DWS, from Sunday 11th May to Saturday 17th May, 2014

DAWN

WIRE SERVICE

DWS, Sunday 11th May to Saturday 17th May 2014

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National News

Polio drops must for children leaving Fata

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: Tasking the military with ensuring the security of immunisation staff working across the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered on Thursday that no child from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) be allowed to enter the settled areas of the country without being administered the polio vaccine.

ISLAMABAD: Tasking the military with ensuring the security of immunisation staff working across the country, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered on Thursday that no child from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) be allowed to enter the settled areas of the country without being administered the polio vaccine.

These steps were discussed in separate meetings, first between National Polio Eradication Coordinator Ayesha Raza Farooq and the prime mi­n­is­ter and then in the cabinet meeting, convened at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“It is my priority that not a single child in Pakistan be afflicted with polio and the disease be eliminated from the country,” Mr Sharif said.

He was hopeful that the provincial governments would work to save their children from the disease and curtail the transfer of the virus from one area to another. He also resolved to hold a meeting of the National Task Force on Polio as soon as possible and instructed Ms Farooq to meet the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor to ensure greater access for polio workers in the province.

Polio was also one of the major issues on the agenda on Thursday’s cabinet meeting. Chaired by the prime minister, the meeting also focused on the ‘Budget Strategy Paper 2014-17’ and other proposals from various ministries.

Mr Sharif said his government was working tirelessly to eradicate polio from the country and would use all resources at their disposal to make Pakistan polio-free. “I am personally supervising the polio eradication programme and will ensure that all hurdles to its implementation are removed immediately.”

The cabinet was told that that 90 per cent of the country was polio-free and that the virus was only isolated to a few areas in Fata and Karachi.

The decision did not go down well with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the PPP. Ali Muhammad Khan, a PTI MNA, said since Fata was in the jurisdiction of the federal government, the government had a right to take decisions that affected it. “However, KP is adjacent to Fata so the prime minister should have taken the KP chief minister into confidence,” he said.

PPP Senator Farhatullah Babar said the decision to clamp travel restrictions on people from the tribal areas was “beyond comprehension”.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

PM comes to National Assembly on Dar’s day

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally made it to the National Assembly on Thursday, to wa­tch and relish drum beating by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar regarding his high hopes about the government’s economic performance, which he gave just days ago.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif finally made it to the National Assembly on Thursday, to wa­tch and relish drum beating by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar regarding his high hopes about the government’s economic performance, which he gave just days ago.

The PM’s visit was a rare one, coming after an absence from at least two sessions and amid frequent complaints by critics that his absenteeism only showed his disregard for the 342-seat house that elected him to the office about a year ago.

His arrival in the house on Thursday, accentuated by cheers from the packed treasury benches, sparked speculation in the house and galleries that the prime minister may talk about key issues. Issues such as his government’s perceived problems with the military, the stalled peace talks with Taliban rebels, suspense regarding the new leadership due to take office in India and Afghanistan and his recent visits to Britain and Iran.

But to everybody’s dismay, this did not happen. This was particularly disappointing because the PM’s foreign policy adviser, Sartaj Aziz, had faced two days of opposition protests in the Senate for making a sketchy policy statement at the end of the foreign policy debate.

It was only when the prime minister rose to depart after spending about 70 minutes in the house that it became clear that the PM, while breaking a cycle of absenteeism, had come not to speak but to hear Mr Dar rattle out the same positive economic indicators that he gave at a news conference in Islamabad on Saturday. An opposition lawmaker, Abdul Sattar Bachhani of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), used his speech in a debate on the law and order situation to urge the PM to come to the house at least once in a week “to add to your own and the house’s honour”. But he found his call apparently ignored as the PM got up from his seat immediately to leave amid a crowd of party members.

The finance minister’s hour-long performance was marked by claims of “faster than expected” economic recovery, the revived confidence of international economic institutions in Pakistan, rising exports, the appreciation of the rupee and what Dar called the “internationally-acclaimed” transparency in the recent auction of 3G and 4G spectrum licences. This, he was convinced, would enhance internet speed in Pakistan and create 900,000 jobs in the next four years.

The show seemed aimed to counter the impact of public discontent stemming from inflation and revived power cuts as well as some battering the government took in recent street protests by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Allama Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

Mr Dar said he wished PTI chairman Imran Khan had been present in the house on Thursday, but he vowed to settle a score with him regarding the allegations the PTI chief had made about the investments made by the finance minister’s family members in Dubai.

Talking about the rupee’s appreciation to around Rs98 versus the dollar, which had contributed to a drop in petroleum prices, the minister said the dollar would not be valued at more than Rs99 in estimates for the upcoming budget.

Putting the current foreign exchange reserves at $13 billion, he said they would cross $15bn by July.

Other points highlighted by the minister included the growth of Federal Board of Revenue’s collection, which increased by 15.6 per cent to Rs1,745bn rupees in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year from Rs1,509bn in the same period last year. The budget deficit also featured in his remarks, which he said had come down from 5.5pc to 4pc. Exports rose 6.1pc to $19.11bn with only a 0.8pt increase in imports to $33.4bn and the trade deficit came down significantly for the first nine months of the fiscal year to $13.93bn against $14.74bn during the same period last year.

The finance minister said inflation had been brought down to single digits at 8.6pc, while he said the international community recognised that the country’s growth was witnessing an upward trend while inflation was on the decline.

He said the growth rate of the country’s gross domestic product was expected to be 4pc cent during the current financial year while it was projected to increase to 5pc next year and 6pc the year after that.

Temple attacks condemned

Earlier, the house unanimously passed a resolution, moved by Ramesh Kumar Vankwani of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N and signed by several parties, condemning the attacks on minorities’ worship places in the Larkana, Hyderabad and Thar districts of Sindh. They also deplored the “martyrdom” (burning) of copies of the Hindu holy book Bagahwad Gita and the Sikh holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib in the Shikarpur district of the same province.

The resolution demanded that the government take “necessary steps” on a priority basis to safeguard minorities’ places of worship, which, it said, must also be protected by security personnel deployed there.

Turkish miners mourned

The house passed another resolution, moved by PPP member Naveed Qamar, expressing its grief over the death of an estimated 270 people in a mining accident in western Turkey on Wednesday and asking the government to “extend all assistance” to the Turkish government to cope with the tragedy.

Science and Technology Minister Zahid Hamid told the house that the Pakistani flag was flying half mast after the prime minister declared Thursday a day of national mourning.

The house adopted a government motion to suspend question hour for Friday, the last day of the current session, to provide time for a debate on electricity load-shedding beginning at 10am.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

10 Pakistanis released from Bagram, ICRC tells families

Hassan Belal Zaidi

ISLAMABAD: Ten Pakistani detainees have been released from the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan and repatriated to Pakistan, officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the families of the detainees on Thursday.

ISLAMABAD: Ten Pakistani detainees have been released from the infamous Bagram prison in Afghanistan and repatriated to Pakistan, officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the families of the detainees on Thursday.

According to a statement issued by Justice Project Pakistan (JPP) — the firm representing the detainees’ families in court — Pakistani authorities have yet to issue any confirmation regarding their release to their families or their legal team. A senior interior ministry official Dawn spoke to also claimed to have no knowledge of the detainees’ return.

Among the 10 men released are Awal Noor, Bismillah Khan, Iftikhar Ahmed, Paizoo Khan, Farman Shah, Abdul Sattar, Shah Khalid, Wajid Rehman, Rehmatullah and Sallah Mohammad. According to their families’ lawyers, all have been held for several years without charge and access to legal counsel.

A JPP spokesperson, commenting on the lack of information about the prisoners’ release, told Dawn: “This is exactly what they did last time. No one told us they had been released. We found out when ICRC called the families and told them their relatives had been freed.”

The JPP originally filed a petition in the Lahore High Court in 2010, asking the government to repatriate Pakistani citizens who had been illegally detained in Bagram since the facility opened in 2002.

On Jan 16, 2012, the state counsel, appearing on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the court that as many as 40 Pakistani citizens were being held in Bagram.

Of these, six were repatriated on Nov 16, 2013. However, the spokesperson said, they were held by Pakistani authorities for nearly two months before being allowed to return to their families sometime in January this year.

On April 4, 2014, the counsel for the foreign ministry informed the court that 11 more detainees would be “coming home by May-end”.

One of the released detainees, Pakpattan-resident Iftikhar Ahmed, is said to have a history of mental illness. He disappeared in January 2010 from the border area of Chaman. But it was only six months after his disappearance that the ICRC informed his family that he was being detained in Bagram.

Another returning detainee, 24-year-old Awal Noor, was only 16 when he was picked up from the Pak-Afghan border near Paktika Margha.

JPP lead counsel Sarah Belal said she was relieved to hear of the 10 men’s release, but added that it was disappointing that the government had failed to notify their families.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Afghan cop killed in border clash

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: An Afghan policeman was killed on Thu­rsday in a border clash near Chaman. The clash began due to differences over a ‘new border outpost’ being allegedly built by Pakistan.

ISLAMABAD: An Afghan policeman was killed on Thu­rsday in a border clash near Chaman. The clash began due to differences over a ‘new border outpost’ being allegedly built by Pakistan.

Afghan officials were quoted by the media as saying that Pakistani attempt to construct a post in Afghan territory had sparked the confrontation that led to the policeman’s death.

Pakistan quickly denied the charge. The ISPR in a statement rejected the Afghan claim that new construction was being carried out by Pakistani troops inside Afghan territory, near Chaman in Balochistan.

Giving its version of the incident, ISPR said: “Afghan National Army troops resorted to unprovoked firing on a Pakistani post this morning at Loe Bund near Qilla Saifulah. Pakistan troops responded effectively to the Afghan army troops’ firing.”

A source said the area where the post was located was claimed by both sides as part of their territory.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Govt eyes 7.2pc growth rate by 2016-17

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: After missing the economic growth target in its first year because of a poor show by agriculture and services sectors, the PML-N government has set an ambitious target to expand the economy at a rate of 7.2 per cent by the financial year of 2016-17.

ISLAMABAD: After missing the economic growth target in its first year because of a poor show by agriculture and services sectors, the PML-N government has set an ambitious target to expand the economy at a rate of 7.2 per cent by the financial year of 2016-17.

A meeting of the cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday, cleared the “Budget Strategy Paper 2014-17”, envisaging fiscal deficit at 4.8pc for the next financial year, rate of inflation at 7.5pc, federal development programme at Rs525 billion and tax revenue at Rs2.810 trillion.

The meeting was informed that the federal budget was being planned for presentation in the National Assembly on June 3.

The macroeconomic targets for the next fiscal year and an outline for the two subsequent years were finalised after the annual meeting of the National Accounts Committee in the morning approved data on the country’s economic performance during the current fiscal year.

The committee provisionally concluded that the growth rate stood at 4.14pc of GDP during the current fiscal year against a target of 4.4pc. This performance, however, was better than last year’s 3.7pc. The committee has powers to approve the country’s real economic indicators based on

actual data. A lacklustre performance by the agriculture sector was the major reason behind slower than targeted economic growth rate. During 2014-15, the agriculture sector is estimated to have showed a growth rate of 2.12pc, significantly lower than a target of 3.8pc envisaged in the budget strategy paper last year. It was even lower than last year’s 2.9pc growth rate.

This was despite a bumper wheat crop of 25.3 million tons against last year’s 24.2m tons. Cotton output this year was, however, reported at 12.7m bales against last year’s 13m bales.

The industrial sector was the major driving force behind 4.14pc GDP growth rate. It grew by 5.84pc during the current fiscal year against a target of 4.8pc. This showed a significant improvement over about 1.4pc of the last year.

Among the industry’s sub- sector’s, large-scale manufacturing grew by 5.31pc against a target of 4.5pc and last year’s growth rate of 4.1pc. A major improvement was seen in the electricity sector which grew by 3.7pc against a negative performance of 16.33pc last year.

The services sector posted a growth rate of 4.29pc against a target of 4.6pc and last year’s growth rate of 4.85pc.

An official statement said the finance minister informed the cabinet that the government was reframing the budget structure for the next three years, placing emphasis on major policy objectives. As a consequence, some indicators set for three years as part of BSP last year would need to be changed.

The cabinet was informed that an increase in the industrial sector and import of machinery for use in large-scale manufacturing was an indicator of growing economy. The performance of credit towards the private sector has increased approximately three times as compared to corresponding period of the last financial year.

The cabinet also discussed the budget proposals for 2014-15.

The prime minister praised the finance team for its persistent efforts to improve the overall economy and for coming up with a balanced three-year budgetary framework.

Explaining his vision, Mr Sharif directed for taking all possible economic measures to place Pakistan amongst emerging economies of the region while ensuring maximum relief for people. He said the appreciation in the value of Pakistani rupee against the US dollar and consequent reduction in the prices of POL was possible because of pragmatic economic measures taken by the government.

Mr Sharif stressed the need for maintaining the pace of development and economic growth in the coming years.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Armymen’s cases: court asks govt to help determine jurisdiction

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday framed a few uncomfortable questions for the government while hearing the matter of the 35 prisoners who went missing from a military internment centre in Malakand, saying that answers to these queries would help devise certain rules for future reference.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday framed a few uncomfortable questions for the government while hearing the matter of the 35 prisoners who went missing from a military internment centre in Malakand, saying that answers to these queries would help devise certain rules for future reference.

The three-member bench, headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja, asked Attorney General (AG) Salman Aslam Butt and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Advocate General Abdul Latif Yousufzai to help the court in answering these questions of legal and constitutional significance, which had arisen during the course of the Yasin Shah case.

The court had taken up this matter to ensure compliance with its verdict of Dec 10, 2013, in the case of Yasin Shah, a missing person, initiated on the application of his brother Muhabbat Shah. In the verdict, the court held the army responsible for removing 35 persons from the Malakand Internment Centre.

The questions framed by the court asked: “When a person serving in the Pakistan Army was accused of committing an offence under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), would an ordinary court set up under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) try the accused or would a forum set up under Pakistan Army Act (PAA), 1952, frame the charges.”

Additionally, the court asked: “Whether an ordinary criminal court is obliged to accede to a request by army authorities to transfer the case to them after closing the matter or it is the discretion of the ordinary court to determine whether or not to grant the request of army authorities.”

Is the court not the ordinary forum to exercise discretion if such a request is received from the military authorities, the court inquired, asking what would be the basis on which such a request could be considered, granted or declined by an ordinary court.

“These are important issues, which we had also earlier discussed at considerable length in the case of another missing person, Tasif Ali alias Danish, but the response of the defence ministry is still awaited in that matter,” recalled Justice Khawaja.

The court’s formulations came in the backdrop of the March 25 letter, written by the Swat general officer commanding (GOC) to the Malakand district commissioner (DC) after the registration of an FIR against Naib Subedar Amanullah Baig and others posted at the Army Fort in Malakand.

The FIR had been lodged on behalf of Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif at the Levy Post Malakand under Section 346 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).

The Advocate General of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Yousufzai, also informed the court that his sources had told him the army authorities had already examined a number of witnesses and the case was in its final stages.

“Then we have to see whether the decision reached by the army court is subject to judicial review,” Justice Khawaja observed, adding it was disturbing that the province was not asserting its right to protect its citizens.

The court also noted that the request by the army was made to the Malakand DC on an assumption that it was for them to decide which forum should try the accused.

Similarly, the Malakand DC also appeared to have proceeded on the assumption that he was obliged to close the case and transfer the matter to the army on their request, Justice Khawaja observed adding this was also evident from the content and tenor of the March 25 letter of the GOC and the March 28 response of the Malakand DC.

On Wednesday, the court had sought the opinion of the federal government by asking the attorney general whether a criminal case could be registered against armed forces personnel.

When the hearing began on Thursday, the attorney general conceded in court that an FIR could be registered against military personnel.

The case will be taken up again on May 26.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Karachi operation will go on, says PM

Habib Khan Ghori

KARACHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared on Wednesday that the targeted operation in Karachi would continue and the administration would have full powers to bring terrorists to justice.

KARACHI: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared on Wednesday that the targeted operation in Karachi would continue and the administration would have full powers to bring terrorists to justice.

“We started the operation after taking all political parties on board since,” the prime minister said while presiding over a high-level meeting on the law and order situation at the Governor House.

He announced formation of two committees. One will address the grievances and complaints emerging from the operation and the other will look into issues of ban on illegal mobile SIMs and enforcement of biometric system for issuance of new SIMs in consultation with mobile phone companies.

The meeting reviewed the progress made so far in the targeted operation launched eight months ago.

Those who attended the meeting, among others, were Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, former president Asif Ali Zardari, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and ISI Director General Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam.

The prime minister said Karachi held special significance for being the country’s economic hub. “We want cooperation from all stakeholders as everybody wants to see improvement in law and order in Karachi. A joint effort is the only solution to the problem,” he said.

The prime minister emphasised upon capacity building of Sindh police and praised the policy of acquiring services of retired army personnel for maintaining law and order in Karachi.

He said there would be retaliation from extremists and terrorists, but the federal government would provide all possible support to law-enforcement agencies to counter them.

He said his government had implemented the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (PPO) with a view to dealing with the menace of terrorism and bringing criminals to justice.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar briefed the meeting on the advanced equipment being provided to law-enforcement agencies and cancellation of about 700,000 illegal mobile SIMs. He said the complete launch of 3G mobile technology would help expand the crackdown on illegal SIMs.

Gen Raheel Sharif said the army was ready to extend every kind of support to the federal and provincial governments. “We will give our honest opinion and assistance whenever sought from us,” he added.

He suggested that postings and transfers of police personnel should be depoliticised and they should be equipped with modern equipment and resources.

Asif Ali Zardari said Sindh police needed resources, adding that all political parties should join hands for peace in Karachi.

The Sindh chief secretary briefed the meeting on the targeted operation and the measures taken by the provincial government to restore peace and arrest criminals involved in targeted killings, extortion and kidnappings for ransom. He also provided details about filing of challans against suspects in courts and weapons recovered from them.

The Karachi police chief said the cancellation of illegal SIMs would help reduce the crime rate by 50 per cent. He said police were taking action against criminals without any discrimination and there was no political pressure on them.

The meeting decided that the federal government would provide the Sindh government three vehicles equipped with latest technology that could detect bombs and other explosive material.

Informed sources said the prime minister had given an approval to the final phase of the operation and political and army leaderships had agreed that the operation should continue without any pressure.

The Sindh government has been asked to formulate a policy to shift anti-terrorist courts to Malir Cantt in 15 days and build high-security prisons in all five divisions of Sindh.

The prime minister expressed reservations over ineffective enforcement of the PPO, delay in shifting of ATC courts to Malir Cantt, non-issuance of red warrants against criminals escaped from the country, incidents of targeted killing of professionals and encroachment on government land.

The prime minister ordered setting up of peace committees at the district and sub-division level comprising area people and representatives of political parties.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Provinces told to buy polio drops; army turns to govt

Ikram Junaidi

LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: The government is scrambling to meet the rising demand for polio vaccine and immunisation certificates in the country in the wake of travel restrictions imposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: The government is scrambling to meet the rising demand for polio vaccine and immunisation certificates in the country in the wake of travel restrictions imposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Punjab Health Department is expected to seek a relaxation in procurement rules to allow it to quickly purchase polio vaccine, while the country’s armed forces have asked the government to provide large quantities of the vaccine to fulfil its needs.

A meeting of the department’s steering committee on Wednesday decided to ask Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to waive Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules to facilitate the expeditious purchase of oral polio vaccine (OPV).

The committee was told that Punjab currently had only 400,000 doses of OPV in stock and that the province would require nearly two million further doses to avoid a crisis. The purchase will cost nearly Rs30 million, the meeting was informed.

According to a senior official privy to the meeting, the decision was taken following directions from the federal government that asked provinces to procure vaccine “from their own resources” to overcome the shortage.

“In the light of the 18th Amendment all implementation mechanisms stand devolved to the provinces. Provincial health departments shall ensure the implementation of new travel regulations and arrange requisite vaccine and human resource for the purpose,” said the Ministry of National Health Services (MNHS) in a letter written to the chief secretaries of all provinces, Fata, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

This intimation comes as provinces already face a shortage of OPV, which was provided to them by the federal government under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). Even after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the federal government had been obtaining vaccine from Unicef and providing it to the provinces, the official told Dawn.

Immediately, Rs30 million will be required for the procurement of the vaccine, he said, adding that the order will be placed after seeking approval from the chief minister.

Separately, in a letter sent to the MNHS director general, Brig Mustansar Mujib Ul Haq of the Pakistan Army stated that armed forces personnel engaged in frequent international travel during the course of their official assignments, as Pakistan is a major contributor to the United Nations’ various peacekeeping missions.

“Additionally several officers and soldiers proceed abroad for short courses and deputations,” the letter read.

In the letter, the ministry has been communicated the armed forces’ vaccine requirements. In it, the ministry has been asked to provide 60,000 doses to deal with the military’s requirements, 50,000 doses for army, 8,000 for the air force and 2,000 doses for navy personnel. The ministry has also been asked to provide 60,000 immunisation certificates to meet the armed forces’ requirements for the calendar year 2014.

An MNHS official told Dawn the ministry would be processing the military’s request on “priority basis”.

Latest victim

Also on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Polio Cell confirmed that another child had fallen victim to the poliovirus. Mir Fayaz, a 27-month-old from the restive Bara region of Khyber Agency, is the latest victim of the disease which had been thought to be eradicated from the world a few years ago. This brings Pakistan’s tally of diagnosed polio cases in 2014 to 62. Of these, 48 cases were recorded in Fata, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 5 cases have been recorded in Sindh.

Minister says Iran cooperating in gas project

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said on Wednesday that Iran and Pakistan were keen to implement the gas pipeline project.

ISLAMABAD: Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said on Wednesday that Iran and Pakistan were keen to implement the gas pipeline project.

“Iran is not unhappy with us, but fully aware of the actual situation,” he told a sub-committee of the Senate standing committee on petroleum and natural resources, adding that the two countries had discussed the project during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s recent visit to Tehran and agreed to cooperate with each other for its implementation.

