was quickly promoted to the role of caretaker premier.

He vowed to press ahead with a planned July 20 election to establish a new government. That poll date has yet to be endorsed by a royal decree.

Observers said the court ruling does nothing to ease Thailand’s prolonged political malaise.

Anti-government protesters are still on Bangkok’s streets and the promotion of a Thaksin supporter may make Yingluck’s dismissal a hollow victory.

“Red Shirt” supporters of the government meanwhile threaten to rally to defend it and to press for elections, raising fears of clashes. They will mass on Saturday in a Bangkok suburb.

“This is a war of legal attrition,” said Paul Chambers of the Institute of South East Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University.

“And the arch-royalists (anti-government forces) are winning it. They are cutting away at the Thai government slice by slice, hoping to exhaust it into submission,” he said predicting fresh legal cases against the new premier.

The kingdom has been bitterly split since 2006 when an army coup deposed former telecoms magnate Thaksin as prime minister.

He now lives overseas to avoid jail for corruption convictions, but is accused of running the country by proxy through his sister.—AFP

Melee on Imran’s arrival disrupts court hearing

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh

LAHORE: An upheaval caused on the Lahore High Court premises by an unscheduled and ‘not required by the court’ appearance of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Wednesday earned anger of the Chief Justice.

LAHORE: An upheaval caused on the Lahore High Court premises by an unscheduled and ‘not required by the court’ appearance of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan on Wednesday earned anger of the Chief Justice.

Mr Khan had come to the court of Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial to attend proceedings on a petition filed by National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq against an order of the Election Commission about inspection of ballots in NA-122, Lahore.

However, his personal appearance was not required in the case.

The PTI chief had obtained the impugned order from the ECP after losing last year’s election from the constituency to Mr Sadiq.

A large number of PTI workers were present in the LHC before the arrival of their leader. The workers followed Mr Khan to the courtroom of the chief justice. Security personnel closed the door of the courtroom from inside after the entrance of Mr Khan, leaving hundreds of his supporters outside. As the charged workers tried to enter the courtroom, its door was damaged and windowpanes were broken.

Justice Bandial took note of the situation and left the courtroom, asking Advocate Ahmad Awais, counsel for Mr Khan, to meet him in his chamber.

In the chamber, the counsel expressed his regrets over the incident.

The chief justice asked him to advise his client to leave the courtroom in order to disperse the crowd.

Mr Khan and his supporters left the premises and the chief justice resumed the hearing after a two-hour break.

On his departure, the PTI chief was intercepted by media persons but he refused to answer their questions.

Taking strong notice of the disturbance, Justice Bandial said the canons of conduct for attending courts of law required display of respect, patience and tolerance by everyone. He said precautions must be taken by persons with political following, who had an added duty to control irresponsible behaviour by their supporters.

Justice Bandial said the court was showing restraint and did not intend to issue a contempt notice.

He said the president of Pakistan had been represented before this court in a dignified manner and he also obeyed its order.

Barrister Maqsooma Bukhari, counsel for Mr Sadiq, objected to the ‘uncalled for’ arrival of Mr Khan.

The chief justice said the doors of the courts were open to all, but personalities having a following should contain their movement.

“The brash conduct by fervent supporters in the present case should have been anticipated and prevented,” he said, instructing Mr Khan’s counsel to submit a written explanation on behalf of his client, stating his position about the incident. The chief justice adjourned the hearing till May 12 and said the court would see the explanation and then decide the fate of the main case.

Addressing a press conference at his Zaman Park residence later, Mr Khan accused a media group of having launched a malicious campaign against him. He also alleged that the media house was equally involved in rigging in the elections.

He expressed his belief in independence of the judiciary and vowed to resist any attack on the institution, but said that former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and the Election Commission had disappointed him.

Rahul heckled in Amethi

Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI: Indian elections recorded a high voter turnout in the 64 seats that went to polls on Wednesday, amid growing indications of a hung parliament.

NEW DELHI: Indian elections recorded a high voter turnout in the 64 seats that went to polls on Wednesday, amid growing indications of a hung parliament.

One person was killed when police fired on a violent crowd in Bihar. In West Bengal, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has monopolised Muslim support, the highest percentage of voting was recorded at 81.28 per cent.

In a campaign shorn of any dignity, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress are trying to outdo each other with barbs and invectives. There are plans for Congress icon Rahul Gandhi to campaign in Varanasi on Saturday against BJP’s Narendra Modi. The move could, however, split the anti-Modi votes, which are believed to favour the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal.

Polling was held in Amethi on Wednesday where Gandhi is locked in a triangular contest with BJP’s television-star-turned politician Smriti Irani and Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas.

Modi’s rally in Amethi also came on the last day of campaigning for the eighth phase of polling and was an attempt to give a push to the BJP candidate’s poll prospects in the pocket borough of Gandhi family at a time when Congress is facing difficult election nationwide, particularly in central and eastern UP.

Gandhi’s roadshow in Varanasi is being seen as a way of getting back at Modi who had broken the unwritten code that no top political leader campaigns in the political backyard of a top rival.

Reports said Gandhi was heckled and questioned by voters as he went from booth to booth in his family pocket borough of Amethi on Wednesday. Both party workers and residents said this was the first time that Gandhi was visiting the booths on polling day.

According to the Indian Express, at Chilauli Singhpur booth, Ambika Saran Singh, 63, told him: “Chalo dus saal baad dekhne ko to mila (we got to see you after 10 years).”

When Gandhi said, “Main yahan aya to hun (I have come here),” Mr Singh replied: “Aaj to aap yahan apne swarth ke liye aye hain (you have come here today for your own benefit).”

After Gandhi left, Singh said, “I am a farmer and have been a Congress workers for the last 30 years… but the Congress is good at ignoring its old workers.”

High drama was reported from Amethi as BJP candidate Smriti Irani engaged in a public spat with Priyanka Gandhi’s aide Preeti Sahay, objecting to her presence at a booth in Thori village in Jagdishpur area on Wednesday.

Ms Sahay was later asked to leave Amethi after the BJP filed a complaint with the Election Commission alleging that she was trying to influence voters.

Prominent among those who faced the vote on Wednesday, was former Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, former Dalit minister and BJP ally Ram Vilas Paswan and Gandhi cousin Varun Gandhi.

One person was killed when police opened fire outside a polling booth in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district in an alleged bid to prevent its capture.

The highest turnout in the eighth phase was 81.28 per cent in the six seats in West Bengal, which Trinamool Congress is trying to wrest from Left Front, followed by 76 per cent in Seemandhra, which broke away from Andhra Pradesh recently, where voters chose 25 representatives to Lok Sabha and 175 members of the proposed assembly simultaneously.

Two key battleground states, Bihar, where seven constituencies went to polls, and Uttar Pradesh, where 15 seats were up for grabs, recorded impressive voter turnout of 58 per cent and 55.52 per cent.

Congress hopes to retain as much ground as possible in the phase covering central UP in the face of a strong surge by BJP, playing the caste and religion cards, and a desperate BSP and SP seeking to hold on to their Muslim-OBC-Dalit vote base.

After the latest phase, voting has been completed in 502 of the total of 543 constituencies and the remaining 41 seats will go to polls in the last round on May 12.

Two seats in Jammu and Kashmir registered a turnout of close to 50 per cent. Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, where several incidents of militant violence have been reported and separatists have given a poll boycott call, recorded a turnout of 39.6 per cent.

Pakistan wants more security for its mission

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The Pakistan High Commission in Delhi has asked the Indian government to enhance its security after recent hate-letters threatened to harm its diplomats and their families, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

NEW DELHI: The Pakistan High Commission in Delhi has asked the Indian government to enhance its security after recent hate-letters threatened to harm its diplomats and their families, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

They were confirming a report in the Times of India on Wednesday which said that fearing threats to its establishments and diplomats in India, Pakistan has sought more security from the Indian government.

Official sources confirmed that the Pakistan high commission had received letters in the past few days threatening to harm its officials. High commission officials on Tuesday took up the issue with India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The Times said Pakistan has demanded that the letters be thoroughly probed and the identity of senders ascertained. It conveyed to India that it is New Delhi’s responsibility to ensure the security of Pakistan high commission and all its diplomats and other staff.

An Indian government source told the Times that security agencies had been sensitised about the threat mails, one of which was forwarded by the Pakistan high commission. “We provide maximum possible security to all missions and same is the case with Pakistan,” he said.

There was no confirmation about who sent the threat mails.

‘Most cities enveloped in dangerous air’

Masood Haider

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations health agency (WHO) warned on Wednesday that most of the world’s cities “are enveloped in dirty air that is dangerous to breathe”.

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations health agency (WHO) warned on Wednesday that most of the world’s cities “are enveloped in dirty air that is dangerous to breathe”.

The international health body said that urban dwellers were being exposed to excessive air pollution and they were at a risk of respiratory diseases and other long-term health problems.

Most urban centres worldwide that monitor air pollution failed to meet WHO safety guidelines, putting people at risk of serious health problems, the agency said in a press release it issued along with its “2014 urban ambient air quality database”.

The WHO database covers 1,600 cities across 91 countries, 500 more cities than in the previous database (2011). The new database has revealed that more cities are

monitoring outdoor air quality, reflecting growing recognition of the health risks involved.

According to the database, only 12 per cent of the people live in cities that comply with WHO guidelines. About half of the urban population is being exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends.

WHO called for greater awareness of the health risks caused by air pollution, pointing to its report last March showing that outdoor air pollution from sources like coal heating fires and diesel engines had contributed to 3.7 million deaths worldwide in 2012.

The study has found that New Delhi admits to having the dirtiest air, while Beijing’s measurements, like its skies, are far from clear. Thirteen of the dirtiest 20 cities were Indian, with New Delhi, Patna, Gwalior and Raipur in the top four spots.

NA wants ban on YouTube lifted

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly passed on Tuesday a resolution which asked the government to “take immediate steps to lift ban on YouTube”.

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly passed on Tuesday a resolution which asked the government to “take immediate steps to lift ban on YouTube”.

Before adoption of the resolution about the popular video-sharing website on a private member’s day, the house witnessed a brief verbal clash between its mover, Shazia Marri of the PPP, and Minister of State for Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar, as they held each other’s government responsible for imposing and continuing the ban.

“YouTube was banned when her (Shazia Marri’s) party was ruling. And the party remained in power for quite some time after imposition of this ban. Why did she not make hue and cry at that time?” the minister remarked while responding to a speech by Ms Marri in which the PPP leader had alleged that the PML-N government was not serious in lifting the ban.

What apparently angered the minister was Ms Marri’s remark that “the issue will not merely be resolved by distributing laptops among students as they also need to be connected to the world”.

Ms Tarar was of the view that by mentioning laptops in her speech, the PPP member had actually tried to politicise a matter on which there had been an agreement among all the parties.

“Today the government wants to open YouTube as it realises its importance,” the minister declared. However, instead of giving any timeframe, she suggested that all the political parties should sit together to find a way out and take collective responsibility over the issue.

Ms Tarar said the Supreme Court also seemed reluctant in issuing an order on the matter because of its sensitivity. “The government asked the court to issue an order, but that did not happen.”

Assailing the PPP, the minister alleged that polio cases were now being reported from the areas which were not covered adequately by the previous government during vaccination campaigns.

Earlier, Ms Marri said that despite the ban people were using proxy servers to watch YouTube videos. She advised the government to end “double standards” on the issue.

She said the ban on YouTube was imposed by the PPP government like many other Muslim countries, keeping in view the sentiments of the Muslims worldwide over uploading of blasphemous material on the website. However, she said, all the other Muslim countries, including Bangladesh, had since lifted the ban.

Pakistan officially blocked YouTube in September 2012 over refusal of the website’s administrators to remove a controversial movie that had sparked furious protests across the world.

Ms Marri’s resolution was later backed by members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Muttahida Qaumi Movement as they also asked the government to remove the ban as it was leading the country towards isolation.

Saudi Arabia claims having unearthed Al Qaeda cell plotting attacks

Reuters

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had uncovered an Al Qaeda militant group with links to “extremist elements” in Syria and Yemen that had been plotting to assassinate officials and attack government and foreign targets.

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it had uncovered an Al Qaeda militant group with links to “extremist elements” in Syria and Yemen that had been plotting to assassinate officials and attack government and foreign targets.

The cell comprised 62 members, including 59 Saudi militants, a Yemeni, a Pakistani and a Palestinian, Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour al-Turki said.

Speaking at a briefing televised live, Turki said the cell had links to the ultra-hardline Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is both a powerful Islamist force in Syria’s war and an anti-government combatant across the border in turbulent Iraq.

He said some members of the cell were still at large. “They … started constructing components of the organisation, means of support and planning for terrorist operations targeting government installations, foreign interests and assassinating security personalities,” he said.

The conservative kingdom has grown increasingly concerned about radicalisation this year because the war in Syria has spurred what it sees as a surge in online militancy.

Officials are worried about a new Al Qaeda armed campaign: Saudi Arabia faced an Al Qaeda insurgency from 2003 to 2006 in which militants targeted residential compounds for foreigners and Saudi government facilities, killing dozens of people.

The kingdom responded by arresting thousands of suspected militants and launching a media campaign to discredit their ideology with the backing of influential clerics and tribal leaders. The courts have sentenced thousands of Saudi citizens to prison terms for similar offences over the past decade.

Turki said an investigation into social media postings “led security forces after months of hard work to pinpoint suspicious activities that unveiled a terrorist organisation through which the elements of Al Qaeda in Yemen were communicating with their counterpart elements in Syria in coordination with a number of misguided (people) at home in various provinces of the kingdom.”

Authorities found a laboratory to make explosives and seized about one million Saudi riyals intended for the militant cell.

Some of those in the cell had previously gone through rehabilitation, Turki said, referring to educational courses for detained Islamist militants aimed to wean them off violence.

Turki said security forces were monitoring “suspicious actions on social networking … especially after becoming a spacious arena for all extremist groups”.—Reuters

‘Islamists’ abduct eight more Nigerian girls

Reuters

MAIDUGURI: Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls from a village near one of the Islamists’ strongholds in northeastern Nigeria overnight, police and residents said on Tuesday.

MAIDUGURI: Suspected Boko Haram gunmen kidnapped eight girls from a village near one of the Islamists’ strongholds in northeastern Nigeria overnight, police and residents said on Tuesday.

The abduction of the girls, aged 12 to 15, follows the kidnapping of more than 200 other schoolgirls by the militant group last month, whom it has threatened to sell into slavery.

Lazarus Musa, a resident of the village of Warabe, said that armed men had opened fire during the raid. “They were many and all of them carried guns. They came in two vehicles painted in army colour.

“They started shooting in our village,” he said by telephone from the village in the hilly Gwoza area, Boko Haram’s main base.

A police source said the girls were taken away on trucks, along with looted livestock and food.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau threatened in a video released to the media on Monday to sell the girls abducted from a secondary school on April 14 “on the market”.

The kidnappings by the Islamists, who say they are fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria, have shocked a country long inured to the violence around the northeast.

They have also embarrassed the government before a World Economic Forum meeting on Africa, the annual gathering of the wealthy and powerful, in Abuja from May 7 to May 9.

Boko Haram, the main security threat to Africa’s leading energy producer, is growing bolder and appears better armed than ever.

“Many people tried to run behind the mountain but when they heard gun shots, they came back,” Musa said. “The Boko Haram men were entering houses, ordering people out of their houses.”

April’s mass kidnapping occurred on the day a bomb blast, also claimed by Boko Haram, killed 75 people on the edge of Abuja, the first attack on the capital in two years. Another bomb in roughly the same place killed 19 people last week.

The United Nations warned Boko Haram on Tuesday that if they carried out their leader’s threat to sell the girls, they would forever be liable to prosecution for war crimes, even decades after the event.

“We warn the perpetrators that there is an absolute prohibition against slavery and sexual slavery in international law.

“These can … constitute crimes against humanity,” UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

The military’s inability to find the girls in three weeks, has led to protests in the northeast, Abuja and Lagos, the commercial capital.

Britain and the United States have both offered to help track down the girls, but neither has given specifics, and neither has Nigeria specified what help, if any, it wants.—Reuters

Footprints: New Islamabad airport a distant dream

Mirza KhurramShahzad

THE T-junction on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road at Tarnol, where one exits on to the Fateh Jang-Kohat Road to head towards the under-construction new Islamabad airport, is a driver’s nightmare.

THE T-junction on the Grand Trunk (GT) Road at Tarnol, where one exits on to the Fateh Jang-Kohat Road to head towards the under-construction new Islamabad airport, is a driver’s nightmare.

Trucks and trailers, loaded way beyond their capacity, creak as they inch forward like giant snails. Long queues of vehicles — cars, vans, motorbikes, donkey-carts and handcarts — going in every which direction have choked up everything. Sweating faces flush with heat and anger and tongues spit out foul language.

“I wish the government would complete this new airport,” says Javed Akhtar, a government employee stuck in the middle of this mess. “Once it is completed our rulers will construct an underpass here for their convenience. They don’t bother about the hellish time we have every day at this point, which we have to cross at least twice a day while going and coming from work.”

Beyond this bottleneck, there’s a row of CNG stations with cars and vans queued up along the boundary walls of rapidly mushrooming housing societies and newly built commercial centres and shops.

Around 35 kilometres from Islamabad and close to Fateh Jang town in Attock district, the main gate of the Pakistan Employees Cooperative Housing Society (PECHS) looms large. Beside the gate, there is a signboard with the words ‘New Islamabad airport’ and an arrow pointing towards the housing society.

Inside the society, the main boulevard passes through scattered houses, property brokers’ offices, wheat fields and under-developed plots. Bulldozers and tractors level vast tracts of lands in the newly acquired part of the society. At the end of this unpaved road, there is a barrier in the middle of a long boundary wall dotted with watchtowers and manned by security guards. This is the new Islamabad airport which has been under construction since 2007.

Within the boundaries, a parcel of 1,800 acres of land, two concrete strips have been laid down. Like metallic tarantulas, giant machines squat around the newly built runways and under-construction buildings. Men are working on a huge cemented structure, fixing tiles and roof ceilings. The cargo terminal is under construction and the air towers’ complex is still only half complete. Overhead water tanks have been erected and work on the electricity grid station is under way.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the new airport site last month and expressed anxiety over the delay in the project. He gave a new deadline: March 2015.

“We aren’t sure whether we’ll meet the deadline as there’s no change in the pace of work,” says an official of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on the condition of anonymity because the project director has strictly banned officials from talking about it.

“The project administration avoids sharing details because of the fear of failing to meet the deadline,” he adds.

A spokesman for the CAA in Rawalpindi says the administration is trying to meet the latest deadline. “The passenger terminal is being given finishing touches,” said Mubarak Shah.

“The work on the cargo terminal is also 95 per cent complete. Work on the air towers’ complex is up to 55pc complete. We hope the rest will be completed within the timeframe.”

A new airport for Islamabad was conceived in 1984 as the capital and the adjacent Rawalpindi expanded rapidly. The masterplan was completed in 2006 and ground-breaking was done in 2007. The project was initially supposed to have been completed in 2010-11 at the cost of Rs37 billion. Delays have, however, driven the costs up to Rs70bn.

At the existing Benazir Bhutto International Airport, a flight lands and takes off every 15 minutes as it handles 100 aeroplanes a day at an average, according to the CAA. Crowds of passengers, their relatives and the rush of traffic on the road outside — which connects the army headquarters to Islamabad — have made the area too congested. The airport itself has been encircled by housing and commercial projects.

“It’s very important to shift the airport because of the increasing population around the existing facility,” says former vice chief of the air staff Air Marshal Shahid Lateef. “This has raised security threats. But I doubt that this project will be completed even within 2015.”

Lateef’s doubts are in line with reality. The new airport, planned as Pakistan’s most modern one, hasn’t even got an approach road yet.

“The road is still at the planning phase,” says a senior member of the National Highway Authority. “Its construction will take at least 18 months after the approval of its PC-1.”

Modi violates code to canvass in Amethi

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: The convention in Indian elections is that leaders do not address rallies or canvass support in a senior opponent’s constituency.

NEW DELHI: The convention in Indian elections is that leaders do not address rallies or canvass support in a senior opponent’s constituency.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate attacked Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in Amethi on Monday from where the Congress scion is a candidate.

Campaigning for actor-turned-politician and BJP candidate Smriti Irani contesting against Mr Gandhi, he rejected Congress charge that he practises “politics of anger”, Press Trust of India said.

“I have not come here for revenge. I have come here for bringing about a change in this constituency, which has been neglected by the Gandhi family despite representing it for 40 years. You just invoke family relations with the people here but do nothing for its development,” Mr Modi said.

Concluding his speech minutes before the campaign ended in the constituency, which will witness polling on May 7, he said he did not come to Amethi to “trouble Rahul Gandhi. He is already a troubled soul.”

Describing Ms Irani as his “younger sister” and his “representative”, he said, “Time has come to snap the relationship between the family and the constituency. People here have been cheated.”

Attacking both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, he said: “You have committed sins. For 40 years, you have cheated three generations whose lives have been destroyed and their dreams shattered… I have come here to turn your dreams as mine, to convert your pain into mine.”

The unusual move by Mr Modi to canvass support in a major Congress constituency is being seen as indication that his campaign may have hit the doldrums. Another sign to this effect came in Faizabad, bordering Ayodhya, where Mr Modi leaned on religious appeal, a forbidden topic that could result in serious consequences if the election commission so decreed.

The commission has asked for a copy of Mr Modi’s video from Faizabad where he reportedly invoked Lord Ram’s name to seek support for the BJP candidate. After an initial burst of communally inspired successes in the aftermath of Muzaffarnagar where his party gained from local Hindus being pitted against Muslims, several informal assessments have found Mr Modi flagging.

Aaam Aadmi Party spokesman Anand Kumar has said his party was apprehensive about a possible major communal conflagration engineered by Mr Modi’s rightwing Hindu supporters ahead of the Varanasi election. Mr Modi is contesting from Varanasi with AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal, a tough opponent, giving him a little advertised fight.

A sign of possible violence in the remaining 125 contests came from Assam last week, where 34 Muslims were shot dead by impoverished Bodo tribal rebels, a conduit for communal politics in the sensitive state. Mr Modi moved quickly to profit from the tragedy. He told a meeting in West Bengal that Hindu Bangladeshis were welcome in India but not their Muslim counterparts.

Nigerian extremists threaten to sell kidnapped girls

AP

LAGOS: Nigeria’s Islamist extremist leader is threatening to sell the more than 300 teenage schoolgirls abducted from a school in the remote northeast three weeks ago, in a new videotape received on Monday.

LAGOS: Nigeria’s Islamist extremist leader is threatening to sell the more than 300 teenage schoolgirls abducted from a school in the remote northeast three weeks ago, in a new videotape received on Monday.

Abubakar Shekau for the first time also claimed responsibility for the April 15 mass abduction, in a video reviewed. He threatens to attack more schools and abduct more girls.

“I abducted your girls,” said the leader of Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sinful”.

He described the girls as “slaves” and said “By Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace”.

The hour-long video starts with fighters lofting automatic rifles and shooting in the air as they chant “Allahu Akbar!”.

It was unclear if the video was made before or after reports emerged last week that some of the girls had been forced to marry their abductors — who paid a nominal bride price of $12 — and that others had been carried into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad.

Those reports could not be verified.

In the video, Shekau also says the students “will remain slaves with us”.

“They are slaves and I will sell them because I have the market to sell them,” he said, speaking in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.

An intermediary who has said Boko Haram is ready to negotiate ransoms for the girls also said two of the girls had died of snakebite and about 20 were ill.

He said Christians among the girls had been forced to convert to Islam. The man, an Islamic scholar, spoke on condition of anonymity because his position is sensitive.

Nigeria’s police have said more than 300 girls were abducted. Of that number, 276 remain in captivity and 53 escaped. The mass abduction and the military’s failure to rescue the girls and young women has roused national outrage with protests in major cities.

Protesters accused President Goodluck Jonathan of being insensitive to the girls’ plight.

First lady Patience Jonathan fuelled anger on Monday when a leader of a protest march said she had ordered the arrest of two protest leaders, expressed doubts there was any kidnapping and accused the protest leaders of belonging to Boko Haram.

It was unclear what authority Mrs Jonathan would have to give such orders, since there is no office of first lady in the Nigerian constitution.

Ayo Adewuyi, spokesman for the first lady, said he was unaware of any arrests. “The first lady did not order the arrest of anybody, and I’m sure of that,” he said.