Mr Abbasi said Pakistan’s position on the gas pipeline project was very clear, but international sanctions on Iran were an impediment to its implementation.

The minister had accompanied the prime minister during his two-day trip to Tehran.

According to an official, the two sides expected a positive outcome of Iran’s next round of talks with Western powers on nuclear programme. After this the two countries could go ahead with the project, he added.

The petroleum minister also informed the sub-committee headed by Senator Abdul Nabi Bangash that gas resources were fast depleting in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and efforts were being made to expedite exploration activities as well as development of oil and gas deposits.

In reply to a question, he said the cost of a natural gas expansion project in Kohat division had increased from Rs8 billion to Rs11bn. He said that after unauthorised domestic connections, illegal commercial and industrial connections and opening of new CNG stations also witnessed a mushroom growth, resulting in a loss of over Rs8bn to the exchequer.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Can civil courts try armymen, SC asks govt

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday did not seem particularly pleased with the government’s understanding that civil courts could not try serving military personnel for an offence. It expressed the displeasure during a hearing on the issue of the 35 prisoners who went missing from a military internment centre in Malakand.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Wednesday did not seem particularly pleased with the government’s understanding that civil courts could not try serving military personnel for an offence. It expressed the displeasure during a hearing on the issue of the 35 prisoners who went missing from a military internment centre in Malakand.

The three-member bench, headed by Justice Jawwad Khawaja, asked Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Advocate General Abdul Latif Yousufzai to assist the court in ascertaining whether a criminal case could be registered against armed forces personnel.

If the answer is yes, then — the court further asked — what is the appropriate forum to try the offender; a general court martial under the Pakistan Army Act (PAA) 1952 or an ordinary court of law.

The court had taken up this matter to ensure compliance with its verdict of Dec 10, in the case of missing person Yasin Shah, initiated on the application of his brother Muhabbat Shah. In the verdict, the court held the army responsible for removing 35 persons from the Malakand Internment Centre.

At a previous hearing, the SC was told that an FIR had been registered against Naib Subedar Amanullah Baig and others – who were posted at the army’s Internment Centre in Malakand Fort – for removing 35 individuals from the detention facility.

The report was lodged on behalf of Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif at the Malakand Levy Post and the case was registered under Section 346 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which deals with wrongful confinement in a secret place.

Subsequently, the court ordered the federal and provincial governments to ensure diligent and transparent investigation, instructing them to add charges under whichever sections of the PPC they deemed necessary to be included in the case.

But when the case was taken up again on April 16, Deputy Attorney General Waqas Dar submitted a one-page statement on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, informing the court that the main accused was a serving member of the armed forces and subject to punishment under the PAA.

On Wednesday, Yousufzai repeated the same information before the court and submitted the letter which the Defence Ministry had sent to the Malakand deputy commissioner.

“The competent military authority under Section 94 of the PAA, Section 549 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Rule 373 of the Army Regulations read with Pakistan Army Act (Rule) 168 has taken due cognizance of the case and has decided that the accused be dealt with under PAA,” the letter reads.

According to the letter, an inquiry had already been ordered. The outcome of investigation and any action taken in the case against the accused would be communicated, for police record, in due course of time in the light of Rule 374 of army regulations.

Following receipt of the letter, the Malakand DC replied on March 25 that the case had been closed and files submitted to the authorities for further action.

During Wednesday’s proceedings, Justice Khawaja observed: “They think they are the rulers and the deputy commissioner is their subject,” adding that the constitution gave civil courts primacy over military courts in matters of concurrent jurisdiction.

“This is not a matter of discretion, but a law,” the judge observed, recalling that in a similar case regarding the enforced disappearance of one Abida Malik, the court had considered the registration of an FIR against army personnel.

When the court sought an opinion from Deputy Attorney General Waqas Dar, he grudgingly replied that an FIR cannot be registered against army personnel.

Dissatisfied with the answer, the court observed that it would consider the question of registration of an FIR against military personnel.

Both the AG and the KPK advocate general will assist the court on the questions formulated when the case is taken up again on Thursday (today).

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

PTI secures support of other opposition parties

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) rolled out its three powerhouses, handpicked by party chief Imran Khan, to meet leaders from different parties and build a consensus on the electoral reforms agenda presented at the PTI rally in Islamabad on Sunday.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) rolled out its three powerhouses, handpicked by party chief Imran Khan, to meet leaders from different parties and build a consensus on the electoral reforms agenda presented at the PTI rally in Islamabad on Sunday.

The power trio of Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tarin spent Wednesday meeting with leaders from the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Majlis-i-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM).

All three parties supported PTI’s demands for wide-ranging electoral reforms to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the future. They also joined the PTI in calling for the resignation of all serving members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

At lunchtime, the PTI team met PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who supported the PTI’s charter of demands for electoral reforms. Leaders from both sides agreed that the ECP had failed to conduct free and fair elections, which is its primary function. Therefore, purely on moral grounds, ECP staff should quit, the meeting concluded.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Qureshi said: “The laws that govern election processes need to be reformed and a completely independent election commission must hold free and fair elections in the country.” He said the PTI would get in touch with all political parties, whether in parliament or outside, who believed that the 2013 general elections were rigged and wanted reforms in the electoral process.

Chaudhry Shujaat said his party had also raised concerns that the last general election was rigged.

In addition, Senator Kamil Ali Agha and MNA Tariq Bashir Cheema were named as the PML-Q representatives for the multi-party committee, which PTI proposed would work on electoral reforms. The PTI nominated Shafqat Mehmood and Dr Arif Alvi as its representatives on the committee.

In the afternoon, the committee met PPP stalwart Syed Khursheed Shah. Addressing a press conference after the deliberations, Mr Shah said his party was always open to electoral reforms.

Later in the day, an MWM delegation led by Allama Nasir Abbas offered “unconditional support” to PTI’s charter of demands.

Turkish coalmine fire kills 245; 120 feared trapped

Reuters

SOMA: Hopes faded of finding more survivors in a coalmine in western Turkey on Wednesday, where 245 workers were confirmed killed and around 120 still feared to be trapped in what could prove to be the nation’s worst industrial disaster.

SOMA: Hopes faded of finding more survivors in a coalmine in western Turkey on Wednesday, where 245 workers were confirmed killed and around 120 still feared to be trapped in what could prove to be the nation’s worst industrial disaster.

Anger over the deadly fire at the mine about 480km southwest of Istanbul echoed across a country that has seen a decade of rapid economic growth but still suffers from one of the world’s worst workplace safety records.

Opponents blamed Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government for privatising the country’s mines and ignoring repeated warnings about their safety.

“We as a nation of 77 million are experiencing a very great pain,” Erdogan told a news conference after visiting the site. But he appeared to turn defensive when asked whether sufficient precautions had been in place at the mine.

“Explosions like this in these mines happen all the time. It’s not like these don’t happen elsewhere in the world,” he said, reeling off a list of global mining accidents since 1862.

Fire knocked out power and shut down ventilation shafts and elevators shortly after 3pm on Tuesday. Emergency workers pumped oxygen into the mine to try to keep those trapped alive during a rescue effort that lasted through the night.

Thousands of family members and co-workers gathered outside the town’s hospital searching for information about their loved ones.

“We haven’t heard anything from any of them, not among the injured, not among the list of dead,” said one elderly woman, Sengul, whose two nephews worked in the mine along with the sons of two of her neighbours.

“It’s what people do here, risking their lives for two cents … They say one gallery in the mine has not been reached, but it’s almost been a day,” she said.

A mechanical digger opened a row of fresh graves at Soma’s main cemetery. An imam presided over the funeral of six miners as a few hundred mourners wept in silence.

The fire broke out during a shift change, leading to uncertainty over the exact number of miners trapped. Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said the death toll was 245.

Late on Tuesday he said 787 workers had been in the mine.

The mine operator Soma Komur Isletmeleri said nearly 450 miners had been rescued from the site and that the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide. It said the cause was not yet clear.

Initial reports suggested an electrical fault caused the blaze but Mehmet Torun, a board member and former head of the Chamber of Mining Engineers who was at the scene, said a disused coal seam had heated up, expelling carbon monoxide through the mine’s tunnels and galleries.

“They are ventilating the shafts but carbon monoxide kills in three or five minutes,” he said by telephone.—Reuters

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Polio certificate must for travellers from June 1

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Polio vaccination certificates will now be mandatory for all people travelling abroad from June 1, the government announced on Tuesday as traces of the poliovirus were found in samples taken from the sewers of Karachi and Lahore — the two largest cities in the country.

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI: Polio vaccination certificates will now be mandatory for all people travelling abroad from June 1, the government announced on Tuesday as traces of the poliovirus were found in samples taken from the sewers of Karachi and Lahore — the two largest cities in the country.

In a meeting held in Islamabad, officials from the Ministry of National Health Services assured delegates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that from next month, all international travellers would be required to obtain a certificate of immunisation before embarking.

Sources in the ministry said the immunisation certificate would be a necessary travel document for all Pakistanis, as well as foreigners who stayed in the country for four weeks or more.

A statement issued after the meeting said: “Recommendations made by the WHO director general… are expected to be fully implemented in two weeks. Federal and provincial governments are collaborating with WHO, Unicef and health development partners to mobilise (all) available resources and ensure the availability of vaccine, vaccination certificates and human resources.”

Samples test positive

Also on Tuesday, officials of the Prime Minster’s Polio Cell in Islamabad confirmed that samples taken from the areas of Gadap and Gulshan-i-Iqbal in Karachi had tested positive for the poliovirus. A previous test of sewer-water in these areas had also yielded similar results.

In addition, sources in the Sindh Health Department revealed that samples taken from the Machar Colony and Khamiso Goth areas had also tested positive for traces of the virus.

However, they claimed that the results announced by the PM’s Polio Cell were based on samples taken in March and that the results of the tests carried out on samples taken in April have yet to be announced.

In Lahore, samples from the Main Outfall Road pumping station had tested positive for the poliovirus, while those taken from the Multan Road disposal station had turned out negative.

WHO Senior Polio Surveillance Dr Zubair Mufti told Dawn the virus detected in Lahore was a strain that originated in Fata. Samples taken from the Sabzi Mandi in Islamabad, as well as those taken from Peshawar, had tested negative for the virus, he said.

Of a total of 60 reported cases of polio this year, 47 were from Fata, five from Karachi and eight from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. To put the enormity of the numbers into perspective, only 80 cases of polio have been detected worldwide so far this year.

Officials from the PM’s Polio Cell claimed that the virus found from Lahore was a ‘low grade one’ and less likely to infect the population. However, according to them, the situation in Karachi was just as alarming as it had been last year, when eight of the 10 cases of polio reported from Sindh were detected in the metropolis.

Sindh Health Department officials told Dawn that they had already made arrangements to vaccinate travellers and issue certificates at international airports, as well as all DHQ hospitals across Sindh.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

ANP leader shot dead in Peshawar

Mohammad Ashfaq

PESHAWAR: An important leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) was gunned down in the city’s Kohati area on Tuesday.

PESHAWAR: An important leader of the Awami National Party (ANP) was gunned down in the city’s Kohati area on Tuesday.

The murder of Anwarul Haq, the party’s organising secretary for Peshawar district, sparked protests in the city.

The ANP condemned the murder and termed it continuation of assassination of leaders and workers of the party.

A large number of ANP workers placed the body of Mr Haq on the Grand Trunk Road and demonstrated against the murder.

Former provincial ministers Syed Aqil Shah, Sardar Hussain Babak and other ANP leaders took part in the demonstration.

The protesters shouted slogans against the provincial government’s failure to protect their leaders.

An FIR was registered against unidentified killers at the Agha Mir Jani police station on the complaint of Mohammad Shahid, brother of Anwarul Haq.

According to eye-witnesses, Anwarul Haq was sitting in his shop in Kohati area when two men on a motorcycle opened fire on him. Mr Haq died on the spot.

ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan condemned the killing and called upon the government to provide security to his leaders of his party.

According to a press statement issued by the Bacha Khan Markaz, he said that targeted killing of ANP leaders and workers was continuing unabated.

Senior ANP leader and former provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told Dawn that around 850 leaders and workers of his party had been targeted by militants and demanded that the government must take action against elements involved in such terrorist acts.

The provincial government, he alleged, had a soft corner for militants, and blamed both the militants and the government for the killings.

Funeral prayer of the deceased was offered in Kohati area and he was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard.

Mr Haq has left behind his wife, five daughters and two sons.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

PPP asks all ECP members to resign

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: The leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah, demanded on Tuesday resignation of all members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and said that all opposition parties would meet on Wednesday to discuss electoral reforms.

ISLAMABAD: The leader of opposition in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah, demanded on Tuesday resignation of all members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and said that all opposition parties would meet on Wednesday to discuss electoral reforms.

Talking to reporters outside the Parliament House here on Tuesday, he said that in the wake of allegations of partiality during last year’s general elections levelled against them by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, all members of the commission should immediately resign.

Mr Shah said that a meeting of all opposition parties, including the PTI, would be held on Wednesday to discuss electoral reforms and the way these could be implemented.

A source close to the PPP leader said that one representative of each opposition party would attend the meeting to agree on electoral reforms proposed by different parties in the past.

But leaders of the Muttahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the PML-Q told Dawn that they had not been invited to any such meeting so far.

“We have not received an invitation for a meeting on election reforms,” MQM leader Wasey Jalil said. But, he added, his party supported the call for electoral reforms to ensure that eligible and committed public representatives reached parliament.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

CJ hints at guidelines for protecting minorities

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Tuesday hinted at framing guidelines for law-enforcement agencies for protection of minorities’ rights.

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Tuesday hinted at framing guidelines for law-enforcement agencies for protection of minorities’ rights.

“We believe that the Constitution has set goals, pledges and commitments that the nation has vowed to live by and to achieve these dreams we may develop guidelines for the protection of rights of minorities,” observed the chief justice who heads a three-judge bench hearing a suo motu case relating to the Sept 22, 2013 bomb attack on a church in Peshawar. Over 80 Christians were killed in the attack.

The court observed that desecration of places of worship of any faith attracted blasphemy laws under Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and indicated that it would consider the role of police in protecting the rights of minorities in an effective manner or suggest raising an alternative special force for the purpose.

The case was taken up on an application of Nadeem Sheikh and Saleem Michael, the in-charge of minority wing of Justice Help Line.

Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, patron of the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), informed the court that six incidents of desecration of temples and places of worship in Sindh had taken place over the past two months and regretted that the attackers could not be brought to justice because cases had not been registered under relevant laws.

A Dharamshala in Larkana was set on fire on March 13, a Hindu temple in Hyderabad on March 17, Wheri Jab temple in Mithi, Tharparkar district, on March 30 and Bhagwat Geeta temple in Shikarpur on May 7.

When the court asked Additional Advocate General of Sindh Mir Qasim Jath if these cases had been registered under blasphemy laws, he said the incidents did not attract such laws.

“You do not know what the law is,” the chief justice said and asked him to read section 295 of the PPC.

Assistant Inspector General Sindh Ali Sher Jhakrani informed the court that challans in these cases had been registered.

But the court ordered him to submit a report suggesting what action had been taken so far and under what sections the cases had been registered.

The court decided to appoint former attorney general Muneer A. Malik from Karachi, Khawaja Haris from Lahore and Hassan Aurengzeb from Islamabad as amici curiae to assist it in drafting the guidelines.

Addressing the representatives of different faiths, the court said it shared the agonies of minorities with empathy and compassion, but the present proceeding was initiated on a suo motu notice. Therefore, the court has sought assistance from the prominent lawyers in finalising the guidelines for law-enforcement agencies for the protection of rights of minorities.

The chief justice observed that certain constitutional pledges and goals were set in the preamble, objective resolutions as well as Articles 20 and 22 of the Constitution on how to protect the rights of the minorities. The court commenced the present proceedings because these pledges and commitments reflecting the dreams of the entire nation somehow could not be honoured, he said.

The court said it would welcome any proposal or suggestion from representatives of minorities with regard to the framing of the guidelines.

Saleem Michael regretted that the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association), a prestigious institution in Karachi, was in a bad shape and its property was being misused by unauthorised people.

The matter is sub judice before the Sindh High Court which has appointed a court Nazir (administrator) to look after the affairs of the institution till a final decision in the case.

Referring to the Liaquat-Nehru Pact, the chief justice regretted that because of tensions between India and Pakistan the rights of minorities in both the countries were not being protected. But he said the Indian Supreme Court was very sensitive towards the issue and had requested its Pakistani counterpart to assist it on the issue of Pakistani fishermen languishing in Indian jails.

The court observed that Pakistan had already released Indian fishermen from its jail.

The court ordered the Sindh government to submit a report on the situation relating to Christ Mission School in Karachi, an old alma mater of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

When Reverend Shahid De Marrage complained of non-registration of Christian marriages in Punjab, the court directed Advocate General of Punjab Mustafa Ramday to submit a report on the matter.

The case will be taken up in the first week of June.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

Why is the election commission effective in India?

Tahir Mehdi

Election Commission of India allowed the government to go ahead with the appointment of the country’s new army chief hours after the polling ended in the last phase on May 12. The commission had actually allowed the Ministry of Defence to forward the file to the appointment committee headed by the prime minister two weeks ago but the government sought its explicit permission again to be doubly sure.

Election Commission of India allowed the government to go ahead with the appointment of the country’s new army chief hours after the polling ended in the last phase on May 12. The commission had actually allowed the Ministry of Defence to forward the file to the appointment committee headed by the prime minister two weeks ago but the government sought its explicit permission again to be doubly sure.

Has the commission a role in appointment of the army chief in India? Certainly no, but there is no uncertainty in any mind here that the constitutional body becomes the supreme de facto government of the country as soon as elections are announced.

The commission in India does not only have all the powers that it needs to organise this biggest electoral exercise in the world, it is willing and ready to use it as well. The size of electorate in India is a colossal 810 million, ten times the one in Pakistan and multiplying it with the geographical, linguistic and other diversity factors, the sheer mechanics of the exercise become mind boggling. Yet, the commission comes out victorious from this labyrinth as the participants generally do not contest its impartiality or capacity. The commission has faced some criticism in the present hotly contested elections but that has largely focused on it being not quick in responding to calls for action.

From Pakistan’s point of view where the commission is mistrusted and always deeply embroiled in controversies, the more surprising is the fact that the commissions in both countries enjoy roughly the same constitutional powers. There are however some differences as well.

“The courts can’t intervene in our working in any manner. The constitution guarantees this non-interference that many subsequent court rulings have further reinforced. That gives us the required agility,” said S.Y. Quraishi, the former Chief Election Commissioner of India in an interview with Dawn in New Delhi.

“Then we assume total control over bureaucracy, cutting its links with the political governments completely. We purge the entire state machinery of political bias by ordering transfers and postings following our own assessments of each individual functionary or in response to complaints,” says Mr Quraishi. He adds: “The commission invites every party individually in every area and each of them gives us their lists of suspected, biased functionaries. We act after summary inquires.”

“We also insulate the officials appointed to perform election duties from their political masters. No minister or chief minister is allowed to call them for a meeting. We suspend them even if we come to know that the chief minister has talked to them on phone,” says the former commissioner who belonged to Indian Civil Service.

Quraishi whose book on Indian elections ‘An undocumented wonder’ has been published last month believes that once under the commission, the government functionaries have no option but to behave. “They are our main force but we cannot trust their impartiality and have put in place many safeguards,” says Quraishi elaborating that as a last measure, “we order repolling following the report of our own observers or complaints from candidates of say booth capturing.” The four-day gap between the last polling and result announcement is to facilitate repolling before the final tabulation.

The commission in India does not require army to perform any election duty and in fact keeps it “miles away from the process”. It instead lists police, paramilitary and other armed forces for assistance and once they are assigned they come under the commission’s ‘command’.

Quraishi is all for the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and rubbishes the criticism on this “illiterate-friendly” machine that has replaced paper ballots in India. The machine was first introduced in one state on experimental basis as early as 1984 but it was provided the requisite legal cover only in 1998. It was then put to use in all the state assembly elections before being used for the entire Lok Sabha elections in 2004 for the first time. He believes that EVMs not only save the commission from the hassle of printing paper ballots, it also makes the contentious counting process as easy as one, two, three. “Another matchless advantage is obliteration of votes rejected for being marked erroneously,” says Quraishi. (According to a FAFEN report the number of rejected votes in 2013 elections in Pakistan exceeded the margin of victory on 35 of the 266 contested seats.) The commission in India is also experimenting with introduction of biometric system for voter identification.

‘The money power’ however is the biggest and burgeoning challenge that the commission is faced with. It not only places a legal bar on the candidates to not spend beyond the prescribed limit, it makes them open separate bank accounts dedicated to their campaign expenses. “Then our flying squads videograph the campaign activities and maintain a shadow account of each candidate,” says Quraishi. “The candidates have to submit their expense accounts three times during the 14-day campaign and they are not allowed to report the cost of a cup of tea that they offered to their supporters at rupees two if its market rate is rupees seven.” The commission carries a list of the market prices of all the items that a candidate can possibly use in his/her campaign and has powers of disqualifying them on wrong reporting.

The commission places a ban on the movement of cash, intended to be distributed among voters as bribery. It has raided suspected places, including ambulance vans and coffins in funeral processions, to check violations and confiscated currency worth hundreds of crores of rupees during current elections. The banks are directed to report any ‘extraordinary withdrawal of cash’. The commission also bans movement of liquor that is another favourite item of bribery for voters.

Quraishi believes that the use of money in elections is the fountain head of corruption in governance system and has led efforts to check it and the best they could do is to make “the life miserable for them”.

The commission has stretched itself to the limits. It has very encouraging stories to tell but aren’t all its victories pyrrhic? “The challenge is formidable,” admits Quraishi, adding; “the crime is always ahead and they keep finding ways to get around but rest assured the commission is at it. The best thing about the Indian election body is that it learns quickly, devises new creative solutions and implements them. Every election is better than the previous and the best ever in Indian history.”

Pakistan, Iran vow to strengthen ties

Agencies

TEHRAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei and discussed with him issues of mutual interest. They agreed to work jointly for development of the region.

TEHRAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei and discussed with him issues of mutual interest. They agreed to work jointly for development of the region.