But Saratu Angus Ndirpaya of Chibok town said State Security Service agents drove her and protest leader Naomi Mutah Nyadar to a police station on Monday after an all-night meeting at the presidential villa in Abuja, the capital.

She said police immediately released her but that Nyadar remains in detention.

Deputy Superintendent Daniel Altine, police spokeswoman for Abuja, said she had no information but would investigate. But Ndirpaya said Mrs Jonathan had accused them of fabricating the abductions.

“She told so many lies, that we just wanted the government of Nigeria to have a bad name, that we did not want to support her husband’s rule,” she said.

She said other women at the meeting, allies of Mrs Jonathan, including officials of the government and the ruling party, cheered and chanted “yes, yes,” when Mrs Jonathan accused them of belonging to Boko Haram.

“They said we are Boko Haram, and that Mrs Nyadar is a member of Boko Haram.”

She said Nyadar and herself did not have daughters among those abducted, but were supporting the mothers of kidnapped daughters.

Mrs Jonathan said the women “had no right to protest,” especially Nyadar, whom she identified as the deputy director of the National Directorate of Employment.

In a report on the meeting, Daily Trust newspaper quoted Mrs Jonathan as ordering all Nigerian women to stop protesting, and threatening “should anything happen to them during protests, they should blame themselves”.

On Sunday night, Mr Jonathan said his administration was doing everything possible. On Friday he created a presidential committee to go to the affected Borno state to work with the community on a strategy to get the girls free.—AP

‘No Muslim terrorist cell in S. Lanka’

Frances Bulathsinghala

COLOMBO: The spokesman for Sri Lankan armed forces, Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya, has said that there is no Islamic terrorist activity or terrorist cell in Lanka.

COLOMBO: The spokesman for Sri Lankan armed forces, Brig Ruwan Wanigasooriya, has said that there is no Islamic terrorist activity or terrorist cell in Lanka.

“We exercise the greatest vigilance. Till date, we have not found any evidence of the existence of Islamic terrorist activity or terrorist cells here,” he told newspersons on Monday. He was asked to comment on Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ela Ganesan’s statement that Pakistan was using Sri Lanka to train terrorists.

Ukraine fighting kills 4 troops, wounds 30

AP

SLOVYANSK: Ukrainian troops fought pitched gunbattles on Monday with a pro-Russia militia occupying an eastern city, and the government sent an elite national guard unit to re-establish control over the southern port city of Odessa.

SLOVYANSK: Ukrainian troops fought pitched gunbattles on Monday with a pro-Russia militia occupying an eastern city, and the government sent an elite national guard unit to re-establish control over the southern port city of Odessa.

The twin moves reflected an apparent escalation of efforts to bring both regions back under Kiev’s control. Any possible loss of Odessa in the west and parts of eastern Ukraine could leave the sprawling country landlocked, cut off entirely from the Black Sea.

Russia has already annexed a significant part of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast in grabbing back the peninsula of Crimea.

Reporters heard gunfire and multiple explosions on Monday in and around Slovyansk, a city of 125,000 that has become the focus of the armed insurgency against the new interim government in Kiev.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on his agency’s website that pro-Russia forces numbering about 800 were deploying large-calibre weapons and mortars. His agency reported four officers killed and 30 wounded in the fighting.

A pro-Russia militia spokesman in Slovyansk said an unspecified number of people had been killed and wounded in the clashes, including a 20-year-old woman killed by a stray bullet. Both sides indicated fighting was taking place at several sites around the city.

A press crew saw at least four ambulances rushing injured people to a city hospital, and one militiaman was seen being carried in for medical treatment.

Ukraine is facing its worst crisis in decades as the polarised nation of 46 million tries to decide whether to look toward Europe, as its western regions want to do, or improve ties with Russia, which is favoured by the many Russian-speakers in the east.

Goals of the pro-Russian insurgency are ostensibly geared toward pushing for broader powers of autonomy for the region, but some insurgents do favour separatism. In the last few weeks, anti-government forces have stormed and seized government buildings and police stations in a dozen of eastern Ukrainian cities. Authorities in Kiev – who blame Russia for backing insurgents – have up to now been largely powerless to react. And since Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s eastern border, Ukraine’s central government fears Russia could try to invade and grab more territory.

Kiev also moved on Monday to restore control over the Black Sea port city of Odessa, where pro-Russian activists vowed to take over government buildings. Odessa had remained largely peaceful even as violence erupted across east Ukraine. But 46 people died on Friday after riots broke out there between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups and a government building was set on fire.

Pro-Russian activists gathered on Monday in Odessa at the funeral of a regional member of parliament, Vyacheslav Markin, who died in that fire was known for speaking out against the interim government in Kiev. They shouted “Hero! Hero!” and vowed to avenge his death. “Kiev doesn’t control the situation in the country, Kiev controls only one half of Ukraine,” said 32-year-old Dmitry Sheiko, who was wearing the St George’s black-and-orange ribbon, a ubiquitous symbol of the pro-Russia protest movement. “Even in Odessa they can’t maintain order, which means that we will restore order ourselves.”

Riots over the weekend have also brought into question the loyalty of Odessa’s police forces.

On Sunday, pro-Russian demonstrators stormed the Odessa police headquarters and freed 67 people who had been detained in the rioting. The interior ministry said in a statement on Monday that it was sending an elite national guard unit from Kiev to re-establish control in the city, and said 42 of those arrested during the rioting were being sent to another region for investigation, presumably to prevent local police from releasing more prisoners.

Russia, which the international community has accused of promoting the unrest, has vociferously condemned Ukraine’s security operations in the east and blamed it for the Odessa fire. Ukraine is planning to hold a national presidential election on May 25.—AP

Belgium bans gathering termed ‘anti-Semitic’ by Jews

AFP

BRUSSELS: Belgian authorities banned a planned gathering on Sunday of far-right figures including the French comic Dieudonne, after it was slammed by Jewish groups as an ‘anti-Semitic hatefest’.

BRUSSELS: Belgian authorities banned a planned gathering on Sunday of far-right figures including the French comic Dieudonne, after it was slammed by Jewish groups as an ‘anti-Semitic hatefest’.

Citing security risks, the mayor of the Brussels district of Anderlecht banned both the meeting and any street protests connected to it, the Belga news agency reported.

Organisers of the so-called “European Dissidents’ Congress” — a Brussels bookshop and a group called “Debout les Belges!” (Belgians, Rise up!) — had kept its venue secret until the last moment to prevent it from being banned.

It was to bring together a string of controversial far-right figures, including the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and incitement to racial hatred.

The Belgian League aga­inst anti-Semitism, LBCA, filed a complaint on Friday before the Brussels prosecutor against what it called “a day of hate that would serve as a platform for the worst gathering of anti-Semite authors, theorists and propagandists that our country has seen since the end of World War II”. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre rallied behind the calls for a ban, dubbing the event an “anti-Semitic Hatefest”.

“The fact that this hatefest is to be held in Brussels, the capital of Europe, the seat of its Parliament… is a threat to democracy reminiscent of the 1920s Weimar Republic, which brought Europe to the Nazi abyss,” the centre’s director for international relations, Shimon Samuels, said in a statement.

The leader of “Debout Les Belges!”, far-right lawmaker Laurent Louis, upheld the invitation to the event in spite of the ban.

“Our guests have confirmed they will be coming, and in any event — ban or no ban — you can meet them and spend an unforgettable day,” Louis wrote on his Facebook page.

“Do not give in to pressure and come with your families, in calm and good spirits.”

Modi tries to cash in on Assam massacre

Jawed Naqvi

VARANASI: Communal appeal is meat and drink to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and last week’s carnage of Muslims in Assam will be handy for the rightwing Hindutva party in West Bengal where a whopping 23 of its 42 seats are still to go to polls. In the main battlefield of Uttar Pradesh the BJP seeks to corner Rahul Gandhi on May 7 in the Amethi vote.

VARANASI: Communal appeal is meat and drink to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and last week’s carnage of Muslims in Assam will be handy for the rightwing Hindutva party in West Bengal where a whopping 23 of its 42 seats are still to go to polls. In the main battlefield of Uttar Pradesh the BJP seeks to corner Rahul Gandhi on May 7 in the Amethi vote.

Nearly everyone opposed to Narendra Modi has a candidate in Varanasi for the May 12 voting, the last leg of the polls.

West Bengal’s ousted Left Front was never too comfortable with the influx of Bangladeshis, a volatile issue in Assam where the massacre happened over more or less those resentments. However, the incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee gets useful support from all manner of Muslims, including those that are suspected to have arrived from across the border.

On cue, Mr Modi was mopping up potential votes in West Bengal on Sunday from the Assam killings. Not surprisingly, he said Bangladeshi infiltrators who were allowed into the country for vote bank politics would have to go back, while Hindu refugees thrown out of Bangladesh on religious grounds would be greeted with open arms.

“BJP’s position is very clear, vote bank politics has destroyed the country… Those who are Bangladeshi infiltrators, will have to go back,” Mr Modi said in West Bengal’s Bankura district.

“Two types of people have come from Bangladesh — the refugees who have been thrown out in the name of religion and the infiltrators,” he said at an election rally in the district, which goes to polls on Wed­nesday together with five other West Bengal seats.

In an openly communal call in apparent deference to the Assam massacre of 34 Muslims, he said: “Those who are thrown out of Bangladesh, should they come to India or not? … Those who are thrown out of Bangladesh, those who observe (the Hindu ritual of) Durgastami and speak Bengali, they are all our Mother India’s children. They will get the same respect just as any Indian.”

As a potential dark horse in the race for the country’s top job, Ms Banerjee needs to keep her flock together till the results are out on May 16 while the BJP is desperate to breach it.

Uttar Pradesh on the other hand sends 80 MPs to parliament, of which 33 races are still to be decided in the remaining two stages. On May 7, Mr Gandhi will take on a determined challenge from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the BJP, and his cousin Varun Gandhi, a vitriolic BJP speaker, features in the neighbouring contest in Sultanpur.

The most sensitive constituency is of course Varanasi where the Congress and the AAP are giving a tough fight to Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful. The constituency’s Muslim votes could tilt the balance if they so decide, which seems unlikely at present.

AAP workers in Varanasi are hoping to convert their leader Arvind Kejriwal’s clean and anti-communal appeal to woo votes in this constituency of 1.5 million voters. But, they told me unequivocally on Sunday: “We fear serious trouble after May 7.”

The reference was to the completion of the penultimate round of elections.

“We fear everyone will be rushing to Varanasi, to the main battleground for the BJP, and this may not be good news in the background of what has happened in Assam,” said an AAP spokesman.

According to reports, the main trigger for this round of anti-Muslim violence in Assam was that the community didn’t vote for candidates of their attackers’ choice. “Imagine the plight of the Muslim voters, not only in Varanasi, but in other parts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal where polls are to be held,” warned the AAP spokesman, adding that his party feared some “untoward thing” happening before the Varanasi election on May 12.

The city is crawling with Hindutva groups who have sought to terrify election campaigners from other parties, having targeted AAP activists most viciously, local reports say. In the meanwhile, Ms Banerjee has contradicted communist leader Mr Prakash Karat, who had claimed that she could join the BJP after the polls. Dismissing the claims that her Trinamool Congress would ally with BJP, Ms Banerjee said: “It will never happen”.

Obama endorses Clinton for 2016 elections

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, got an endorsement from President Barack Obama on Saturday night.

WASHINGTON: Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, got an endorsement from President Barack Obama on Saturday night.

Speaking at the White House correspondents’ dinner, her former boss and 2008 competitor suggested that not only would Mrs Clinton run for president but would also win.

“Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone. It’ll be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya,” said President Obama while referring to Fox News.

Conspiracy theorists in America still claim that Mr Obama was born outside the United States and, therefore, he is not qualified to be the president.

Since he has a Kenyan father, some of his right-wing opponents spread the rumour that Mr Obama was born in Kenya. Fox News played a key role in spreading this rumour, forcing the US president to produce a birth certificate to prove that he was born in Hawaii.

Taking a jibe at Fox News, Mr Obama suggested it would be difficult for the network to go after a President Hillary Clinton in the same way.

Political commentators in America interpreted this statement as indicating that Mr Obama not only wants Mrs Clinton to run for the White House in 2016 but also wishes to see her installed as the first woman president of the United States.

This indirect endorsement comes on the heels of a real one from Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, who said on Saturday he would support Mrs Clinton if she ran.

“Today I encouraged Hillary Clinton to run for president and pledged my support for her candidacy if she does,” he tweeted.

President Obama made another joke about Mrs Clinton during his speech, this time at Vice President Joe Biden’s expense. Mr Biden is another potential candidate for a 2016 run.

“It is strange to think that I have just two and a half years left in this office. Everywhere I look, there are reminders that I only hold this job temporarily,” said Mr Obama to laughs.

“But it’s a long time between now and 2016, and anything can happen. You may have heard the other day; Hillary had to dodge a flying shoe at a press conference.”

The president then showed what appeared to be a photo-shopped picture of Mr Biden holding a shoe, getting ready to hurl it at an intended target. The president added, “I love that picture.”

Earlier this month, a woman threw a shoe at Mrs Clinton while she was making a speech at a Las Vegas convention. The Phoenix woman has been charged with trespassing and violence, but at the dinner Mr Obama suggested they’d got the wrong man.

Mrs Clinton too brushed the shoe-throwing as just another bizarre incident in her long political career. “Is that somebody throwing something at me? Was that part of Cirque de Soleil?” she joked after the shoe flew past her.

“My goodness, I didn’t know solid waste management was so controversial. Thank goodness she didn’t play softball like I did.”

18 killed in Indian train accident

AFP

NEW DELHI: A passenger train derailed in western India on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100 as rescue workers raced to free those trapped inside bogies, a police official said.

NEW DELHI: A passenger train derailed in western India on Sunday, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100 as rescue workers raced to free those trapped inside bogies, a police official said.

The train’s engine and four of its carriages jumped the tracks in the western state of Maharashtra 110 kilometres south of Mumbai, police control room official Ramchandra Kamre said in Raigad district, where the accident occurred.

“So far we have 18 reported deaths and 112 injured, who have been rushed to nearby hospitals for treatment,” Kamre said.

Rescuers were trying to pull out passengers trapped in overturned carriages, with cranes and teams of workers at the site.

Railways Minister Mallika­rjun Kharge ordered an investigation into the accident, which occurred in the mid-morning as the train was travelling from Diwa on the outskirts of Mumbai to the city of Sawantwadi in Maharashtra.

India’s underfunded rail network — one of the world’s largest — has a notoriously bad safety record but remains the main form of long-distance travel in the huge country despite fierce competition from private airlines.

India’s worst rail accident was in 1981 when a train plunged into a river in the eastern state of Bihar, killing an estimated 800 people.

Northern Ireland police free Gerry Adams

AFP

ANTRIM: Northern Ireland police freed on Sunday Gerry Adams after four days of questioning over a notorious IRA murder, but the republican leader could still face charges when a file is sent to prosecutors.

ANTRIM: Northern Ireland police freed on Sunday Gerry Adams after four days of questioning over a notorious IRA murder, but the republican leader could still face charges when a file is sent to prosecutors.

“A 65-year-old man arrested by detectives investigating the abduction and murder of Jean McConville has been released pending report to PPS (Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland),” said a statement issued by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

The PPS must now decide whether there is enough evidence to charge the leader of the Sinn Fein political party, or whether prosecution would be in the public interest.

Adams, a key figure in the peace process, was arrested on Wednesday in connection with the death of Jean McConville, a mother-of-ten abducted from her home in 1972.

He strongly denies any involvement in the murder, just as he denies ever having been a member of the IRA.

Video footage apparently captured Adams leaving in a police convoy via the back door of Antrim police station, where he had been held, in order to avoid a vocal group of Union Jack flag waving loyalist demonstrators, who want the province to remain British.

Another convoy exited from the front gates, where it was met by a sit-down protest and chanting. It later reversed back into the station grounds, raising suspicions that it was a decoy.

Three Indian rebels involved in attacks on Muslims killed

AP

GAUHATI: Police said on Sunday they killed three suspected rebels and arrested eight forest guards for alleged involvement in the killings of 31 Muslims in the worst ethnic violence in India’s remote northeast in two years.

GAUHATI: Police said on Sunday they killed three suspected rebels and arrested eight forest guards for alleged involvement in the killings of 31 Muslims in the worst ethnic violence in India’s remote northeast in two years.

In dense forest near Tejpur, four suspected insurgents hurled a grenade and fired at policemen who ambushed them, said police officer Sanjukta Prashar.

Police killed two in an exchange of gunfire and two suspects escaped, she said.

The town is nearly 80 kilometres north of the region where Muslims were attacked on Thursday and Friday.

In Udalguri district, police killed a third suspect in an exchange of gunfire and recovered one revolver and one hand grenade from him, said regional police inspector general L.R. Bishnoi.

He said police suspected that two who fled were on their way to attack a village with a mostly Muslim population.

Police also recovered two bodies floating in a river in Barapeta area, Bishnoi said.

They said they had arrested eight forest guards following complaints by the victims’ relatives that they were involved in the brutal killings.

The 22 people arrested earlier faced charges that they either burned homes or provided shelter to insurgents.

On Sunday, army soldiers patrolled the curfew-bound districts of Baska and Kokrajhar for a second day to defuse tension.

Relatives, who earlier refused to bury 18 victims in Baska unless Assam state’s top elected official visited them, relented and performed the last rites after state Planning Minister Prithvi Majhi met them and assured security to thousands of people hit by the ethnic violence.

The wrapped bodies had remained on the road for two days.

Authorities have said the attackers belonged to a faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for the ethnic Bodo people for decades. The rebel group denies it.

Rights group Amnesty International India said in a statement that authorities in Assam state must take action to protect the rights of all communities and bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.

Dozens of rebel groups are active in seven states in northeast India. Violence between Bodo people and Muslims in 2012 killed as many as 100 people in the same area as the recent attacks.

Tensions have been high in the region since a Bodo lawmaker in India’s parliament criticised Muslims for not voting for the Bodo candidate, said Lafikul Islam Ahmed, leader of a Muslim youth organisation called the All Bodoland Muslim Students’ Union.

Footprints: Punjab’s forgotten cash scheme

Mina Sohail

THE Khidmat Card Scheme was to be launched on March 23 by the Punjab government. It was to be a boon for low-income groups who would be provided some relief through cash assistance. Last year, when a local news channel showed the inauguration of the scheme with footage showing prospective recipients waiting in long queues, bringing the idea into reality seemed imminent. Then came Hamza Shahbaz, a member of the National Assembly, validating the transparency of the procedure to identify those eligible.

THE Khidmat Card Scheme was to be launched on March 23 by the Punjab government. It was to be a boon for low-income groups who would be provided some relief through cash assistance. Last year, when a local news channel showed the inauguration of the scheme with footage showing prospective recipients waiting in long queues, bringing the idea into reality seemed imminent. Then came Hamza Shahbaz, a member of the National Assembly, validating the transparency of the procedure to identify those eligible.

But though the government is quick to announce nationwide and provincial programmes for the underprivileged, or new “endeavours” as Hamza Shahbaz put it, their execution and implementation is often another story altogether. When officials from the Bank of Punjab and the National Bank of Pakistan were contacted, they were unaware of any such programme by the Punjab government.

Upon contacting the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, I was directed from one person to another and then another. “Mujhay is scheme kay baray may kuch nahin maloom (I know nothing of this scheme),” was the general response.

Although a news report stated that Nadra was assisting the Punjab government in identifying eligible candidates, an official from Nadra, when contacted, was unaware of any detail regarding the programme.

This is because the programme has not been launched yet. “Initially, we thought the scheme would be launched by March,” said retired Captain Muhammad Usman Younis, director of the food department, government of Punjab. “Soon we realised that banks don’t have the capacity to launch ATM cards, as we are targeting 1.4 million people in Punjab in the first phase.”

Captain Younis said the beneficiaries of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) would become automatic beneficiaries of the Khidmat Card Scheme as well. The four banks he listed as being responsible for issuing cards are Bank Alfalah, Habib Bank, the Bank of Punjab and UBL.

The BISP, launched in 2008, provides financial assistance to low-income families through bi-monthly cash payments. The database of this scheme will be used for the Khidmat Card Scheme too.

“ATM cards will be made after the biometric verification of people,” said Captain Younis. “We have a few conditions. People need to show their ‘B’ form, proof of children’s immunisation and of sending them to school.”

Meanwhile, there are many who are keen to benefit from the programme. Amongst them is Mohammad Ilyas, a peon working with the Bank of Punjab in Sheikhupura, who expressed his desire to apply for the scheme. When I reached his residence, he was keen to display Punjabi hospitality.

His three sons loitered around while his wife was instructed to quickly get his guests drinks. He earns a salary of Rs15,000 a month and the monthly fees for his three sons come to Rs5,000 a month.

Iram Shafiq, Management Trainee Officer of the National Bank, Lahore Cantt. Branch, displayed a copy of the Youth Business Loan form when approached about the Khidmat Card Scheme. “People come to us for information on various schemes offered by the Punjab government such as loans and financial assistance,” she said. “But the Khidmat Card Scheme is not something I’m aware of.”

“People are not aware of the details yet,” said Captain Younis. “There are no forms available online or with banks because we will identify the beneficiaries ourselves and allot them ATM cards.”

For people who did not receive benefits from the BISP, such as Mr Ilyas from Sheikhupura, a case management system has been set up, according to Captain Younis. “In special cases, people can come to us and present their case as to why they are deserving of the financial assistance.”

While the scheme has been announced, it is yet to materialise. “It’s a huge operation of card disbursement and will take a few more months,” said Captain Younis. “A timeline cannot be given.”

2,700 feared dead in Afghanistan landslide

Reuters

KABUL: Afghan officials gave up hope on Saturday of finding any survivors from a landslide in the remote northeast, with the number killed or missing put at 2,700 by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

KABUL: Afghan officials gave up hope on Saturday of finding any survivors from a landslide in the remote northeast, with the number killed or missing put at 2,700 by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The United Nations said the focus was now on helping more than 4,000 people displaced either directly as a result of the landslide or as a precautionary measure from villages assessed to be at risk.

International organisations and Afghan officials said at least 300 mud brick homes were buried on Friday in the impoverished province bordering Tajikistan.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said the death of more than 350 people had been confirmed, but a spokesman for the local governor said the number was over 2,100.

“The scale of this landslide is absolutely devastating, with an entire village practically wiped away,” the Afghanistan Chief of Mission of the Geneva-based IOM, Richard Danziger, said. “Hundreds of families have lost everything and are in immense need of assistance.”

The IOM said over 14,000 people were affected.

“Their main needs are water, medicine, food and emergency shelter,” Ari Gaitanis, a spokesman from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said.

Officials expressed concern the unstable hillside above the site of the disaster might cave in again, threatening the homeless as well as the UN and local rescue teams working there.

Villagers and a few dozen police personnel, equipped with only basic digging tools, resumed their search when daylight broke but it soon became clear there was no hope of finding survivors buried in the deep mud and rubble.

“Seven members of my family were here, four or five of them were killed… I am also half alive, what can I do?” said an elderly woman.

The side of the mountain above Abi-Barak collapsed at around 11am on Friday as people were trying to recover belongings and livestock after a smaller landslip hit a few hours earlier.

Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the landslides that were triggered by torrential rain. Officials worry another section of the mountainside could collapse at any time.

The Afghan military flew rescue teams to the area on Saturday, as the remote mountain region is served by only narrow, poor roads which have themselves been damaged by more than a week of heavy rain.

“We have managed to get one excavator into the area, but digging looks hopeless,” Col Abdul Qadeer Sayad, a deputy police chief of Badakhshan, told Reuters.

He said the sheer size of the area affected, and the depth of the mud, meant that only modern machinery could help.

Nato-led coalition troops were on standby to assist but said the Afghan government had not asked for help.

“I call on the government to come and help our people, to take the bodies out,” said a middle-aged man, standing on a hill overlooking the river of mud where his village once stood. “We managed to take out only 10-15 people, the rest of our villagers here are trapped.”

Hundreds of people cam­ped out overnight in near free­zing conditions, although some were given tents. Officials distributed food and water.—Reuters

India deploys army in Assam after 31 Muslims killed

Reuters

BARAMA: India deployed troops to the state of Assam on Saturday after 31 Muslims were gunned down in three days of what police said were attacks by tribal militants who resented the presence of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

BARAMA: India deployed troops to the state of Assam on Saturday after 31 Muslims were gunned down in three days of what police said were attacks by tribal militants who resented the presence of immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The unrest in the tea-growing state comes towards the end of a marathon election across India that has heightened ethnic and religious divisions.