The prime minister said Pakistan-Iran relations had historical perspective and the two countries had common traditions. “These common bonds make our relationship special,” he added.

Ayatollah Khamenei said the people of Pakistan were as dear to him as the people of Iran. “I will offer special prayers so that our relationship reaches new bounds and heights.”

Mr Sharif’s visit, he said, would further boost brotherly relations.

The Ayatollah urged Pakistan to avoid US influence and build stronger ties with Iran. He blamed the US for sectarian violence in the Iranian-Pakistani border region that has strained relations.

He accused the United States and “some other governments” of plotting a rift between the two neighbours. “We do have information on certain movements along our long borders, with some trying to create insecurity, and we cannot believe these are unprovoked and accidental,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in comments carried by Iranian media.

He said the United States was among the countries trying to create gulf between Iran and Pakistan. Besides the US, other governments were also at work, he said referring to a recent spate of kidnappings and cross-border raids in Iran’s easternmost province of Sistan-Baluches­tan that have generally been claimed by Jaish al-Adl rebels.

The kidnapping of five Iranian border guards early this year brought Tehran and Islamabad to the verge of a conflict after Iranian Revolutionary guards threatened to chase the rebels inside Pakistan.

Relations have thawed, however, since four of the border guards were released under ambiguous circumstances, although the fifth was reported killed in captivity.

On his first official visit to Iran since his election as prime minister last May, Nawaz Sharif has pressed for steps to boost bilateral trade. It has sunk by one third to around $1 billion in recent years as Iran came under increasingly restrictive international sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme.

“We hope to see during your tenure a good movement in bilateral relations. One must not wait for permission from others to develop relations,” Ayatollah Khamenei told Mr Sharif, in apparent reference to the United States.

AGREEMENTS: Iran and Pakistan signed eight memoranda of understanding/agreements to enhance their cooperation in various fields. One of the agreements related to extradition of prisoners. It was signed by Iran’s Justice Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Adviser on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, according to FARS news agency.

Prime Minister Sharif visited on Monday the mausoleum of Hazrat Imam Raza in Mashad. He was received by Governor General of Khorasan Razavi province and other high officials at the airport. The prime minister joined the ‘langar’ and ate food with general public at the mausoleum, offered ‘Nawafil’ and prayed for the prosperity of Pakistan.

Mr Sharif returned to Islamabad in the evening at the end of his two-day visit.—Agencies

Gas reserves found in Sujawal

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: The Mari Petroleum Company, a joint venture of the government and the Fauji Foundation, announced on Monday a ‘significant’ gas and condensate discovery with estimated reserves of about 20 billion cubic feet (BCF) in Sujawal district of Sindh.

ISLAMABAD: The Mari Petroleum Company, a joint venture of the government and the Fauji Foundation, announced on Monday a ‘significant’ gas and condensate discovery with estimated reserves of about 20 billion cubic feet (BCF) in Sujawal district of Sindh.

“We have been blessed with a significant gas and condensate discovery in Sujawal Block’s Sujjal-1 well,” said the announcement.

The company termed the discovery significant because it was the first hydrocarbon discovery in Lower Goru Upper C-Sand in the southernmost part of the country.

It said the discovery would result in expansion of the hydrocarbon potentials for other exploration and production companies operating in the area, thus opening up the country’s prospects of tapping into new reservoirs in the region.

The work on Sujjal-1 well, the second exploratory well in Sujawal Block, was taken up on Jan 26 and drilled down to a depth of 2535m in Lower Goru Formation. As a result of testing, the well flowed gas and condensate at a rate of 13.1 MMCFD (million cubic feet per day) and 75 barrels per day (BPD), respectively, with wellhead pressure of 2477 PSI at 32/64” choke size, the company said.

It said the gas was of a good heating value of 1045 British thermal unit per cubic feet and its condensate API of 53 at 60 degree Fahrenheit.

The Sujjal well was also successfully tested at Lower Goru Upper A-Sand, which recorded a gas flow rate of 2.1mmcfd and condensate of 3.5 BPD with wellhead flowing pressure of 163 PSI at 48/64” choke size.

The company put preliminary reserves potential of about 20BCF of gas and condensate (equivalent) within C-Sand interval whose value, based on currently applicable gas price translated into rupee, was estimated at Rs11.70 billion.

The Sujjal discovery will be a new source of indigenous energy supply and is expected to significantly add to the nation’s hydrocarbon reserve base, consequently contributing to a reduction in gap between the energy demand and supply.

The Sujawal Block was awarded to the company as operator with 100 per cent working interest in June 2006. The company drilled its first exploration well, Sujawal X-1, in 2010, which led to a gas and condensate discovery. The discovery has since been brought on stream supplying gas to the Sui Southern Gas Company and condensate to the Pakistan Refinery and Pak-Arab Refinery.

It said the Sujjal-1 discovery further improved its high success rate.

At present the company operates two development and production leases and nine exploration blocks and also has joint venture interest in six other exploration blocks.

Govt offers to set up all-party electoral reforms committee

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: A day after a big protest in Islamabad by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) over alleged rigging in last year’s general elections, the government offered an all-party committee in the National Assembly on Monday to propose electoral reforms.

ISLAMABAD: A day after a big protest in Islamabad by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) over alleged rigging in last year’s general elections, the government offered an all-party committee in the National Assembly on Monday to propose electoral reforms.

The offer came at the fag-end of the day’s sitting when the PTI hardly expected it after an earlier clash with the ruling PML-N — and gave no immediate response — when the Minister for Planning and Development, Ahsan Iqbal, cited political stability and continuity as an essential requirement for economic progress.

Though the minister slammed unspecified “some people playing politics on cue from (sources) known to all” and holding street demonstrations against “so-called rigging”, he said any defects in the electoral system could be removed through dialogue.

“I invite you to appoint a committee of all parties in this house — a committee on electoral reforms — so we could give people a strong democracy,” he said.

The minister did not elaborate on his suggestion, which seemed to be in response to the main demand put forth by PTI chairman Imran Khan for the constitution of a new election commission in a speech to the overnight party rally near the Parliament House to mark the first anniversary of the May 11 elections, which he says were massively rigged to deliver a victory to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N.

Mr Iqbal made the proposal while responding to a call-attention notice from four members of the opposition Jamaat-i-Islami over perceived non-development of under-developed districts, and he credited his party’s nearly one-year-old government with what he called a halt to an economic slide.

Sunday’s PTI rally, which coincided with rallies addressed in many towns across the country by the Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Allam Tahirul Qadri through a video link from Canada, figured very little during the day’s house proceedings, although PTI and PML-N lawmakers were engaged in rival desk-thumping and shouting when PTI’s Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who defeated Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan from a nearby Rawalpindi district constituency in the last elections, complained of a breach of his privilege over his suspension from the house for 10 months.

Sardar Ayaz Sadiq reserved his ruling over the issue, which he said he would deliver at “an appropriate time” and “to the best of my ability” after a long discussion during which the PTI member’s demand for referring the matter to the house’s privileges committee got support from opposition leader Khursheed Ahmed Shah of the PPP and Qaumi Watarn Party leader Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao. But he was opposed by the Minister for Kashmir Affairs, Chaudhry Birjess Tahir.

The PTI member, who traced a history of political rivalry and legal battles with Chaudhry Nisar since 2002 without naming the interior minister, said his and the house’s privilege had been breached by the National Assembly’s failure to intimate him or the Election Commission about a Supreme Court order for the suspension of his membership for allegedly possessing a fake university degree until another court bench restored him last month.

The speaker acknowledged that his secretariat received a direct intimation from the Supreme Court of its order about suspension, but said neither had the PTI member nor his party raised the matter in the house after the Supreme Court’s first order.

The member argued that the constitution did not allow a constituency to remain unrepresented for more than 120 days and asked whether he would be considered absent for 10 months due to his suspension?

Mr Birjees Tahir called it a “unique case of a fake degree” and recalled previous change of party loyalties by the PTI member, provoking protests from the other sides.

Chaudhry Nisar remained in the house but did not speak, leaving Mr Tahir to bear the brunt of the PTI anger.

A Hindu member of the ruling party, Romesh Kumar, caused a stir in the house when he protested against what he called the burning of the copies of the Hindu holy book Gita and the Sikh holy book Guru Garanth Sahib in the Shikarpur district of Sindh three days ago.

He said it was the sixth such incident in Sindh over the past six months. He also complained of allegedly forced conversions of young Hindu girls to be married off to Muslims. Excesses had forced about 5,000 Hindus to leave Pakistan every year, he added.

Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, a government ally, lent strong support to Mr Kumar’s demand for a debate on the matter as he also proposed that the house pass joint resolutions to condemn activities against minority communities. He also called for a probe into the May 12, 2007, massacre of more than 40 people in shootouts in Karachi during a visit by the then suspended chief justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry.

No resolution came, though Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmed later told the house that the ruling party would have supported it. He called the May 12, 2007, incident as a “back day” in Pakistan’s history.

The minister of state also assured the house earlier that the federal government would do its utmost and would also ask the provincial governments to ensure protection of the rights of minorities as guaranteed in the constitution and guard against any excesses.

Two new polio cases detected

Dawn Report

KARACHI / MIRAMSHAH: Two new polio cases have been detected in the country.

KARACHI / MIRAMSHAH: Two new polio cases have been detected in the country.

An 18-month-old girl of a family which had shifted to Karachi from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in recent months is the latest victim of polio virus, sources in the Sindh health department and Prime Minister’s Polio Cell confirmed to Dawn on Monday.

They identified the girl as Hafsa, daughter of Marjan, a resident of Manghopir’s Sultanabad area, administratively in Gadap Town, where two cases were reported early this year.

Five polio cases have been found in Sindh so far this year, all of them in Karachi.

The other polio case reported on Monday is from North Waziristan, which is home to 160,000 unvaccinated children since August 2012.

The agency has recorded 41cases in the countrywide tally of 61 in 2014 so far. Six cases have been found in other areas of Fata, which is directly governed by the federal government.

Nine cases have been found in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa — five in Bannu and four in Peshawar.

Meanwhile, the army has started giving oral polio vaccine to children in North Waziristan for the first time since the Taliban banned vaccination there, according to sources.

The army has been holding free medical camps where children are being administered polio vaccines. Residents said people also brought vaccines from Bannu to Miramshah and other parts of the agency.

In Boya, Dosal and Esha villages, children have been vaccinated in the camps where people said they had not seen vaccinators since the Taliban banned the campaign.

Local authorities said that they had also planned medical camps in Kajoorai, Razmak, Dattakhel and Tall to offer diagnostic and treatment services to people by trained doctors and staff of the army.

Govt wants SC to allow re-appropriation of development funds

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to seek Supreme Court’s permission for re-appropriation of development funds before the end of the fiscal year.

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to seek Supreme Court’s permission for re-appropriation of development funds before the end of the fiscal year.

The government believes that 38 ongoing development projects, including the ambitious metro bus service and some power sector schemes, will be adversely affected if it was not allowed to immediately re-appropriate Rs12.5 billion.

The government filed on Monday an application in the apex court seeking early hearing on a petition it had filed on Feb 8 this year for review of its Dec 5, 2013 judgment on the prime minister’s discretionary funds.

In the judgment a bench headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry had held that the Constitution did not permit allocation of funds for MNAs/MPAs/notables at the sole discretion of the prime minister. The court declared the exercise illegal and unconstitutional and asked the government to develop a procedure for allocation of such funds.

Although the verdict allowed supplementary grants, it asked the government to strictly follow the procedures provided in Articles 80 to 84 of the Constitution and the relevant rules.

The judgment was issued on a suo motu case relating to doling out of Rs47 billion by former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf under the Peoples Works Programme (PWP-II).

The PML-N government’s application sought hearing on its review petition on Thursday and submitted a list of 38 development projects of Rs12.5bn for urgently needed re-appropriation.

Pursuant to the judgment under review, the progress on many projects of national importance had been put on hold for want of access to funds through re-appropriation, it argued.

Some of the projects needing re-appropriation are: Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro bus service (Rs7.6bn), Karachi coastal power project — K2/K3 — (Rs2bn) being pursued by the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, 132kv Thatta-Mirpur Sakro transmission line (Rs816 million), Nai Gaj dam in Sindh (Rs700m), construction of 132kv grid station and feeding transmission line at New Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad (Rs332.61m), Ghabir dam (Rs200m), construction of 100 dams in Balochistan (Rs200m), water distribution network based on Khanpur dam water source phase-III (Rs200m), 132kv grid station at Kohlu in Balochistan (Rs57.8m), construction of a model prison in Sector H-16, Islamabad (Rs50m), construction of a non-residential building and other facilities for the Force Headquarters Scouts and 113 Wing in Gilgit (Rs33.685m), Sialkot Business and Commerce Centre and turbines and power plants equipment manufacturing facility (Rs30m), revival of Cutlery Institute of Pakistan in Wazirabad (Rs1.8m), Faisalabad Garment City Company (Rs3.8m), replacement of air-conditioning units at the Supreme Court branch registry and judges rest-house at Bath Islands in Karachi (Rs4.4m) and a project for technical assistance to access to justice programme (Rs5m).

The Planning Commission has already disbursed Rs7.6bn for Islamabad portion of the metro bus project, even though it was not part of the PSDP approved by the National Economic Council and the parliament.

The government’s application argued that allocations made in the annual budget for various heads/projects were based purely on projections. During the course of a financial year, some projects face implementation issues which hamper progress and allocated funds remain unutilised.

It said that as per financial rules, the ministries, divisions or executing agencies recommended diversion of funds from slow-moving projects to fast-track projects and, in certain cases, implementing agencies requested for additional funds through re-appropriation within their allocated budget for a year mainly to complete fast-track projects.

At a PSDP review meeting in March this year, the application said, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) said that if the policy of re-appropriation was allowed within their allocated budget for the fiscal year 2013-14, a total of 55 projects would be completed. If permission was not granted, only seven projects would be completed, the HEC added.

The application also referred to the calamitous events which wreaked havoc in Sindh’s Tharparkar district and required urgent utilisation of funds to supplement the Rs1bn relief package announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt also filed an application requesting the Supreme Court to allow him to argue the review petition in place of Shah Khawar who has been elevated to the Lahore High Court as judge.

Pakistan, Iran to go ahead with gas project

AFP

TEHRAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed on Sunday to continue with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

TEHRAN: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani agreed on Sunday to continue with the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.

During a meeting with the Iranian president at Saadabad Palace, Mr Sharif said he had come to Tehran with his team to resolve all issues which were obstructing the project.

Both the leaders reiterated their commitment to increasing bilateral trade.

The prime minister said there was a lot of scope to increase the trade volume to $5 billion, adding that relations between the two countries were bound by historical and religious factors.

“I am here to open a new chapter in Pakistan-Iran relationship,” he said, adding: “As a prime minister, I first visited Iran in 1999 and have always found the Iranians more affectionate on every visit to the country.”

President Rouhani said Iran-Pakistan relations had historical connections. Apart from being neighbours, the two countries have common traditions and relations based on the Holy Quran and the traditions of Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Mr Sharif’s visit, he added, would further boost brotherly relations.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Balochistan Governor Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Adviser to Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and Prime Minister’s Special Assistant Tariq Fatimi attended the meeting.

Mr Sharif told the Iranian president that some elements were trying to sabotage Pakistan-Iran relations, but they would be dealt with firmly and their designs would be thwarted.

“We want security for development and development for security,” the prime minister added.

President Rouhani said peace in the region was their common goal. Iran will support Pakistan in development and becoming more secure.

The two leaders also discussed border security and agreed that better management and improved security measures would increase trade and strengthen relationship and cooperation.

Prime Minister Sharif invited President Rouhani to visit Pakistan which the latter accepted.

Earlier upon arrival, the prime minister was given a warm welcome at the Mehrabad International Airport. He was received by Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayyabnia.

An official welcoming ceremony was held at Saadabad Palace.

The prime minister also held a meeting with First Vice-President Eshaq Jehangiri.

Prime Minister Sharif is visiting Iran on the invitation of President Rouhani.

During the two-day visit, a number of memoranda of understanding and agreements on cooperation in various fields would be signed.

President Rouhani said Iran was ready to develop “road and railway networks between the two countries… as well as electric grids” in order to bolster economic ties, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The visit comes amid tensions between the neighbours following the kidnapping in February of five Iranian soldiers by Sunni extremists. Tehran says the soldiers — four of whom returned home after being held for two months — were taken across the border into Pakistan, a claim Islamabad denies.

Relations have also been strained following an announcement in February by the Nawaz Sharif government that Pakistan was suspending work on the $7.5billion gas pipeline project.

IRNA quoted Mr Sharif as saying that his government “is determined to remove obstacles” in the way of the gas pipeline.

He also said that Islamabad would cooperate with Tehran “to eliminate Jaish-ul Adl”, the rebel group which had captured the soldiers.—APP/AFP

Four killed in Peshawar suicide blast

Ali Hazrat Bacha

PESHAWAR: At least four people were killed and nine others, two children among them, injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a mosque located inside the Shah Tehmas Khan Stadium in Peshawar.

PESHAWAR: At least four people were killed and nine others, two children among them, injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near a mosque located inside the Shah Tehmas Khan Stadium in Peshawar.

The stadium houses a registration office for internally displaced persons where registration of IDPs was in progress. The blast damaged a portion of the mosque.

Peshawar SSP Najeeb-ur-Rehman told newsmen that the suicide bomber, posing as a displaced person, tried to enter the place, but was intercepted by security men. Having failed to reach his target, he detonated his vest. The SSP said that parts of the bomber’s body had been found at the place.

An eyewitness who identified himself as Shamsher

Afridi said people did not expect such an incident on their return to homes. “Forced out of our villages we have suffered heavily over the past years and it was a good opportunity for us to return, but it seems that the situation remains uncertain for peace-loving people.”

He said the displaced people had come to the registration office to see the lists of people going back to their hometown in Tirah Valley.

“As we reached the place a huge blast took place, but we escaped unhurt.”

He said the blast was followed by firing by security men. People were crying in pain and running here and there in panic, he said.

Workers of 1122, Al Khidmat and Edhi Foundation personnel carried out rescue work and took the dead and the injured to Lady Reading Hospital.

An official of the hospital said three injured people had died on way to the hospital, while an elderly man succumbed to his wounds later.

He said most of the injured had suffered multiple injuries and they were shifted to surgical and orthopaedic wards.

The dead were identified as Mumtaz Khan, Jamal Khan, Badaam and Jamal.

The injured included Inam, Sabz Ali, Zakir, Taj Mohammad, Shakeel, Sarfraz, Ishaq, Sameer Khan and Abdul Amin.

According to the bomb disposal unit, the suicide bomber carried 8-10 kg of explosives containing ball-bearings and other material.

An official of the political administration of Khyber Agency told Dawn that the government had started verification of IDPs of Tirah Valley and people going back to their areas had been enrolled so that they could be provided with food and other items.

He said Khasadar Force personnel had been deployed to avert any untoward incident.

A case has been registered at Faqirabad police station under the Anti-terrorism Act.

Political agent of Khyber Agency Shahab Ali Shah announced compensation of Rs300,000 for families of each deceased and Rs50,000 for each injured person.

AFP adds: Senior police official Faisal Mukhtar said the dead included a tribal policeman.

According to Shahid Afridi, a fire-fighter who was there at the time of the blast, a man in his twenties entered the stadium and started firing with a pistol.

“The security forces retaliated and then there was an explosion and I fell to the ground,” said Afridi, who sustained leg injuries.

Muzafaruddin Sadiq, head of Lady Reading Hospital, said: “We have five dead bodies and six injured,” adding one person remained in critical condition.

Thousands of people from Tirah Valley fled their homes after the military began an operation against Al Qaeda-affiliated militant groups in 2011.

PTI demands a new ECP

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Reiterating his demands with regard to the curtailment of electoral rigging, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan added some spice to mix by calling for the resignation of all current members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), on Sunday.

ISLAMABAD: Reiterating his demands with regard to the curtailment of electoral rigging, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan added some spice to mix by calling for the resignation of all current members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), on Sunday.

While it was another good showing for the PTI, there was a marked difference in the kind of crowd that attended this rally and the people who used to frequent the party’s earlier rallies in Islamabad.

Last year on May 9, the PTI ended its election campaign at the same place with a rally that was addressed by Mr Khan, albeit from his hospital bed. Most people who turned out were from educated, urban middle-class families. This time around, there were far fewer women, nor were the arrangements adequate for the few that showed up. And those who did attend were not happy with the organisers. In fact, many women, fed up with the unfriendly environment, were seen walking out of the venue while PTI leaders were still making speeches.

“This rally lacks the usual colour which the PTI is known for, especially in Islamabad,” noted Zafar, a government official who lives near the venue. He has seen many rallies in his time here, but admitted that it was impressive how many people an opposition party had managed to rally.

This time around, a major chunk of the crowd came from the PTI-ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, although party candidates and office-bearers from Punjab also came along with their constituents.

As always, party flags were available in abundance and provided to participants upon arrival. Right up until 5pm, the official time for the procession, there were only a few thousand people at the venue. But things picked up as night fell and key party leaders began to deliver their speeches.

Although the rally was primarily a protest against ‘fraudulent elections’, Mr Khan peppered his speech with pot-shots at the leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.

Dressed in his traditional shalwar kameez, Mr Khan asked the Sharif brothers and Finance Minister Senator Ishaq Dar for details of their foreign investments. “How come you can ask others to invest in Pakistan, when you and your families have businesses abroad,” he asked.

Anomalies in the ongoing Rawalpindi metro bus project, repaying the circular debt and the government’s apparent lack of interest in bringing money back from foreign banks featured in his speech. However, his primary thrust was still the alleged rigging of the 2013 general elections. “We have gathered here to ensure that in the future, the mandate of the masses cannot be stolen. This is not possible under the present ECP. Therefore, I am demanding the resignation of all current ECP members,” Mr Khan said.

The PTI chief declared that his party would protest outside ECP offices every Friday until their demands were met. He also announced that the party’s next rally would be held in Faisalabad on May 23.

Referring to the ongoing tiff between a media house and the military establishment, Mr Khan positioned himself firmly behind the latter, saying nobody should be allowed to “play with national institutions”.

Before Mr Khan’s concluding speech, PTI vice president Shah Mehmood Qureshi called the rally a referendum against the government’s failure. Party president Javed Hashmi referred to the gathering as “an eye-opener for PTI’s political opponents”.

Always the maverick, Sheikh Rashid announced that if Imran Khan wanted, the people were ready to put an end to what he called a “fake National Assembly”, which came into being as a result of the ‘fraud elections’. “The PML-N government’s engine has become rickety and they cannot give the required performance.”

Charter of demands

In a statement issued after the rally, PTI spokesperson listed the nine demands made by Khan at the rally.

The resignation of all present election commissioners and reform of the system of selection of chairman and members of the ECP.

The immediate verification of voters’ thumbprints in the four constituencies identified by PTI, within two weeks.

All perpetrators guilty of rigging the 2013 elections be brought to justice.

All returning officers must be legally accountable to the ECP.

Post-election appeals must be adjudicated in the stipulated time of 120 days.

All future elections must be held under biometric system and electronic voting machines must be introduced.

Ensuring genuinely neutral caretakers; they must not be allowed to hold any public office for at least 2 years after their stint in the interim government.

Implementation of the Supreme Court decision allowing overseas Pakistanis the right to vote.

All parties to form a committee and come up with a comprehensive electoral reform package, to be legislated by parliament.

Qadri wants revolution to change govt

Aamir Yasin

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri on Sunday called for changing the government and the prevalent system through revolution, calling the present set-up ‘unconstitutional’.

RAWALPINDI: Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri on Sunday called for changing the government and the prevalent system through revolution, calling the present set-up ‘unconstitutional’.

“We are in favour of revolution instead of changing the government within the parliament as the house has been elected in violation of Article 218, Clause B of the Constitution,” Mr Qadri said while addressing protest rallies in different cities of Punjab, including Lahore and Rawalpindi, through video-link from Canada.

He said there was no democracy in the country and the parliament was being run in an unconstitutional way, adding that such a government should be immediately replaced by one that turns the country into a welfare state.

“People are feeling insecure as the law and order situation has deteriorated. They are committing suicide and even selling their children for bread. A total of 50,000 people have died during the last few years but neither the present nor the previous governments have taken responsibility,” he said.

The PAT chief said that for 42 years, three PPP governments and three PML-N administrations had ruled the country, but never did any good for the people.

He said there was no merit in the country. “The poor have become poorer while the rich richer. The ruling elite have built palaces in Raiwind whereas the poor do not even have shelter from scorching heat and chilly winter,” he said.

Mr Qadri said the ruling elite did not want to empower the common man which was why it was against creation of new provinces. “There is a dire need to create 30 new provinces in the country to transfer power to the grass roots,” he said.

He said education and health were responsibility of the state and the constitution clearly defined it as such. “But, we spend a meagre amount on education while provision of health facilities is still a dream in the country,” he said.

“To end corruption, unemployment and inflation, there is a dire need to launch a movement. The people of the country will launch this movement and the rallies in Punjab prove that the days of the present system and ruling Junta are numbered,” he said.

Mr Qadri said he would soon return from Canada to lead a movement against the government and to change the system. “I will soon start a movement for the welfare of the people and improvement of the system where people can live in a safe and secure environment and enjoy all basic rights as enshrined in the constitution,” he said.

What does Imran want?

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s charter of demands, which he presented during his speech on Sunday night, has brought little clarity on what he wants.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan’s charter of demands, which he presented during his speech on Sunday night, has brought little clarity on what he wants.

When Khan announced the rally in Islamabad some time ago, there was considerable confusion on what he intended to achieve.

Was it a recount on four constituencies? Or did he want a re-election on them? Or as some critics alleged, Khan was looking to derail the system?

The PTI leadership insisted in more than one speech that the party was simply looking for justice, which it had been unable to get from the judicial system — its petitions in the election tribunals and the courts had yielded no results.

But then what could the government do, which was the target of its rally in Islamabad, if the courts were — as Khan alleged — not providing justice?

No one provided an answer.

However, Khan’s speech has simply added to the confusion.

He has demanded a range of immediate, mid- and long-term actions that range from recounting in the four constituencies to the removal of the existing members of the election commission to punishment for those who rigged the 2013 election to selection of an impartial caretaker set-up in the future.

Apart from the demand for a re-count in the four constituencies, it is difficult to understand why the PTI needs to plan a series of rallies across the country to press for its demands (Khan announced that the next rally would be held in Faisalabad at the end of the month).

The PTI now enjoys a strong presence in the parliament — why does it not introduce changes in the law to strengthen or reform the electoral process and the Election Commission?

Why resort to street power instead?

In addition, it is also not clear what some of his demands mean?

For instance, the 18th Amendment now ensures that the selection of the caretaker set-ups at the centre and in the provinces is now decided by the government and the opposition jointly.

Is Khan now implying that this consensus is insufficient? It seems so. But what more does he want to see in place? And once again, why is he not using the parliament to highlight and push for these issues?

In fact, the only point that Khan made which had some appeal was when he said with reference to the caretaker set-up that those who accepted a position in an interim set-up should not be allowed accept any government position for the next two years.

Clearly, he said this in reference to Najam Sethi, who after his stint as caretaker chief minister of Punjab during the election hopped across to Qadhafi Stadium to supervise Pakistani cricket. However, there was little else of practical value in Khan’s speech.

Similarly, the demand for granting voting rights to overseas Pakistanis can and should be brought to the parliament. It is hard to fathom why any political party would oppose it? Such a move does not necessitate a countrywide protest?

No senior PTI leader was available after the rally to explain why their chief held a rally to present these demands despite its strong presence in the parliament.

This further lent credence to earlier rumours that this rally was announced in a hurry by the PTI leadership without much planning or forethought.

No wonder then that Rana Sanaullah, the PML-N law minister in Punjab and a vocal critic of the PTI, made sense for once when he said in more than one interview to a television channel that, “the only available forum for these changes is the parliament and the party should utilise its presence in the house for the purpose. There was no need to gather people from all over the country.”

It appears that Khan is still to evolve from his role as a political outsider to a politician who has now been elected to represent the people of Pakistan in the parliament.

IMF to release $550m by June 1

Kalbe Ali

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded negotiations on Saturday for grant of the fourth tranche of $550 million under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded negotiations on Saturday for grant of the fourth tranche of $550 million under the Extended Fund Facility (EFF).

Speaking at a press briefing at his ministry, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said the major part of the negotiations was held in Dubai, but the final leg was conducted in Islamabad. After approval of the IMF Board, Pakistan would receive the amount by June 1, he added.

The IMF staff mission, led by Jeffrey Franks, was also present along with the finance minister, as were senior officials, including Finance Secretary Dr Waqar Masood, State Bank Governor Ashraf Wathra and Federal Board of Revenue Chairman Tariq Bajwa.

Senator Dar said Pakistan would get $2.2bn from the IMF during the current financial year, but added that it would also be repaying $3bn to the Fund, of which $1bn would be arranged from the country’s own resources.

He said the overall economy was on track, but there would be a shortfall in revenue collection. Therefore, the new target has been set at Rs2,275bn against the original benchmark of Rs2,345bn.

“There are genuine reasons for it and one of them is the rupee’s rising value against the dollar that has reduced import duties,” he added.

Revenue collection posted a 15 per cent increase during the last 10 months, reaching Rs1,745bn compared to Rs1,509bn during the same period last year. However, the minister added that the revised revenue collection target had been set at Rs2,275bn against the original target of Rs2,345bn for 2013-14.

DELICATE BALANCE: The head of the IMF mission, Jeffrey Franks, lauded the economic performance of the government, but at the same time suggested the State Bank should maintain a conservative monetary policy.

“Economic indicators are generally improving, with growth gaining momentum, external finance improving and credit to the private sector rising. But at the same time core and headline inflation are also rising,” he said.

Mr Franks said that the State Bank needed to maintain a delicate balance between growth and inflationary pressures, as the target should focus on additional reduction in inflation towards 6-7pc.

He said that the mission welcomed the government’s efforts to deepen its support to the poor through the Be­na­zir Income Support Prog­r­amme, and the commitment to ensure timely payments to 4.7m eligible families.

However, he added that the target on net domestic assets of the central bank was missed by a small margin, but the reform programmes remained broadly on track.

“Fiscal performance was strong during the first nine months of the year, but the government recognises an emerging revenue shortfall in April and is committed to taking the necessary compensatory actions to assure attainment of the end-year deficit target,” he added.

The IMF mission head praised the government’s efforts to broaden the tax net and develop a more efficient tax system, power sector reforms and the privatisation programmes.

“The mission supports the government’s ambitious privatisation agenda and encourages stronger reform efforts in loss-making companies remaining in the public sector,” Mr Franks added.

Earlier, Finance Minister Dar said the IMF had praised the economic policies of the government for its efforts to rectify imbalances committed during the previous regime.

He claimed that “prudent policies” had killed speculations that the country would face collapse before the beginning of the new financial year.

Mr Dar said the government aimed at increasing Gross Domestic Product, containing inflation, reducing poverty, creating job opportunities and putting the economy on a strong footing.

He presented an overview of the economy and said that the GDP growth had been recorded at 4.1pc during the last six months. Major push came from the agriculture sector as it posted a 2pc growth against the 1.4pc it achieved during the same period last year.

Similarly, Mr Dar added, the industrial sector grew by 5.4pc during the period under review, 2.9pc more than what it was last year. Services sector posted a 4.5pc growth compared to the first six months of 2013.

“The government plans to increase GDP growth target in the next three years to 4pc plus, 5pc plus and 6pc plus, respectively,” he said, adding that the “IMF had earlier projected a 3.1pc GDP but now it has revised it to 3.3pc while we are projecting it to 4pc during the current financial year.”

The minister said inflation over the past 10 months was registered at 8.7pc, but the IMF had projected it at 10pc in its second review. “However, we will further bring it down to 9pc, ”the finance minister said with confidence.

“We expect that by the end of the current financial year, inflation would be brought down to 8.8pc,” he added.

The minister said in the banking sector the IMF had observed that non-performing loans had decreased while the fiscal deficit would remain below 6pc by the close of the current fiscal.

He also said the government had already provided Rs232bn subsidy this year on electricity to lifeline users and vulnerable section of society using up to 200-300 units.

Mr Dar reiterated his commitment to consolidating foreign exchange reserves to $15bn by Sept 30, saying that the reserves had already reached around $13bn by Saturday.

Prize bonds go missing

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

KARACHI: All organisations concerned washed their hands of the theft of prize bonds worth a staggering Rs30 million on Saturday.

KARACHI: All organisations concerned washed their hands of the theft of prize bonds worth a staggering Rs30 million on Saturday.

The prize bonds went missing during transportation from Lahore to Karachi on a train.

A spokesman for the State Bank of Pakistan said the Karachi Express brought several boxes of prize bonds from the Punjab capital. After the train pulled up at Karachi’s Cantt Station, it was found that one of the boxes having bonds worth Rs30 million was missing, the spokesman said.

The matter was reported to the authorities concerned.

“The State Bank has cancelled all the missing bonds immediately as the number of each missing document is already in our record,” he said. “So there is no loss to the exchequer and the bonds in question are now worthless piece of paper. Investigations are underway with assistance of the railway authorities.”

Imran warns against police action

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has accused the government of launching a crackdown against his party’s workers ahead of their planned protest in Islamabad, warning the rulers they would be responsible if “democracy is harmed by police action”.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan has accused the government of launching a crackdown against his party’s workers ahead of their planned protest in Islamabad, warning the rulers they would be responsible if “democracy is harmed by police action”.

Speaking at an impromptu press conference at his Bani Gala residence on Saturday, Khan alleged that the government, through the local administrations in various cities — particularly in Punjab — was harassing PTI workers and transporters who had agreed to provide vehicles to them.

“Democracy will be at risk if the government attempts to stop PTI workers from taking part in the protest,” warned Khan, encouraging PTI workers to reach the venue, come what may.

Khan said his party workers could react if any attempt was made to stop them by force. It was the party’s democratic right to hold this rally, after finding all legal doors closed, he said.

“You don’t know our workers. If you try to stop them and use batons then you (the government) will be responsible for any reaction and disorder,” he stated.

The federal government had given a conditional go-ahead to the rally, which the interior minister says will be closely guarded.

Khan wondered why the rulers were afraid for their offices, when his party had not made any demand for fresh elections. “We’ve only asked for a recount in four constituencies,” he said.

He alleged that the PML-N was not in a habit of playing with neutral umpires. “I introduced neutral umpires in cricket and I will introduce them in the electoral system as well”, he vowed, asking other political parties to cooperate with him in this struggle for Pakistan’s future.

Khan said the PML-N had marched alongside his party in the movement for the restoration of the judiciary and called on the PML-N to join hands to make the Election Commission truly independent.

“If you cannot support us, then at least do not block our way,” he said in remarks directed towards Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

“If those who rigged the elections are not punished then there will be no use of any future elections”, he said.

Khan said that he would present a charter of demands in Sunday’s public meeting and would also suggest a timeline for its implementation.

He also criticized the government for allegedly wasting tax-payers’ money on TV and newspaper advertisements that highlighted the government’s achievements.

Calling the government ‘cowards’, he said: “What kind of elected representatives are they who do not have the courage to face the people?”

He also brushed aside reports that there was a security threat to him or leaders of his party during the public meeting. Calling it a part of the government’s campaign to prevent people from taking part in the public meeting, he declared, “There is no security threat. I will be at D-Chowk and you all should be there too,” he said.

Earlier in the day, PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi held a press conference at the party’s central office in Islamabad, while Khan’s ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed held his own media talk at the National Press Club. Both accused the government of creating hurdles for party workers and attempting to sabotage the planned show on Sunday. Ahmed said he had been told by the government that there was a threat to his life but, brushing aside such concerns, he vowed to reach the venue with Imran Khan.

One year on, poll acrimony reigns

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: It was widely hailed as the first time Pakistan saw an elected government pass the helm of command over to another duly elected one. But one year on, much of the rosiness seems to have faded. The blame-game between various political parties continues and few appear to be satisfied with the electoral exercise of May 11 last year, its outcome and the pace at which election tribunals are adjudicating upon poll complaints.

ISLAMABAD: It was widely hailed as the first time Pakistan saw an elected government pass the helm of command over to another duly elected one. But one year on, much of the rosiness seems to have faded. The blame-game between various political parties continues and few appear to be satisfied with the electoral exercise of May 11 last year, its outcome and the pace at which election tribunals are adjudicating upon poll complaints.

The major political parties continue to hurl charges of electoral fraud at one another. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faces charges of rigging in Punjab, the Pakistan Peoples Party in the interior of Sindh, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in urban Sindh, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nationalist parties in Balochistan. The PTI has already given a call for a protest rally on this anniversary — but other parties have decided to stay away from what they perceive as an attempt to derail democracy.

PPP Secretary General and former Punjab governor Sardar Latif Khosa told Dawn his party believed that the whole election process in Punjab was manipulated — that it was not limited to the four constituencies the PTI wanted re-elections in.

He alleged that the entire bureaucratic apparatus in the province was biased and his party had not even been allowed to run its election campaign. “However, despite serious reservations over the electoral process, we do not want to resort to an agitation, as it can provide an opportunity to non-state actors as well as undemocratic forces,” he remarked.

Asked about the allegations against his own party of rigging polls in Sindh, Mr Khosa said the PPP was ready to face any legal challenge and claimed that his party was a victim of rigging, even in Sindh. He cited the example of the victory of PPP stalwart Aftab Shabaan Mirani as a result of recounting on 21 polling stations in Shikarpur. His view is that the elections were manipulated so that the PPP was restricted to Sindh, the PTI to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PML-N to Punjab and nationalists to Balochistan.

In the same vein, the PML-Q’s Kamil Ali Agha alleged that massive rigging was carried out in all constituencies across the country, claiming 70 to 80pc bogus voting. “It was a targeted operation meant to distribute power in all four provinces,” he remarked, alleging that the returning officers were part and parcel of the ‘operation’ and that this happened with the consent of the then chief justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who finalised the list of returning officers.

Mr Agha said that none of the 16 election petitions filed by his party’s ticket-holders had been decided yet, pointing out that legislation meant to reform the electoral system was pending in parliament and emphasising the need for the government to come forth with a clear stance.

However, the information secretary of the ruling PML-N, Mushahidullah Khan, rejected accusations against the party’s involvement in rigging in Punjab, saying it would have been impossible in the presence of a caretaker set-up that had been installed by the PPP. Moreover, he said, most of the postings and transfers before the polls took place in Punjab where even the patwaris were changed.

Mr Khan added that it was true that every party had complaints about rigging and mismanagement, but international observers had declared the May 11 polls as the most credible in the country’s electoral history.

The MQM’s Haider Abbas Rizvi complained that his party was the victim of pre-poll rigging as extremist forces had prevented it from electioneering. “We were not provided a level playing field,” he said. “Our offices were attacked and even the party’s headquarters, Nine Zero, came under attack just before the elections.”

The MQM leader criticised the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not taking notice of the huge spending on electioneering through the print and electronic media by various parties. “The ECP took notice of billboards and posters, but turned a blind eye to television commercials and newspaper advertisements,” he said.

Senator Zahid Khan of the Awami National Party (ANP) also complained that his party had not been allowed to run its election campaign by terrorists. He also alleged that while on the one hand the PTI was making a hue and cry over rigging in Punjab, on the other the party itself had been the biggest beneficiary of rigging in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

No party seems to be taking a different line. The JUI-F alleges that the PTI was allowed to win the polls, particularly in Peshawar, Kohat and Mardan divisions where, in most of the polling stations, the number of votes polled was more than the number of registered voters.

“In some cases, the rejected votes are greater than the victory margin,” said JUI-F spokesman Jan Achakzai, adding that manipulations in Form XIV (Statement of the Count) were also evident.

Poll-related complaints

The representatives of political parties are also critical of the snail-paced progress on poll-related complaints.

The 14 election tribunals established by the ECP to redress post-election disputes have failed to dispose of over one-fourth of the petitions.

The tribunals, constituted on June 3 last year, started receiving petitions from the ECP the same month. The election results were officially notified on May 22, 2013, following which the candidates were given 45 days to submit their petitions. The ECP received a total of 409 petitions. Out of these, 25 petitions were dismissed by the ECP and the remaining 384 were forwarded by it to the election tribunals.

Most of the referred petitions were moved by contesting candidates, while three petitions were filed by voters.

The Lahore tribunal, being the busiest, received 56 petitions, highlighting the high prevalence of result-related disputes. The Peshawar tribunal received 40 petitions, followed by Faisalabad with 39 petitions. Collectively, the tribunals in Lahore, Peshawar and Faisalabad received nearly one-third of the total election disputes. The Karachi tribunal received 30 petitions.

As there is no time limit for the ECP to dismiss or forward petitions, some cases remained pending for more than 120 days. The Lahore tribunal received at least two petitions as late as on Jan 29, 2014.

Independent candidates topped the list of those taking legal recourse against alleged wrongdoings in the electoral exercise by filing as many as 99 petitions. Among the political parties, the PML-N filed the maximum (66) poll-related petitions, followed by PTI (58), PPP (50), JUI-F (27), PML-Functional (18), PML-Q (16), Jamaat-i-Islami (13), ANP and Balochistan National Party (7 each) and JUI-Niazi (5).

The PML-N, the party with the highest number of seats in the National Assembly, had the highest number of petitions filed against its winning candidates. Out of the total of 384 petitions, 138 were filed against winning candidates belonging to the PML-N, mostly in Punjab (116) with 49 of them in Lahore alone. The PPP’s returned candidates were nominated in 49 petitions, mostly in Sindh.

The PTI’s candidates were nominated in 30 petitions, most of which were filed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (13 in Peshawar, five in Abbottabad and three in Dera Ismail Khan). Winners of the JUI-F were nominated in 19 petitions (mostly in Loralai, Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar) while independent candidates were collectively nominated in 78 petitions. And, as many as 22 petitions were filed against MQM candidates.

Pakistani attacked at Indian university

From the Newspaper

A Pakistani student in the Pondicherry University was attacked by three people with iron rods on Tuesday morning.

A Pakistani student in the Pondicherry University was attacked by three people with iron rods on Tuesday morning.

Police said Ali Hassan Raza, 24, a student of the Unesco Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asia Regional Cooperation at the university, was sleeping in his room at the Sir C.V. Raman Hostel when three people armed with iron rods barged into the room and attacked him at about 4am.

Raza, who attempted to defend himself, raised an alarm. He sustained injuries in his neck and back. The attackers escaped even before other students could come to his rescue. Raza underwent treatment at the Puducherry Institute of Medical Sciences and later at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research.

He lodged a complaint with the Kalapet police, who registered a case and began inquiries. The Pakistani student said the attackers were of his age and added that they might be students of the university. However, he said he did not have any enmity with other students.

By arrangement with The Times of India

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

20 injured in Rawalpindi bomb blast

Mohammad Asghar

RAWALPINDI: At least 20 people were injured, five of them seriously, when an improvised explosive device (IED) believed to be attached to a motorcycle parked near a restaurant on Gordon College Road went off on Thursday night, police and eyewitnesses said.

RAWALPINDI: At least 20 people were injured, five of them seriously, when an improvised explosive device (IED) believed to be attached to a motorcycle parked near a restaurant on Gordon College Road went off on Thursday night, police and eyewitnesses said.

Panic gripped the city because the explosion was heard far and wide.

A large number of people residing in and around the Gordon College Road area came out of their houses in panic and rushed to the bomb site.

Police personnel too rushed to the place and moved the injured to hospital with the help of volunteers.

Several motorcycles parked near the restaurant were damaged and windowpanes of the nearby shops were smashed due to the high intensity of the explosion.

According to preliminary analyses made by police and bomb disposal squad personnel, the IED was attached to a motorcycle parked outside the restaurant.

City Police Officer Humayun Bashir Tarar said the apparent target of the bomb attack was the owner of the restaurant who had been receiving threats.

“Yes, it could be linked to extortion demands because a similar attempt was made on the life of owner of a restaurant in Islamabad,” Mr Tarar said.