Security forces found the bodies of nine people with bullet wounds on Saturday, six of them women and children, the third day of violence that police blamed on Bodo tribesmen attacking Muslim settlers as punishment for opposing their candidate in the election to the Indian parliament.

Bodo people are followers of the local Bathouist religion.

“We are scared to live in our village, unless security is provided by the government,” said Anwar Islam, a Muslim who had come to buy food in Barama, a town about 30km from the villages in the Baksa district where the violence erupted on Thursday and Friday.

He said men armed with rifles had come to his village, Masalpur, on bicycles and had then fired indiscriminately and set huts on fire.

Bodo representatives say many of the Muslims in Assam are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who encroach on ancestral Bodo lands. In 2012, clashes erupted in which dozens of people were killed and 400,000 fled their homes.

In addition to that violence, Assam has a history of sectarian strife and armed groups fighting for greater autonomy or secession from India.

Election candidates, including the BJP’s Narendra Modi, the front-runner for the post of prime minister, have been calling for tighter border controls.

On Saturday, the ruling Congress party blamed Modi of using divisive rhetoric. “Modi is a model of dividing India,” said Law Minister Kapil Sibal.

“Modi should have been more responsible in his utterances,” said Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chowdhury, a political science professor at Rabindra Bharati University in Kolkata.

“His words can be very damaging since, even if we consider that Bangladeshis are living here illegally, there is a question of human rights too.”

But the BJP said it was the responsibility of the Congress party that governs the state to ensure law and order and crack down on militants.

Soldiers in convoys of trucks mounted with rifles were patrolling on Saturday in Baksa district, where some of the attacks took place.

Bodies covered with white sheets were laid out in a row at a police outpost on the edge of Barama for identification by relatives.

Most Muslims were staying together in big groups, villagers visiting the market in Barama said.

Security forces found three children hiding in forests near the border with China. The Bodo region faces what residents say is a tight race between a Bodo and a non-tribal candidate. A policeman was killed during the voting when the region went to the polls on April 24.

SC punches holes in Hakim Said murder investigation

Nasir Iqbal

Dismissing the Sindh government’s appeal against a Sindh High Court verdict acquitting the accused Mohammad Amirullah, Abu Imran Pasha and Mohammad Shakir — who were said to have links with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement — the apex court ruled that the prosecution had indeed failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Dismissing the Sindh government’s appeal against a Sindh High Court verdict acquitting the accused Mohammad Amirullah, Abu Imran Pasha and Mohammad Shakir — who were said to have links with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement — the apex court ruled that the prosecution had indeed failed to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The bench, headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, had taken up the state’s appeal against the SHC’s May 31, 2001 judgment.

In his six-page verdict, Justice Khosa ruled that since the apex court’s own evaluation of the evidence also failed to reach a conclusion different from that reached by the high court, “these appeals are therefore dismissed”.

Punching holes into the investigation, the verdict holds that during the course of the probe, the accused were implicated at different points in time. In contrast, the four prosecution witnesses provided an eyewitness account of the incident itself before the trial court, but the evidence offered by one of the witnesses differed from that narrated by other eyewitnesses.

The verdict also notes that some of the accused were identified by witnesses during the trial, but the circumstances showed that the witnesses had many opportunities to see these accused before and during the trial, before they identified them. Thus, their evidence could not be considered significant, the judgment held.

The prosecution had also produced a suspect, Moula Bukhsh, before the trial court after 25 days of the incident, even though his statement was contradicted by the investigating officer himself.

Medical and forensic evidence gleaned from the scene also proved inconclusive.

Similarly, one of the suspect’s confessions did not carry a magistrate’s certificate, which was a mandatory requirement.

The rest of the statements were also suspect and probably not obtained freely or voluntarily, the verdict noted.

The judgment also held that from an examination of the confession statements, it was obvious that accused had been forced to sign a blank document and their statement was added later on. For this and other reasons, the court concluded that the ‘confessions’ did not have evidentiary value.

The apex court also noted that certain key legal requirements under sections 337 and 338 of the Criminal Procedure Code had not been fulfilled in this case, rendering the statements of certain ‘approvers’ inadmissible.

The judgment called into question the ballistic evidence recovered from the crime scene and questioned the timeline whereby bullet casings and the weapons allegedly recovered from the accused, were sent to Forensic Science Laboratory.

On the recovery of a fingerprint of one of the accused from one of the mirrors of the vehicle used by Hakim Said’s attackers, the verdict noted that the mirror in question was never sealed or secured independently, holding that it would be easy to fabricate such evidence after the fact.

Editorial News

Descent into darkness

Editorial

IT was almost a killing foretold. And the path to its inevitability is strewn with all the signs of this country’s descent into a dystopian nightmare. Rashid Rehman Khan, senior lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead in Multan on Wednesday night in an attack that also injured two of his colleagues, one of them critically. Mr Rehman was the defence lawyer for Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, and he had received death threats from two lawyers representing the complainant, as well as two other individuals, for having taken up the case. The threats by the lawyers were reportedly made during the course of the first hearing of the case in March which was held inside the prison for security reasons.

IT was almost a killing foretold. And the path to its inevitability is strewn with all the signs of this country’s descent into a dystopian nightmare. Rashid Rehman Khan, senior lawyer and member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, was shot dead in Multan on Wednesday night in an attack that also injured two of his colleagues, one of them critically. Mr Rehman was the defence lawyer for Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer accused of blasphemy, and he had received death threats from two lawyers representing the complainant, as well as two other individuals, for having taken up the case. The threats by the lawyers were reportedly made during the course of the first hearing of the case in March which was held inside the prison for security reasons.

The issue of blasphemy, already one upon whose edifice is played out the ruin of many a life in Pakistan, has assumed an even more deadly trajectory since Salmaan Taseer was shot dead on Jan 4, 2011 by his security guard for advocating changes in the blasphemy law and showing support to Aasiya Bibi, a Christian woman accused under the same law. The shameful spectacle of the killer, Mumtaz Qadri, being garlanded when he was brought to court for his trial, the fact that the judge who sentenced him to death had to move abroad for his safety, and the then government’s timorous response to the murder, have engendered an atmosphere where vigilante justice in blasphemy cases is openly celebrated by sections of the public. Meanwhile, those accused of the crime find it increasingly difficult to find a lawyer willing, and brave enough, to defend them in court. Trials of blasphemy accused in open courtrooms used to be a harrowing affair, with hostile crowds intimidating judges and defence lawyers during the proceedings, but as Mr Rehman’s murder shows, even moving such trials out of the public eye provides no safety when some lawyers themselves harbour contempt for due process when it comes to ‘crimes against religion’.

Although Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has ordered the immediate arrest of those involved in the attack, it is scarcely enough to stem the tide. The state must not only review the blasphemy law but, through its words and actions, reclaim the ground ceded to those who believe they have a divine duty to play judge, jury and executioner to individuals accused of blasphemy, those providing the latter their right to defence, or anyone advocating changes in the law. One fears though, that it is too much to expect in a country where the state has taken no action to curb a dangerous narrative and where few words of condemnation are reserved for the increasingly violent acts of extremism. It is such silence and inaction that provide the fertile soil for intolerance to thrive.

PTI’s perplexing protest

Editorial

POLITICAL protests, rallies and movements are the democratic rights of the people and their representatives and, especially given the paucity of democracy in this country’s history, ought never to be impeded or blocked, so long as the programme stays within the parameters of the law. Yet, while it is well within the PTI’s right to launch some kind of new movement — or is it just a daylong protest? — on May 11, there are many questions that Imran Khan’s latest foray into protest politics has left unanswered so far. What, for example, is the point, if any, to May 11? That the leader of a party which won a significant number of votes in the last election and now runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is willing to plunge into protest mode without it being entirely apparent to the non-partisan observer why and to what end is slightly worrying from a democratic perspective. At the very least, it is puzzling.

POLITICAL protests, rallies and movements are the democratic rights of the people and their representatives and, especially given the paucity of democracy in this country’s history, ought never to be impeded or blocked, so long as the programme stays within the parameters of the law. Yet, while it is well within the PTI’s right to launch some kind of new movement — or is it just a daylong protest? — on May 11, there are many questions that Imran Khan’s latest foray into protest politics has left unanswered so far. What, for example, is the point, if any, to May 11? That the leader of a party which won a significant number of votes in the last election and now runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is willing to plunge into protest mode without it being entirely apparent to the non-partisan observer why and to what end is slightly worrying from a democratic perspective. At the very least, it is puzzling.

From the few dots that can be connected, it appears that the PTI wants to use the anniversary of last year’s election day to reiterate its unhappiness with the credibility of the vote-counting process — or perhaps even to outright reject last year’s results. Yet, the PTI’s message has gone beyond just the election and taken on an anti-government, anti-judiciary and anti-media (or at least a specific section of the media) colour. Then there is the linking up with Tahirul Qadri, who shot to fame, or perhaps infamy, with his attempt to stave off elections last year. All of that adds up to a rather peculiar mix — with the potential to fizz around in any direction or even several directions at the same time. Meanwhile, there are voices of reason within the PTI, such as Javed Hashmi who has dismissed the possibility of mid-term elections. Other PTI members privately accept that even if irregularities from last May are now proved, it would not change the overall election result. Certainly, the election process needs to be made more transparent, free and fair — a significant step up from the present bar of acceptable and credible results. But can that really be achieved through street power instead of from inside parliament? Imran Khan has many questions to answer.

FBI agent’s arrest

Editorial

THE US national arrested at Karachi airport on Monday is certainly eligible for an award for sheer idiocy. In this global climate of hyper-security, particularly in terms of planes and airports, he was stopped as he was about to check in for a flight to Islamabad. During the routine security sweep, it was found that he was carrying 15 bullets of the 9mm calibre, a magazine, three knives and sundry equipment that the police believe included spy cameras and other gadgets. The FBI has confirmed that the gentleman works for it and was in Pakistan to work with the defence attaché’s office at the US embassy in Islamabad. And while it is in no way remarkable that an FBI employee should be armed to the teeth, it is quite beyond belief that he should be thus equipped when about to enter an airport to board a flight destined for what is possibly the country’s most heavily fortified city.

THE US national arrested at Karachi airport on Monday is certainly eligible for an award for sheer idiocy. In this global climate of hyper-security, particularly in terms of planes and airports, he was stopped as he was about to check in for a flight to Islamabad. During the routine security sweep, it was found that he was carrying 15 bullets of the 9mm calibre, a magazine, three knives and sundry equipment that the police believe included spy cameras and other gadgets. The FBI has confirmed that the gentleman works for it and was in Pakistan to work with the defence attaché’s office at the US embassy in Islamabad. And while it is in no way remarkable that an FBI employee should be armed to the teeth, it is quite beyond belief that he should be thus equipped when about to enter an airport to board a flight destined for what is possibly the country’s most heavily fortified city.

The man in question was granted bail by a Karachi court yesterday, and a US State Department spokesperson said that Washington is working closely with Pakistan to resolve the matter. However, the case underscores once again the problems that are created as a result of the US’s cagey approach regarding its operatives in Pakistan. It is essential that it share with Pakistan the details of who is being sent, and for what purpose. This would reduce the risk of embarrassment. We would have thought that the Raymond Davis debacle would have forced the American administration, particularly its intelligence agencies, to learn this lesson in no uncertain terms. Clearly, that has not been the case. While the US routinely decries the ‘anti-American’ sentiments that are held by many in Pakistan, it forgets that it is incidents such as this that partially fuel them. This is nothing like the stand-off that was created as a result of Mr Davis’s actions; but to many in Pakistan, the distinction may not be clear enough.

Foreign policy resolutions

Editorial

THE prime minister’s views on foreign policy as spelled out on Tuesday at a conference of Pakistani diplomats in the Middle East and the Gulf deserve to be noted because of what seems to be a welcome change of emphasis in Islamabad’s foreign policy priorities. His belief in “economic diplomacy”, said Nawaz Sharif, stemmed from the fact that “foreign policy has virtually become economic policy”. For that reason, he said, his government’s foreign policy was driven by economic considerations and focused on opportunities available to Pakistan. He thus wanted the country to cash in on its relations with the Middle East and the Gulf, because of the region’s “booming energy sector, developing infrastructure, thriving services sector and … connectivity”. Speaking ahead of his visit to Iran, Mr Sharif touched upon two issues which have aroused considerable misgivings in opposition circles. One, Pakistan’s ‘special relationship’ with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain would not be at the expense of its ties with Iran; two, there was no change in Pakistan’s Syria policy, because Islamabad believed in non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. There is no reason why the principles Mr Sharif outlined should remain confined to the Middle East and Gulf region, especially when he talks of “rebalancing” foreign policy with a view to greater integration with the world.

THE prime minister’s views on foreign policy as spelled out on Tuesday at a conference of Pakistani diplomats in the Middle East and the Gulf deserve to be noted because of what seems to be a welcome change of emphasis in Islamabad’s foreign policy priorities. His belief in “economic diplomacy”, said Nawaz Sharif, stemmed from the fact that “foreign policy has virtually become economic policy”. For that reason, he said, his government’s foreign policy was driven by economic considerations and focused on opportunities available to Pakistan. He thus wanted the country to cash in on its relations with the Middle East and the Gulf, because of the region’s “booming energy sector, developing infrastructure, thriving services sector and … connectivity”. Speaking ahead of his visit to Iran, Mr Sharif touched upon two issues which have aroused considerable misgivings in opposition circles. One, Pakistan’s ‘special relationship’ with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain would not be at the expense of its ties with Iran; two, there was no change in Pakistan’s Syria policy, because Islamabad believed in non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. There is no reason why the principles Mr Sharif outlined should remain confined to the Middle East and Gulf region, especially when he talks of “rebalancing” foreign policy with a view to greater integration with the world.

Pakistan’s strategic position has been utilised by the country to its immense advantage in the past. While Pakistan benefited from the massive doses of economic and military aid from the US-led West, it managed to forge friendly relations with China in moves that often aroused suspicions in the West but that nevertheless served Pakistan’s economic and security interests well. Today, more than ever, Pakistan needs to strictly adhere to a policy that aims to rectify the distortions in foreign policy. The decades-old Afghan war and the way it was handled by the military did immense harm to Pakistan’s security interests — besides leading to ugly domestic repercussions. Trade relations with India hit a major obstacle in March after a cabinet meeting to approve the MFN status for India was called off at the last minute, indicating that the levers of foreign policy lay in other hands. The year 2011 was especially disastrous because the army-led reaction to a series of incidents — Abbottabad and Salala — hurt the country’s economic and security interests and served to isolate it.

Mauled by terrorism, Pakistan needs a faster pace of development to recover the time it has lost. This entails a friendly relationship with all neighbours to open up its economy, enlarge trade and invite foreign investment. While security considerations cannot be ignored, the point to note is that there is no greater guarantee of security than a strong economy that can enable Pakistan to stand on its own feet.

Polio: the challenge ahead

Editorial

TIME is of the essence if the travel restrictions slapped on Pakistan by the World Health Organisation are to be eased in the months to come. Of primary importance is the need for the state to show Pakistanis and the world that it has a serious plan to deal with the development; implement WHO guidelines; and work to eradicate polio from the country. As it is, there is much confusion amongst citizens regarding the exact implications of the travel ban. The Ministry of National Health Services needs to inform the public of what the restrictions mean in practical terms and what steps travellers need to take. A step-by-step process detailing the vaccination requirements for travellers and visitors must be explained and publicised through the mass media because at present, there is just not enough credible information going around. These steps need to be taken before foreign governments start clamping down on Pakistani travellers due to insufficient documentation or lack of vaccination. Ensuring that public health facilities are stocked with enough vaccines; people know where to go to get vaccinated; and that uniform vaccination certificates are issued by the government is a challenging task, but not impossible. What the effort really needs is seriousness of intent that has so far been missing from Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign.

TIME is of the essence if the travel restrictions slapped on Pakistan by the World Health Organisation are to be eased in the months to come. Of primary importance is the need for the state to show Pakistanis and the world that it has a serious plan to deal with the development; implement WHO guidelines; and work to eradicate polio from the country. As it is, there is much confusion amongst citizens regarding the exact implications of the travel ban. The Ministry of National Health Services needs to inform the public of what the restrictions mean in practical terms and what steps travellers need to take. A step-by-step process detailing the vaccination requirements for travellers and visitors must be explained and publicised through the mass media because at present, there is just not enough credible information going around. These steps need to be taken before foreign governments start clamping down on Pakistani travellers due to insufficient documentation or lack of vaccination. Ensuring that public health facilities are stocked with enough vaccines; people know where to go to get vaccinated; and that uniform vaccination certificates are issued by the government is a challenging task, but not impossible. What the effort really needs is seriousness of intent that has so far been missing from Pakistan’s anti-polio campaign.

The government must ensure that the quality of vaccines and the cold chain is maintained. Where vaccination certificates are concerned, there can simply be no room for fake documents as the global community will not tolerate this and such incidents will only complicate Pakistan’s efforts to eventually have the travel restrictions lifted. Also, complaining that Pakistan should have been given more time to implement WHO guidelines — as some in government have been doing — is unjustified. The state has had plenty of time to act against polio but unfortunately took the issue too lightly. The writing was on the wall and the travel restrictions did not come out of the blue. At the moment, the government needs to demonstrate that Pakistan is a responsible country by implementing the guidelines and informing citizens about the vaccination procedure. At the same time, we cannot afford to lose sight of the real goal — eliminating polio from the country.

Cricket’s new coach

Editorial

PAKISTAN cricket has finally demonstrated some kind of consistency. Waqar Younis was the frontrunner for the post of head coach during the tenure of Zaka Ashraf as chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and Waqar it is who has secured the job now as Najam Sethi runs the PCB with the help of an ad hoc management committee. The former fast bowler, whose understanding of the game has never been in doubt, has nevertheless had his share of man-management problems. During his playing days and later on as coach, he had issues with individuals in the team, not least talked about his relationship with Moeen Khan, who appears to enjoy the confidence of the current PCB boss. Moeen has been given quite a lot of authority by the board and acts as the chief selector and manager of the national side. It is presumed the bond of trust between Mr Sethi and the chief selector-cum-manager has facilitated some kind of agreement between Waqar and Moeen whereby they are willing to work with each other. Hopefully, an urge on Waqar’s part to pull Pakistan out of its current situation has also been a factor.

PAKISTAN cricket has finally demonstrated some kind of consistency. Waqar Younis was the frontrunner for the post of head coach during the tenure of Zaka Ashraf as chief of the Pakistan Cricket Board, and Waqar it is who has secured the job now as Najam Sethi runs the PCB with the help of an ad hoc management committee. The former fast bowler, whose understanding of the game has never been in doubt, has nevertheless had his share of man-management problems. During his playing days and later on as coach, he had issues with individuals in the team, not least talked about his relationship with Moeen Khan, who appears to enjoy the confidence of the current PCB boss. Moeen has been given quite a lot of authority by the board and acts as the chief selector and manager of the national side. It is presumed the bond of trust between Mr Sethi and the chief selector-cum-manager has facilitated some kind of agreement between Waqar and Moeen whereby they are willing to work with each other. Hopefully, an urge on Waqar’s part to pull Pakistan out of its current situation has also been a factor.

The former fast bowler has been appointed head coach for two years under the PCB management committee whose original term will end in June — pending a possible extension. But while this raises questions about mandate and principles, few would grudge the national side a coach with sufficient time on his hands to execute his ideas. The Pakistan team has been under tremendous pressure in recent years, confronted with crisis after crisis. In the circumstances, the advent of a Pakistan cricketing great at the helm should inspire some hope. Former Pakistani players overcoming personal differences for a common cause is an example that needs to be emulated. It is, however, a beginning that must be followed by a series of steps to put things right in the team and on the board.

Muslim world’s silence

Editorial

THE news from Nigeria is blood-curdling. Shrouded initially in mystery, the kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian girls last month has now been owned by Boko Haram, with its chief threatening ‘by Allah’ to sell those girls in slave markets. In a chilling demonstration of his intentions, in the name of Islam, Boko Haram chief Abubakr Shekau released an hour-long video that showed his hooded acolytes raising rifles and shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ as Shekau flaunted his criminality to the Nigerian people by declaring, “I abducted your girls”. Describing the girls as “slaves”, he had no qualms about saying he would repeat his actions. Over 50 of the girls have managed to flee, two have died of snakebite, many have been forced to marry and some have been forcibly converted — all in the name of Islam.

THE news from Nigeria is blood-curdling. Shrouded initially in mystery, the kidnapping of almost 300 Nigerian girls last month has now been owned by Boko Haram, with its chief threatening ‘by Allah’ to sell those girls in slave markets. In a chilling demonstration of his intentions, in the name of Islam, Boko Haram chief Abubakr Shekau released an hour-long video that showed his hooded acolytes raising rifles and shouting ‘Allah-o-Akbar’ as Shekau flaunted his criminality to the Nigerian people by declaring, “I abducted your girls”. Describing the girls as “slaves”, he had no qualms about saying he would repeat his actions. Over 50 of the girls have managed to flee, two have died of snakebite, many have been forced to marry and some have been forcibly converted — all in the name of Islam.

Last week, two explosions killed or injured more than 100 people, and police believe Boko Haram wanted to demonstrate its destructive power as Nigeria prepared to host the World Economic Forum. So far acts of terror by the Boko Haram militants and security crackdowns have led to over 1,500 deaths this year alone. But there is no indication yet that the Nigerian government has the political will to purposefully take on the extremists who have chosen murder and abduction as a strategy to advance their political aims for which they claim religious sanction. The Nigerian government has come under intense criticism at home for focusing all security measures on the WEF delegates and for ignoring the urgent task of recovering the girls.

However, the issue doesn’t concern Nigeria alone. Seen against the background of religious militancy that has rocked Muslim (as well as non-Muslim) countries from Indonesia to Morocco, Boko Haram’s latest act of crime against humanity poses a question or two to the entire Muslim world, especially its intellectuals and ulema. Will the Muslim world stay quiet over this debasement of their religion and look away from the Nigerian people’s trauma? Girls are abducted from schools because Boko Haram says it opposes ‘Western’ education. That an education can be ‘Western or Eastern’ is a debatable issue, but even if ‘Western education’ is all that devilish, was the mass kidnapping of the girls the best way to register protest? The Muslim world now must speak up. Those who accuse the Western media of tarring all Muslims with the same brush now have an excellent chance of correcting this erroneous perception by denouncing Boko Haram’s evil deed in unequivocal terms and by dissociating the international Islamic community from such fiendish crimes. In fact, such Islamic seats of learning as Deoband, Qom and Al Azhar must unite in expressing their abhorrence of the atrocity in Nigeria. Silence will mean the Muslim world’s tacit approval of Boko Haram’s misogynist brigandage.

Dangerous arms imports

Editorial

PAKISTAN’S streets are awash with guns — there’s no secret there. Efforts to counter this have ranged from the logic-defying to the laughable. They have included, for example, a campaign to rid Karachi of illegal weapons by asking people to have them registered, thus rendering them legal. At the other end, people have been asked to surrender their illegal weapons — as though the crime rings that operate in the city would submit themselves before the law. Now comes the news that the problem is far bigger than previously suspected. As reported on Monday, dealers had been abusing the relevant arms import policy that puts a monetary ceiling on commercial arms importers: by under-invoicing their goods, they have brought into the country weapons in far greater quantities than their quota allowed. At its last cabinet meeting in 2013, the outgoing PPP-led government approved amendments to its arms import policy and changed it from a value-based to a quantity-based one. But the sitting government never gave this policy comprehensive shape or implemented it. And so, regardless of the efforts made at various levels to curb arms smuggling and contain the spread of illegal weaponry, our streets are witnessing an increasing number of sophisticated arms.

PAKISTAN’S streets are awash with guns — there’s no secret there. Efforts to counter this have ranged from the logic-defying to the laughable. They have included, for example, a campaign to rid Karachi of illegal weapons by asking people to have them registered, thus rendering them legal. At the other end, people have been asked to surrender their illegal weapons — as though the crime rings that operate in the city would submit themselves before the law. Now comes the news that the problem is far bigger than previously suspected. As reported on Monday, dealers had been abusing the relevant arms import policy that puts a monetary ceiling on commercial arms importers: by under-invoicing their goods, they have brought into the country weapons in far greater quantities than their quota allowed. At its last cabinet meeting in 2013, the outgoing PPP-led government approved amendments to its arms import policy and changed it from a value-based to a quantity-based one. But the sitting government never gave this policy comprehensive shape or implemented it. And so, regardless of the efforts made at various levels to curb arms smuggling and contain the spread of illegal weaponry, our streets are witnessing an increasing number of sophisticated arms.

This must end. Pakistan does not need more varieties of weapons to be given to those who deal in violence. Further, while the reasons behind the country’s horrifying levels of violence are disparate and many, there’s one thing that underpins it all; one thing that, so to speak, facilitates violence — readily available weaponry. If all the tensions that are currently ripping the country apart remained, even then it would be possible to argue that were this not such a heavily weaponised environment, the levels of threat-escalation would be lower. Nowhere is this more evident than in Karachi, which is seeing steadily increasing levels of petty crime such as the snatching of phones and wallets. These are generally crimes of opportunity that occur because a weapon is at hand, cheaply and easily. Then there are security challenges of a different nature which must be countered in different ways, as each equation demands. But in each case, reducing the number of arms coming into the country and deweaponisation are the first critical steps.

Extortion in twin cities

Editorial

UNTIL now, the menace of extortion had been a problem faced largely by Karachi, the nation’s business hub. But, as a growing number of reports indicate, the crime is becoming a major issue in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as well, where militants belonging to the banned TTP in the tribal belt are using the twin cities as a base to extort millions of rupees from businessmen and traders, with criminal gangs having a much smaller slice of the pie. That militants have people on the ground in Rawalpindi was proved by the recent arrest of a businessman who confessed to passing on information to the TTP about potential targets. A report in this paper last week also stated that certain seminaries in Islamabad were suspected of helping local Taliban elements with the collection of extortion and ransom money. Moreover, a police report has identified 20 madressahs in Rawalpindi as being used by the TTP. To make matters worse, splits within the TTP mean that numerous groups are harassing traders with extortion demands. Traders who have relocated from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being particularly harassed.

UNTIL now, the menace of extortion had been a problem faced largely by Karachi, the nation’s business hub. But, as a growing number of reports indicate, the crime is becoming a major issue in the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad as well, where militants belonging to the banned TTP in the tribal belt are using the twin cities as a base to extort millions of rupees from businessmen and traders, with criminal gangs having a much smaller slice of the pie. That militants have people on the ground in Rawalpindi was proved by the recent arrest of a businessman who confessed to passing on information to the TTP about potential targets. A report in this paper last week also stated that certain seminaries in Islamabad were suspected of helping local Taliban elements with the collection of extortion and ransom money. Moreover, a police report has identified 20 madressahs in Rawalpindi as being used by the TTP. To make matters worse, splits within the TTP mean that numerous groups are harassing traders with extortion demands. Traders who have relocated from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are being particularly harassed.

It is appalling that criminal and militant groups should be operating with such apparent ease in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. We would have thought that the considerable security presence in the twin cities would have deterred such criminality. After all, ’Pindi hosts the general headquarters of the Pakistan Army, and soldiers patrol many key areas in the city, while, as the federal capital, Islamabad is also under the vigilance of the security establishment. The main problem seems to be that victims — due to a trust deficit — are hesitant to go to the police. The Rawalpindi police have made efforts to reach out to the business community, but quite obviously police in both cities must do more to assure traders they are serious about cracking down on extortionists. And while the militants may be hard to reach in Fata, their local informers can be apprehended to clamp down on the extortion racket.

Polio-related travel ban

Editorial

WHAT had looked likely for months has now become a reality: yesterday, after a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee concerning the international spread of wild poliovirus, WHO said in a statement that the conditions for a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” have been met. “This situation,” it said, “could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine-preventable diseases.”

WHAT had looked likely for months has now become a reality: yesterday, after a meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee concerning the international spread of wild poliovirus, WHO said in a statement that the conditions for a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” have been met. “This situation,” it said, “could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Pakistan finds itself in the dock yet again. It remains one of the world’s three remaining polio-endemic countries, and the Pakistani strain of the virus has been detected in several other countries. Notwithstanding all the work put in by the polio immunisation campaign over more than two decades, the situation continues to worsen. From the passive refusal to let the Oral Polio Vaccine be administered, we now have active and brutal aggression. Vaccinators have been attacked and murdered, health teams work under siege conditions, there are problems with the cold-chain storage and doubts over the efficacy of the vaccine. In the TTP-dominated tribal areas, a ‘ban’ on the vaccination has been imposed, and in other areas tribal elders have tried to use it as a bargaining chip. It’s hardly any wonder, then, that WHO has finally advised that restrictions be placed on people travelling from countries that could export wild poliovirus, which includes Pakistan. The measure was first proposed in 2011 by the Independent Monitoring Board for Polio Eradication, and India implemented it early this year.

The way forward is what it has always been: Pakistan needs to get its house in order, urgently. The means and motivation have to be found to further the OPV initiative. While adults stand a small chance of contracting the disease, it is children with whom this crippling virus has an affinity, and in immunising every child — with starter and follow-up doses of the vaccine — lies the only hope for eradication. The state must not only better organise the logistics involved in reaching every child, it must also accomplish the task that is perhaps just as daunting: taking control of the narrative. No other country is at a comparable place, ie witnessing a seeming resurgence of the disease, and therefore the bulk of medical research refers to risk-assessment in the context of a falling, or halted, incidence of polio. The travel restriction advisory means that more challenges have been created. The various political elements that declaim their passion for the ‘national interest’ need reminding that the best way of achieving this lies in closing ranks. They must if they are to ensure that future generations don’t face being crippled, and that Pakistan is not an international pariah because of its inability to control the spread of a disease that, just a year ago, had very nearly been globally eradicated.

Poverty profile

Editorial

POVERTY is a multidimensional phenomenon. Hence, the trend of measuring poverty on the basis of several forms of deprivations such as healthcare, education, water supply, income, etc, is catching on globally. It, therefore, isn’t improbable that each country may have a poverty profile unique to itself, depending on the size and nature of such deprivations. The poverty profile of the US, for example, would be different from Pakistan’s or even Germany’s. Yet income remains the most important and common benchmark for calculating the number of poor in any country. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s suggestion to the ADB to revise upward its income threshold for measuring poverty from $1.25 a day to $2, therefore, is a reasonable proposition. It is also important for the bank to redefine its poverty line threshold because the IMF has already done so in view of the rapid rise in food and energy prices in most countries, particularly in economies struggling to cut the incidence of poverty, in the last few years.

POVERTY is a multidimensional phenomenon. Hence, the trend of measuring poverty on the basis of several forms of deprivations such as healthcare, education, water supply, income, etc, is catching on globally. It, therefore, isn’t improbable that each country may have a poverty profile unique to itself, depending on the size and nature of such deprivations. The poverty profile of the US, for example, would be different from Pakistan’s or even Germany’s. Yet income remains the most important and common benchmark for calculating the number of poor in any country. Finance Minister Ishaq Dar’s suggestion to the ADB to revise upward its income threshold for measuring poverty from $1.25 a day to $2, therefore, is a reasonable proposition. It is also important for the bank to redefine its poverty line threshold because the IMF has already done so in view of the rapid rise in food and energy prices in most countries, particularly in economies struggling to cut the incidence of poverty, in the last few years.

Pakistan is located in a region where the majority of the world’s 2.4bn poor live. In testimony before a parliamentary panel in February last, Mr Dar had said 54pc of the country’s population is poor. Now that is a huge number. A vast number of them can be categorised as the chronic poor with little hope of their ever crossing the poverty line. Regrettably, we aren’t doing enough for them. Many of them are not eligible even for the cash handouts under the Benazir Income Support Programme initiated by the previous government because they don’t have an address. Those who are, get too paltry an amount, often with a lag of several months. The old concept that rapid GDP growth automatically takes care of poverty no longer holds good. Growth does help some but not everyone. If poverty in the country is to be tackled, the government will have to devise a focused plan to target it by removing all kinds of deprivations as well as substantially increasing cash handouts for the poor. Its decision to adopt the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index to measure poverty on the basis of various deprivations has given it an opportunity to develop a realistic poverty profile and attack it by launching targeted programmes.

Bhagat Singh strikes again

Editorial

BHAGAT Singh, ever the guerrilla fighter, keeps cropping up at places, as if trying to ambush the prigs who today inhabit the area he took by storm almost nine decades ago. Until recently, some patriots were successfully stalling an attempt to name a square in Lahore after him. But it seems that the attempt to deny history and deny its heroes their due has not been able to sufficiently dampen the spirits of those incorrigible souls looking to set the perspective right. A lawyer in Lahore has sought a reopening of the 1928 John Saunders’ case that led to the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. The lawyer last week achieved what has been called by some as a mini victory. After some nudging, the police have provided him with a copy of the FIR of the case, which does not identify those who had attacked the British police officer. This could just mean the complainants did not know who the assailants were at the time the FIR was lodged, and that the names of the suspects might have been added later. This was not, nor is, an unusual practice, but the production of the FIR here is significant: the Lahore High Court had deemed its availability necessary for considering a reopening of the Bhagat Singh case.

BHAGAT Singh, ever the guerrilla fighter, keeps cropping up at places, as if trying to ambush the prigs who today inhabit the area he took by storm almost nine decades ago. Until recently, some patriots were successfully stalling an attempt to name a square in Lahore after him. But it seems that the attempt to deny history and deny its heroes their due has not been able to sufficiently dampen the spirits of those incorrigible souls looking to set the perspective right. A lawyer in Lahore has sought a reopening of the 1928 John Saunders’ case that led to the execution of Bhagat Singh and his comrades. The lawyer last week achieved what has been called by some as a mini victory. After some nudging, the police have provided him with a copy of the FIR of the case, which does not identify those who had attacked the British police officer. This could just mean the complainants did not know who the assailants were at the time the FIR was lodged, and that the names of the suspects might have been added later. This was not, nor is, an unusual practice, but the production of the FIR here is significant: the Lahore High Court had deemed its availability necessary for considering a reopening of the Bhagat Singh case.

The trials and mistrials of the freedom fighters are the latter’s medals, a proof of their gallantry and of the oppressive colonial treatment they were subjected to. From that angle, it is difficult to see what additional honours a retrial could confer on these heroes. But a reinvestigation would expose the facts and satisfy the urge to recreate a picture as close to reality as possible. It will help to better understand the system as it worked then, and maybe offer comparisons with the practices of today. To that end — the enriching of historical accounts with factual detail — it is worthwhile to revisit the case of Bhagat Singh and other persecuted freedom fighters.

Judges’ appointment

Editorial

IT could only be whispered during the era of the all-powerful Iftikhar Chaudhry, but judicial overreach had become an uncomfortable fact of life. And perhaps, from an institutional and democratic perspective, nowhere was the overreach more troublesome than the court eroding the authority of parliament in critical areas. The sacking of a prime minister was a spectacular example of that overreach, given that it could be argued quite robustly that it was parliament’s, and specifically the speaker of the National Assembly’s, constitutional jurisdiction to determine disqualification in the circumstances of Yousuf Raza Gilani’s conviction. Yet, there was an even more troublesome example of judicial overreach and it came in the wake of the 18th Amendment when the Supreme Court led by then chief justice Chaudhry took issue with the new appointment process for judges of the superior judiciary. Until then, never had it been suggested that a constitutional amendment could be judicially reviewed — and it seemed a stunning development that a Supreme Court may even contemplate striking down a constitutional amendment.

IT could only be whispered during the era of the all-powerful Iftikhar Chaudhry, but judicial overreach had become an uncomfortable fact of life. And perhaps, from an institutional and democratic perspective, nowhere was the overreach more troublesome than the court eroding the authority of parliament in critical areas. The sacking of a prime minister was a spectacular example of that overreach, given that it could be argued quite robustly that it was parliament’s, and specifically the speaker of the National Assembly’s, constitutional jurisdiction to determine disqualification in the circumstances of Yousuf Raza Gilani’s conviction. Yet, there was an even more troublesome example of judicial overreach and it came in the wake of the 18th Amendment when the Supreme Court led by then chief justice Chaudhry took issue with the new appointment process for judges of the superior judiciary. Until then, never had it been suggested that a constitutional amendment could be judicially reviewed — and it seemed a stunning development that a Supreme Court may even contemplate striking down a constitutional amendment.

In the end, the court refrained from declaring parts of the 18th Amendment unconstitutional, but made its preferences clear — leading to a meek surrender by parliament in the name of the 19th Amendment. As a result, the court had achieved an appointment process for superior court judges that would largely be driven by the superior judiciary itself. Not satisfied with that, subsequent judgements by the Supreme Court on appointments under the 19th Amendment made it crystal clear that a hermetically sealed judiciary had been attained: an appointment process in which parliament had a nominal role, but where the choices of the judicial representatives were almost never to be questioned. In effect, the superior judiciary had told parliament that not only every act of parliament would be absolutely open to any amount of judicial scrutiny the courts saw fit, but that the composition of the judiciary itself would be decided by the senior judges. This was an extraordinary state of affairs that remained unchallenged during Mr Chaudhry’s tenure, but now parliament is trying to claw back the space it had so timidly surrendered.

This week, a sub-committee of the Parliamentary Committee is set to meet and approve its recommendations for strengthening the role of the PC in the two-step judges’ appointment process that is initiated, and presently controlled, by the Judicial Commission of Pakistan. A basic point must be reiterated here: precisely because judges have significant, in many cases unrivalled, power and their jobs security extends to virtually insurmountable constitutional protection, scrutinising and debating the professional and other relevant records of judicial candidates is vital. There is no reason why parliament — representing a spectrum of mainstream political thought in Pakistan — cannot have a sober and detailed debate on the eligibility of candidates and why its opinion cannot carry weight.

World Bank loan

Editorial

THE World Bank’s soft loan of $1bn to be disbursed next week must improve foreign exchange stocks, bring greater exchange rate stability and cut the government’s debt servicing costs. In return, Islamabad will implement reforms to prevent the power sector from collapsing, boost growth and investment and cut poverty. Not a bad deal. The bank has also approved a new five-year Country Partnership Strategy, promising a ‘notional financing envelope’ of $11bn for developing both the private and public sectors. The disbursement of these funds from 2015 will, however, hinge on the successful execution of reforms, especially the ones agreed in the deal with the IMF last year. Pakistan has of late received substantial funds from multilateral lenders and friends from the Gulf as loans and gifts. It has also raised $2bn through the sale of Eurobonds to global investors, and is expected to float more papers in the months to come. These inflows have helped improve the government’s fiscal position, lifted the burden on its budget and eased pressure on the rupee. It is unlikely to face any serious challenge on this count any time soon. But this improvement in ‘macroeconomic indicators’ is not going to last very long if the government loses its focus on economic, financial and governance reforms.

THE World Bank’s soft loan of $1bn to be disbursed next week must improve foreign exchange stocks, bring greater exchange rate stability and cut the government’s debt servicing costs. In return, Islamabad will implement reforms to prevent the power sector from collapsing, boost growth and investment and cut poverty. Not a bad deal. The bank has also approved a new five-year Country Partnership Strategy, promising a ‘notional financing envelope’ of $11bn for developing both the private and public sectors. The disbursement of these funds from 2015 will, however, hinge on the successful execution of reforms, especially the ones agreed in the deal with the IMF last year. Pakistan has of late received substantial funds from multilateral lenders and friends from the Gulf as loans and gifts. It has also raised $2bn through the sale of Eurobonds to global investors, and is expected to float more papers in the months to come. These inflows have helped improve the government’s fiscal position, lifted the burden on its budget and eased pressure on the rupee. It is unlikely to face any serious challenge on this count any time soon. But this improvement in ‘macroeconomic indicators’ is not going to last very long if the government loses its focus on economic, financial and governance reforms.

There are many who still doubt the government’s commitment to address structural rigidities pulling the economy down because of political reasons. To support their scepticism, they often point out its failure in the last budget to tax the wealthy and powerful. Not only that, the government has allowed amnesty for those who hadn’t paid taxes at all to encourage them to do so now. But the scheme’s unlikely to take off because the habitual tax dodgers know how to bribe their way out of a difficulty unless the government demonstrates its resolve to punish them for tax law violations. The government plans to revoke SROs giving tax exemptions of Rs480bn to different lobbies in the next three years but stops short of talking about abolishing the provisions in the income tax laws that debar probe into sources of remittances received through banks. If it expects to sustain the recent macroeconomic gains for long without taxing the rich and mighty, it is gravely mistaken.

Transparent land records

Editorial

WHILE the official deadline for the Punjab government’s land record computerisation project is supposed to be December of this year, it is fair to ask how realistic this deadline is, especially in the wake of a brewing internal dispute in the provincial set-up. As reported, the assistant directors land records of the Punjab Board of Revenue have threatened to resign “en bloc” due to alleged victimisation at the hands of some officials overseeing the project. Considering the crucial nature of the land record project, as well as the fact that it was launched as far back as 2007, during Pervaiz Elahi’s stewardship of Punjab, the provincial authorities need to deal with the internal crisis judiciously to ensure the project is not delayed further. Though matters as sensitive as land management reforms cannot be rushed through, there must be some sort of time frame: seven years is a long time and the Punjab government has changed the deadline in the past. The computerisation project must be a priority for the Punjab authorities as its successful launch can serve as a model for other provinces. Perhaps the most positive outcome of the scheme will be greater transparency in land management, reducing the oversized role of the patwari, who currently is king of all he surveys.

WHILE the official deadline for the Punjab government’s land record computerisation project is supposed to be December of this year, it is fair to ask how realistic this deadline is, especially in the wake of a brewing internal dispute in the provincial set-up. As reported, the assistant directors land records of the Punjab Board of Revenue have threatened to resign “en bloc” due to alleged victimisation at the hands of some officials overseeing the project. Considering the crucial nature of the land record project, as well as the fact that it was launched as far back as 2007, during Pervaiz Elahi’s stewardship of Punjab, the provincial authorities need to deal with the internal crisis judiciously to ensure the project is not delayed further. Though matters as sensitive as land management reforms cannot be rushed through, there must be some sort of time frame: seven years is a long time and the Punjab government has changed the deadline in the past. The computerisation project must be a priority for the Punjab authorities as its successful launch can serve as a model for other provinces. Perhaps the most positive outcome of the scheme will be greater transparency in land management, reducing the oversized role of the patwari, who currently is king of all he surveys.

Press under siege

Editorial

AT a time when journalistic freedom is under attack in many parts of the world, Pakistan Press Freedom Day, that was observed yesterday, should be taken as a moment for sending out a call to arms. In many ways, the juncture at which this country’s media outlets find themselves today is unprecedented, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that our freedoms face more danger now than ever before — this, notwithstanding the fact that the current media climate is diametrically opposed to the one in the past when news organisations were subjected to severe censorship under military dictators, and the truth struggled to make itself heard.

AT a time when journalistic freedom is under attack in many parts of the world, Pakistan Press Freedom Day, that was observed yesterday, should be taken as a moment for sending out a call to arms. In many ways, the juncture at which this country’s media outlets find themselves today is unprecedented, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that our freedoms face more danger now than ever before — this, notwithstanding the fact that the current media climate is diametrically opposed to the one in the past when news organisations were subjected to severe censorship under military dictators, and the truth struggled to make itself heard.

If this sounds theatrical, consider this: for years, now, we have seen the press, both print and electronic, being subjected to pressure from shadowy sections within the state and in political quarters. Journalists have been killed, harassed or otherwise targeted in significant numbers, and because successive governments have failed monumentally to pursue these cases and prosecute those responsible, the trend has steadily moved to the level of intimidation with impunity. Even before two news anchors were subjected to gunfire in Lahore and Karachi in recent weeks, Pakistan was already counted as amongst the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Meanwhile, events on the political horizon have meant that the media has increasingly come in the crosshairs of elusive non-state actors — from separatists in restive Balochistan to militants in the northwest, as well as in other areas. Here, too, the audacity of those who seek to silence the press is as breathtaking as is the inaction of the state: the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the group that has taken proud responsibility for the killing of thousands over the years, has issued hit lists featuring the names of journalists, some of whom have come under attack in some way or the other, though it is not known whether the responsibility lies with the TTP or the plethora of other groups that seek to control the media.

To this mix — deadly for individual journalists and sounding the death knell for the freedom of expression — has been added a new element: that of the media causing itself harm. In the aftermath of the attack on Hamid Mir, the rivalries between media organisations, and the increasing control of owners of media organisations over the editorial content of their newspapers and TV channels, and often at variance with journalistic ethics, have exploded into a disturbing, destructive war. This may partly be explained by the manner in which the country’s news landscape has expanded over the past decade, yet it is damaging that the owners’ business and political interests have been allowed to interfere with the functioning and independence of professional journalists. Between all these threats to press freedoms, we may soon reach a point of no return.

A tougher stance on talks

Editorial

PERHAPS it was just an outburst or a show of frustration and not a true hardening of the government line on the desultory talks with the TTP so far. Yet, if Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s comments on Friday indicate a change in approach by the government, it would be welcome, even if belated. A firm agenda and a decisive round of talks — that is how the interior minister described the imminent next round of negotiations with the TTP and, in a thinly veiled attack, the minister also expressed unhappiness over the divergence in the private and public attacks of some on the TTP negotiating side. Perhaps it is only coincidental that the interior minister’s remarks were made just days after army chief Gen Raheel Sharif set out a firm army line on the framework and parameters of talks with the TTP. Whatever the reasons for Nisar Ali Khan’s change of tone, it is good to see the civilian and the army leadership edging towards the same — and right — page on the talks issue.

PERHAPS it was just an outburst or a show of frustration and not a true hardening of the government line on the desultory talks with the TTP so far. Yet, if Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan’s comments on Friday indicate a change in approach by the government, it would be welcome, even if belated. A firm agenda and a decisive round of talks — that is how the interior minister described the imminent next round of negotiations with the TTP and, in a thinly veiled attack, the minister also expressed unhappiness over the divergence in the private and public attacks of some on the TTP negotiating side. Perhaps it is only coincidental that the interior minister’s remarks were made just days after army chief Gen Raheel Sharif set out a firm army line on the framework and parameters of talks with the TTP. Whatever the reasons for Nisar Ali Khan’s change of tone, it is good to see the civilian and the army leadership edging towards the same — and right — page on the talks issue.

By now, there is little new that can be said about the problems with the government’s approach to dialogue with the TTP. Nevertheless, because the consequences of a flawed approach are potentially so disastrous, the problems are worth reiterating. As the architect of the dialogue process, the interior minister may have been so keen to achieve success that he often seemed to have lost sight of what real success, from a constitutional, democratic and Pakistani point of view, would look like. Letting the TTP shape the agenda, making concession after concession, never stating explicitly and in detail what the state demanded of the outlawed group, focusing on short-term ceasefires, handing over prisoners without securing releases by the militants — all of that set the stage for a very lopsided process. And that does not include the control over the media narrative and the national discourse that the TTP has exerted when it comes to the issue of militancy and what must be done about it. While much has already been lost by the state, it is surely never too late — if there is the will and commitment. Perhaps that is what the interior minister finally indicated on Friday.

Deadly industrial effluent

Editorial

OVERSEEN by apathetic administrations, Pakistanis appear to be adept at reviving medieval ways of causing death. On Friday, toxic effluent traced to a sugar mill accounted for the death of a number of people in Dera Ismail Khan. There are various versions as to how the victims ended up in the drain used to carry the effluent from the mill to the Indus. According to one version, the attention of some passersby was drawn to a boy who had accidentally fallen into it. Those who tried to rescue him were themselves overpowered by the poisonous waste. The dead and injured, including women, might not have had any choice other than to enter the drain in their effort to save human lives; but a more efficient government and a more responsible industry could have ensured that the tragedy did not take place. In the run-up to the incident, the issue of toxic waste and its effects on life had been focused on by local D.I. Khan newspapers. We will now hear the all too familiar calls about ensuring industrial standards, an exercise which would be too late in the case of those who died on Friday, and too little for the authorities to wake up and take notice.

OVERSEEN by apathetic administrations, Pakistanis appear to be adept at reviving medieval ways of causing death. On Friday, toxic effluent traced to a sugar mill accounted for the death of a number of people in Dera Ismail Khan. There are various versions as to how the victims ended up in the drain used to carry the effluent from the mill to the Indus. According to one version, the attention of some passersby was drawn to a boy who had accidentally fallen into it. Those who tried to rescue him were themselves overpowered by the poisonous waste. The dead and injured, including women, might not have had any choice other than to enter the drain in their effort to save human lives; but a more efficient government and a more responsible industry could have ensured that the tragedy did not take place. In the run-up to the incident, the issue of toxic waste and its effects on life had been focused on by local D.I. Khan newspapers. We will now hear the all too familiar calls about ensuring industrial standards, an exercise which would be too late in the case of those who died on Friday, and too little for the authorities to wake up and take notice.