Personnel of the bomb disposal squad said the IED weighed about 1kg and was attached to a motorbike.

They quoted some witnesses as saying that a teenager was seen going away after parking the motorcycle near the eatery.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Hundreds feared dead as ferry sinks in Bangladesh

AFP

DHAKA: A heavily-laden ferry capsized and sank in central Bangladesh on Thursday after being caught in a storm, leaving at least 10 people dead and hundreds more missing, police and officials said.

DHAKA: A heavily-laden ferry capsized and sank in central Bangladesh on Thursday after being caught in a storm, leaving at least 10 people dead and hundreds more missing, police and officials said.

Survivors of what is the latest in a string of ferry disasters to blight Bangladesh said the vessel had gone down in a matter of minutes, giving passengers little time to leap to safety.

The exact number of passengers was not immediately known. It is common for ferries to carry many more than their official limit.

“We are receiving confusing figures on how many passengers were on board when it sank, but the number could range from 200 to 350,” district government administrator Saiful Hasan said.

“The toll now stands at 10,” he said of the accident on the river Meghna in Munshiganj district, some 50km south of capital Dhaka.

Local police chief Ferdous Ahmed also confirmed the recovery of the bodies, including at least two of whom were women.

The vessel was travelling to the southern district of Shariatpur from Dhaka when it encountered problems and sank in the mid-afternoon, according to police.

“The ferry is completely under water. We are now trying to locate it,” Ahmed said, adding that a salvage vessel had reached the spot, and fire service divers were on the way.

Police in cooperation with locals were leading the rescue efforts, he said.

The width of the river, the depth of the water and the strong currents were hampering the attempts.

Hundreds of distraught relatives gathered on the banks of the river as the bodies were laid in lines in order to be identified, Ahmed said.

The local online newspaper Banglanews24.com quoted a survivor of the accident, Abdur Razzaq, as saying the boat was hit by the storm suddenly and sank within minutes.

One of the divers taking part in the rescue effort was quoted by the Bangladesh Star as saying “many bodies” were still trapped inside the vessel.

Ferry accidents are common in Bangladesh, one of Asia’s poorest nations which is criss-crossed with more than 230 rivers.

Experts blame poorly maintained vessels, flaws in design and overcrowding for most of the tragedies.

Storms known locally as Kalboishakhi often hit Bangladesh during the early summer months in the lead-up to the monsoon, which generally begins in the first week of June.

Boats are the main form of travel in much of Bangladesh’s remote rural areas, especially in the southern and northeastern regions.

Some 150 people were killed in the same district in March 2012 after an overcrowded ferry carrying about 200 passengers sank after being hit by an oil barge in the dead of night.

In 2011, 32 people were killed after a passenger vessel sank in the same river in the same district after colliding with a cargo ship.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

footprints: ANOTHER SCHOOL, ANOTHER BOMBING

Mirza KhurramShahzad

IT’S as though an earthquake had occurred. The red bricks of the Government Girls Primary School Masho Khawarr building seem to be clinging to each other for support. A slight push would flatten it. And it’s just six months old.

IT’S as though an earthquake had occurred. The red bricks of the Government Girls Primary School Masho Khawarr building seem to be clinging to each other for support. A slight push would flatten it. And it’s just six months old.

The villagers are greeted by shattered windows and scattered plaster. All four steel windows on the back wall of a classroom have been loosened at their hinges. The ones in front are similarly distorted, while the door doesn’t exist any longer. Inside, a two-foot crater explains what happened a few days ago.

A 6×4 hole in the wall speaks of the impact that shredded the door. A poplar tree lies uprooted in the courtyard.

Until midnight, April 30, this was a new school building, waiting for teachers to start classes in this remote village of Shabqadar tehsil in Charsadda district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some time after 12.30am, the villagers heard a huge explosion. The next morning, they saw cracks in the building’s walls. Inside, an explosive device had devastated the structure.

A week earlier, they had held talks with the district administration to get staff for the school. They had been told it was not a priority.

“The deputy commissioner (DC) told us the administration doesn’t have the funds to recruit staff,” says Farman Ullah, whose utmost desire is to see this school in front of his house start functioning and eventually be upgraded to the secondary level. “The DC didn’t even agree to give this school a watchman,” he shakes his head. “He told us that only an MPA can help in getting funds and staff for this school.”

Militants lying low in the mountains of the Mohmand tribal area just a few kilometres away evidently decided to nip any form of enlightenment in the bud.

“This area is suffering because of its location,” local journalist Najeeb-ur-Rehman Khan tells me. “The Taliban used to patrol here and in the Shabqadar bazaar a year ago. They remain in the mountains and don’t come here during the day now. But they carry out such activities from time to time at night to establish their presence.”

According to Najeeb, there are 25 villages in this area which have been declared disputed. “The tribal area administration in Mohmand Agency claims that they fall under its jurisdiction while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government says the provincial government is in charge. Meanwhile, nobody takes care of development and the people suffer.”

The administration does appear helpless, unable as it has been to protect 13 other schools that have been blown up by the militants in the district.

“Seven boys schools and as many girls schools have been blown up so far,” says Siraj Khan, the district education officer in Charsadda. “Militants attack at night, what can we do?”

Overall, 828 schools have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since 2008.

The girls of Masho Khawarr, who wanted to study at this school, demand explanations.

“I go to school in Shabqadar,” says six-year-old Saba who suffers during the summer and the winter when she has to cover the long distance. “That is far. I want to study here.” Her younger sister, four-year-old Bakhtawar who is roaming about inside the damaged school, also wished to study in this school.

“At least 200 girls of this village are of school-going age,” says Farman. “But they don’t have a school to go to.”

The bomb has exploded, the school building destroyed, and the militants have disappeared. The administration remains clueless. There are no signs of any attempts to restore the structure, bring teachers and start classes.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Achakzai smells plots as opposition protests in NA

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: An ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned on Wednesday of dangerous plots that ranged from trapping the military in an ill-conceived fight with the Taliban to the establishment of a regime of technocrats, after a noisy opposition protest in the National Assembly against extending a controversial anti-terrorism decree.

ISLAMABAD: An ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned on Wednesday of dangerous plots that ranged from trapping the military in an ill-conceived fight with the Taliban to the establishment of a regime of technocrats, after a noisy opposition protest in the National Assembly against extending a controversial anti-terrorism decree.

There was no immediate response from either the government or the opposition to the fears voiced by Mahmood Khan Achakzai, chief of the Pakhthunkhwa Milli Awami Party, although one minister had accused the opposition earlier of holding the government back rather than “guiding us” when new leaders were to take power in neighbouring India and Afghanistan.

Claiming to take an independent line despite being a government ally, the PkMAP leader appeared to agree with Railways Minister Saad Rafique’s grouse against the opposition, when he said: “If they had the slightest realisation of the crossroads Pakistan is standing on, they would have talked of nothing but how to save it.” Mr Achakzai was referring to the opposition members who had spoken before him and had criticised the government.

His warning — including his fear that some “international powers” might be setting a trap for Pakistan’s military while the situation in Balochistan and Karachi was already bad — came during a debate on the law and order situation in the country.

It is noteworthy that three days earlier the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) held a big rally in Islamabad to protest alleged rigging in last year’s general elections while simultaneous rallies were held in other cities by Pakistan Awami Tehreek whose leader, Allama Tahirul Qadri, called for a “revolution”.

Mr Rafique had accused the opposition of picking up non-issues and rejected Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed’s claim that the government’s peace dialogue with the Taliban was dead, saying: “The dialogue process with Taliban, falling or rising, is moving ahead.”

But Mr Achakzai said “it seems” a decision had been taken to launch strikes against the Taliban, although he advised the government not to do it without consulting the Afghan authorities. He said that in his opinion, such a fight might not be needed at all if the new government in Kabul could make peace with the Afghan Taliban.

Calling the situation in Pakistan “dangerous”, he referred to what he said was talk of “a government of technocrats for about three years” on the pretext that the present set-up was not delivering.

Mr Achakzai said the present parliament would be Pakistan’s last if any attempt was made to tamper with it and “if we also did not adopt the right attitudes”.

Speaking of a possible way to prevent such a situation, he urged the prime minister to call all generals and other stakeholders and make it clear that decisions would be taken by politicians.

Then touching upon the controversy of who could have fired the six shots that wounded Hamid Mir of Geo television channel in Karachi on April 19, Mr Achakzai appeared to absolve the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of any blame.

He said “our agencies” were not so inefficient as to “not take the right aim” and “no lawyer in Pakistan will be able to save” the channel from the consequence of the way it had reported the incident for hours.

Furore over ordinance

A furore began in the house quite early in the day when Science and Technology Minister Zahid Hamid, who was standing in for Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, tried to move a resolution to extend the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance, 2014 for another 120 days.

The ordinance, due to expire on May 22, was the second of two presidential decrees of the same name promulgated on Oct 9, 2013 and Jan 22, 2014, with the professed aim to strengthen legal procedures to fight and prosecute terrorists.

While the first, and main, ordinance was extended through a resolution passed by the National Assembly in February, the two were incorporated in one bill that the government bulldozed thou­gh the assembly last month but it got stuck in the Senate.

Mr Hamid insisted on the resolution, which was put to vote just as the opposition walked out.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Three killed in Andhra Pradesh communal riots

AFP

HYDERABAD: Police killed three people after opening fire to break up religious clashes in southern India on Wednesday, officers and media reports said.

HYDERABAD: Police killed three people after opening fire to break up religious clashes in southern India on Wednesday, officers and media reports said.

The violence broke out in the old quarter of Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, which has a sizeable Muslim population.

Trouble erupted after some people attacked houses and shops of a religious minority following rumours that a religious flag had been burnt.

Security forces clamped a curfew on the area and the situation was under control, said police commissioner C.V. Anand.

Police initially tried to break up the mob using sticks but then had to “open fire to disperse the clashing groups”, Anand said.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said at least three people died in hospital of bullet wounds.

Extra police and paramilitary forces were rushed to the area as shopkeepers around Hyderabad’s historic Charminar monument downed shutters for fear of more violence.

Police in India, which has been swept by deadly religious violence numerous times in the past, are sensitive about identifying communities involved in clashes.

Hyderabad police declined to say who was involved in Wednesday’s rioting.

Anand appealed to residents to cooperate with police in restoring peace. —AFP

Minister denies army opposing grant of MFN status to India

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: Giving India status of the most favoured nation (MFN) is not necessary, says Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, dismissing speculation that Pakistan is ready to make the offer after a new government is installed in New Delhi.

WASHINGTON: Giving India status of the most favoured nation (MFN) is not necessary, says Commerce Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan, dismissing speculation that Pakistan is ready to make the offer after a new government is installed in New Delhi.

The minister also tried to dispel the impression that the PML-N government was ready to make the offer but the military was opposing the proposal.

“Giving (India) the MFN status is not necessary. We are offering non-discriminatory trade access on a reciprocal basis,” said Mr Khan when asked at a news briefing if Islamabad would offer the status to India now as the elections were over and a new government might soon take charge.

“We have received no formal communication from the army,” said Mr Khan when he was asked if the military was opposing the suggested move.

An MFN status binds the two countries to grant equal trade advantages to each other. India granted the status to Pakistan in 1996. Pakistan, however, is reluctant to reciprocate because it would require it to allow transit trade between Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan fears that this will increase India’s influence in Afghanistan and New Delhi will use it to create problems on its Western borders.

“The objective behind the MFN status is granting non-discriminatory trade access and we are willing to do so,” said the commerce minister while explaining the government’s policy on the issue.

The minister said that Pakistan was willing to engage the new Indian government “with an open mind” for talks on all issues, including trade.

In March, senior officials at the commerce ministry indicated that Pakistan was ready to grant the MFN status to India “within days”. The speculations were further strengthened when the commerce minister postponed a trip to the US, apparently for visiting New Delhi for offering the MFN status.

The visit did not take place and reports in the Pakistani media suggested that Islamabad had decided to delay the move because of the Indian elections. Now it wanted to make a goodwill gesture to the next Indian government by offering the MFN status.

Diplomatic sources in Washington say the minister’s reluctance to use the term MFN does not necessarily mean that Islamabad has decided not to make the offer. They insist that Pakistan may still offer the status to India once the new government takes over there.

Mr Khan also told the briefing that Pakistan was seeking the same arrangement for preferential trade with the US that it had with the European Union.

He said that Pakistan had joined an alliance of 20 nations to lobby for it. “We are working with the alliance and we hope that Congress will re-authorise the General System of Preferences (GSP) status for all of us.”

The 20 nations enjoyed the GSP status till July 2013, when it expired and the Congress did not re-authorise it.

The GSP is a programme designed to promote economic growth in the developing world by providing preferential duty-free entry for up to 5,000 products when imported from one of 123 designated beneficiary countries and territories.

“The GSP is good but we want a GSP Plus arrangement, the same that we have with the European Union,” Mr Khan remarked. “The US response is very positive.”

In December last year, the European Union granted GSP Plus status to Pakistan, allowing almost 20 per cent of Pakistani exports to enter the EU market at zero tariff and 70 per cent at preferential rates.

“We qualified for this on merit and we want the same arrangement with the US, also on merit,” the commerce minister said. “The US government is keen to help us and we have sympathisers on the Capitol Hill as well.”

The minister said the United States and Pakistan were also exploring the possibility of concluding a bilateral investment treaty (BIY).

In February, the United States proposed a new template for BIY talks, as the old template lapsed in 2012. Pakistan has some reservations on the non-conforming measures in the proposed template.

The Strategic Plans Division and the Pakistani military have also raised objections over the insertion of security-related clauses in the draft treaty.

“We will soon be sending a detailed non-paper, spelling out our reservations on the new template,” Mr Khan said.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Afghan election results delayed over fraud probe

AFP

KABUL: Afghanistan’s presidential election result was delayed on Wednesday as authorities said they had not completed fraud investigations into the first-round vote to find a successor to Hamid Karzai.

KABUL: Afghanistan’s presidential election result was delayed on Wednesday as authorities said they had not completed fraud investigations into the first-round vote to find a successor to Hamid Karzai.

Full results from the April 5 election were released late last month, but the final declaration will factor in the outcome of weeks of deliberation over fraud allegations.

“The final result has been delayed for an unknown number of days,” Independent Election Commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said.

“We still have not received the ECC (Election Complaints Commission) decisions and findings. We hope we receive them as soon as possible.”

In the preliminary results, none of the eight candidates appeared to have gained more than 50 per cent, pointing to a second round run-off between the two top names as Afghanistan undergoes its first democratic transfer of power.

The head-to-head contest would pit former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, who took 44.9 per cent of the first-round vote, against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, on 31.5 per cent.—AFP

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Islamist group claims China train station attack

Reuters

BEIJING: An Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for an attack at a train station in China’s western city of Urumqi in late April that killed one and injured 79 people, the SITE Monitoring service said.

BEIJING: An Islamist militant group called the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) claimed responsibility for an attack at a train station in China’s western city of Urumqi in late April that killed one and injured 79 people, the SITE Monitoring service said.

China had said the attack in its restive Xinjiang region, home to the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, was carried out by two religious extremists who were also killed in the blast.

Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been beset by violence for years, and a recent series of attacks, some of which Beijing has called terrorism, have unnerved the country.

SITE, which tracks Islamist militant statements, said TIP had released a 10-minute video in the Uighur language showing the construction of a briefcase bomb it said was used in the station attack.

“A fighter is shown placing the explosive material and shrapnel of bolts inside a box, then inserting the detonation device in a briefcase with the explosive, and leaving the trigger exposed in an outside pocket,” SITE said of the video.

It said the video had been produced by the TIP’s Islam Awazi Media Centre and posted on its website on May 11.—Reuters

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

US, Pakistan unveil action plan for trade, investment

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan unveiled a joint action plan on Tuesday to expand trade and investment over the next five years.

WASHINGTON: The United States and Pakistan unveiled a joint action plan on Tuesday to expand trade and investment over the next five years.

At a meeting in Washington, Federal Minister for Commerce Khurram Dastgir Khan and US Trade Representative Michael Froman also signed a memorandum of understanding on women’s economic empowerment.

The commerce minister came to Washington on Monday with a high-level delegation to attend the two-day meeting of the US-Pakistan Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) Council, established in 2003 to facilitate discussions on bilateral issues.

“Trade with Pakistan supports good-paying jobs in the United States and is a key part of our effort to unlock opportunity for American workers, businesses, farmers, and ranchers,” said Mr Froman while welcoming the Pakistani delegation.

Mr Khan said that with the joint action plan, the two countries were “turning a new leaf” in their trade and economic relations.

He hoped that the plan would provide a “permanent foundation” for promoting trade and investment between the two allies.

The minister noted that people expected a democratic government to deliver a better standard of living and create more jobs for them and an improvement in trade and economic ties with the United States could help the government deliver these facilities.

Mr Khan also said that since May last year, when the Pakistanis elected a new government, there has been 13 per cent improvement in sentiments towards the United States. “The suspension in drone strikes is also helping to create a positive atmosphere,” he added.

The government, he said, was focused on improving the national economy and was working to remove the obstacles, particularly extremism, that prevented foreign investors from investing in Pakistan.

Ambassador Froman said the joint action plan and the MOU signed on Tuesday would help improve economic ties and could bring “monumental progress for Pakistani women”.

The Joint Action Plan calls for diversifying agricultural production, promoting intellectual property protection and implementing the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Trade Facilitation Agreement.

It also seeks Pakistan’s accession to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. Other goals include conducting outreach to US state and local governments; enhancing entrepreneurship; and increasing dialogue between the US and Pakistani private sectors.

On the margins of the TIFA Council Meeting, private sector representatives from the United States and Pakistan met to discuss opportunities and challenges in the textile, apparel, and information and communication sectors.

According to the US Trade Representative’s office, Pakistan is America’s 62nd largest goods trading partner with $5.3 billion trade in 2013. This includes $3.7bn of exports to the US and $1.6bn of imports. With a large share of $1.3bn, textile goods continue to dominate Pakistan’s exports to the US.

US foreign direct investments in Pakistan amounted to $218 million in 2012 (data for 2013 are not available), down by 14.2 per cent from 2011.

Bismillah Khan’s family worried about atmosphere in Varanasi

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan’s family feels “scared” over the way “political atmosphere is building” in Varanasi that witnessed a communally polarising poll battle, reports said on Tuesday.

NEW DELHI: Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan’s family feels “scared” over the way “political atmosphere is building” in Varanasi that witnessed a communally polarising poll battle, reports said on Tuesday.

They said the family of the famed shehnai player, who was honoured with Bharat Ratna, now finds itself in the midst of a controversy over not backing Bhartiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and later playing the shehnai at Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s road show.

Bismillah Khan’s eldest son Haji Mahtab Hussain said: “We don’t want to get involved in politics, for us all are the same. Sometimes I feel scared, though, the way political atmosphere is building up.”

“We played the shehnai out of happiness; we would play it for Modi ji as well,” he told India Abroad News Service.

“Modi ji is equally important for us, but my father had always supported Congress and we have been traditional Congress voters,” he added.

Bismillah Khan’s second son Zamin Hussain, though invited by the Bharatiya Janata Party, refused to be the proposer for Mr Modi, and later with some other family members played Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite Bhajan “Vaishnav Jan” at a Congress road show in Varanasi.

“All we want is to see our father’s mausoleum constructed,” said Mr Hussain.

Opposition in Senate rejects adviser’s ‘sketchy’ policy statement

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: Ill-prepared cabinet members brought embarrassment to the government in the Senate on Tuesday, with Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz bearing the brunt of criticism over what the opposition termed sketchy statement on foreign policy.

ISLAMABAD: Ill-prepared cabinet members brought embarrassment to the government in the Senate on Tuesday, with Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz bearing the brunt of criticism over what the opposition termed sketchy statement on foreign policy.

Rejecting the adviser’s eight-minute policy statement after a debate on the country’s foreign policy with particular reference to the situation likely to emerge after elections in India and Afghanistan, the opposition members staged a walkout to register their protest over the speech which they said was “an insult to the house”.

“We receive more information from the Foreign Office spokesperson at her weekly briefings than the adviser has provided to this house today,” said Raza Rabbani of the PPP as Mr Aziz took his seat after the speech.

Mr Rabbani regretted that the adviser did not make any mention about Pakistan-India relations, the ongoing dialogue with the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the recent visit of the US deputy secretary of state to Pakistan.

“We don’t accept this as a policy statement,” Mr Rabbani said, urging the ruling party not to “make the parliament redundant”.

“Look at the seriousness of the government members,” Mr Rabbani said while pointing towards Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq, who was the lone member sitting on the treasury benches.

Describing Mr Aziz as “ignorant and innocent”, Opposition Leader Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan coined a new word, “ignocent”, for the adviser.

“We feel sorry. This is an insult to the house. The ministers do not give replies to our questions and we stage walkout against it,” Mr Ahsan declared before walking out of the house, forcing Deputy Chairman Sabir Baloch to adjourn the sitting till Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Ahsan had already put the adviser on the defensive, when during the debate earlier he had asked the prime minister to appoint a fully fledged foreign minister.

The PPP leader said Narendra Modi in India and Abdullah Abdullah in Afghanistan were being tipped as new rulers there and their views about Pakistan were well-known. “Both the countries will have strong governments and both of them do not have cordial relations with Pakistan,” he remarked.

“You have not been able to even put pressure on the Afghan government for handing over of (TTP chief) Fazlullah, who is openly patronising the groups in Pakistan which do not recognise our Constitution,” he said.

Mr Ahsan also criticised Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for inviting foreign investment in the country while keeping his own money overseas. He claimed that Mr Sharif was “the third biggest investor” in the UK after Hinduja Group and Lakshmi Mittal of India.

Senator Farhatullah Babar of the PPP also took the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to task for, what he called, thoughtless endorsement of a questionable narrative that Osama bin Laden was tracked down in Abbottabad through a fake polio campaign.

He said the statement from the FO spokesperson had come at a time when it was yet to be established exactly how Osama bin Laden was tracked down.