There have been a few public protests in the past as there has been the expert word of caution. For instance, in 2012, a study by two experts at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad, highlighted the very real perils of leaving effluent wastewater untreated. “…[T]hroughout Pakistan the industrial approach towards the environment is very discouraging”, it noted. “In Lahore … only three out of some 100 industries using hazardous chemicals treat their wastewater … in Karachi, [in] the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate … and Korangi Industrial and Trading Estate … two of the biggest industrial estates in Pakistan, there is no effluent treatment plant.…” Apparently little heed has been paid to such warnings — in the true Pakistani tradition of acquired, deliberate ignorance in the face of imminent disaster.

Columns and Articles

Institutions matter

Faisal Bari

IF there is one lesson that is emerging from the recent literature on development and long-term growth, it is about the importance of institutions and the quality of these institutions. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (Why Nations Fail) highlight the role of institutions in ensuring growth, development and progress, while economist Thomas Piketty speaks of the role of various institutions in curbing or limiting the excesses of capitalism effectively.

IF there is one lesson that is emerging from the recent literature on development and long-term growth, it is about the importance of institutions and the quality of these institutions. Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (Why Nations Fail) highlight the role of institutions in ensuring growth, development and progress, while economist Thomas Piketty speaks of the role of various institutions in curbing or limiting the excesses of capitalism effectively.

But this lesson is wasted on Pakistani governments, whose short-term interests almost always trump the need for strengthening institutions and abiding by the constraints laid down by institutional rules and regulations. Some people thought the current government, after the experience of previous dispensations since 1999, would have learnt a lesson. But, one year after this government came to power, we know better.

The latest confirmation, in this regard, has been the appointment of the governor of the State Bank of Pakistan. Other countries find the very best monetary economics and banking area experts, with plenty of experience at the senior level, for such appointments.

Janet Yellen, a famous economist, is chair of the US Federal Reserve. Mark Carney, governor, Bank of England, has a doctorate in economics from Oxford. Raghuram Rajan, governor, Reserve Bank of India, is a very well-published finance professor. Alexandre Tombini, governor, Central Bank of Brazil, has a doctorate in economics. Atiur Rahman, governor, Bangladesh Bank, was a professor and has a doctorate in economics from the University of London. Yuba Khatiwada, governor, Nepal Rastra Bank has a doctorate in monetary economics. Erdem Basci, governor, Central Bank of Turkey, has a doctorate in economics. All of them have extensive experience of monetary economics, policy, banking and/or administration.

How does our latest appointment at the SBP compare? This appointment has come in the wake of many years of poor handling of the autonomy issue at the bank and the resignations of several governors. Instead of addressing concerns relating to autonomy and right leadership at the SBP, the latest appointment has confirmed that the finance minister and his ministry need subservience as a necessary condition for the appointment of any SBP governor.

The PML-N has had many opportunities to learn from history. It had taken on the Supreme Court in its last stint at the centre and, whatever the merits of the issue, had ended up weakening the court and the judicial system of the country. Invasions of the Supreme Court and removal of chief justices under duress are not ways of strengthening the institution. When the PML-N government needed the court to rebuff the military takeover, it was no surprise that it did not find the court able or willing to stand up to the illegal moves by the military.

The issue of the SBP is not an isolated one, and it reflects the PML-N’s general style of governance. The inability to create and strengthen institutions shows up in all spheres of the PML-N’s governance. In Punjab, the decision to create Daanish schools — a poor decision and one that is often only praised by sycophants — was taken without any due process or consultation. Even today, after years of some of these schools being in operation, do we have a single study that justifies or explains the immense expenditure that has been incurred in setting them up and running them? Where the cost incurred on a child in a normal public school in Punjab is Rs2,000 or so per month, each child in a Daanish school costs more than Rs12,000 per month. The capital expenditure for setting up these schools is separate.

The same holds true for the decision to give away 200,000 laptops at the cost of Rs10 billion. The other day, we heard that the Punjab government is going to distribute another 100,000 laptops. What were the gains from the first distribution?

The Punjab chief minister is often praised for his immense energy, zeal and commitment to work. He is shown standing knee-deep in rain/floodwater supervising operations; he is the one who gets the dengue campaigns going; and it was his personal supervision and enthusiasm that got the Lahore Metro service going. These are all worthy pursuits.

But should the chief minister of a province with a population of 90 million be spending time on these issues? Is it not a failure of administration if the chief minister has to stand on top of his health officials to monitor the dengue campaign or if the entire provincial administration has to get involved in the metro service? What happens when the chief minister is not involved? Evidence suggests things stop working as soon as his attention is diverted.

When the Sikandar Hayat fiasco took place on Jinnah Avenue in Islamabad, one of the statements that had come from the interior minister was that people had no idea how limited the capacities of our law enforcement agencies were and how even he had been surprised when after taking over he took a look at the issue in more detail. When institutions are not built and merit is not followed, when institutional cultures are not allowed to develop and governance is not brought under the law, and when governance is supposed to mean that the will of the sovereign reigns supreme, is it any wonder that capacities remain low?

The writer is senior adviser, Pakistan, at Open Society Foundations, associate professor of economics, LUMS, and a visiting fellow at IDEAS, Lahore.

Precarious frontiers

Sikander Ahmed Shah

THE recent kidnapping of five Iranian security guards by Jaishul Adl deeply strained diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Iran. Iran claimed that the guards had been transferred and were being held hostage on Pakistani territory — a charge strongly denied by Islamabad — and subsequently threatened sending its forces into Pakistan to free the guards if Pakistan did not act expeditiously to secure their release.

THE recent kidnapping of five Iranian security guards by Jaishul Adl deeply strained diplomatic relations between Pakistan and Iran. Iran claimed that the guards had been transferred and were being held hostage on Pakistani territory — a charge strongly denied by Islamabad — and subsequently threatened sending its forces into Pakistan to free the guards if Pakistan did not act expeditiously to secure their release.

This situation, unfortunately, is not unprecedented: Iran has regularly complained that Pakistan lacks effective control over its border and has previously warned Pakistan to rein in the militant outfit Jundullah, which it claims operates from Balochistan and whose members infiltrate and conduct terrorist activity in Iranian territory.

Further north, the doctrine of ‘hot pursuit’ has been presented as justification when Nato helicopter attacks, US drone strikes and other aerial operations have been conducted on Pakistani territory without Pakistan’s consent, in order to target Afghan Taliban forces. The latter, it is claimed, have crossed the border into Pakistan following engagements with Nato and the US forces in Afghanistan.

Such instances have also resulted in the loss of Pakistani lives, with soldiers on the border posts being killed in cross-border aerial raids. While under international law the doctrine of hot pursuit is only recognised in maritime zones, and not across land territorial boundaries, the fact remains that some states will continue to argue that Pakistan’s inability to monitor and guard its border is a prime reason to disregard its sovereignty.

One way in which Pakistan could prevent the erosion of its territorial integrity is by entirely and securely fencing its western borders. While the culmination of this project might take some time due to geographical and geopolitical constraints, any substantial progress would go a long way in securing our borders. In a similar vein, Iran has been building a barrier on its side of the border with Pakistan.

Under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, it is the sovereign prerogative of Pakistan to fence its borders. This principle was upheld by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Israeli wall case, where the apex court did not find the building of a separation wall by Israel on what it considered Israeli territory to be a violation of international law, but did find such construction illegal on Palestinian lands.

Furthermore, a number of countries have fenced their borders such as those between India and Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and the US and Mexico.

When borders are clearly delimited then no legal challenges can exist to such fencing; thus, India’s building of such a fence in Kashmir would be illegal. Pakistan’s borders with Iran, on the other hand, are recognised and the legal status of the Durand Line is also established under international law — contrary to the position of some Afghan officials.

The treaty between the British and the Afghan emir in 1893 resulted in the culmination of the Durand Agreement; Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British foreign secretary to India, represented the British in the formulation of this agreement with King Abdur Rehman of Afghanistan. This agreement was subsequently reaffirmed by the emir’s successors on at least three separate occasions: in 1905 (Anglo Afghan Pact), in 1919 (Treaty of Rawalpindi), and in 1921 (Anglo- Afghan treaty).

While under customary international law treaties are void if entered into under coercion or duress, the standard of proof required for the nullification of a treaty is near impossible to meet and has not been met in relation to the Durand Agreement. This agreement was entered into by the contracting parties freely as per international law and the fact that the British made annual payments on a continual basis and undertook shipment of weapons to the Afghan king until the 1920s on the basis of this treaty further emphasises the fact that there was no duress.

The treaty had no expiry date and under international law such treaties exist till abrogation by mutual agreement. Moreover, the Afghans themselves have historically treated the Durand Line as a valid border for state relations — eg for travel and visa purposes. Additionally, under the international law doctrines of ‘estoppel’ and ‘acquiescence’ the Afghan government cannot question the sanctity of the Durand Line.

Under the established customary international law principle of uti possidetis, previous border arrangements are handed down to newly created states and borders delineated by colonial powers are inherited by successor states. This fundamental principle of international law has been reiterated and confirmed by the ICJ and is enshrined in the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties.

Importantly, the British House of Commons affirmed the Durand Line agreement and the Durand Line as the legal border between Afghanistan and Pakistan in 1949 and the queen subsequently reaffirmed the sanctity of this border in 1950. This is conclusive keeping in mind that Britain was the previous colonial power governing this region.

The major threat that Pakistan currently faces is the degradation of its sovereignty at the hands of both non-state actors and powerful states. While recently the focus has shifted from the international to the local in relation to national security imperatives, securing Pakistan’s frontiers will improve the writ of the government.

The writer is an associate professor of public international law at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

Bus democracy

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

OVER the past few weeks, Islamabad and Rawalpindi have started to feel the full fury of Shahbaz Sharif’s latest development binge. The capital in particular is literally crumbling under the weight of the vaunted Metro Bus project, with roads being dug up all over the city and dust clouds of a kind commonly associated with Karachi littering the skyline.

OVER the past few weeks, Islamabad and Rawalpindi have started to feel the full fury of Shahbaz Sharif’s latest development binge. The capital in particular is literally crumbling under the weight of the vaunted Metro Bus project, with roads being dug up all over the city and dust clouds of a kind commonly associated with Karachi littering the skyline.

It wasn’t as if the residents of the twin cities were actually consulted on whether or not they wanted the Big Red Bus, but then again neither were the residents of Lahore before the original sin was committed. The younger Sharif does, apparently, have a symbiotic relationship with urban populations in the central and northern parts of Punjab, and so takes for granted that his grand initiatives are welcomed by all and sundry.

Development, of course, is never good for everyone. As the reality of the Metro Bus project has hit home, more oppositional voices are making themselves heard. Among them are small bazaar vendors whose businesses will have to be relocated to make way for the Big Red Bus.

The Sharif brothers — and whoever else constitutes this government’s decision-making hierarchy — are unlikely to listen. They have already refused to respond to innumerable protests by thousands of katchi abadi dwellers in the capital who have been threatened with eviction by the interior minister.

It is thus that there is talk that disenfranchised classes within the otherwise placid Punjab might respond to renewed calls for ‘revolution’ being put out by that bespectacled Islamic scholar who these days calls Canada his home. The good professor — or allama if that is what one prefers to call him — is making his annual pilgrimage to Islamabad, replete with promises to eliminate corruption and replace sham democracy with a truly people-centred system of government.

It is another matter that Tahirul Qadri’s last visit to the capital ended in a damp squib. What matters is that ordinary people are still willing to entertain his antics, an indicator of how Pakistani politics can be manipulated and that everyday frustrations with a system that is biased against those without money and influence can translate into unlikely and desperate support for the shenanigans of those such as Qadri.

Having said this, I suspect those who might support Qadri — aside from his made-to-order students — will do so via the television screen in the comfort of their homes.

The x-factor could be Imran Khan, who declined to jump on the bandwagon the last time Qadri was in town, but has this time decided to join the anti-corruption crusader with a call for accountability of his own.

That the PTI chief continues to harp on about rigging in the general election a year after the fact speaks volumes for how much progress he and his party have made. Everyone else appears to have moved on but not the PTI. It would do well to focus on running a functional government in KP, but then again, popularity is arguably based less on actually delivering and more on making promises.

It is perhaps coincidental that the Khan-Qadri combo is crystallising around the same time that civil-military ties are said to be at their lowest ebb since the PML-N came to power.

There is as yet no indication that a grand plan to unseat the government is being operationalised, but in Pakistani politics anything is possible.

What is clear about Pakistani politics are the ideological postures of its major players. In power, the PML-N has proved itself to be fully committed to neo-liberal policies, and firmly believes that brute capitalistic logic is what should drive democracy. Whether or not this logic is sufficient to ward off evil designs against the government — be they in the shape of Qadris, Khans or the proverbial men in khaki — remains to be seen.

The truth about this brand of democracy is that it is ignorant of the needs of the poor, and committed to securing all measure of economic opportunities for private business operators, particularly in Punjab. This is not to suggest that any of our mainstream parties is pushing the boundaries of socialism, but only to point out that the PML-N is a party of the rich (and budding) entrepreneur and that its populism serves only to confirm this.

Soon the Big Red Bus will be a permanent feature on the streets of the twin cities, as it is in Lahore. Such populist initiatives — mind you, highly profitable ones — might trump the even more hollow populism of Qadri-Khan, but it does not bode well for democracy in the long run.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Value of compassion

Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

ONE of Karen Armstrong’s less-known pieces of writing is a Letter to Pakistan, a booklet whose focus is on peace, kindness and forgiveness as the central feature of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). She has a more original piece of advice for Pakistan: compassion should be made part of the curriculum in Pakistani schools, colleges and universities.

ONE of Karen Armstrong’s less-known pieces of writing is a Letter to Pakistan, a booklet whose focus is on peace, kindness and forgiveness as the central feature of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). She has a more original piece of advice for Pakistan: compassion should be made part of the curriculum in Pakistani schools, colleges and universities.

Given the hate wave sweeping across Pakistan, this is a sound bit of advice if we realise that compassion is the one component that is absent from Pakistanis’ theory and practice of Islam. Ms Armstrong feels for Pakistanis, because they had “so generously welcomed” her and because the country is being mauled by terrorism.

The British scholar begins by defining two concepts that are diametrically opposite — Islam and jahiliyyah. Originally, she says, Islam was known as tazakkah, which means “refinement, generosity, chivalry”. Its contrast, jahiliyyah, meant “hot-tempered, prone to anger and resentment”. While the unbelievers of Makkah were “brimful of self-importance”, Islam centred itself on the surrender of the ego. In fact, because Muslims were ridiculed and persecuted, the Quran urged them to practise sabr (patience), not retaliate violently and encourage one another to be steadfast.

Iman (faith), she says, requires not only courage in the face of aggression and ill-treatment, it also has “connotations of safety and protection”. She quotes Rumi as saying that “wrath is the distinctive characteristic of kafirun”.

According to Ms Armstrong, plurality is ingrained in the Quran. Muslims are “fortunate” to have a book like the Quran, because, she says, it is “unique in its positive view” of other peoples and other religious traditions. “There is nothing like Quranic pluralism in either the Torah or the Gospel”. Religious diversity is God’s will, because it was the unbelievers who thought their ways were inherently superior to others and who brooked no dissent. On the contrary, the Quran says (5:48) “…And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single ummah. …”

Even though she is talking about TV talk shows in the Western world, the writer’s words hold true for Pakistan. “Do they always know what they are talking about?” she asks. They talk about all subjects under the sun. But if you question them closely you will find out that “the amount of reliable information they possess could often comfortably be contained on a mall postcard”.

She emphasises the etiquettes and manners of debate, and cautions against discourse that is aggressive. Questions and answers, she says, must be exchanged in good faith. Pakistanis must listen to this because often arguments degenerate into bitterness born out of personal attacks by the participants on each other.

Quoting from Socrates’ example, she says nobody must be pushed into a position where he feels uncomfortable. “Each participant should listen sympathetically to the ideas of the others, allow them to unsettle his convictions, and permit their minds to be changed by his contribution.”

During a panel discussion, says Karen Armstrong, participants do not really listen wholeheartedly to their opponents but simply use their remarks “as grist to their own mill” and are thinking about the next brilliant remark they are going to make. This approach is unhelpful when an issue arouses passions. “It can become especially contentious when people claim to speak in the name of God.”

In discourse, she emphasises the importance of hilm (forbearance) and says violent speech was a characteristic of the opponents of Islam. “It is no good responding to injustice with hatred and contempt, because that will simply inspire further antagonism and make matters worse.” The jahiliyyah code believed that violent retaliation should not be held in check. On the other hand, the Quran (14:47) took an entirely different view, emphasising that retribution should be left to God.

She quotes Ibn al-Arabi:

My heart is capable of every form of faith:

A cloister for the monk, a shrine for idols,

A pasture for gazelles, the pilgrim’s Kaaba,

The tablets of the Torah, the Quran.

Love is the faith I hold: wherever his camels

Turn, still the one true faith is mine.

To practise this, she advises Pakistanis to perform “just one act of kindness every single day”. This need not be a dramatic gesture; rather let it be a “small kindness” that is unobtrusive and doesn’t attract widespread praise that builds ego. She warns that an ego trip could be counterproductive, for it is not unusual to find do-gooders making “spiteful remarks, indulging in gossip, or pouring scorn on other people’s religious beliefs or cultural practices”.

The writer is a member of staff.

Media: the threat of co-option

I.A. Rehman

AROUND this year’s World Press Freedom Day (May 3) the Pakistani media received considerable attention at home and abroad, and it must calmly address some of the issues raised concerning its rights and responsibilities, and the challenges it is facing.

AROUND this year’s World Press Freedom Day (May 3) the Pakistani media received considerable attention at home and abroad, and it must calmly address some of the issues raised concerning its rights and responsibilities, and the challenges it is facing.

The Amnesty International report on attacks on journalists in Pakistan released last week offered a precise summing up of the national media’s tribulations. Recalling that at least 34 journalists had been killed during the post-Musharraf period and the culprits were at large except in one case, Amnesty concluded that “Pakistan’s media community is effectively under siege”.

The effect the killing of the journalists and the threats to many others had on the people’s right to be adequately informed of events and trends that affect them was thus described: “Journalists, in particular those covering national security issues or human rights, are targeted from all sides in a disturbing pattern of abuses carried out to silence their reporting. Covering almost any sensitive story leaves journalists at risk from one side or another — militants, intelligence agencies or political parties — putting them in an impossible position.”

The Amnesty report derived its title A bullet has been chosen for you, from a warning the head of one of the two Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists factions had received. It underlined one of the major causes of the journalists’ misfortune — a most regrettable split in their union that must be healed at the earliest.

A similar question was put to Pakistan by a US assistant secretary of state while releasing a press freedom report: “How can you be free when some of your best journalists are targeted and killed?” The US report put Pakistan at number 141 in a list of 197 countries, ahead of Afghanistan and Somalia but trailing the largest Saarc neighbours — India and Bangladesh.

At the same time, the International Federation of Journalists called upon the Pakistani government to end impunity for perpetrators of violence against journalists. EU missions in Islamabad also expressed concern over the “steadily deteriorating environment for the media in Pakistan”.

It is clear that attacks on the media are harming Pakistan as a whole. Lack of reliable information will create insurmountable problems for both the rulers and the ruled. The government, political parties and the security agencies must ensure an environment free from coercion and threats, not as a favour to journalists but to save themselves from the terrible consequences of ignorance.

Concern over security matters was not the only issue in reports about the media last week. During the ongoing confrontation between the security agencies and a section of the media, journalists were being targeted by some politicians, public figures, clerics, militants and ordinary citizens. While some of this criticism is apparently inspired by ulterior motives, media leaders would do themselves and the people wrong if they failed to analyse citizens’ complaints against them. They must ponder over the attacks on their right to freedom of expression.

The questions being asked now usually arise when people feel that the media is using its freedom to report half the truth and not the whole of it. Are the people unhappy about the degree of power to control their minds the monopoly houses enjoy or are trying to secure?

The people also get angry when they believe, rightly or wrongly, that the media is using its freedom and privileges to further its own interests and not paying due attention to the plight of ordinary citizens. The media is perhaps in need of redefining the parameters of its freedoms and responsibilities and removing any cause of the citizens’ alienation. The media needs public support and respect not only to win the battles its calling will always force it into but also to remain true to its ideals.

And finally, the pats on the back the media has received. While speaking on the occasion of Martyrs’ Day, army chief Gen Raheel Sharif lauded the media’s role in moulding public opinion on national security and added that the military “believes in freedom of the media, responsible journalism and appreciates its sacrifices”. The same day Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was quoted as saying that the government, politicians, the military and media would together solve the problems facing the country.

The only difference is that while the army chief was making a policy statement and drawing a line between responsible journalists and irresponsible ones (who have provoked the military), the prime minister was responding to questions the media persons under attack are asking almost every passer-by.

Whatever the prime minister may or may not have meant, journalists should be wary of playing the role of collaborators that political leaders now and then offer them. While they may continue to offer their advice to whoever can profit by it, their real function is to mediate between authority (of any hue or shade) and the people. They would compromise their independence if they moved too close to authority.

Indeed, some of their present trials appear to have been caused by quite a few journalists’ attempts to cuddle up to the establishment. The media persons should offer all institutions the regard due to them but their only honourable station is by the side of the people, especially those who have no voice of their own or are unable to articulate their aspirations. A genuine media thrives not by seeking favours from the government but by spurning them.

Waking up to reality

Khurram Husain

THE list of challenges facing Pakistan that require a strong, centrally organised response is growing with alarming speed. This week has seen the World Health Organisation (WHO) add Pakistan to a brief list of other countries exporting the polio virus. It recommends that Pakistani nationals and others who have spent any time in the country be required to present proof of polio vaccination before being allowed to travel.

THE list of challenges facing Pakistan that require a strong, centrally organised response is growing with alarming speed. This week has seen the World Health Organisation (WHO) add Pakistan to a brief list of other countries exporting the polio virus. It recommends that Pakistani nationals and others who have spent any time in the country be required to present proof of polio vaccination before being allowed to travel.

But that’s not all. Only last year, John Steinbruner, professor of public policy at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland and director of the Centre for International and Security Studies at Maryland, had given the keynote address before the World Affairs Council on climate change and its challenges.

Much of his focus was on the global consequences of climate change, which he made very clear that the latest science tells us are going to be much larger than we can probably foresee. But the “character, timing, magnitude and location of those consequences cannot be predicted” with any meaningful confidence. So to make the consequences more concrete, he dwelt on the case of Pakistan.

This is what he says in that lecture which is posted online for all to see: “[T]here’s good reason to believe that Pakistan is the place on earth that is most likely, or is encountering if you will, the most significant climate impulse at the moment.”

To highlight Pakistan’s vulnerability, he starts by giving an idea of the important role that agriculture plays in our economy, in terms of its share in GDP, employment of the labour force as well as foreign exchange earnings.

It’s worth emphasising that these numbers actually understate the scale of vulnerability. Much of our industry that is traditionally not classified as agrarian in nature is nevertheless linked to agriculture in crucial ways.

Think of fertiliser and textiles for example, or sugar and flour milling, each with significant weight in the overall composition of GDP. Each industry shares the fortunes of the agrarian economy. Then there’s the services sector: transport and financial services (after budgetary support, commo­dity operations are amongst the largest lending activities of the banks, next to energy).

Given the importance of agriculture in our economy, the next step is to understand the importance of water. Pakistan is an arid country, and most freshwater requirement is met from the Indus, a large share of the flows of which originates from snow and glacial melt in the upper catchment areas.

“Pakistan is using very divisive water allocation rules,” Steinbruner says, adding that we are not unique in this regard. Sharp trade-offs present themselves to the country: water for irrigation or power generation? Water for Punjab or Sindh? “The allocation patterns are based on unrealistically high estimates of availability” of water.

As a result, he goes on to say, pressures are building up within the country between those who want water diverted for power generation, versus the interests of agriculture; more specifically, the small and medium enterprises that cannot afford captive power plants versus agrarian interests. And these pressures are transmitting themselves up the political system.

“This situation is being very meaningfully intensified by major climate effects … the net effect of which is to reduce the Indus water flows by 30pc from its historic base”.