In his winding up speech, Mr Aziz said the prime minister had stressed the need for pursuing “economic diplomacy” and was following the policy of “trade not aid”. He said the government had decided to adopt a “policy of non-interference” due to which the relationships between Pakistan and Afghanistan were improving.

Mr Aziz said the government was cognizant of the changing situation in the region in the wake of elections in different countries.

S. Arabia invites Iranian FM for talks

AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready to negotiate better relations with regional rival Iran, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Riyadh on Tuesday.

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is ready to negotiate better relations with regional rival Iran, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters in Riyadh on Tuesday.

His comments came as major powers held a fresh round of nuclear talks with Iran over its nuclear programme amid a rapprochement between Tehran and the West.

“Iran is a neighbour, we have relations with them and we will negotiate with them,” the Saudi minister said.

“We will talk with them in the hope that if there are any differences, they will be settled to the satisfaction of both countries,” he told reporters.

“Our hope is that Iran becomes part of the effort to make the region as safe and as prosperous as possible, and not part of the problem of the insecurity of the region.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been deeply divided over a raft of regional issues, particularly the three-year-old conflict in Syria, in which Tehran has backed the Damascus government and Riyadh has been a leading supporter of the rebels.

Faisal said that his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif had been invited to visit the kingdom. “Any time that he sees fit to come, we are willing to receive him,” he said.

Zarif said in December that he would like to visit Saudi Arabia and appealed to the kingdom to work with Tehran in the search for regional “stability”.

Faisal’s remarks came as US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel was in Saudi Arabia on the first leg of a regional tour focusing on Iran’s nuclear programme and the war in Syria.

US officials have struggled to reassure Gulf allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, over the interim nuclear deal that the major powers struck with Tehran late last year and which Riyadh fears will embolden its rival in its regional ambitions.

Washington’s caution about arming the Syrian rebels has also soured its relations with its long-time Saudi ally.—AFP

FOOTPRINTS: REVOLUTION VIA A VIDEO LINK

Aurangzaib Khan

AT 3pm on Sunday afternoon, the construction site of the PML-N’s Metro Bus service that runs through Rawalpindi’s Murree Road looks abandoned. A long line of concrete pillars run all the way to Islamabad, iron rods jutting into a blinding sky.

AT 3pm on Sunday afternoon, the construction site of the PML-N’s Metro Bus service that runs through Rawalpindi’s Murree Road looks abandoned. A long line of concrete pillars run all the way to Islamabad, iron rods jutting into a blinding sky.

The midday heat rises in waves, transforming the broken roads and industrial machines into a shimmering, monochromatic capitalist dystopia.

At first, it appears as though the heat is keeping the traffic, the people and the construction workers away. That is, until you see riot police sweating in bullet-proof jackets behind glass shields.

The police are here to ensure security at the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) protest rally scheduled for May 11. “Right now, in more than 60 cities across Pakistan,” booms a PAT party worker into a microphone, “people are coming out in the streets to bring down a corrupt system.”

The crowd at Chandni Chowk is perfectly organised. The protest at the construction site, however, fits neatly into the pitch that the ruling PML-N took to the media in anticipation of a show of force by Professor Tahir ul Qadri’s PAT.

Perhaps mindful of the PAT’s long march last year demanding a “change of system” before general elections — a march that effectively crippled the capital — a nervous PML-N juxtaposed in a TV ad images of development initiatives it had undertaken with those of riots and anarchy. The question it posed: what would Pakistanis rather have — development or anarchy? The subtext: will Pakistanis, then, support parties ushering in progress or forces bent on derailing it?

This is a question I ask of a participant at the protest now. “We watch the outcomes,” says a frail Hakeem Mohammad Ajmal, 68, wearing a face mask to ward off allergies. “After every five years, we find the nation more indebted, the people poorer, while the ruling classes prosper. Our struggle is not against a certain party but a corrupt system. We don’t want it even if it is built of gold bricks.”

As more and more protesters join in, flying the party tricolour, women and men gather in separate groups under the bridge. To many here, it appears, it is a family imperative to respond to “the call of the Quaid” — Shaikh-ul Islam Prof Dr Tahir ul Qadri. Parents disembark from cars with toddlers in tow.

Amongst them is Faisal Najeeb, a supply manager at a football company, who has travelled all the way from Sialkot.

“I am here to answer the call of Dr Tahir ul Qadri, to rise against the corrupt rulers of the country,” says Najeeb in accented English. He has come back from Denmark to work in Pakistan.

“They have been ruling the country under the aegis of democracy which, essentially, is a cover to further their own interests. They ignore inflation, power cuts and human rights abuses while focusing on agreements with foreign investors for kickbacks. We want a green revolution, not red. A single individual can bring it.”

But the Allama promised that change before his long march fizzled out into nothing last year, I point out. “A lot of people feel that the last gathering came to nothing but like Prof Tahir ul Qadri said, it was like an azaan — a call to prayer,” answers Aisha Raja, Faisal’s wife, who teaches English at a private school.

“You’ll see, this will be a larger gathering.”

Later in evening the dual carriageway of Murree Road between Chandni Chowk and Committee Chowk shifts and hums with a seething hive of people. For an absentee revolutionary, the Canada-based Qadri can whip up quite a frenzy. Many party supporters here hail from the Punjabi heartland, some wearing the characteristic Qadri cap.

The optics reinforce unity of commitment to a revolutionary change. The local leadership announces the names of parties and groups that have chosen this event to join the party cause, among them minority leader Jay Salik, Baba Haider Zaman of the Hazara Movement, several labour unions and leaders of the Mazdoor Kisan Movement. Thousands of party flags flutter to the martial beat of songs extolling the revolution.

By the time Dr Qadri joins the people via a video link, the crowd has thickened into a wall of bodies. Like a benign Lenin with a cap, he promises to give power back to the people through local bodies governance, quick justice, land distribution among tenants, plots and loans for house building, and the creation of 33 provinces among which, he promises, the first will be Hazara.

The resources to do all this would be the money stashed away in Swiss accounts by corrupt politicians, through ending corruption, an austerity drive, the gold and copper mines of Saindak and Rekodik, and from Gwadar Port, among others sources.

He says he has a clear plan to help realise the Pakistan of the original Quaid, Jinnah.

He reminds people of their constitutional rights, that “the ruling classes have failed to deliver to them in 42 years since independence”. Of the remaining years spent under military rule, he makes no mention.

While a majority of the women here appear to be from the urban middle and upper classes, there are those bussed in from rural areas. Among them is Rasoolan from village Lillah in Pind Dadan Khan, Jhelum district. “I have come to change the system,” says Rasoolan in colloquial Punjabi, sitting on the cobbled floor in Chandni Chowk. “We can’t afford clothes or chappals any more.”

And will the Allama deliver that, the clothes and the sandals? “Yes,” she says, nodding emphatically. “It is the others who plunder that will not.”

Punters rule India as exit polls predict big win for BJP

Jawed Naqvi

NEW DELHI: There was little difference between India’s mainstream TV channels and its bourses after a month-long general election came to a close on Monday and paved the way for what will be a punters’ rule until results are out on Friday.

NEW DELHI: There was little difference between India’s mainstream TV channels and its bourses after a month-long general election came to a close on Monday and paved the way for what will be a punters’ rule until results are out on Friday.

Nearly all the four or five exit polls, rarely to be trusted, have given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies a comfortable majority. Billions of rupees are said to be involved in betting and that itself seems to be a good enough reason to carry on with the business.

In 2004, however, the exit polls on the average gave 68 more seats to NDA than it got and consequently 36 seats less to Congress and 32 seats less to others. There is no doubt all the exit polls have been wrong, some less wrong and some others more wrong.

The 2007 exit polls in Uttar Pradesh is a classic example when predictions went wrong. Dalit leader Mayawati was given 140 odd seats in the exit polls but the Bahujan Samaj Party ended up with a simple majority in the 403-seat assembly.

And yet, importantly enough, the curtains came down on Monday on the marathon Lok Sabha elections with an all-time record high turnout of 66.38 per cent, as the final phase of polling covering 41 constituencies in three states replicated the trend of increased voters’ participation seen in the previous 8 rounds.

The overall turnout in all the nine phases of polling this year stood at 66.38 per cent, posting the highest in the history of Lok Sabha elections, surpassing the previous best of 64.01 per cent in 1984 in the wake of the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi. The turnout in 2009 was 58.19 per cent.

The polling on Monday for 18 seats of Uttar Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal and six in Bihar was by and large peaceful, barring stray incidents of violence in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal which left 13 people injured.

The highest polling was recorded in West Bengal, where stakes are high for the Trinamool Congress hoping to retain all the 14 of the 17 seats decided in the last phase and gain a few more in its final push to position itself as a key player nationally post elections.

Bihar registered the second highest turnout in the last round with 58 per cent, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 55.29 per cent.

The turnout in Varanasi, one of the the most high-profile constituencies where Narendra Modi is pitted against AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal and Congress’ Ajay Rai, was pegged at 55.34 per cent.

After the five-week Lok Sabha polls concluded, exit polls by TV channels suggested that the BJP-led NDA would rout the Congress and come to power when results are announced at the end of the week.

The exit polls said that the BJP, led by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, would register its best electoral performance while the Congress, which has ruled the country for a decade as the head of the UPA, would fall to a record low.

The CNN-IBN-CSDS poll pegged 270-282 seats for the NDA as against 92-102 seats for the UPA. India TV-C Voter gave 290 seats for the NDA as against 107 seats for the UPA. Times Now-ORG put the NDA at 249 and the UPA at 148. It gave other parties 146 seats.

The exit polls telecast by CNN-IBN and India TV suggested the BJP would record its best electoral performance by winning more than 200 seats compared to the previous best of 182 in 1998 and 1999.

The polls said the Congress is in for a serious setback with its tally falling below 100 seats. Its previous worst was 114 in 1998.

While the CNN-IBN-CSDS post-poll survey said the BJP would win 236 Lok Sabha seats (or between 230-242 seats), the India TV-C Voter exit poll gave the BJP 250 seats, bringing the party close to forming a government.

CNN-IBN-CSDS gave Congress 77 seats (or between 72-82 seats), while India TV-C Voter predicted 78 seats for the ruling party.

The surveys suggested that Uttar Pradesh would be the biggest contributor to the BJP’s kitty, with all predicting the BJP winning more than 40 seats of the total 80. While CNN-IBN-CSDS put the BJP tally between 45 and 53 seats in UP, India TV-C Voter projected 54 seats in the state.

The BJP’s gains in Uttar Pradesh indicate massive losses for the SP and BSP, with both failing to cross 20 seats. Both had 20 or more seats in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

All senators walk out as May 12 tragedy recalled

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: In a rare display of unity, all members of the Senate staged a walkout from the house on Monday to condemn the May 12 massacre of political workers on the arrival of the then deposed chief justice of Supreme Court in Karachi seven years ago.

ISLAMABAD: In a rare display of unity, all members of the Senate staged a walkout from the house on Monday to condemn the May 12 massacre of political workers on the arrival of the then deposed chief justice of Supreme Court in Karachi seven years ago.

Four members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party which was blamed by the members in their speeches for the May 12 mayhem, also joined the walkout.

“Seven years ago on this day, the then dictator and his cronies staged a bloodbath in Karachi,” said PPP parliamentary leader Raza Rabbani while speaking on a point of order on the opening day of the new session.

He said it was the “blackest day” in the country’s history.

The MQM members also staged a token walkout in protest against the government’s alleged inaction on an application of the party chief, Altaf Hussain, for his national identity card and passport.

Before walking out of the house, Tahir Mashhadi of the MQM threatened to shut down Karachi for a month if Mr Hussain was not issued the passport.

As the MQM members were going out, PML-N’s Mushahidullah Khan took the floor and asked them to expose terrorists who had carried out massacre in Karachi on May 12, 2007 since the party was in the government at the centre and the province at that time.

“The whole world calls you terrorists. The world had seen how your terrorists painted Karachi roads red with blood,” he said and the house witnessed a brief exchange of harsh words between the MQM members and Mr Khan.

On the issue of passport for the MQM chief, the PML-N senator said the UK government would not allow him to leave the country even if he was issued a green passport. He asked why the MQM chief needed a Pakistani passport after living in the UK since 1992 and acquiring the British nationality.

Saeed Ghani of the PPP criticised judiciary for taking no action over the May 12 massacre though it had taken place during the movement for restoration of independent judiciary.

Abdul Rauf of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party urged the government to hold an investigation into the May 12 killings.

Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party criticised the PPP for not holding an inquiry into the tragedy despite remaining in power for five years.

Responding to the allegations against the party, MQM’s Nasreen Jalil said her party was also a victim of the May 12 tragedy because its 42 workers had died on the day.

She said in the past the party had faced charges like running torture cells, working for creation of Jinnahpur and killing former Sindh governor Hakim Saeed but all allegations proved wrong.

“If we are murderers and terrorists, why do you talk to us and visit Nine Zero (MQM headquarters),” she asked.

She alleged that even today 30 workers of the party had been missing and 28 had recently been killed. She asked all the parties to sit together and find out “hidden hands” which were behind creating political instability in the country and pursued the “politics of division.”

The senators also criticised Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) for what they called working at the behest of anti-democratic forces.

Abdul Ghafoor Haideri of the JUI-F said forces like PAT and PTI were activated from time to time by those who did not want to see the country progressing.

PPP’s Farhatullah Babar asked the government to investigate who was behind Dr Qadri.

The Senate rejected a resolution moved by Mr Mashhadi for an increase in the salaries of government employees in the coming budget.

Quoting a statement by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Leader of the House Raja Zafarul Haq said that salaries would be increased but he could not give any commitment.

Responding to a resolution of Mr Babar, Mr Haq assured the Senate that a national commission on human rights would be set up in a month to address issues of deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

The Senate passed a bill moved by Mr Mashhadi seeking to enhance punishment for people who desecrated corpses.

Russia ‘respects’ east Ukraine vote, urges talks

AFP

MOSCOW: Russia said on Monday it “respects” the result of weekend independence votes in east Ukraine denounced by the West, after separatists claimed resounding victories, and called for talks between the rebels and Kiev.

MOSCOW: Russia said on Monday it “respects” the result of weekend independence votes in east Ukraine denounced by the West, after separatists claimed resounding victories, and called for talks between the rebels and Kiev.

As the European Union announced new sanctions against Russians involved in the crisis, the Kremlin said it respected the votes in two eastern provinces, but left the door open to a negotiated solution.

Germany meanwhile announced plans for Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to travel on Tuesday to Kiev and eastern Ukraine to support efforts to mediate a “national dialogue” between Kiev and pro-Moscow groups.

“Moscow respects the expression of the people’s will in Donetsk and Lugansk,” President Vladimir Putin’s office said in a statement, calling for “the results to be implemented in a civilised manner, without any repeat of violence, through dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. “Denounced by the Kiev government and the West as “a farce”, the contentious vote was hastily organised and held with no international observers.

It deepened a crisis that has brought Russia’s relations with the West to their lowest point since the Cold War.

The United States and other Western countries have said they will not recognise the outcome of the vote, which comes some two months after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

“The farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes,” Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament.

He however repeated his desire to “continue dialogue with those in the east of Ukraine who have no blood on their hands and who are ready to defend their goals in a legitimate way. “Separatist officials in Donetsk said 89 per cent of voters backed breaking away from Ukraine in Sunday’s referendum, with a turnout of 75 per cent.

Rebel officials in Lugansk said 94 per cent had backed independence.

“We have received sovereignty, the right to decide independently to enter into a confederation or federation with any country,” the governor of Donetsk, Denis Pushilin, told reporters on Monday.

The rebels prevented foreign media from observing ballot counting and voting took place with no neutral monitors, incomplete electoral rolls, and a haphazard registration procedure that did nothing to prevent multiple voting.

The two industrial regions are home to seven million people, out of Ukraine’s total population of 46 million.

There was widespread confusion in the regions on Monday about what could happen next in the crisis.—AFP

Boko Haram offers to swap abducted girls for prisoners

Reuters

MAIDUGURI: The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his men last month in exchange for prisoners, according to a video seen on YouTube.

MAIDUGURI: The leader of the Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram has offered to release more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by his men last month in exchange for prisoners, according to a video seen on YouTube.

About 100 girls wearing full veils are shown at an undisclosed location in the 17-minute video in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau speaks.

Boko Haram militants, who are fighting for an Islamist state, stormed a secondary school in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14 and seized 276 girls who were taking exams. Some managed to escape but about 200 remain missing.

The attack has provoked global outrage, and concern about the fate of the girls deepened when Shekau threatened in a video released earlier this month to sell the girls “in the market”.

Nigeria has deployed two army divisions to hunt for the girls while several nations, including the United States, Britain, Israel and France, have offered help or sent experts.

In the 1.25 minute video clip, scores of girls in black and grey veils sit on the ground and chant, before Shekau, wearing military fatigues and holding an AK-47, addresses the camera.

He appears confident and at one point laughs.

“All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet (PBUH) treated infidels and they will stay with us,” he said, according to a translation of his words originally spoken in a Nigerian language.

“We will not release them while you detain our brothers,” he said, before naming a series of cities in Nigeria. It was not clear whether he was in the same location as the girls.

A senior official said the government was studying the situation.

Authorities are holding hundreds of suspected Boko Haram militants and there have been several jailbreak attempts. Suspected militants overpowered guards at a prison near the presidential villa in Abuja in March, triggering a gunbattle that killed 21 people.

In another incident the same month, insurgents attempting to free captured comrades fought a two-hour battle in March at Giwa barracks in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

Summit in France: The Nigerian government has been criticised for its response to the abductions but President Goodluck Jonathan said on Sunday that international military and intelligence assistance made him optimistic about finding the girls.

A Nigerian military source said on Monday in Maiduguri that two foreign counter-terrorism units were already on the ground.

“They…visited Chibok on Sunday for preliminary investigation with our troops and experts before fully kick-starting the rescue mission,” the source said.

Mr Jonathan will attend a summit in Paris on Saturday to discuss security in the region.—Reuters

Climax to Indian polls today

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: A three-cornered contest involving Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) front-runner Narendra Modi in Varanasi, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and Congress nominee Ajay Rai will be the focus of the last 41 races on Monday as India’s parliamentary polls come to a nail-biting finish after a bitter and lacerating campaign.

NEW DELHI: A three-cornered contest involving Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) front-runner Narendra Modi in Varanasi, Aam Aadmi Party’s Arvind Kejriwal and Congress nominee Ajay Rai will be the focus of the last 41 races on Monday as India’s parliamentary polls come to a nail-biting finish after a bitter and lacerating campaign.

Though the BJP started the campaign saying it was seeking a mandate for development it soon found itself in its comfort zone of communal polarisation. The desperation to win at any cost has led to riots and electoral violence.

On Saturday, at least a dozen people were injured in a communal clash that lasted for nearly two hours in Meerut, close to Delhi. Three of the injured are reported to have suffered bullet injuries, and one is said to be critical, The Indian Express said on Sunday.

According to reports, the violence started after a scuffle between Hindus and Muslims over putting up a fence around a well outside a mosque. The clashes then spread to the nearby areas of Bazaza Bazaar, Lala Bazaar and Budhana gate. Both the groups are alleged to have fired at each other.

The violence is expected to find echo in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls on Monday.

The last battles will be fought in 18 seats in Uttar Pradesh, 17 in West Bengal and six in Bihar. The BJP on Sunday appealed to the Election Commission to deploy additional central forces at 18 seats going to polls on Monday, apprehending large-scale disturbances.

The BJP state president Laxmikant Bajpai, in a letter to the commission, expressed apprehensions of large-scale disturbance by ruling Samajwadi Party during the polls in which SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav is also contesting the Lok Sabha elections from Azamgarh.

He said complaints of booth capturing have surfaced during the last few phases of the polls, and it has become necessary that the commission deploys central forces in large numbers at each booth.

“Mulayam Singh Yadav who is the father of the chief minister is also contesting from Azamgarh. The Samajwadi Party in collusion with police, administration and anti-social elements can disturb the polls there… additional observers must be deployed and videography of all the booths must be done to ensure free and fair polls,” he said.

Dalit leader and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati had also demanded deployment of central forces during the last leg of the elections. She had said that all outsiders residing in Varanasi, where BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is contesting, should be moved out of the constituency.

Polling for 18 seats in the crucial last phase of Lok Sabha polls in eastern Uttar Pradesh will decide the fate of 328 candidates, including Mr Modi, AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav.

Over 30 million voters, including 13.5 million women, are expected to exercise their franchise at 19,881 polling centres to decide the fate of various political stalwarts.

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party on Sunday denied reports it would back a Third Front to stop BJP from coming to power. Earlier, a senior leader had said AAP might offer issue-based support to a non-Congress “secular” dispensation.

AAP has fielded candidates in 422 Lok Sabha seats and Mr Kejriwal had earlier claimed that his party would win at least 100 seats. The party was hoping to perform well in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

In a statement later in the evening, the AAP categorically ruled out any such possibility saying “it cannot and will not” be a part of any front which could include parties whose leaders were involved in large-scale corruption.

“There is no question of the Aam Aadmi Party extending support to any front after the declaration of the Lok Sabha election results and the party strongly refutes news reports attributed to it in this regard,” the party said.

Rebels claim massive turnout in east Ukraine vote for self-rule

AFP

DONETSK: Pro-Moscow rebels claimed a massive turnout in a vote they held on Sunday to split east Ukraine into two independent republics, though Kiev slammed it as a “farce” amid Western fears it could lead to civil war.

DONETSK: Pro-Moscow rebels claimed a massive turnout in a vote they held on Sunday to split east Ukraine into two independent republics, though Kiev slammed it as a “farce” amid Western fears it could lead to civil war.

Thousands of people queued in front of a limited number of polling stations in the restive provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk to cast their ballots, journalists in several towns reported.

“I want to be independent from everyone,” said ex-factory worker Nikolai Cherepin as he voted ‘yes’ in the town of Mariupol, in Donetsk province. “Yugoslavia broke up and they live well now”.

Insurgent leaders said that more than 70 per cent of the electorate in the two regions — home to seven million of Ukraine’s total population of 46 million — had slid voting slips into the transparent ballot boxes.

There was no way to verify that assertion however. No independent observers were monitoring the vote, which took place in the absence of any international support — even from Moscow, which had asked it be postponed.