So we have a system built on water, that already has a conflicted and divisive allocation pattern, and the water flows, on which it depends, are shrinking fast. Add to that the growing variability in rainfall over time and geographic space, and increasing ambient temperatures also affecting agricultural products. “What we’re seeing [in Pakistan]… are signs of increasingly violent stress in society, and it is being burdened by climate change.”

He concludes by saying Pakistan’s case is “not the only story, but it is the most dramatic story worldwide” at this time.

It’s worth remembering that WHO had been warning about possible travel curbs on Pakistanis for some time now, but serious action on the public health front remained limited.

It’s largely the same with climate. Warnings are gathering pace that Pakistan is in the firing line of major climatic disruptions, and much of that is already under way so we’re not talking about something in the distant future.

And something substantially similar is happening on the economic front, with growing deficits on the fiscal and external side year after year, making it necessary to seek one bailout after another, with bailouts getting bigger and domestic gas reserves drying up.

In the case of polio, some quarters have given statements decrying WHO’s measure, saying it will increase Pakistan’s isolation. What these people need to understand is that this is not politics any more — this is hard reality. The time for bargaining is long past.

It’s the same with the climate and economy — the warnings are there, the consequences are real in the sense that they cannot be negotiated. It’s good to see the government finally waking up to the threat posed by polio, although time will tell whether the steps they’re taking are meaningful or more eyewash. It would be nicer still to see a similar awakening concerning other issues that the country is facing, so we don’t end up discovering them at the last minute either.

The writer is a business journalist and 2013-2014 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington D.C.

khurram.husain@gmail.com

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Dangerous power

Dr Niaz Murtaza

SOFT power excites academicians greatly. It refers to one’s ability to gain widespread voluntary compliance from people based on their respect for one’s accomplishments, knowledge or ethical loftiness. It is most cost-efficient since it delivers widespread compliance without the use of expensive military, economic and political powers.

SOFT power excites academicians greatly. It refers to one’s ability to gain widespread voluntary compliance from people based on their respect for one’s accomplishments, knowledge or ethical loftiness. It is most cost-efficient since it delivers widespread compliance without the use of expensive military, economic and political powers.

Academicians see it increasingly playing an equal role in politics along with these ‘dirtier’ traditional sources of power. Its rise has raised hopes for greater justice globally, given soft power’s egalitarian bases.

Anatol Lieven’s book calls Pakistan a hard country because of its rough politics. Soft power seems the perfect antidote for hard countries. However, when the goose of soft power lands on distant Third World shores, it changes colour and utility dramatically.

Seeing its high cost-efficiency, traditional power-brokers there cunningly develop soft powers to conserve their more expensive power stocks. They then employ soft power as an additional weapon along with other sources of power to dominate society.

Take the army, Pakistan’s pre-eminent power-broker. Its ability to undertake coups repeatedly depended on quickly securing key government installations through military force. However, the longevity of its rule depended on its political and soft powers. Lacking the self-confidence to capture power directly to pursue their economic interests, Pakistani landlords, capitalists, and middle classes instead pursued their interests by politically backing generals’ rule.

The military also amassed huge soft powers by meticulously developing the facade of being more competent, honest and patriotic than politicians, thus garnering support for prolonged martial laws. In reality, military rule has hurt Pakistan more than civilian rule.

However, the generals’ political powers have eroded gradually but significantly. Seeing them pursuing an independent agenda which often undermined their interests, Pakistani elite classes started abandoning army coattails and striving for power directly, eg, landlords within the PPP, capitalists within the PML-N and middle classes within the PTI.

Corruption and unpopular policies during army rule have also depleted its soft power stocks somewhat. Its economic power has increased meanwhile through military-owned businesses, as Ayesha Siddiqa’s book Military Inc shows. But, overall, this weakened constellation of different powers precludes easy direct assumption of power.

However, surprisingly, the military still manages to control or heavily influence the three most strategic governance domains, ie, foreign, security and economic policies. This continuing control derives heavily from its soft powers, which have not depleted as fast as its political powers. While no longer seen as competent to run the country fully, the army is still for many the most trusted institution to manage foreign and security policies and the saviour of last resort.

These soft powers were vividly on display in the recent tiff with Geo where the security establishment was seen to push buttons rapidly within society to garner widespread support. It skillfully switched national attention from the physical attack on a leading journalist which had near-fatal consequences, to verbal attacks by Geo directed at the ISI.

The military also uses its different powers to frequently disrupt policies covertly, eg by orchestrating street demonstrations against policies that it disfavours. Politicians, who possess higher political but lower soft powers, are kept in check. Having led from the front directly for decades through martial law, it now strives to lead from behind for another few decades through what may be termed as ‘partial law’, ie, covert control in selected domains.

It may succeed unless challenged, for such partial law will be as harmful as martial law. Academicians attempt to calculate the number of years remaining of significant army political influence. Politicians hope for its quick end. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s jaunty generals laugh heartily at these naive hopes and, paraphrasing Bernard Shaw, mutter smugly: the news of my political death is greatly exaggerated.

Soft power becomes a negative or mixed weapon against democracy and human rights in Pakistan in the hands of others too. Fake pirs exploit their soft powers among the masses to violate human rights. Militants use their soft powers over sections of society to raise financial and human capital.

Finally, the media, bar associations and the judiciary possess large stocks of soft powers and have undoubtedly strengthened democracy in many ways. However, they have also undermined democracy in other ways, eg, by sensationalising journalism, garlanding murderers and encroaching in the domain of others respectively.

Thus, until politicians develop large stocks of soft powers based on genuine accomplishments, others will continue exploiting the potential of soft powers to undermine democracy.

The writer is a development and political economist.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

New York, New York

f.s.aijazuddin

THE United Nations located on the southern tip of Manhattan Island is a pastiche. The real UN is crowded in the rest of New York. Step into the street and the crisp air is punctuated by different smells — kebabs being grilled by vendors, flavours of coffee originating from a number of continents, the genteel aroma of noodles overwhelmed by stronger curries.

THE United Nations located on the southern tip of Manhattan Island is a pastiche. The real UN is crowded in the rest of New York. Step into the street and the crisp air is punctuated by different smells — kebabs being grilled by vendors, flavours of coffee originating from a number of continents, the genteel aroma of noodles overwhelmed by stronger curries.

New York is as much about sounds as it is about smells. Sit in the various committee rooms of the United Nations and one is reminded how the diversity of languages is not reduced but intensified by translation. Walk among the crowds outside and one is instantly aware of the multiplicity of human expression.

More languages are mouthed in New York’s streets than within the United Nations building. The UN does nothing but preach globalism, incessantly; New York practises it, ceaselessly, 24/7/365.

To enter its Metropolitan Museum of Art is to see humanity searching for its past. There is no known civilisation that is not represented in its majestic galleries, no object that does not make one proud to belong to a species that can produce works of such ineffable beauty.

The poet Wordsworth may have been moved to tears by “the meanest flower” that ever grew. Had he visited the Metropolitan Museum, he would have been in a state of unmanageable emotional collapse.

Every item on display — from the minutest gold earring worn by some ancient beauty to the largest stone obelisks honouring mighty pharaohs — commands individual attention and respect. Certain galleries have remained undisturbed over the years. You can still find a favourite frieze or fragment where you last noticed it. Other galleries have been modernised recently.

Of these, perhaps the most spectacular is the Islamic Gallery — an irresistible display of objects that remind one how much mankind owes to the patronage of princes and to the possessiveness of commoners. Only an emperor like Jahangir would have commissioned a nephrite ink jar

for his use, painstakingly carved in the round out of a stone notorious for its intractability.

Only a self-absorbed princess would have ordered the backing of her hand mirror to be a perforated filigree of green jade, its delicate workmanship displayed to maximum advantage by thoughtful backlighting.

Only missionaries would have peddled as instruments of faith something as mundane as a sheep’s gallstones (known as Goa stones). These objects were polished, gilded and encased in a golden globe for sale to gullible believers. It was as if the Russian jeweller Carl Fabergé had included within one of his lavish Easter eggs the hair-ball of one of the czar’s pets as its surprise.

Close to the Metropolitan Museum, on 79th and Lexington, live Ved Mehta and his lovely wife Linn. Born in Lahore and educated initially at a small school inside Sheranwala Gate in Lahore, Ved broke away from its constrictions to study at Oxford and then at Harvard. He joined the New Yorker as a feature writer and has written a number of books on subjects as varied as memoirs (Face to Face), family biographies (Daddy-ji and Chacha-ji), an expansive Portrait of India, on Christianity (The New Theologian), and one that subtly unfrocked an icon (Mahatma Gandhi and his Apostles).

Today, at the age of 80, Ved Mehta understandably reads more than he writes, but to spend time with him is to be aware of how omnivorous a human intellect can be. His inquisitiveness knows no bounds. He hears and absorbs everything. But that traffic is not simply one way. His insight into the subcontinent’s politics is not diminished by time or distance. He met Nehru and held his own; he could meet Modi and be as interrogative.

He and Linn took the trouble of attending a lecture I had given at the Sikh Art and Film Foundation in New York on May 4. This was the 10th anniversary of the festival, a testament to the resilient commitment of its sponsor Teji Bhindra and his US-Sikh colleagues.

While an early US president Theodore Roosevelt may have abjured the expression “hyphenated American”, today’s American straddles both sides of the hyphen. The US-Sikh community, like every other ethnic group in the US, searches for such occasions to remind itself of its identity.

Very soon, certainly within our lifetime, Mayflower immigrants will be overtaken by those who came by less romantic transport. It has taken centuries for the Americans to have an Afro-American president. It may take a decade more or less to have a female or a Hispanic one. Whoever succeeds Obama should not waste time in Washington or on the United Nations. New York is where the world walks the talk.

The writer is an author and art historian.

http://www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Shift in the balance of power

Zahid Hussain

THE season of commentary on civil-military relations is once again upon us. There has been much discourse on the subject in the wake of the latest political tension gripping the country. Can anyone dispute the imperative of civilian supremacy in a democratic system? Of course not. But what it really means is a point of contention.

THE season of commentary on civil-military relations is once again upon us. There has been much discourse on the subject in the wake of the latest political tension gripping the country. Can anyone dispute the imperative of civilian supremacy in a democratic system? Of course not. But what it really means is a point of contention.

There is a tendency, especially, among some liberal commentators to substitute substance with symbolism. Therefore, it is not surprising that the campaign against the ISI run by a section of media and the treason trial of a former military ruler are being described as a sign of ascendency of civilian control.

Nothing can be more erroneous than this assertion. It is not the first time the holy cow has been slaughtered. We have seen the sacking of two army chiefs in the past by civilian prime ministers. We have also seen popular uprisings, forcing military rulers to step down. But did they establish civilian supremacy? What happened afterwards is a matter of history.

Contrary to the liberal euphoria, the army has emerged much more powerful from this proxy media war. The outpouring of support for the military cannot be underestimated. When have we seen previously most of the media and even mainstream political parties lining up to publicly express their allegiance to the security agencies?

Even those federal ministers who had earlier come out with some critical remarks beat a hasty retreat assuring the military of their faithfulness. In fact, the events of the last two weeks have seen a great leap backward from what the democratic process had achieved in the past six years. Political forces and public opinion are now more polarised and fragmented. A premature and unnecessary confrontation has certainly not reinforced civilian supremacy as suggested by some commentators. The effort to bring the military under pressure has in fact had the opposite affect.

What our liberal friends fail to understand is that civilian supremacy is an evolutionary process and cannot be turned on and off. It can only be established through strong governance, a clear policy direction and an alternative and effective narrative. The transition from military to civilian rule also requires delicate balancing so as to not rock the boat

With the military’s diminishing political power post-2007, it was an ideal situation for the elected government to assert its authority in various policy realms. Though the military continued to dominate national security policy and influence foreign affairs, its political role had certainly receded.

That provided significant political space for the elected civilian government to focus on critical issues of governance and on strengthening democratic institutions. An assertive superior judiciary also transformed the power matrix, further shrinking the room for any extra-constitutional intervention.

But surely it did not mean that the military was rendered completely powerless. Neither were civil-military relations during the PPP government free from friction. Yet this never really threatened to derail the democratic process. Despite the problems, the military remained in the barracks maintaining a low political profile.

The generals, however, did assert themselves forcefully when it came to issues directly affecting their wider institutional interests. There were at least two issues — the Kerry Lugar bill and ‘Memogate’ — which triggered a clash between the civilian government and the military.

But the stand-off did not turn into a full-blown confrontation. The PPP-led government could have done better to assert its civilian authority had it concentrated more on governance and the economy. With the country in the midst of a war and thousands of troops engaged in fighting the Taliban insurgency, the military’s widening role in internal security matters is inevitable.

It was, indeed, a huge stride forward for democracy when in 2013, for the first time in Pakistan’s history, power was transferred from one elected government to another. That indicated the strengthening of the democratic process in the country. This historical transition, however, could not have been possible without the military’s backing for the democratic process.

But the situation seems to have changed over the past few weeks and the military is forced once again to come out of the barracks, raising its political profile. The generals may still not be interested in derailing the democratic process, but they are not likely to watch the political power game from the sidelines either if the present stand-off persists.

For sure, military and civilian supremacy remains a major issue that has to be resolved for sustainable democracy. But it is increasing militancy and religious extremism that are the principal impediments. The country cannot move forward without combating these retrogressive forces. It is more important at this point to unite the forces fighting the insurgents.

Unfortunately, the political forces are divided on this critical issue threatening the pluralistic democratic system. The situation has become much more serious particularly with the ambivalence of the Sharif government. Any confrontation between the civil and military authorities would further strengthen the insurgents and non-democratic forces. It is crucially important for the two institutions to be on the same page when Pakistan is fighting for its survival. Any confrontation between the civilian government and the military will be disastrous.

Surely it is going to be a tough summer for the Sharif government with the emerging political realignment tilting the balance of power back to the military. It remains to be seen whether or not the prime minister is able to regain the initiative.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100

Twitter: @hidhussain

Becoming ‘that’ country

Rafia Zakaria

PAKISTANIS are used to mourning their schoolgirls. For this reason, perhaps they may understand the situation Nigerians find themselves in right now.

PAKISTANIS are used to mourning their schoolgirls. For this reason, perhaps they may understand the situation Nigerians find themselves in right now.

Last month, Boko Haram, Nigeria’s own version of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, attacked a state school in a town called Chibok. Nearly 300 girls were taken hostage, loaded onto trucks, and taken into a dense forest. The Nigerian army first said that it had rescued 45 of them, but those reports have yet to be verified.

Mr Kwambula, a principal at the school, reported that 53 of the girls had escaped while more than 200 remained in captivity. The cause of the abducted schoolgirls has since become a rallying cry for activists in Nigeria, who have been marching on parliament and demanding their release. The protests have spread to outside the country.

All the dimensions of the controversy are familiar ones. Like Pakistan, Nigeria has faced increasing violence from militants. Like the painful pun that allows the Taliban to call themselves ‘students’, the term ‘Boko Haram’ in the local Hausa language means those ‘against Western education’. Like our own Taliban, who have destroyed thousands of schools, and continue to bomb the ones that are left, the Boko Haram has been orchestrating a campaign based on the precept that “makes it haram or forbidden for Muslims to participate in any political or social activity associated with Western society”.

Begun in the early 2000s by a charismatic cleric who founded a mosque and madressah that took in poor children and provided them with religious education, Boko Haram and its campaign of violence has been able to carry out more and more attacks in the past several years. In the current campaign, the abducted girls, several of them Muslim, are believed to have been forcibly married to members of Boko Haram. This latest act seems to have galvanised Nigerian outrage.

There was a time in Pakistan when the doings of the Taliban were also just beginning. It was a time when Pakistanis never believed that the Taliban, a ragtag group of itinerant fighters, with their bonfires of CDs and their floggings of women, would be able to expand their sphere of operations to other parts of the country.

The story of how they did manage to do so is a sad and complex one, with chapters detailing a superpower invading Afghanistan and bombing a portion of Pakistan and littering the country with its intelligence agents and security contractors. Those chapters are omitted from the world’s imagination, in which the difference between a Taliban fighter and an ordinary Pakistan is next to none. The conflation is enshrined even in the American definition of drone targets: every man over the age of 16 in a strike zone is automatically and always a ‘combatant’. The truth of imperium is the truth the world accepts.

In the process of fighting both the local insurgency and American intervention, Pakistan became ‘that’ country, occupying a place in the world’s imagination alongside problems so complex that it does not belong to the normal moral order of things. Pakistan is the country where a schoolgirl can be shot by the Taliban for wanting to go to school, an act so ghastly that it functions to create the moral extreme that defines other nations as ‘good’, in relation to Pakistan’s ‘bad’.

Becoming ‘that’ country, Pakistan’s citizens can tell you, involves having the human rights violations of your present being dislodged from context, extricated from narratives of global inequity, so that others less unfortunate can count their blessings. They, after all, are not ‘that’ country, the one that stands at the darkest edge of misfortune, the most hapless case, at the fringe of the fellowship of nations.

Nigerians should take note and beware. Within the global imagination, the issue of abducted schoolgirls seems to be marching in just the same direction.

In the beginning, most global media outlets did not cover the issue at all, discarding it with the disdain that accompanies misfortunes in parts of the world used to misfortune. When the story was taken up by the CNN and other gods of the global media, its details and context were happily snipped away and moulded into the familiar form: an Islamist group, a ghastly act and an ineffective government.

The boring specifics of income inequality, Western complicity, ongoing insurgency, and military repression are all subtracted to leave the skeleton of a story: a group of abducted schoolgirls in a faraway place where people are callous enough to allow such things to happen.

The quagmire is well known in Pakistan. It is not that being ‘that’ country is a status entirely unwarranted by local actors. The moral monsters who oppose girls’ education, who propose the marriages of children, and who persecute rape victims all exist in Pakistan, just as supporters of the Boko Haram undoubtedly exist in Nigeria.

When singular acts are used to construct the dynamics of complex problems, however, those agitating against groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Taliban in Pakistan are erased from the stories.

The consequence is a global context in which a grotesque act becomes the source of moral castigation of an entire nation, a step in the process of making it ‘that’ country, a place that exists in the global imagination only to mark the furthest boundary of badness, where anything can happen. As Pakistanis can tell Nigerians, it is a costly sentence; often, an undeserved one.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria

A Nigerian nightmare

Mahir Ali

AFRICA’S largest country — in terms of both its population and the size of its economy — is today hosting a World Economic Forum (WEF) event where regional leaders and China’s prime minister will discuss the continent’s strategies for growth.

AFRICA’S largest country — in terms of both its population and the size of its economy — is today hosting a World Economic Forum (WEF) event where regional leaders and China’s prime minister will discuss the continent’s strategies for growth.

One can be reasonably sure, though, that one topic that has been concentrating minds across the host nation for the past three weeks will not feature on the agenda of the international gathering in Abuja.

On the night of April 14, the odious outfit known as Boko Haram raided a school in Chibok, in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno, and reportedly abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls, some of whom managed to escape.

Borno is frequently described as Boko Haram’s heartland and has long been under a state of emergency, with most schools shut down on account of frequent armed attacks by a militia whose Hausa nomenclature translates roughly as ‘Western education is forbidden’. Scores of schoolchildren have previously been killed by Boko Haram in Borno and neighbouring states.

The army initially reacted to the Chiboko outrage with a statement that claimed about 100 girls had been kidnapped, and most of them had subsequently escaped. It was compelled to retract this piece of misinformation, but the number of victims has remained uncertain until this week, with the latest reports indicating that 276 girls are still missing.

Last Sunday, shortly after President Goodluck Jonathan offered his first official comment on the unprecedented crime, a video surfaced with a chilling message purportedly from Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shehau, in which he declares: “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. I will sell them off and marry them off.

“There is a market for selling humans. Women are slaves. I want to assure my Muslim brothers that Allah says slaves are permitted in Islam….”

There had by then already been reports sug­gesting the girls were being sold off or forced into marriage, ostensibly as sex slaves.

There have been demonstrations in towns and cities across Nigeria demanding the rescue of the students, whose whereabouts, at least initially, were apparently an open secret. The protests are likely to mount in the wake of Shehau’s brazen claim of responsibility and Jonathan’s hugely disappointing address to the nation, in which he confessed his ignorance on several fronts while mundanely stating the obvious: that no effort should be spared to liberate the girls.

Well, yes — but the question is, why has it not been attempted thus far? Nigeria, after all, is a country where, since independence in 1960, military rule has been more common than a civilian dispensation. Its army clearly isn’t a particularly weak institution. In common with militaries elsewhere, when it does mount operations against groups such as Boko Haram, its violence is all too often indiscriminate, thereby alienating the civilians it is supposed to protect.

That does not explain, however, why the army has not done its duty in this particular instance. What is perhaps even more bizarre is the level of thinking at the presidential palace, revealed on Sunday by first lady Patience Jonathan’s interaction with activists demanding government action on behalf of the kidnapped girls. She reportedly accused the women of themselves representing Boko Haram and suggested that the mass abduction was a lie invented to diminish her husband’s chances of re-election next year.

After the meeting, three of the activists were apparently taken in for questioning by the police.

The cancerous growth of Boko Haram is something the Nigerian state has signally failed to arrest in recent years.

In his address on Sunday, Goodluck Jonathan facetiously claimed the state was succeeding in subduing the insurgency. A couple of years ago, he frankly admitted that government ranks included Boko Haram sympathisers. It is widely assumed that the group has also infiltrated the army.

There are innumerable parallels between Boko Haram and the Taliban, not least in terms of their obscurantist mindset and the limp-wristed state response to an endless series of outrages. Unlike Nawaz Sharif, though, Jonathan has ruled out negotiations. However, the obvious alternative course of action — something that Nigeria’s generally mild-mannered Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has been recommending for years — has yet to manifest itself.

The popular upsurge in Nigeria in the wake of the latest unspeakable atrocity provides some scope for hoping that the state will finally act decisively to obliterate the growing menace. Naturally, the lives and welfare of the abducted girls must be an absolute priority. Looking back a few years hence, it would also provide a degree of satisfaction to be able to pinpoint the moment when Boko Haram sealed its own fate by going much too far.

mahir.dawn

Clash of the titans

Zubeida Mustafa

MUCH has been written about the media crisis that has gripped Pakistan in recent weeks. It should not take anyone by surprise considering the environment we live in. These are not normal times and there are political cracks in the economic and social systems that conventionally hold state and society together. Thus the institutions and their functionaries have lost the coping capacity that is supposed to keep them going in times of crises and that helps them emerge from them unscathed.

MUCH has been written about the media crisis that has gripped Pakistan in recent weeks. It should not take anyone by surprise considering the environment we live in. These are not normal times and there are political cracks in the economic and social systems that conventionally hold state and society together. Thus the institutions and their functionaries have lost the coping capacity that is supposed to keep them going in times of crises and that helps them emerge from them unscathed.

Had corrective mechanisms been in place, corrective measures would have been taken a long time ago — when the first stone was cast. Matters have now come to a head. We have seen a running battle between a media house and the premier security intelligence agency. The government is trapped in the crossfire of its own making.

The need of the hour is to protect the lives of journalists and to resist arbitrary methods to suppress the media. On this we must be united. Having said this, I would add that we also need to revisit our history so that we do not make blunders again. We have always responded so belatedly to a long-brewing problem that we have allowed interested parties to exploit the situation.

Now look at the present crisis. It is being described as a collision between the ISI and Geo that is, in turn, interpreted as a struggle for power between civilian forces and the military, given the backing the government extended to the media house. This has divided the media with no consideration of what is at stake. We should understand that our basic freedoms are under threat.

That would explain the knee-jerk reaction from many of those who have struggled for press freedom for long. How can anyone support the move by the security establishment to muzzle the media via ham-handed methods? But in the current war of words, the biggest casualty has been the ability to view the situation dispassionately and holistically.

I would unconditionally support the journalists’ right to freedom of expression — albeit within an impartial and fair regulatory framework that would pre-empt any abuse of that freedom.

When Gen Musharraf decided to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ and television channels mushroomed, Pakistan leapfrogged into the electronic media age with unprecedented freedom. This appears to have been dangerous if one recalls that the Pakistani media had always been in chains and had never operated in a period of normality that would have enabled it to develop healthy traditions.

One cannot learn responsible practices when the sword of Damocles is constantly hanging over one’s head. Professionalism and maturity are not cultivated easily when professionals are burdened with press advices and censorship.

Hence, while no doubt it boosted the freedom of expression, the move to open up the media with no regulations or mechanisms inevitably resulted in licence of the worst kind. Gen Musharraf had believed that he could manage the risks by manipulating the TV channels to his own advantage as his predecessors had done.

The establishment-journalist equation had for decades been marked by the ignoble practice of ‘buying’ willing journalists — remember the infamous lifafa journalism of the Zia years and the information ministry’s secret funds? It was not difficult because even politicians could be bought. This time the security establishment’s strategy to exercise controls — the so-called soft power — didn’t quite work.

Economic conditions have changed with the deregulation of the economy. Corruption has gone up by leaps and bounds. For the media houses it has meant less dependence on the government for their advertisement revenues. The ratio between advertisements from the public and private sectors has also been reversed.

The proliferation of media outlets has led to competition giving popular anchors the opportunity to negotiate their price. They can switch jobs and each change brings them a raise of hundreds and thousands. In the environment generated by the ratings war, the breaking news syndrome and sensationalism fostered by them, can one expect healthy journalism to be nurtured?

We forget that voices have been raised earlier against the misdoings of the electronic media. Human life lost its sanctity and violence was freely televised. Health professionals complained about what the media was doing to our children’s psyche. The struggles of the people to live a life of dignity were relegated to the back-burner. The calls from a few concerned individuals — media persons and other professionals — for a code of conduct based on ethics fell on deaf ears.

The security establishment is now taking us back to square one. This is no solution. In the war of the titans, the more powerful wins but it crushes the common man in the process.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Forgotten rights

Zohra Yusuf

ENFORCED disappearances. Sectarian killings. Attacks on minorities. Honour killings. The list of gross human rights abuses in Pakistan is long and painful. As one incident of horror overtakes another, there are many aspects of violations that remain under-reported. These are the rights whose denial ordinary citizens suffer every day.

ENFORCED disappearances. Sectarian killings. Attacks on minorities. Honour killings. The list of gross human rights abuses in Pakistan is long and painful. As one incident of horror overtakes another, there are many aspects of violations that remain under-reported. These are the rights whose denial ordinary citizens suffer every day.

The annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, released recently, is an indictment of the state’s apathy and failure to honour its social contract with its citizens. Under such circumstances, with commitments unmet by the government meant to represent them, it is not surprising that citizens resort to lawlessness and violence.

A recent example is the case of protesters setting fire to the Chashma Sugar Mill in Dera Ismail Khan after effluents released into a stream by the mill resulted in the death of 13 people. There was no effort on the part of the administration to monitor or take action against the polluters till the tragic deaths and the resultant violence. Of course, the sugar mill in the news is only one of countless establishments that violate with impunity the basic rights of the people of the areas they operate in.

While the governments of the past decade or so have been confronted with the deadly threats of militancy and insurgency, the social and economic rights of Pakistanis have remained a low priority for successive rulers. So the current crises of militancy and terrorism have little to do with lack of responsiveness to the basic needs of Pakistan’s citizens; these have been long neglected with the result that people’s socio-economic conditions have steadily deteriorated even as the strengthening of democracy is celebrated.

Apart from constitutional provisions that make it mandatory on the government to ensure social and economic rights, Pakistan has also signed several international covenants that increase its obligations and make it answerable to the world community.

As far as education is concerned, the Constitution of Pakistan (Article 25A) provides for “free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law”.

Moreover, the International Covenant

on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which Pakistan ratified in 2008 goes further to say that the state parties “agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace”.

The reason for quoting the ICESCR clause is to emphasise that the international community sees education as more than mere literacy or the ability to pass examinations. Education is inextricably linked to the kind of values associated with a civilised society — respect for the rights of others and tolerance of all.

While the country may be inching towards higher literacy, the quality of education provided in madressahs, government and even private schools is not conducive to either opening up minds or promoting a culture of tolerance. Budgetary allocation for education, just one indicator of the government’s seriousness towards education, remains below 2pc.

The deplorable state of education is matched by the callousness shown towards the citizens’ right to healthcare. While the subject was devolved to the provinces under the 18th Amendment, resources allocated to health reflect the low priority given to the health needs of Pakistanis. As in the case of education, here too Pakistan is failing to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

This is particularly disturbing when it comes to infant and maternal mortality rates which remain only slightly better than two other countries of the world. According to the HRCP annual report, an estimated 423,000 children die every year before reaching the age of five.

Linked to both maternal and child deaths are the poor reproductive health services available to couples. Recent studies have contradicted many of the prevalent myths — among them that conservative male attitude is a big hurdle. Research done in the Punjab revealed that men are keen to adopt family planning but lack of reliable services hold them back. The government has failed to effectively use the skills of its largest family healthcare network — Lady Health Workers.

Of course, statistics continue to shock. But behind each statistic is human suffering which remains unaddressed. Sindh, for example, has the worst statistics for malnutrition, particularly among children. This is all the more scandalous as one sees, in stark contrast, the opulent lifestyles in its capital city.

The recent drought in parts of Tharparkar was nature’s exposé of the many manifestations of poor governance in Sindh. Hundreds of children died, not all due to the drought but from malnutrition and illnesses that remained untreated.

Adding to the poor state of citizens’ health is unchecked environmental degradation. The D.I. Khan incident is just a recent example. A few years ago, a child in Korangi, Karachi, was seriously injured while playing in an open ground contaminated by a tannery. He had to undergo amputation. The rise in cases of respiratory problems, diarrhoea and typhoid is directly linked to pollution.

Democracy has been institutionalised, we are reminded. The much sought after devolution has taken place. What remains unchanged is our rulers’ apathy to basic rights of most citizens.

The writer is chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Of Kejriwal and Imran

Jawed Naqvi

THIS is for my Pakistani friends who have often told me they see shades of Imran Khan in Arvind Kejriwal and for some Indian friends who have borrowed that view and propagate it as their own. In other words, they see the Indian anti-corruption icon as a flash in the pan with an erratic judgement of realpolitik.

THIS is for my Pakistani friends who have often told me they see shades of Imran Khan in Arvind Kejriwal and for some Indian friends who have borrowed that view and propagate it as their own. In other words, they see the Indian anti-corruption icon as a flash in the pan with an erratic judgement of realpolitik.

I have just returned from the scorching heat of Varanasi where Arvind Kejriwal with his intensive door-to-door campaigning is shrewdly challenging Narendra Modi’s expensively advertised and mostly media-backed electioneering.

Together with his unparalleled money power, Modi has the cadre of the Hindu revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to canvass for him, but they are finding it difficult to cope with Kejriwal’s simple, compelling messages to the voters. Hence the fear of a major incident stalking the election as the Hindu right-wing’s last resort, to polarise the remaining contests.

About 105 seats are still to go in the last two legs of the long electoral exercise, and the violence in Assam is a clear indicator that the Congress and the BJP are worried and therefore getting desperate. Their worry is not so much that Kejriwal will defeat them, but the assessment that he is making a substantial dent in their traditional votes.

A conservative estimate an Aam Aadmi Party leader shared with me puts the party’s winning expectations at 15 out of about 400 seats they are contesting in. None of this figures in any opinion poll. Imagine the surge in the quality of debate in parliament if that estimate turns out to be correct, or if AAP gets even more MPs than expected.

The Congress and the BJP have traditionally benefited from the stand-off between Assam’s Bodo tribespeople and its Muslims, many originally from Bangladesh. The Bodos are a poor agrarian people with a legitimate grouse that they have no land of their own.

They borrow the BJP’s narrative that Muslims have usurped their share of Assam’s resources. If the Congress expects to gain Assamese votes from last week’s murder of 34 Muslims, Modi too wasted no time to spread his divisive venom. Hindus from Bangladesh were welcome. Muslims were not, he declared in West Bengal, where 23 crucial races are still to be decided.

Imran Khan was a household name when he joined politics with a stated intent to clean up widespread corruption. Arvind Kejriwal, far from being the youthful or charismatic sportsman that Imran was, struggled to win the confidence of the initially small but now a steadily growing number of admirers. They see him as a hardworking, doggedly sincere politician, whose aims might seem similar to Imran’s but are in fact quite dissimilar in form and content.

Unlike Imran, Kejriwal is not a rich man; also he is diabetic and awkwardly coughs into the mike when addressing a rally or a press conference. There are more compelling dissimilarities. Kejriwal is perceived as a liberal man, unwilling to make a compromise with communalism. His watchwords are that he is anti-corruption, anti-criminalisation of politics and is against the rule of families in politics.

There are other criteria I became familiar with during my Varanasi sojourn. There is no central high command in the AAP. The party structure follows a bottom to top approach where the council members elect the executive body and also hold the power to recall it. No AAP MLA or MP will use red lights or any other beacons on their vehicles.

And, this will be a particular challenge for Imran: no MLA or MP of AAP is allowed any special security. “We believe that elected people’s representatives need the same security as a common man,” the AAP’s book of rules says. No MLA or MP of the party will live in opulent and luxurious government housing.

No one would need to buy an election ticket in the party. The people of that area will select candidates contesting elections from their constituency.

On financial transparency, its every single rupee collected by donations is publicly declared on the party’s website and all expenditures are claimed to be declared on the website.

The range of committed women who have been given tickets in these elections by the AAP particularly impresses me. I met Dayamani Barla in her Maoist-dominated constituency of Khunti, a forest region in the Jharkhand state whose ecology is threatened by corporates that want its rich natural resources.

Barla, a former housemaid, has successfully fended off their bids to encroach on tribal land and has been jailed and also won international awards for her work. Barla is of humble origins and runs a small teashop in Ranchi to make ends meet. If she doesn’t win as the AAP’s candidate, she would still have made inroads into democratic politics on behalf of the least discussed election issue: the fear of corporate loot with Modi’s support in the protected tribal areas of India.

Soni Sori, who was sexually tortured in jail for her alleged links with Maoists in Chhattisgarh is another tribal candidate for the AAP. Environment activist Medha Patkar links up with several prominent women, including a successful banker, a former journalist with CNN, and a well-regarded actress, among other women, to give the AAP an unusual gender-based advantage. I doubt if Imran Khan can come anywhere near that for gender equality.

An internal ombudsman, comprising three jurists of stature, will subject AAP candidates to scrutiny for moral probity. There’s more to say, but I’ll stop here.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi@gmail.com

Promotion policy shift

Syed Saadat

THE Leaning Tower of Pisa cannot be straightened unless it is rebuilt. But, although attempts have been made to keep the tower from listing further, it has too much history on its side for such a drastic move to be considered.

THE Leaning Tower of Pisa cannot be straightened unless it is rebuilt. But, although attempts have been made to keep the tower from listing further, it has too much history on its side for such a drastic move to be considered.

The civil service of Pakistan is just like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, glorious in its historical perspective but really hard to take apart and rebuild. Nevertheless, last month a decision by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif regarding the promotion of bureaucrats to grade 21 has, in fact, indicated an interest in rebuilding.

The Central Selection Board, in a meeting held earlier in the year, had recommended the promotion of bureaucrats from Grade 20 to Grade 21. The fact that Grade 21 officers form the top tier of the civilian bureaucracy makes the recommendations of the CSB very significant.

All officers with complete formal documentation were recommended for promotions. (Ironically, military commanders also met around the same time to consider promotions of brigadiers to the rank of major general. Some, reportedly, were superseded to ensure those with impeccable records were recommended for top slots).

Thankfully, the prime minister, being the signing authority for civilian promotions, put his foot down and deferred the promotions of many officers for want of a better service record. Almost 40pc of the officers recommended by the CSB have been rejected by the prime minister with instructions to be more objective in assessment and make recommendations in light of the Supreme Court decision in the Orya Maqbool Abbasi vs. Federation of Pakistan case.

The court had observed that “it would be [a] great achievement if it is added in the policy to hold an inquiry of the civil servant while sending his case for promotion and also examine his family assets at the time when he joined the service including lifestyle, expense on children’s education, expenses on children’s marriage, foreign tours as well as … ascertain the political affiliation of such a candidate to make the bureaucracy free from political affiliation as it has been observed in [a] speech by the Quaid-i-Azam to the civil officers in Peshawar in April, 1948”.

Majority of the officers in Grade 20 or above in the government machinery come from 12 service groups, whose vacancies are filled via the CSS exam. Objective evaluation of these officers right from the time they join government service in Grade 17 is required for fair judgement of their credentials rather than banking on arbitrary reports from an intelligence agency at the verge of their promotion to Grade 21, especially when such reports can be subject to bias depending on the ruling government. So, for implementing the Supreme Court judgement, a complete overhaul of the system is required under the following guidelines.

Firstly, an assessment every five years of all bureaucrats would make this procedure more transparent, as at least five reports would be generated for an officer under consideration for a Grade 21 position and an assessment cannot be biased over such an extensive period of time. The suspicion of living beyond one’s means should be evaluated on the basis of such reports, tax returns filed by the officer and his general lifestyle.

Secondly, performance evaluation reports (PERs) truthfully evaluating the officer are hardly written; so-called notions of courtesy, friendship, camaraderie, goodwill or even animosity overpower all need for objective evaluation and the result is that every officer is evaluated arbitrarily.

The officers should also be subject to scrutiny on the basis of their evaluation of their juniors. If somebody can be dishonest in giving an opinion about someone working under him, then they are unlikely to hold their own when it comes to higher responsibilities.

In order to preclude anomalous PERs, a 12-member committee should be formed with officers of integrity from each service group. There should be no chairman of this committee, and every member should be equally empowered.

This would exclude the possibility of any personal relationship influencing the judgement. This committee should evaluate civil servants right from the beginning of their careers annually by conducting interviews and peer reviews. Departmental influences on evaluation would thus be minimised.

Currently, the CSB has mostly federal secretaries as members. Since generally they belong to a couple of service groups, it clouds their ability to fairly assess officers from other groups and also, they hold portfolios under a certain political government, which can result in partiality on the basis of political affiliations.

Hats off to the prime minister for challenging the norm of promotions in the civil service. But the bureaucracy needs more than this — the norm needs to be rewritten.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites@gmail.com

Agents of change

Marc-André Franche

NATION-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s parliament introduced a 17pc gender quota in 2002 in all legislative houses.

NATION-building processes cannot work and development goals cannot be achieved if women are denied meaningful political participation. To ensure this, Pakistan’s parliament introduced a 17pc gender quota in 2002 in all legislative houses.

Unfortunately, despite the quota, qualitative indicators of women’s meaningful political participation remained low. Despite accounting for 22pc of the federal parliament, from 2002-07 women could not achieve much in terms of lawmaking except the Women’s Protection Act. In the subsequent mandate of 2008-13 however, women made more progress, overseeing policy implementation and raising important issues in all legislative houses.

Gender quotas alone, as global experience has shown, cannot transform the quality of women’s representation. They won’t work unless they are adapted to women’s direct representation, in which more women would win elections rather than taking up reserved seats. Compared to around 13 women in 2002, the number of women on general seats was 16 in 2008, but only eight won National Assembly seats in 2013.

This downward trend was indicative of the shrinking space for women in the electoral process, despite a numerically larger parliamentary presence. Urgent measures are thus needed to create a level playing field for women in the electoral process.

While in 2002 women parliamentarians mostly worked in isolation, without enough sharing of inter- and intra-party experiences, in 2008 they had begun to work together on important issues. They raised their collective voices on issues that affect women’s lives, transcending their party politics for the common goal of women’s empowerment.

Having organised a women’s parliamentary caucus (WPC), they achieved some landmark legislations on women’s rights.

These included the Amendment to Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act that provided for mandatory financial and legal assistance to women in prisons; the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act; the Establishment of Benazir Income Support Programme Act, which proved to be a useful income support initiative; the Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act for Acid Crimes; the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act and the National Commission on the Status of Women Act.

In addition to legislation, they also highlighted a wide range of women’s issues on the floor of the houses. For example, without their advocacy for women IDPs after military operations in Swat, gender responsive relief efforts, treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims and meaningful debate on budgetary allocations in health and education, most of the debate about governance in these fields would have been incomplete.

In the current mandate, they have gone a step further. Pakistan now has four provincial WPCs in addition to a federal one, the first initiative of its kind in South Asia. Today, 85 women parliamentarians and around 130 women MPAs from more than 20 political parties are working together to advocate for legislation that takes gender into consideration and effective implementation of laws and policies that affect the lives of women and families.

The effectiveness of WPCs as a centre of gravity to establish cross-party consensus among women parliamentarians has been demonstrated twice in recent months.

Two private members bills have emerged from the WPC, both addressing legal barriers to women’s political participation. One focuses on the 10pc mandatory awarding of tickets for general seats to women, while the other, if passed, would ensure that elections be rendered null and void in any constituency where women are prevented from voting.

Both bills are not just symbolic of women parliamentarians demonstrating their willingness to ensure that gender issues transcend party divisions, but also of their collective determination to address one of Pakistan’s lingering democratic deficits — the under-representation of women in governance structures.

The Punjab Women’s Caucus has already launched an ambitious strategic road map for the current year that includes work on domestic violence, acid attacks, marriages and divorces of Hindus and Christians, necessary amendments to the sexual harassment bill, home-based and domestic workers, etc.

All the WPCs are in the process of establishing their secretariats, with the help of UNDP, which will be equipped to provide gender analyses of policies and laws.

This presents a very optimistic future scenario. It is hoped that this collective thinking among women parliamentarians would go a long way in the shaping of these caucuses. The challenge is to keep up the cross-party spirit and build on the spaces the former caucus has created. We call on all international and national development partners to join in supporting the caucuses and the legislative houses to achieve sustainable development and gender equality.

The writer is country director, UNDP Pakistan.

Our culture of honour

Babar Sattar

IN Shooting an Elephant George Orwell writes about how a person loses his own freedom most of all while practising imperialism. In this story an English police officer posted in Burma is the symbol of imperial power. He receives news of an elephant on a rampage in the village. He initially sets out with a pistol, but on finding out that an Indian coolie has been trampled to death by the beast he instructs an orderly to fetch an elephant rifle. By the time he gets to the paddy fields, accompanied by two thousand locals, the elephant is calmly grazing shoots.

IN Shooting an Elephant George Orwell writes about how a person loses his own freedom most of all while practising imperialism. In this story an English police officer posted in Burma is the symbol of imperial power. He receives news of an elephant on a rampage in the village. He initially sets out with a pistol, but on finding out that an Indian coolie has been trampled to death by the beast he instructs an orderly to fetch an elephant rifle. By the time he gets to the paddy fields, accompanied by two thousand locals, the elephant is calmly grazing shoots.

Because otherwise…“the crowd would laugh at me”.

Aren’t reactions of our contemporary leaders reminiscent of imperial sahibs afraid of being laughed at? Nawaz Sharif was crowned a leader the day he announced rebelliously that he would accept dictation from no one. Successive army chiefs have reminded us that they will protect and defend the ‘honour and dignity’ of the armed forces at all costs. What are these ‘costs’ that the high command is willing to endure and why? Is such bravado meant to put the fear of God in foreign enemies (or homegrown terrorists) casting an evil eye on Pakistan?

Or is it for the consumption of fellow countrymen getting audacious enough to question whether their relationship with state institutions meant to serve them should be defined by fear? What is it that threatens khaki ‘honour’? Haven’t khakis in the past poked fun at their own chiefs who seemed too docile or took seriously the constitutional notion of civilian control of the military? Didn’t Gen Jehangir Karamat, a thorough gentleman, come to be referred to as ‘baji’ by his own? Didn’t Gen Kayani invite a nickname even less flattering?

What we have nurtured in Pakistan — within state institutions and the society — is a culture of honour that trumps a culture of law. Whether it is an adult’s right to marriage of her own choice, the right of someone accused of blasphemy to be treated in accordance with the law, the right of a suspected terrorist to be accorded due process, or the obligation of the army to abide by directives of a civilian government, the notions of honour (and vigilante action to preserve them) override unambiguous obligations dictated by the law.

There is no question that our resources are scarce, the powerful (especially those in government) get away with perverting the law with impunity, and individuals manning institutions of justice and law enforcement are often corrupt or compromised. We thus fit the description of societies where honour eclipses the law. But can such explanation for how things are also serve as a justification for why misconceived notions of honour must continue to thrive and override the law.

Cultures of honour protect hereditary privileges or criminal gangs that are above and beyond the pale of law. In Pakistan too, the culture of honour — whether employed under the garb of religion or chivalry or patriotism — is essentially a tool to preserve pelf, privilege and a sense of entitlement above others. If Pakistan is to prosper and the society is to progress, we will need to replace the prevailing culture of honour with a culture of law. But willingly surrendering pelf or privilege is never easy.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu claims: “Generals are assistants of the nation. When their assistance is complete, the country is strong. When their assistance is defective, the country is weak.” And further that, “to be violent at first and wind up fearing one’s people is the epitome of ineptitude”. Let us concede for a moment that our civilian elite has been thoroughly incompetent, corrupt and ineffectual. But reflecting on the decades of khaki control over this country (direct and indirect), can our generals claim to have served this state and society well?

The challenges that confront Pakistan today are acute and innumerable. They are a product of our checkered past that disentitles all our institutions from preaching their virtue. A notion of patriotism defined by singular commitment to preserving the dignity of one institution at the expense of others is divisive and not uniting. If we wish to save the whole of Pakistan and not bits of it, we will need to replace bravado with introspection, hubris with self-correction and the prevalent culture of honour with one characterised by the rule of law.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar@post.harvard.edu

Twitter: @babar_sattar

A media myth

Javed Jabbar

FORTUNATELY, both Hamid Mir, the intended victim of the April 19 shooting in Karachi, and freedom of expression will survive. Like Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, there is no scope for a rollback, despite the dastardly attacks on media and journalists. However, the present situation underlines the illusion of media self-regulation, especially by electronic news media.

FORTUNATELY, both Hamid Mir, the intended victim of the April 19 shooting in Karachi, and freedom of expression will survive. Like Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme, there is no scope for a rollback, despite the dastardly attacks on media and journalists. However, the present situation underlines the illusion of media self-regulation, especially by electronic news media.

There are two broad categories of media regulation. The physical, operational category is an exclusive state responsibility covering essentials of eligibility.

The second category is of content regulation, shared between the state and media. It is only partly covered by one aspect in the first category ie acceptance by the licensee of the terms and conditions on which permission is granted to own and operate the media. For example, in Pemra’s case, it is mandatory for each licensee of a channel to practise the Pemra Code of Conduct.

But just as the nature of news is volatile and unpredictable from minute to minute, the manner in which electronic news media should report events is vulnerable to variable factors of spontaneous utterances and actions, competitiveness, speed and sensation. All these elements fused into a potent, explosive mixture to make the live, unedited transmission of allegations against the ISI and its chief on April 19, an archetypical example of content regulation’s complexity.

The Pemra Ordinance 2002 was the third version of a law unprecedented in Pakistan’s history. First came the Emra Ordinance of February 1997 by the unelected caretaker government of president Farooq Leghari and prime minister Meraj Khalid which was deliberately allowed to lapse in June 1997 by the elected second government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif.

The second version was a draft law known as the Rambo Ordinance twice approved by the cabinet of president Pervez Musharraf in 2000 but not actually promulgated. Then came a slightly revised version known as the Pemra Ordinance in March 2002 which, with subsequent amendments, remains in force today.

Yet a curious simultaneity of construction and deconstruction occurred. Even as the number of channels took the giant leap, the will and capacity to enforce unwritten norms of propriety, and written laws and rules took several steps backwards. This became all the more strange because in this very period, government control of the regulatory body increased, rather than decreased.

The decline in regulatory effectiveness was vigorously enabled by the superior judiciary. This state pillar remains willing to promptly issue stay orders against Pemra’s attempts to discipline media conduct. Stay orders are prolonged for years instead of weeks. The judiciary permits the law to be flouted: non-licensed religious channels are allowed to continue broadcasting.

The cumulative result: better detailed elsewhere but suffice it here to say that we have a mixed bag of content. Creativity in caricature, candour in daily crossfire, prolonged, frequent mid-breaks and breaking news hungry for broken reality. A disregard for the public service dimension of news media reflected by the heedless pursuit of ratings and profit. Virtual anarchy in the name of freedom.

No channel regularly informs viewers how to register complaints. No report is broadcast by channels on the number and nature of complaints received, actions taken. To cap it all: some PBA member-channels viciously malign each other.

Public law alone can oblige media to be transparent, accountable and responsible. Otherwise, self-regulation becomes a cover for self-indulgence. Which, in turn, becomes the protection of narrow self-interest.

Murder by numbers

Zarrar Khuhro

IF the cannibals of Bhakkar weren’t enough for you, last week we were treated to the story of a serial killer in Lahore. Muhammed Ejaz, a paramedic by profession, is accused of murdering homosexuals apparently because he “wanted to warn them to stay away from this evil”. He also claims that he did this to avenge abuse he suffered in his childhood. According to police, however, he also had sex with his victims before drugging them and breaking their necks.