While there were no reports of violent incidents during polling, tensions remained high amid an ongoing military operation ordered by Kiev against the rebels.

Early on Sunday, an isolated clash occurred on the outskirts of the flashpoint town of Slavyansk as militants tried to recapture a TV tower, but polling in the centre was unaffected.

Roman Lyaguin, the head of Donetsk’s self-styled electoral commission, told reporters that voter turnout across the province was 70 per cent six hours before polls were to close at 10pm. Lugansk’s rebels put their province’s turnout at more than 75 per cent.

Lyaguin added that results would not be in until Monday, but he already appeared confident that the outcome would be in favour of independence. After the results, he said, “there will likely be a period of negotiation with the authorities in Kiev”.

The hastily organised poll fell short of Western balloting norms. Notably, curtained booths were not set up in every town taking part, and polling staff lacking up-to-date electoral rolls registered anyone who turned up to vote without being able to check if they had already voted elsewhere.

Kiev called the process a “criminal farce” that had no legal or constitutional validity. It said the vote was “inspired, organised and financed by the Kremlin”.

Western nations backing the Ukrainian government also dismissed the regional “referendums”.

They were “null and void”, French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to Azerbaijan.

Britain’s Foreign Office issued a statement calling the “illegitimate, so-called referendum” regrettable.

It added that a nationwide presidential election in Ukraine is scheduled in two weeks that would give “all Ukrainians… a democratic choice”.

Britain also added its weight to a French and German warning of “consequences” against Russia if that election were to be scuppered.

But questions over the vote’s validity or the geopolitical consequences appeared far from the minds of those lining up to vote in Ukraine’s east on Sunday.

Tatiana, a 35-year-old florist voting in the regional hub of Donetsk, said: “If we’re independent, it will be hard at the beginning but it will be better than being with the fascists.” The “fascist” epithet she used was the one separatists and Russian state media use to describe Ukraine’s Western-backed government.

Mariupol, a city of 500,000 inhabitants, saw some of the longest voting lines because only four polling stations were operating.

Anti-Kiev sentiment was riding high after a fierce gunfight between troops and rebels that killed up to 21 people on Friday.

Suicide attack leaves 12 soldiers dead in Yemen

AFP

ADEN: A suspected Al Qaeda suicide bomber on Sunday killed 12 soldiers and a civilian in an attack on a military base in southeast Yemen, officials said, as government forces pursued militants in three restive provinces.

ADEN: A suspected Al Qaeda suicide bomber on Sunday killed 12 soldiers and a civilian in an attack on a military base in southeast Yemen, officials said, as government forces pursued militants in three restive provinces.

The bombing came just hours after three gunmen were killed when they attacked a checkpoint close to the presidential palace in the capital Sanaa, the same post where five soldiers died on Friday in a similar attack.

The two attacks appeared to be in reprisal for an army offensive against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the contiguous provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, in the south, and Baida in the centre, which has been underway since April 29.

The bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into the military police base in Mukalla, the Hadramawt provincial capital, a security official said, adding that the assailant detonated his explosives next to a barracks.

The attack killed 12 soldiers, the military source said, while a medic said a civilian succumbed to wounds sustained in the explosion.

“The suicide bomber belonged to Al Qaeda,” said the military source, without giving further information.

In Sanaa, a dawn attack by “terrorists” on a presidential guard checkpoint at Misbahi roundabout ended in the deaths of three gunmen and a civilian, the interior ministry said.

Authorities use the term “terrorists” to refer to Al Qaeda militants in the impoverished Arab country.

Sanaa has been on alert for days, with tensions spiking after troops entered Azzan, a militant bastion in southern Shabwa province, prompting the United States to close its Sanaa embassy on Thursday.

On Friday, Defence Minister Mohamed Nasser Ahmad and two senior security officers escaped unscathed when gunmen ambushed their convoy as they returned from a tour of the south.

The army has said the offensive against AQAP stronghold has inflicted heavy losses on the militants.

NY police recruiting Muslims to act as informants: report

Masood Haider

NEW YORK: The New York City police department has been recruiting immigrants, mostly Muslims, to act as informants eavesdropping in cafes, restaurants and mosques, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

NEW YORK: The New York City police department has been recruiting immigrants, mostly Muslims, to act as informants eavesdropping in cafes, restaurants and mosques, the New York Times reported on Sunday.

The newspaper claimed the department enlisted the help of immigrants such as a food cart vendor from Afghanistan, an Egyptian-born limousine driver and an accounting student from Pakistan, after most of them had been arrested for minor offences.

Detectives working for a unit known as the Citywide Debriefing Team conducted 220 interviews with immigrants in the first quarter of this year, the paper said, and hundreds of interviews in the other years.

The report comes weeks after a report said the police department had ended surveillance of Muslims, after protests.

However in the recent cases police officials described the interviews to the Times as voluntary, but the paper said several Muslim immigrants it spoke to felt shaken by the encounters.

John Miller, the deputy commissioner in charge of the intelligence division, said the debriefing team emerged from an urgent need for counter-terrorism sources following the Sept 11 attacks, according to the daily.

“We were looking for people who could provide visibility into the world of terrorism,” the Times quoted him as saying. “You don’t get information without talking to people.”

Miller said the historic technique of debriefing prisoners, now being applied to counter-terrorism, had been effective.

But the newspaper said many Muslim immigrants had said they felt as though they had little choice but to cooperate.

In one example, Bayjan Abrahimi — a food vendor from Afghanistan arrested in 2009 in a parking ticket dispute — said detectives asked him about Al Qaeda. They also asked about his mosque, the nationalities of other Muslims who prayed there and about a brother who drove a taxi in Afghanistan.

Finally they asked him if he would be willing to gather information at mosques and possibly travel to Afghanistan, to which proposal he said he agreed.

After his release, Abrahimi told the paper that he never heard from the detectives again, but remained shaken by the matter.

Abdullah wins support of key figure in Afghan race

Reuters

KABUL: Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah received a boost in the race for Afghan presidency on Sunday when one of the pre-election favourites dropped out and backed his team ahead of next month’s expected run-off.

KABUL: Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah received a boost in the race for Afghan presidency on Sunday when one of the pre-election favourites dropped out and backed his team ahead of next month’s expected run-off.

Zalmay Rassoul, who finished third in April’s first round with 11.5 per cent of the vote, told journalists in Kabul he had endorsed Abdullah to strengthen national unity, and because the pair campaigned on similar platforms.

Preliminary results showed Abdullah and his closest rival, former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, sharing over 75 per cent of the vote but neither winning an absolute majority.

The Afghan election commission will announce official results of the first round of voting on Wednesday, in which President Hamid Karzai was constitutionally barred from running.

Evidence of widespread fraud reported by the country’s Independent Election Complaints Commission have taken the gloss off the third presidential poll since US-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

The vote marks the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history, however, uncertainty over the outcome risks stalling crucial foreign aid and economic reform.

Analysts said delays could also foment ethnic tensions and leave a political vacuum in which the Taliban could take advantage.

Rassoul, another ex-foreign minister, was considered one of the pre-election favourites, having won the backing of some members of the powerful Karzai family.

Rassoul’s backing for Abdullah was seen as crucial, given most of his support is from the Pashtun-dominated south of the country. Abdullah, who is half-Pashtun and half-Tajik, draws most of his support from the Tajik community in the north.

Footprints: Mumtaz Qadri mosque, memorials to our misdeeds

Mehreen Zahra-Malik

I am inside the mosque. I walk back to the doorway and look out.

I am inside the mosque. I walk back to the doorway and look out.

Awash with sunlight, there in the dusty lane a gang of labourers yell something like a work-song as they pass a bag of cement along a moving chain of men.

A peddler pushes his wooden-wheeled cart into the street, selling milky biscuits from a see-through plastic case.

One little boy sets up a narrow wooden plank on two concrete blocks — a play bridge — and tries to walk across. He is steady for a second. In the next, he is knocked over by the clamour of his own laughter.

I turn around and am back in the dark prayer hall of the mosque.

In the absence of windows, the sunlight outside barely finds its way in. Fluorescent bulbs hang from the high ceiling, lighting up the gold and red carpet and yellow walls embellished with the many names of Allah.

Garlands of plastic flowers and gold and green ribbons still adorn the walls of the prayer hall, the echoes of an inauguration ceremony from more than a year and a half ago.

The effect is unsettling, somehow. All I can think of is life outside. The laughing child. The chanting workers. The rows of narrow streets that frame a distant view of Rawalpindi. People walking up and down the alleys and roads, the sound of gravel and garbage crunching under their feet. The grey walls of houses and shops and mosques and schools tilting unevenly, looking ordinary and ominous at the same time.

It is only as I come out of the mosque and enter the everyday world around it that I fully understand what I have experienced.

This is not just any mosque — and there are many in Pakistan. This is the apotheosis of the moral ambiguities that arise in the shadow of crimes committed so often in this country in the name of blasphemy.

To some believers, the Jamia Masjid Mumtaz Qadri is a monument to a religious hero who killed a blasphemous governor who was supporting a blaspheming woman.

“My faith is not that strong,” says Ashfaque Sabri, who leads prayers at the mosque and oversaw its construction. “Otherwise I and every other Muslim would also do what Mumtaz Qadri did.”

Indeed, to some believers, this mosque — with its cream-coloured exterior and girders sticking out of the roof into the sky, waiting for another floor to be raised and more believers to be greeted — is a befitting compliment to a man who languishes in jail for doing what it is every believer’s duty to do.

For other believers, the 500 square metres of construction on the outskirts of Islamabad is a tribute to an unimaginably atrocious crime.

But standing in the doorway of the mosque and looking out — the dark halls commemorating Qadri behind me, glimpses of ordinary life in front — I feel disoriented, teetering on that elusive, almost indiscernible line that separates good from evil, guilt from innocence, death from life.

There is nothing to divide this monument to a killer from the city around it.

From where I stand, the sense of ambiguity — matters of ordinary living, a universe of terrifying vice — is enlarged.

It is not hard to imagine believers pouring in through the mosque’s door, children playing outside on a spring afternoon, peddlers selling their knick-knacks. They are all already there.

The threat of more deaths at the hands of protectors of the faith; those who deny a crime was committed and seek to justify murders — they exist in the same world as the one occupied by the laughing boy. And me.

As the peddler wheels away his cart and I get into my car, it becomes clear how ambiguous and undefined the parameters of guilt can sometimes be. They don’t just include killers and those who set them free or make mausoleums in their name. They also include those who look the other way, who continue with their work, who refuse to be involved, who refuse to protest, who allow it all to just go on.

This is true of the worker and the peddler and the bureaucrat and the terrorists and the prime minister. And it is true of me.

But then again, perhaps there is some wisdom in building memorials to our own misdeeds.

These concrete walls, the booming loudspeaker — they are also directed at people who have found the capacity to forget Salmaan Taseer, Aasia Bibi, Rimsha Masih and Rashid Rehman.

The quiet abstraction of the mosque — its bleak physical presence, its very existence — inextricably entangle the murder of our own heroes into our everyday existence so that we can never forget them.

Let’s never forget them.

IAEA proposes steps for improving nuclear safety

The Newspaper’s Reporter

ISLAMABAD: International experts have praised Pakistan’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety but also proposed measures that will bring about some improvements.

ISLAMABAD: International experts have praised Pakistan’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety but also proposed measures that will bring about some improvements.

Nuclear experts from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, China, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Korea, Lithuania, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine and the United States, officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and observers from Japan formed a 21-member team of Integrated Regulatory Review Service (IRRS) of the IAEA, which concluded a 12-day mission to Pakistan on Saturday.

The mission reviewed the effectiveness of the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) in regulating the safety of use of nuclear and radioactive material. The PNRA mandate covers nuclear power plants, research reactors, waste management facilities, radiation source applications and facilities, decommissioning activities and transport of radioactive material.

The mission recommended that the IAEA’s Fundamental Safety Principles should be fully incorporated into Pakistan’s safety framework and the primary responsibility for safety should be clearly assigned.

It suggested that legal responsibilities and obligations with respect to financial provisions for the management of radioactive waste, spent fuel and decommissioning should be clearly stipulated. It said the National Radiation Emergency Coordination Centre at the PNRA needed to be modernised. Regulations and regulatory guides that take the latest IAEA safety standards into account should be finalised and issued.

“PNRA has a well-established regulatory and legal framework that is based on IAEA safety standards. It conducts effective regulatory activities for nuclear power plants, including licensing, inspection, enforcement, lessons learned and emergency preparedness,” said Liu Hua, IRRS mission Team Leader and Vice Administrator of China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration.

PNRA Chairman Anwar Habib said the authority would seriously consider all recommendations and suggestions provided by the mission.

The IRRS will submit its report to the government in three months.

“We believe that these will further improve our work and effectiveness, enhancing the confidence of our stakeholders, including the government and the public,” he said.

The mission visited sites to observe inspections, an emergency exercise and conducted interviews of and discussions with the PNRA staff and personnel of other organisations.

It observed that being an independent and competent regulatory body, PNRA is empowered with the full scope of powers required by the IAEA standards, and is provided sufficient resources.

The legislation and associated regulations provide a binding legal framework for nuclear and radiation safety in Pakistan. The mission praised government’s willingness to provide PNRA with sufficient financial resources.

US calls for probe into lawyer’s assassination

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

WASHINGTON: The United States has urged Pakistan to investigate the killing of a lawyer in Multan who was allegedly shot dead for defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy.

WASHINGTON: The United States has urged Pakistan to investigate the killing of a lawyer in Multan who was allegedly shot dead for defending a university lecturer accused of blasphemy.

“We were deeply saddened by the murder of Rashid Rehman, an attorney and human rights defender in Pakistan,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

At a news briefing on Friday afternoon, the US official “encouraged Pakistani authorities to swiftly investigate this crime and bring to justice those responsible”.

Gunmen stormed Mr Rehman’s office on Wednesday and started firing indiscriminately, killing him and injuring two others.

Ms Psaki noted that Mr Rehman had received death threats in the past as well for his work, promoting human rights in his country.

Editorial News

Karachi’s unending violence

Editorial

WEDNESDAY’S high-powered huddle in Karachi to discuss the ongoing law-enforcement operation in the metropolis was little more than rhetoric. Not much emerged regarding any concrete step the state may have taken to pacify the city. Presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the meeting brought together the highest echelons of the country’s civilian and military leaderships, with former president Asif Zardari in attendance, while the army chief and DG ISI also sat in. Should Karachi’s citizens really expect to see visible changes in their security situation? While the meeting was told that the law enforcers were being given the latest gadgets to fight crime and that illegal SIMs were being shut down, it is also true that since the operation began last September, the drop in crime and violence in Karachi has hardly been discernible. No doubt, certain troubled areas such as Lyari have been quiet. But street crime and targeted killings continue. Even on the day the meeting was in session, a man was gunned down reportedly on sectarian grounds. In fact, sectarian killings have been occurring on almost a daily basis over the past few days.

WEDNESDAY’S high-powered huddle in Karachi to discuss the ongoing law-enforcement operation in the metropolis was little more than rhetoric. Not much emerged regarding any concrete step the state may have taken to pacify the city. Presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the meeting brought together the highest echelons of the country’s civilian and military leaderships, with former president Asif Zardari in attendance, while the army chief and DG ISI also sat in. Should Karachi’s citizens really expect to see visible changes in their security situation? While the meeting was told that the law enforcers were being given the latest gadgets to fight crime and that illegal SIMs were being shut down, it is also true that since the operation began last September, the drop in crime and violence in Karachi has hardly been discernible. No doubt, certain troubled areas such as Lyari have been quiet. But street crime and targeted killings continue. Even on the day the meeting was in session, a man was gunned down reportedly on sectarian grounds. In fact, sectarian killings have been occurring on almost a daily basis over the past few days.

Karachi’s vortex of violence is complex and multi-layered and only a continuous, multi-pronged effort can bring lasting peace to the city. At one level, politically backed criminals continue to operate in their respective areas of influence, indulging in crime ranging from extortion to murder. At another, sectarian killers operate in the metropolis with impunity, while a free rein is given to organised groups and individuals carrying out street crimes, terrorising citizens through muggings and kidnapping for ransom. Is the prime minister even aware of the level of street crime in Karachi? The situation is so bad that the majority of people do not file a report with the police when their wallet or mobile phone is snatched by armed thugs.

Far from lasting peace, what the operation has produced in Karachi is an uneasy calm that continues to be punctured by a variety of violent incidents. No one can seriously say that due to the efforts of the last few months the metropolis is on the road to stability. For example, how many killers, extortionists and kidnappers have been arrested and sentenced so far? The problem is, unless the law enforcement and prosecution systems are strengthened so that criminals are caught, prosecuted and punished, no operation will be a success. This must be a continuous process, not limited to a few months or weeks. A dedicated, honest police force, aided by paramilitaries where need be, coupled with a strong legal system, can turn things around. But for that to happen, the state needs to show sincerity of purpose while all stakeholders — political parties included — must play by the rules and let the law take its course.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Mangal Bagh territory

Editorial

THE problem with forgotten areas and expedient deals is, among things, that they inevitably slip back into the news — and often in a way that is worse than the original problem. Mangal Bagh, leader of the Lashkar-i-Islam, a militant-cum-criminal group from the Bara region of Khyber Agency, is flexing his muscles once again. This time he has given an ultimatum to local people in his strongholds in the Bara area to either enrol their children in a specific madressah by Eid or pay a fine of Rs400,000. By now, the besieged natives of Mangal Bagh’s strongholds have become familiar with the warlord’s extremist demands that range from a ban on shaving beards to mandating a prayer cap be worn by all males.

THE problem with forgotten areas and expedient deals is, among things, that they inevitably slip back into the news — and often in a way that is worse than the original problem. Mangal Bagh, leader of the Lashkar-i-Islam, a militant-cum-criminal group from the Bara region of Khyber Agency, is flexing his muscles once again. This time he has given an ultimatum to local people in his strongholds in the Bara area to either enrol their children in a specific madressah by Eid or pay a fine of Rs400,000. By now, the besieged natives of Mangal Bagh’s strongholds have become familiar with the warlord’s extremist demands that range from a ban on shaving beards to mandating a prayer cap be worn by all males.

Yet, the more interesting story is how and why Mangal Bagh continues to survive, if not thrive. While not quite a good Taliban, he has played all sides against each other to ensure his own existence and demand. To the army-led security establishment, his usefulness comes from his claim that he is acting as a bulwark against the outlawed TTP, sections of which have moved into non-Mangal Bagh-controlled regions of Bara in recent times. To the TTP, he presents himself as a tactical ally who can keep the army at bay because of his good relations with them. Meanwhile, he continues to indulge in new businesses and fights, including with some Afghanistan-based TTP elements in an alleged row over who controls lucrative drug smuggling operations. Yet, while Mangal Bagh may be a canny survivor, the more important question is overlooked: how does it serve Pakistan’s interests to have a criminal gang leader who uses rabid religiosity to thrive? Mangal Bagh and his scheming are just a microcosm of a problem wherein the state either actively collaborates with or turns a blind eye to dangerous elements in a bid to secure short-term peace or simply avoid conflict. What though about the population that Mangal Bagh terrorises? Surely, if a state abdicates its responsibilities for long enough and cedes control to local thugs, winning back the local population will become all that more difficult. The impunity with which Mangal Bagh operates ought to be unacceptable, but sadly it is not.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Expulsion of journalists

Editorial

THE expulsion order handed out to the two Indian journalists in Pakistan, Snehesh Alex Philip and Meena Menon, earlier this week hardly reflects well on either journalistic freedoms in Pakistan, or the latter’s respect for the Fourth Estate. Working with the Press Trust of India and The Hindu newspaper respectively, both were first curtly told over the phone that their visas would not be renewed and they would have to leave by May 20; the official, written communication was delivered only later. Mr Philip and Ms Menon, both of whom arrived here last August, ironically after their predecessors were packed off in similar fashion, now find themselves in a quandary: the next flight is on the 21st.

THE expulsion order handed out to the two Indian journalists in Pakistan, Snehesh Alex Philip and Meena Menon, earlier this week hardly reflects well on either journalistic freedoms in Pakistan, or the latter’s respect for the Fourth Estate. Working with the Press Trust of India and The Hindu newspaper respectively, both were first curtly told over the phone that their visas would not be renewed and they would have to leave by May 20; the official, written communication was delivered only later. Mr Philip and Ms Menon, both of whom arrived here last August, ironically after their predecessors were packed off in similar fashion, now find themselves in a quandary: the next flight is on the 21st.

It is unfortunate that the state resorts to expelling foreign journalists for unexplained reasons, and in such an ungracious manner. It has just been a year, after all, that the New York Times’ Pakistan correspondent, Declan Walsh, was similarly asked to leave at short notice. In the case of India and Pakistan, the practice results in even more damaging consequences. Given the politics between the two, it is important that reportage about the other country come from first-hand sources, from a domestic perspective. The rivals allow in only two correspondents representing the other country’s news industry at a time. Pakistani news organisations have tended not send local journalists across. But Indian organisations continue to make the effort, recognising perhaps that their audiences benefit. Whenever incidents such as these occur, it proves virtually impossible to pin down exactly what level the decision was taken at, and by which branch of the state, and why. This opens up the possibility of the administration remaining hostage to shadowy ‘state within the state’ elements. It is now for the Ministry of Information to make its position clear, and at the very least make public the exact reason why Mr Philip and Ms Menon have been asked to leave.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Beleaguered minorities

Editorial

IT is easy enough to recognise the good intentions, to say nothing of frustration in the face of growing religious intolerance, that underpinned the remarks made by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Tuesday. He pointed out that the desecration of places of worship of any faith attracted attention by the law under Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, also referred to as the blasphemy laws. The hearing related to a case that was particularly harrowing: the bombing of a Peshawar church in September last year that left more than 80 worshippers dead and scores of others scarred for life. The country’s Christian community is not alone in the violence it faces. In just the past two months, Sindh has seen the desecration of six Hindu places of worship. The court’s observation that it empathised with the agonies of the country’s minorities must be shared by everyone who feels even a modicum of responsibility towards protecting the vulnerable. If blasphemy, actionable under Section 295, is a charge that is often misused to persecute individuals — in some cases, entire communities — who can argue that all religions are not equally deserving of being recognised as being inviolable in the eyes of the law? So far, whenever invoked, these laws have virtually exclusively been used in efforts to protect the faith of the country’s majority.