IF the cannibals of Bhakkar weren’t enough for you, last week we were treated to the story of a serial killer in Lahore. Muhammed Ejaz, a paramedic by profession, is accused of murdering homosexuals apparently because he “wanted to warn them to stay away from this evil”. He also claims that he did this to avenge abuse he suffered in his childhood. According to police, however, he also had sex with his victims before drugging them and breaking their necks.

Ejaz isn’t unique in his apparent desire to destroy the objects of his erotic fixation. Take the ‘Killer Clown’ John Wayne Gacy, an American serial killer who was executed in May 10, 1994. Gacy, during his prolific career, sexually assaulted and killed at least 33 teenage boys and young men. However, Gacy remained adamant till the end that he himself was not a ‘fruit picker’, a pejorative title he used for homosexuals. Similarly, Ejaz refers to homosexuals as ‘kachra’ throughout the course of a televised interview.

It’s tempting to write off serial killers as a Western phenomenon. After all, the popular perception is of the ‘single, white male who kept mostly to himself.’ While it is true that most of the truly famous serial killers hail from America, this probably appears so due to the cultural dominance of the US and also to the fact that people actually (more often than not) tend to get caught and jailed in that country.

Certainly Pakistan has seen more than a few, going as far back as the ‘hathora group’ in the ’80s. Most notorious of local serial killers was Javed Iqbal who allegedly killed close to 100 children, dissolving their bodies in acid. He apparently tried to turn himself in once but his surreal confession was laughed off by police. It was only later, when he wrote a letter detailing his crimes, that the police finally went after him.

More recently, in 2012, the dismembered bodies of women started being found in Karachi’s Soldier Bazaar and Guru Mandir areas, among other locations. This was eventually found to be the alleged handiwork of a rickshaw driver called Rafiq. Curiously, his crimes took place around the 9th of each month. Beyond that there was nothing remarkable about him, and I recall speaking to a reporter who interviewed him who said she was ‘disappointed’ with how ‘normal’ he seemed.

One should also note that he was previously in custody for killing a woman. That’s something he has in common with Muhammad Sarwar, who rose to infamy when, in 2007, he shot and killed Punjab Minister for Social Welfare Zille Huma because “she was not wearing Muslim clothing”. It would be tempting to write him off as a fanatic but that would only be partly true. Previously he had been arrested for the murder of several sex workers in 2003 because he wanted to ‘cleanse’ society, much like the aforementioned Ejaz.

Why he was able to get out and kill again is a question one must ask the police and judiciary. It was only after he shot a serving minister that he was apprehended and died in jail a few years back. Now that’s something to ponder; given the state of law enforcement and the abysmal conviction rate of the judiciary, how many such people stalk our streets right now, their crimes unnoticed in an atmosphere of general lawlessness and impunity? How many of the mutilated corpses that are found are the work of serial killers? And, for that matter, how many such psychopaths find gainful employment among the ranks of terrorists and target killers?

There have been attempts to understand what makes these people tick. There is the simplistic MacDonald triad and any number of tests. Scans have been conducted on the brains of executed serial killers, and with a few exceptions, they have turned out to be as ‘normal’ as you and I. Even more frightening is that many of them live what seems, at first glance, to be absolutely normal lives, with families, children and careers.

The truth is that we simply don’t know how a serial killer’s mind works. And whether they couch their deeds in religious rhetoric, claims of abuse or the idea that they are exacting revenge from a society that has ‘wronged’ them, the excuses made by serial killers are just that: excuses.

If there is a common thread here, it is an absolute lack of empathy, and the desire to dehumanise their victims. They torture and murder with the same amount of emotional detachment that we would display in throwing away a candy wrapper or stubbing out a cigarette.

The writer is a member of staff.

zarrar.khuhro@gmail.com

Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

Railways ignored

Arif Azad

THAT Pakistan is urbanising at a much faster rate than previously anticipated is something that is being observed and acknowledged without reservation. This is seen in runaway growth in urban conurbations, propelled into existence by increasing migration from the rural hinterland to urban areas, and the urban population explosion.

THAT Pakistan is urbanising at a much faster rate than previously anticipated is something that is being observed and acknowledged without reservation. This is seen in runaway growth in urban conurbations, propelled into existence by increasing migration from the rural hinterland to urban areas, and the urban population explosion.

The net effect is a pressing burden on already strained public services and creaky infrastructure. The transport system is one area which is struggling to keep pace with this new urban reality. Despite various solutions — ranging from state-backed public transport to a mix of government-private partnership in the transportation sector — the problem of providing affordable and reliable transport for an ever-growing population remains inadequately addressed.

Admittedly the gap between uncontrolled population and limited transport is going to remain substantially unbridgeable. Yet the gap is being further accentuated by our misplaced policies and flawed and ad hoc nostrums employed to solve the crisis. One cardinal problem lies in the way the transport policy was conceived in the ’50s.

In the first five-year plan the transport policy was decisively oriented towards road-based transport, which entailed a massive sprawl of road links and the resultant increase in vehicular traffic. One reason was the government’s sheer indifference towards rail as a means of mass transit. While road construction was the source of political patronage, as was the granting of bus route permits, the car and vehicular traffic came to be considered as symbols of status — largely associated with highly visible and expensive cars whizzing down the roads.

At the time of Partition, Pakistan inherited more than 12,875 kilometres of rail track out of more than 64,374 km that covered pre-Partition India. Considering the size of Pakistan relative to India, the rail track we inherited was reasonably well-spread and knitted large parts of the country into the network. In time the rail system atrophied due to lack of investment and official indifference. Despite this, the railways plodded along, backed by profits from the freight business.

However, with the National Logistics Cell peeling away a large slice of its freight business, Pakistan Railways is in dire straits. The sick body of the railways is now in the intensive care unit, with oxygen in the form of regular government cash handouts keeping it alive.

In this regard, Munir Niazi rather poignantly wrote: “Subhay kazib ki hawa mein kitna dard tha Munir; rail ki seeti baji aur dil lahoo say bhar gia” (The early dawn was full of the signs of pain that when the train whistled, my heart was filled with wrenching pain, too).

Pakistan Railways was also inseparably linked with popular mobilisation. When Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto began his whistle-stop tour of the country by train after his release from ‘protective custody’, he attracted adoring crowds in such huge numbers that Gen Ziaul Haq not only cancelled the election, he also decided to hang the political mobiliser par excellence. Such were the tales of the railways’ legend as a social and political institution, along with its role as a reliable mass transport system.

This brings me to the question of transport policy. As Muhammad Imran has pointed out, the transport policy has in effect meant road-based transport to the total exclusion of railways as a form of mass transit. This needs to change conceptually from a predominantly road-based transport system to a mixed one with the rail-based system revived and enhanced.

As such the transport policy should focus on, first and foremost, what the transport needs of a growing population are and how best to meet them by employing different forms of transport rather than starting from the premise that a bus-based transport system is the be-all and end-all of the transportation policy. Obviously, this cannot be achieved if the transport policy is not freed from the grip of unsavoury interests.

The change will require reviving and strengthening the railways as part of the transport policy before it becomes a museum piece. Best of luck to Khawaja Saad Rafique in the social and political exercise which the revival of Pakistan Railways signifies.

The sectarian divide

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE sectarian divide is widening and intensifying in Pakistan. It is not only shaping trends and behaviours but also gradually changing the country’s socio-cultural landscape. Apart from its social, cultural and political implications, the widening sectarian discord in Pakistan has catalysed the transformation of certain radical tendencies into violent expression. Hence, we have seen increased sectarian and faith-based violence in recent years.

THE sectarian divide is widening and intensifying in Pakistan. It is not only shaping trends and behaviours but also gradually changing the country’s socio-cultural landscape. Apart from its social, cultural and political implications, the widening sectarian discord in Pakistan has catalysed the transformation of certain radical tendencies into violent expression. Hence, we have seen increased sectarian and faith-based violence in recent years.

An important factor contributing to this growing sectarian divide and violence is the rise and empowerment of sectarian groups. These groups are not only changing socio-cultural patterns but have also transformed the traditionally nationalistic, anti-Indian discourse into a sectarian one. Sectarian discrimination in daily life is increasing and sectarian-based ghettos are growing in Pakistan. Different sects and sectarian groups are encouraging the establishment of separate housing societies and localities.

Sectarian violence has manifested itself in three major forms in Pakistan: sectarian-related terrorism; community and tribal sectarian violence; and irregular or instant sectarian violence. Sectarian-related terrorism is a form of organised and structured violence in Pakistan; the other two strands represent a non-structured pattern of sectarian violence mainly arising from hate speech, growing sectarian intolerance and efforts to secure sectarian interests at the community, tribal or group level.

All three forms complement each other, and if one type is triggered by an incident, the other two may be activated. If triggered, the second pattern of sectarian violence has a long-term impact and can activate the other two forms of violence. For instance, tribal sectarian tensions in Kurram Agency took four years to come down.

The third form is a new phenomenon. When an incident of a sectarian nature occurs, it can trigger attacks on mosques, shrines and religious symbols of rival sects. This happened in Rawalpindi last year when sectarian clashes in the city during a Muharram procession triggered sectarian tensions and violence across the country.

Though sectarian violence is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan, sectarian groups have increasingly resorted to triggering and exploiting sectarian tendencies. For example, the first major anti-Shia riots took place in Khairpur district in Sindh during Muharram in 1963 but the government and religious scholars overcame the crisis through dialogue.

Similarly, based on scattered sectarian incidents in the 1970s, a poster campaign was launched throughout the country inciting Sunnis to take over Pakistan with the slogan ‘Jag Sunni jag, Pakistan tera hai’ (‘Sunnis, wake up, Pakistan is yours’); however, it failed to catch the attention not only of the public at large but also of major Sunni parties. The reason was that radical sectarian groups were absent from the national scene.

But when similar sectarian tensions rose in Karachi in 1983, it became a difficult task for the police to overcome the violence. By then, not only had religious communities become conscious of their sectarian identity, groups based on sectarianism had also started to emerge on the national scene.

International players also moved in at that stage. In Karachi’s sectarian violence of 1983, the Deobandi Sawad-i-Azam Ahl-i-Sunnat led by Maulana Samiullah and Maulana Asfandyar was an anti-Shia movement launched in the city with financial support from Iraq. However, the movement was overshadowed with the establishment of the Anjuman Sipah-i-Sahaba in Jhang, Punjab, later renamed Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan by Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi.

The establishment of the SSP triggered the phenomenon of sectarian-based groups, and other sects also established organisations as a reaction, leading to escalating sectarian tensions. At the same time, hardliners in these groups got involved in sectarian-related terrorism.

Apart from the proliferation of sectarian groups, madressahs also contributed to the rise of sectarian divides in society. Both sectarian groups and madressahs have tended to promote sectarian-based identities among their respective sects. The sectarian brotherhood also makes it easy for some groups and madressahs in Pakistan to develop a nexus with like-minded terrorist groups in Pakistan and abroad.

Though the clergy denies that madressahs have any link with terrorism and the spread of hatred in society, law-enforcement agencies have a different view. They claim they have evidence that some madressahs have links with terrorist organisations. In this context, controlling violent sectarian groups and their affiliated madressahs is of critical importance. A zero tolerance approach towards terrorism and the groups and institutions involved in violence can help minimise the scale of the problem.

At the same time, both state and society can take initiatives to defuse violent sectarian tendencies. Despite the existing sectarian divide in the country, the majority of religious scholars believe in sectarian harmony and coexistence. In the late 1990s, they launched the Milli Yakjahti Council (council for national unity) to bring on board all sectarian representatives. As the clergy leads the larger religious discourse in Pakistan and holds considerable sway over public opinion, they could be engaged usefully and effectively to create awareness among people about the need and significance of sectarian and communal harmony, peaceful coexistence and national unity.

One more significant factor in the sectarian divide is the effect of foreign influence. The religious clergy cannot detach itself from the developments taking place in the Arab world and the wider Middle East as they associate themselves with certain countries and consider themselves the custodians of those countries’ interests in Pakistan. No doubt, there is a need to chalk out measures at a regional and global level, but one thing the state can demonstrate for the sake of internal security is an impartial position on the conflict raging in the Muslim world.

The writer is a security analyst.

Here we go again

Cyril Almeida

SILLY season is upon us again. Everywhere, a crisis.

SILLY season is upon us again. Everywhere, a crisis.

Nowhere, allegedly, a government.

Karachi is reeling, politics is churning, dialogue is going nowhere, even load-shedding is back with a vengeance.

And Nawaz is in London.

So this is the theory: Nawaz has bitten off more than he can chew. He somehow goaded the military on Musharraf, unleashed a media favourite on the ISI and is clumsily defying a national consensus in favour of whacking the TTP.

Now, the counter-squeeze is on.

Hang on. Tahirul Qadri is relevant again? And Imran is going to use the street to bring down the PML-N government in Islamabad?

OK, good luck.

Meanwhile, in the real world, let’s try a more prosaic explanation instead.

What is Imran doing? He’s doing what any clever opposition with no chance in hell of either triggering an election or winning one right now would do.

He’s trying to keep alive whatever few doubts there are about the PML-N win in Punjab, to undermine in what­ever tiny way he can its legitimacy as a popularly elected government.

And he’s being Imran. Which means he’s figured out the politics of opposition: stay visible, stay loud, stay aggressive and don’t ever let your opponent monopolise the political narrative.

Beyond that, Imran’s got nothing — and everyone in the PTI knows that.

As does the PML-N, but Imran long ago got under their skins, hence all the N-Leaguers rising in agitation. That still doesn’t change reality.

And reality is this: politically, PML-N is pretty darn comfortable at the moment.

If there were an election tomorrow, the PML-N would probably double its seat count. They’re already looking pretty good for re-election in 2018. For everyone else, the first realistic shot is 2023.

Because this is politics. Where objective scorecards don’t matter, votes do. And right now, the PML-N is giving the voters pretty much what they want.

Start with the apparently worst performing bit of the lot: dialogue with the TTP. Maybe there won’t be a deal, maybe Nisar will fail, maybe Nawaz was wrong. Doesn’t matter.

Nawaz has already proved he is genuine. Genuinely concerned about protecting Punjab, genuinely interested in finding a peaceable solution, genuinely committed to making whatever concessions are needed.

If you’re a voter sitting in Punjab, what’s not to like about that? Your guy has got your back. He was even willing to stand up to the army to save your home from burning or your kids getting blown up on their way to school.

If dialogue fails now, at least it bought months of relative quiet. If dialogue fails now, at least it won’t be for a lack of trying. If dialogue fails now, why would you blame Nawaz?

And that’s the worst performing bit in the PML-N portfolio.

Or take the other thing that comes close: differences with the army over Musharraf and this perception that somehow the Geo war on the ISI was instigated by the PML-N.

The army is popular in Punjab and its middle classes. Much as Punjab and its middle classes may love Nawaz, they are unlikely to be happy about their trusted and vital state institutions coming under seemingly gratuitous attack.

But here’s the thing, a Pakistani thing: when two favourites fight, the impulse isn’t to pick sides, but to hope they hug it out.

So a conciliatory speech, a few photos of them sitting together, a few words from each side about how they love both democracy and the army — and everyone will be happy again. It’s the Pakistani way.

Electricity could have hurt Nawaz — in the same way the last election was a referendum on electricity. But Nawaz and his lieutenants have been clever, getting the messaging right, even if stumbling on actual reform of the electricity sector.

So, as blackouts spiked, out came Abid Sher Ali with his fabulous plan to punish symbols and institutions of the state for not paying their bills. No one will be spared! It was great theatre.

Meanwhile, the men with the gravitas, Khwaja Asif and Nawaz himself, are pleading for patience and promising they will deliver by the time their term is up — essentially using personal capital to blunt the very sharpest edge of public criticism.

If those are the bad bits and the vulnerabilities, it doesn’t take much to imagine the good bits are looking a whole lotta good right now.

Remember, this is politics. It’s what the voter thinks that matters, not whether the performance meets some theoretical bar of approval.

So, where’s the crisis?

The danger, to the extent there is some, remains the opposite of what the conspiracy theorists are peddling.

It’s not that Nawaz can’t get his way — on Musharraf, on dialogue, on whatever. It’s not that Nawaz is there for the taking, in Punjab or in Islamabad. It’s not that Nawaz is out of his depth.

It’s what happens once all of that is proved wrong and Nawaz is once again master of all that he surveys. Fear the all-powerful Nawaz, not the man who is still inching his way towards there.

As for conspiracies, try this counter-conspiracy on for size. Hasn’t the PTI effectively ridden to the rescue of Geo by switching the topic from the Geo-ISI feud?

Wasn’t the PML-N’s fiercest complaint in the run-up to last May’s election that the media was rooting for the PTI? Is this exquisitely timed, great ratings tamasha the PTI repaying Geo for last year?

Ah, conspiracies. You can spin them any which way. Still, doesn’t change reality.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a

Twitter: @cyalm

Of a bard’s centennial

Khadim Hussain

ON the face of it, it is surprising that the year-long celebrations in the memory of Pakhtun poet, sculptor and thinker Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (1914-1996) that are under way in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, cut across partisan lines, linguistic, cultural, geographical and even religious divides.

ON the face of it, it is surprising that the year-long celebrations in the memory of Pakhtun poet, sculptor and thinker Khan Abdul Ghani Khan (1914-1996) that are under way in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, cut across partisan lines, linguistic, cultural, geographical and even religious divides.

Two elements seem to contribute to this cu­­­­­rio­sity. First, the celebrations have not been driven or supported by any government department, institution or political party.

Secondly, the seminars, painting exhibitions and concerts seem to have been arranged without profit as the motive, without the involvement of business cor­­­­­­­pora­­tions or companies. The arrangement and organisation of events seem to be spontaneous and self-motivated.

Most of the seminars, exhibitions and concerts are organised by literary, welfare, academic and youth organisations on a self-help basis. The most interesting part is the flow of creativity: an opportunity has been provided to young poets, writers, painters and singers — both men and women — to demonstrate their creative talent. We see ex­­quisite writings, poetry, music, compositions and paintings on display at otherwise deserted theatre halls, hotels, lawns and parks in Peshawar, and urban and rural centres of central, northern and southern KP.

This phenomenon can be explained at two levels. The first is related to the socio-cultural environment of KP. The second level pertains to the bard’s potent voice and intense understanding of the history, culture, society and politics of the people of this province.

At the socio-cultural level, the people of KP have been imprisoned in the dungeon of constricted creativity and cultural expression for a long time now. Art groups, writers, singers and painters have been robbed of their quest for providing creative pleasure and constructive entertainment to their audience. Over the past several years, the indigenous creative expression of self and society has been silenced. The continued killings of scholars, the abductions of artists and singers and the censoring of writers have given rise to fear of thinking, creating and expressing.

The shrinking space for culture, creativity and academic expression has suffocated talent, and depression has descended on the people of KP across linguistic, religious, geographical and cultural divides.

The spontaneous initiation of Ghani Khan’s centennial celebrations is perhaps a collective response to break this vicious circle of fear and suffocation. This seems to be a strong but unconscious collective message to all the forces that have created fear to rob a society of its cultural and creative expression.

The second level through which this apparently surprising self-motivated movement can be explained is the genius of the bard himself. Educated in Azad High School, Utmanzai, Charsadda, followed by the Jamia Millia Delhi, Tagore’s famous Shantiniketan and then in England and the US, Ghani had his fingers right on the pulse of the society he lived in. He can, without exaggeration, be compared with those writers and artists across the world that either started a particular stage of history or ended one.

His poetry, prose, sculptures and paintings depict the collective aspirations and intellect of a particular people and society. The flow of his creativity seems replete with bold expression rooted deeply in the soil.

His brief satire, The Pathan, written in English, provides a window of understanding for those who have not known or talked to even a single Pakhtun. His paintings started a movement in the art history of Pakhtunkhwa. His sculptures resonated with intense philosophical symbolism. Both the content and treatment of his poetry aren’t easily imitated or even followed.

The way he treated his subject matter is so easy that it can be understood by a simple literate person but at the same time, his artistic talent is sublime. He is at once the poet of scholars, thinkers and laymen.

Hence, it is perhaps not surprising that the people of KP find Ghani Khan a focal point of their collective expression at this particular stage of their history. In his expression, the people of KP might have unconsciously found an alternative discourse.

The ingredients of humanity, diversity, free thinking and free expression found profusely in Ghani Khan’s poetry are dialectically opposite to the ingredients of homogenisation, isolation and ‘otherisation’ found in the militant discourse. The federal and provincial governments, literary organisations, and academic groups have a golden opportunity in these spontaneous and self-motivated centennial celebrations to construct a pluralist narrative against the militant one.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

khadimhussain565

Twitter: khadimhussain4

Drought and change

Arif Hasan

RAINFALL figures over the last 100 years tell us that drought is no stranger to Thar. However, over centuries, Thari society has devised ways to deal with it.

RAINFALL figures over the last 100 years tell us that drought is no stranger to Thar. However, over centuries, Thari society has devised ways to deal with it.

One is migration to the barrage areas with their animals. This migration coincides with the wheat-harvesting season in Sindh and the Tharis provide labour for this activity. In exchange they are permitted to water and feed their animals. If the monsoon rains do not come, they make arrangements with the landlords of the barrage areas to stay on for another season. Previously, this relationship was entirely based on barter but is rapidly becoming one of cash and hence less reliable.

The second manner was the construction and maintenance of embankments to divert rainwater to depressions (known as tarais) and the yearly desilting of the tarais before the monsoon rains. Thus, an extra source of much-needed water was acquired.

The third manner was the protection of the gowchar or pasture lands from overgrazing to save them from desertification and to prevent encroachment on them.

The maintenance of tarais and embankments and the protection of the range land was managed by the ‘upper castes’ through a system of beygar or forced labour. This was made possible because the ‘lower castes’ were completely subservient to their landlords and had no possibility of upward mobility of any kind. The artisans among them served the needs of the agriculturalists and made village self-sufficiency possible. They were also not paid in cash but in agricultural produce.

The description of Thar given above is no longer true. With the 1965 and 1971 wars, the Hindu upper castes migrated to India. With their departure, there was no authority left to organise the management of the range land or the embankments and tarais.

Then came the ‘drought’ of the late 1980s and with it came a large number of NGOs. At the same time, a metalled road to Mithi was constructed, making easy access to the desert possible, and still later, the Tharparkar district was created with Mithi as its headquarters. With these events came bureaucrats and new lifestyles and consumer items. Hotels and eating places and the bazaars expanded. With these changes, caste barriers began to break down.

A major road-building initiative in the first decade of the 21st century brought about even greater changes. New jobs were created as the remote areas of Thar were connected to each other and to the rest of the world. Skills, now free from caste tyranny, migrated from the villages to work for cash, adversely affecting the age-old self-sufficiency of the rural settlements.

Eating habits changed and food items imported from the barrage areas became available. Camels were replaced with motorbikes, and milk, which was an essential ingredient of diet, is now increasingly sold to milk companies whose cold storage vans pick it up and take it to Karachi and Hyderabad. Powdered milk is becoming its replacement.

Meanwhile, almost all adult males in the district, and some females, now have mobile phones. Even the most remote areas of the desert have become dependent on city-produced goods.

Before Tharis ate what they grew. Now they sell what they grow and purchase what they never needed before. In the process they have become poorer except for families whose members have acquired jobs in the services sector or work in Karachi or Hyderabad. Surveys tell us that the vast majority of desert households are in debt which they will never be able to repay.

Meanwhile, large areas of gowchar land have been occupied by powerful families in the last 15 years reducing pastureland for an increasing animal population.

It has to be understood that the old caste-based system will not return. Also, that Thar’s present economy cannot support the emerging lifestyles and aspirations of its increasing human population. What the Tharis require more than anything else is livelihoods. These can be created by facilitating the development of new relationships to manage Thar’s traditional economy and through promoting tourism and coal, salt, China clay and granite mining.

These latter activities are already taking place in an ad hoc manner. If not properly planned, they will destroy Thar’s fragile ecosystem and its centuries-old culture. Also, unless skills are developed in the Tharis to manage and work these activities, outsiders will come and take over as they have in many parts of Pakistan.

Thar is in the process of making a traumatic transition from a caste-dominated culture of poverty to one of class-based consumerism. The question is how can this process be made more equitable? Dole is surely not the answer.

arifhasan

www.arifhasan.org

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