IT is easy enough to recognise the good intentions, to say nothing of frustration in the face of growing religious intolerance, that underpinned the remarks made by Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani on Tuesday. He pointed out that the desecration of places of worship of any faith attracted attention by the law under Section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code, also referred to as the blasphemy laws. The hearing related to a case that was particularly harrowing: the bombing of a Peshawar church in September last year that left more than 80 worshippers dead and scores of others scarred for life. The country’s Christian community is not alone in the violence it faces. In just the past two months, Sindh has seen the desecration of six Hindu places of worship. The court’s observation that it empathised with the agonies of the country’s minorities must be shared by everyone who feels even a modicum of responsibility towards protecting the vulnerable. If blasphemy, actionable under Section 295, is a charge that is often misused to persecute individuals — in some cases, entire communities — who can argue that all religions are not equally deserving of being recognised as being inviolable in the eyes of the law? So far, whenever invoked, these laws have virtually exclusively been used in efforts to protect the faith of the country’s majority.

Yet the preceding details are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to intolerance of various hues in Pakistan. We would be hard-pressed, in fact, to identify any community, faith-based or defined by other parameters, that has not found itself under attack at one point or the other in recent years as the spectre of violent extremism grows. For the myriad groups and individuals that peddle terror, justification can be found to make any person, any occasion, any place a target. This is evidenced by the fact that even places of worship belonging to various denominations within Islam, have been turned contentious and deemed worthy of being attacked. In addition to churches, temples and mosques, we have seen funeral processions and emergency wards in hospitals being targeted as the extremists strive to etch the divisions ever deeper. And, sad to say, the extremists are not just the ones wielding guns and bombs; an intolerance which condones violence is now a characteristic of society in general.

The best way out, then, is perhaps not to expand the use of a law that is considered problematic and in need of revision, but to make efforts to reform Pakistan into a place where the rule of law holds sway. We do not need to invoke Section 295 to protect the lives, properties and holy places of citizens, since there are several laws that already apply. What we need to do is to start applying them.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Action on polio front

Editorial

THE pressure of the World Health Organisation’s polio-related travel restrictions on Pakistan is beginning to be felt by officialdom, as recent developments show. WHO officials were informed by the Ministry of National Health Services on Tuesday that from June 1, Pakistanis as well as foreigners who spend four weeks or more in the country would need an immunisation certificate before travelling abroad. On the same day, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution calling for all members of the house to “monitor and implement” the polio immunisation campaign in their respective constituencies. It is hoped this momentum is maintained and that public representatives as well as government officials help carry forward the vaccination campaign till polio is eliminated from Pakistan. The government needs to inform travellers of the immunisation process — where to get vaccinated and how far in advance etc — through a mass media campaign. Also, care must be taken to crack down on any bogus certificates, as unless this is done, the travel restrictions may well be tightened. As for the elected representatives, they need to deliver on the promise made in the house and follow up on the anti-polio efforts well after the issue has slipped out of the headlines.

THE pressure of the World Health Organisation’s polio-related travel restrictions on Pakistan is beginning to be felt by officialdom, as recent developments show. WHO officials were informed by the Ministry of National Health Services on Tuesday that from June 1, Pakistanis as well as foreigners who spend four weeks or more in the country would need an immunisation certificate before travelling abroad. On the same day, the National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution calling for all members of the house to “monitor and implement” the polio immunisation campaign in their respective constituencies. It is hoped this momentum is maintained and that public representatives as well as government officials help carry forward the vaccination campaign till polio is eliminated from Pakistan. The government needs to inform travellers of the immunisation process — where to get vaccinated and how far in advance etc — through a mass media campaign. Also, care must be taken to crack down on any bogus certificates, as unless this is done, the travel restrictions may well be tightened. As for the elected representatives, they need to deliver on the promise made in the house and follow up on the anti-polio efforts well after the issue has slipped out of the headlines.

While the state’s apparent action over the travel restrictions is a welcome departure from earlier half-hearted efforts to address the polio issue, it is fair to ask: what next? After all, these administrative steps are a reaction to the threat of global excommunication unless we act against polio. The larger issue — eradicating polio from Pakistan — must not be lost sight of, especially in light of the latest findings which show the virus to be present in samples taken from sewage in Karachi and Lahore. But perhaps the biggest challenge for the state is successfully carrying out the campaign in Fata; the tribal belt is clearly Pakistan’s most problematic area where polio is concerned, as 47 of the 60 cases reported in the country this year have been traced to the region. Vaccinating travellers is a welcome and necessary step, but it is a stop-gap arrangement. Let us not forget the wider polio campaign and the specific challenges that Fata poses.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Call for ECP members’ resignation

Editorial

THERE are better ways of effecting electoral reforms than asking all members of the Election Commission of Pakistan to resign. For that reason, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah’s call for resignations, closely following Imran Khan’s similar expression of no confidence in the ECP, makes no sense. The issue is the overriding need for electoral reforms, and that needs more than a mere change of ECP personnel. The ECP is a constitutional body, and, as laid down in the 18th Amendment, a parliamentary committee representing government and opposition chooses the chief election commissioner and ECP members. It cannot be dissolved, and its members have every right to complete their term. All said and done, the ECP acquitted itself well in last summer’s general election, and the nation by and large has accepted the results. There were, of course, irregularities, but this had less to do with the ECP’s workings and more with violence and pressure, not least from the militants. There was no evidence that any member of the commission was involved in any fraudulent voting.

THERE are better ways of effecting electoral reforms than asking all members of the Election Commission of Pakistan to resign. For that reason, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah’s call for resignations, closely following Imran Khan’s similar expression of no confidence in the ECP, makes no sense. The issue is the overriding need for electoral reforms, and that needs more than a mere change of ECP personnel. The ECP is a constitutional body, and, as laid down in the 18th Amendment, a parliamentary committee representing government and opposition chooses the chief election commissioner and ECP members. It cannot be dissolved, and its members have every right to complete their term. All said and done, the ECP acquitted itself well in last summer’s general election, and the nation by and large has accepted the results. There were, of course, irregularities, but this had less to do with the ECP’s workings and more with violence and pressure, not least from the militants. There was no evidence that any member of the commission was involved in any fraudulent voting.

The overriding need is for poll reforms, including doing away with indelible ink on thumbs and introducing electronic voting to ensure free and fair elections, preceded by voter registration and an equitable delimitation of constituencies. The latter is not possible without a census. Unfortunately, neither Mr Shah nor the PTI chief bothered to read the ECP’s five-year plan whose copies were forwarded to all stakeholders, including heads of political parties and chairmen of the Senate’s and National Assembly’s standing committees, requesting feedback. The ECP’s recommendations cover a wide variety of issues to ensure transparency in voting. Evidently, none of the lawmakers bothered to read the ECP’s recommendations. The lawmakers ought to do a bit of homework before going public with their outlandish demands showing their lack of grasp of the subject they are talking about.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

A fruitless visit

Editorial

BESIDES the reiteration of fraternal sentiments and an expression of wishes for closer ties, the prime minister’s two-day visit to Iran produced little of substance. The greatest disappointment was over the gas pipeline project. No joint statement was issued, and all that we have is the signing of eight memoranda of understanding on subjects such as the extradition of prisoners. The only reference to the gas pipeline was spiritual leader Ali Khamenei’s emphasis on going ahead with bilateral projects, including the pipeline. As was expected, the ayatollah minced no words, and blamed America and “other countries” for trying to create a rift between his country and Pakistan. That the ayatollah thought Pakistan had succumbed to US pressure was discernible when he asked Mr Nawaz Sharif not to wait for “permission” from other governments to encourage relations between Iran and Pakistan.

BESIDES the reiteration of fraternal sentiments and an expression of wishes for closer ties, the prime minister’s two-day visit to Iran produced little of substance. The greatest disappointment was over the gas pipeline project. No joint statement was issued, and all that we have is the signing of eight memoranda of understanding on subjects such as the extradition of prisoners. The only reference to the gas pipeline was spiritual leader Ali Khamenei’s emphasis on going ahead with bilateral projects, including the pipeline. As was expected, the ayatollah minced no words, and blamed America and “other countries” for trying to create a rift between his country and Pakistan. That the ayatollah thought Pakistan had succumbed to US pressure was discernible when he asked Mr Nawaz Sharif not to wait for “permission” from other governments to encourage relations between Iran and Pakistan.

Conceived more than two decades ago, the gas pipeline has yet to see the light of day. Initially, the pipeline was to carry gas across Pakistan to India, but New Delhi pulled out of the project in 2009, delivering a blow from which the project has not yet recovered, even though energy-starved Pakistan needs gas desperately. In March 2013, the project aroused optimism when then presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the construction of the Pakistani part of the pipeline. But again the project ran into difficulties, largely because Islamabad gave in to pressure. A new chapter appeared to be beginning in relations between the two neighbours when Mr Sharif declared after becoming prime minister in June 2013 that the project was on and was likely to be completed by the end of 2014. That has not happened, and as the outcome of his Iran visit shows, we should perhaps sing a requiem for the project.

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to think of Iran-Pakistan relations solely in terms of the pipeline. As neighbours, the two countries have common concerns and need to deepen understanding on such issues as post-America Afghanistan, the change in the Middle East’s power equilibrium in the wake of the Tehran-Washington thaw, the strategic relations developing between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the Syrian civil war, terrorist groups’ activities on the borders, and bilateral trade, which has plummeted to $1bn because of US-led sanctions against Iran. Islamabad must assure Tehran that relations with no state will be at Iran’s expense, and that it will pursue a policy of non-interference in other countries’ affairs — a point emphasised by Mr Sharif when he recently addressed Pakistani envoys in the Middle East. This policy must be pursued in earnest and in a manner that satisfies Iran without jeopardising Pakistan’s ties with the Gulf monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia. The two governments must also think deeply about the kind of measures needed to increase bilateral trade.

Afghan crisis: no end in sight

Editorial

WITH the Afghan security and political transition in a state of suspended animation — both remaining candidates in the presidential race have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US quickly once in office, but it could be several months yet before the victor of the two-stage election is determined — other problems continue apace, and, consequently, look all the more difficult to resolve. With the annual so-called spring offensive of the Afghan Taliban under way, the ability of the Afghan national security forces — both police and army — to hold off against the Taliban in huge swathes of the country is again under scrutiny. A report by the International Crisis Group has poured predictable fuel on the fire by highlighting the growing security woes in areas where the central government’s presence and reach is less visible and effective. As ever, the view of Afghanistan is either the glass half full — relatively normality in the cities and areas where Kabul’s presence is effective — or half empty — deteriorating security, without quite a Taliban takeover, in areas where Kabul’s reach is questionable or a non-issue.

WITH the Afghan security and political transition in a state of suspended animation — both remaining candidates in the presidential race have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US quickly once in office, but it could be several months yet before the victor of the two-stage election is determined — other problems continue apace, and, consequently, look all the more difficult to resolve. With the annual so-called spring offensive of the Afghan Taliban under way, the ability of the Afghan national security forces — both police and army — to hold off against the Taliban in huge swathes of the country is again under scrutiny. A report by the International Crisis Group has poured predictable fuel on the fire by highlighting the growing security woes in areas where the central government’s presence and reach is less visible and effective. As ever, the view of Afghanistan is either the glass half full — relatively normality in the cities and areas where Kabul’s presence is effective — or half empty — deteriorating security, without quite a Taliban takeover, in areas where Kabul’s reach is questionable or a non-issue.

Nevertheless, there is little disagreement about the most desirable way ahead: stepped-up reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban, closer cooperation between the Afghan and Pakistani states on cross-border movement of militants and an Afghan government that improves governance and service delivery enough to win the support of the people in the battle against Taliban propaganda. The problem is that reconciliation appears all but stalled, a result perhaps of the now-lame duck President Hamid Karzai trying to micromanage the process instead of letting the High Peace Council stay in charge. Will it now even be possible to restart, or rejuvenate, the reconciliation process before the end of the year, given the Taliban will have little incentive to do so in the middle of foreign troops exiting, with the new Afghan government taking time to settle in? The hope — and in Afghanistan so much always seems to rest on hope — is that the incoming administration and regional and international players are thinking ahead about what needs to be done on the reconciliation front. But such advanced forethought has not exactly been a hallmark of any side’s Afghan policy so far.

MQM chief’s documents

Editorial

A FAIR bit of confusion surrounds MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s quest to obtain a new Pakistani ID card and passport. While the director general immigration and passports told a Senate standing committee on Monday that no passport request for the Muttahida supremo had been received by the interior ministry, the MQM has cried foul, accusing the government of dilly-dallying on the matter. One MQM senator went as far as to say that unless Mr Hussain was issued a passport, the party would shut down Karachi for a month. Even if that threat was made in the heat of the moment, it surely must have sent a wave of apprehension rippling across the metropolis. After all, Karachi residents know the kind of damage a day’s unscheduled shutdown can cause to the economy and to everyday routines, not to mention the violence that usually accompanies strikes, shutdowns and days of ‘mourning’. The cumulative harm a month’s shutdown can cause to Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub can only be imagined. What makes the statement all the more chilling is the fact that the MQM can and does shut down the city whenever it deems fit. Hence party leaders need to be careful when making such statements.

A FAIR bit of confusion surrounds MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s quest to obtain a new Pakistani ID card and passport. While the director general immigration and passports told a Senate standing committee on Monday that no passport request for the Muttahida supremo had been received by the interior ministry, the MQM has cried foul, accusing the government of dilly-dallying on the matter. One MQM senator went as far as to say that unless Mr Hussain was issued a passport, the party would shut down Karachi for a month. Even if that threat was made in the heat of the moment, it surely must have sent a wave of apprehension rippling across the metropolis. After all, Karachi residents know the kind of damage a day’s unscheduled shutdown can cause to the economy and to everyday routines, not to mention the violence that usually accompanies strikes, shutdowns and days of ‘mourning’. The cumulative harm a month’s shutdown can cause to Pakistan’s largest city and economic hub can only be imagined. What makes the statement all the more chilling is the fact that the MQM can and does shut down the city whenever it deems fit. Hence party leaders need to be careful when making such statements.

Coming to the root of the controversy, if Mr Hussain has applied for fresh documents — the MQM claims he has completed the necessary paperwork with Nadra — then his application should be processed. There are claims that rules were bent or broken to facilitate the Muttahida chief, as equipment to capture his fingerprints was reportedly hauled to the MQM Secretariat in London. Such arrangements are only supposed to be available for the elderly or infirm. If irregularities were committed in the process, the government needs to investigate, though Mr Hussain should not be denied his documents. Whether the MQM chief really does intend to return home if he is issued a new passport after conducting his political activities from the British capital for over two decades is anyone’s guess.

The PTI challenge

Editorial

NOW that the rally is over and any hopes the PML-N had of celebrating its election anniversary in style have been dashed by the PTI’s pugnacity, there is the small matter of sifting through recent events and trying to understand what they could possibly mean. First, the good news. The PTI rally in Islamabad — which was the centre of attention, despite smaller rallies held by Tahirul Qadri supporters in various cities — saw a large number of people register their peaceful protest and then disperse in an orderly manner. There was no violence and no degeneration into a sit-in, meaning that most of the worst fears before the rally were quickly dispelled. In addition, Imran Khan’s core demands regarding the election process are reasonable and could — in fact, ought to be — addressed inside parliament. Short of dissolving the Election Commission of Pakistan — whose members’ terms are constitutionally protected — the ideas that nudge Pakistani elections from the terrain of acceptable and credible to truly free and fair ought to be welcomed, analysed and adopted as necessary.

NOW that the rally is over and any hopes the PML-N had of celebrating its election anniversary in style have been dashed by the PTI’s pugnacity, there is the small matter of sifting through recent events and trying to understand what they could possibly mean. First, the good news. The PTI rally in Islamabad — which was the centre of attention, despite smaller rallies held by Tahirul Qadri supporters in various cities — saw a large number of people register their peaceful protest and then disperse in an orderly manner. There was no violence and no degeneration into a sit-in, meaning that most of the worst fears before the rally were quickly dispelled. In addition, Imran Khan’s core demands regarding the election process are reasonable and could — in fact, ought to be — addressed inside parliament. Short of dissolving the Election Commission of Pakistan — whose members’ terms are constitutionally protected — the ideas that nudge Pakistani elections from the terrain of acceptable and credible to truly free and fair ought to be welcomed, analysed and adopted as necessary.

Now the less welcome news. Regardless of what Imran Khan wanted to talk about, the entire event on Sunday was shrouded in mystery and intrigue. With anti-democrats crawling out of the woodwork in recent weeks and issuing dark warnings about unspecified threats to the system, the May 11 rally was always going to become a focal point of speculation — even if the PTI itself was not involved in any of the anti-democratic fervour. While neither should it have been expected nor would it have been good politics to leave the field open to the PML-N on May 11 to set the tone for the day, perhaps the PTI should have done more to distance itself from the speculation that Sunday was meant to be a repeat of Oct 30, 2011 — when Imran Khan effectively and famously began the PTI’s election campaign a year and a half before elections were due. The fact is, through much of this country’s chequered political history, anti-democratic forces have piggybacked on populist politics to either keep the democratic project off balance or to derail it altogether. Much as the PTI may be contesting the PML-N for primacy in Punjab, the PTI and Imran Khan should also keep in mind that if they agitate too much, the democratic system itself can come under threat.

Finally, a word about the PML-N’s own approach to politics and the PTI challenge. Much as the party would like to downplay the PTI challenge, there are a couple of issues the ruling party cannot afford to ignore. Imran Khan is still capable of drawing a crowd and the PTI does continue to attract at least curiosity from a wide section of the public. So, if governance does not improve, the ruling party could find itself under real pressure in its Punjab heartland.

IMF’s praise — and criticism

Editorial

THE IMF has praised the Nawaz Sharif government’s economic policies and its effort to stabilise the economy that was on the brink of disaster only a few months ago. The macroeconomic fundamentals are indeed looking up. The budget deficit has been brought under control; the foreign exchange stocks are shoring up; the pace of increase in prices has been arrested somewhat; the economy is growing faster than many had anticipated; tax revenues are up, etc. Satisfied with the progress Islamabad has made so far, the IMF is expected to release the fourth tranche of $550m — the last to be released during the present financial year — from its $6.7bn Extended Fund Facility at the start of next month. Now is the time to consolidate the gains made so far as macroeconomic risks such as inflation remain. This was pointed out by the IMF mission chief on the conclusion of the third review of the country’s economy under the EFF loan.

THE IMF has praised the Nawaz Sharif government’s economic policies and its effort to stabilise the economy that was on the brink of disaster only a few months ago. The macroeconomic fundamentals are indeed looking up. The budget deficit has been brought under control; the foreign exchange stocks are shoring up; the pace of increase in prices has been arrested somewhat; the economy is growing faster than many had anticipated; tax revenues are up, etc. Satisfied with the progress Islamabad has made so far, the IMF is expected to release the fourth tranche of $550m — the last to be released during the present financial year — from its $6.7bn Extended Fund Facility at the start of next month. Now is the time to consolidate the gains made so far as macroeconomic risks such as inflation remain. This was pointed out by the IMF mission chief on the conclusion of the third review of the country’s economy under the EFF loan.

These gains will be difficult to reinforce without the government taking certain politically tough decisions. These would include broadening the tax net and reforming the crumbling power sector — actions that the government has been postponing since it came to power 11 months ago. It will also have to reverse some controversial decisions such as the tax amnesty announced for tax dodgers if it wants to see the economy recover and be able to stand on its own feet. Both the energy shortages and the financial difficulties facing the government on account of its low tax revenue collection are major constraints on the creation of jobs and economic growth. In other words, the future prosperity of the ordinary Pakistani depends largely on the government’s willingness to take on the chronic issues pulling the economy down. Macroeconomic stability achieved on borrowed money is always short-lived. And when the process reverses, the major sufferer is always the common man. It is time the government starts giving something back to the masses who had brought it to power and have waited patiently for the promised turnaround. If the government wants, the next budget could be the first step towards easing the economic pressures being faced by ordinary people.

Measles deaths in Sindh

Editorial

OVER the past few years, measles outbreaks have had a particularly devastating effect on Sindh, resulting in a high number of fatalities. There were over 100 measles-related deaths in the province last year, while the disease spread to other provinces as well; in 2012 there were over 200 deaths in Sindh. Deaths have again been reported this year, particularly from the Sujawal and Thatta districts of Sindh. Official figures say 12 children have died so far, though some media reports claim there have been a higher number of deaths. Health officials in the province say nearly 700 measles cases have been reported so far this year. While the deaths of children due to the highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease are indeed deplorable, there is still time to act before measles spreads further and results in even more fatalities.

OVER the past few years, measles outbreaks have had a particularly devastating effect on Sindh, resulting in a high number of fatalities. There were over 100 measles-related deaths in the province last year, while the disease spread to other provinces as well; in 2012 there were over 200 deaths in Sindh. Deaths have again been reported this year, particularly from the Sujawal and Thatta districts of Sindh. Official figures say 12 children have died so far, though some media reports claim there have been a higher number of deaths. Health officials in the province say nearly 700 measles cases have been reported so far this year. While the deaths of children due to the highly contagious but vaccine-preventable disease are indeed deplorable, there is still time to act before measles spreads further and results in even more fatalities.

The reason why measles has claimed so many lives year after year is due primarily to the low routine immunisation coverage. It is fair to say that if the state had plugged the gaps and conducted the immunisation programme more thoroughly, measles would not be resulting in so many deaths. For example, one medical expert quoted by this paper said immunisation coverage in Sindh was only 29pc. The mother of a child who recently died in a measles outbreak also told this paper that there were no arrangements for administering routine vaccinations in her village. Along with insufficient immunisation coverage, high rates of malnutrition in Sindh make children even more vulnerable to disease. Clearly, the provincial health authorities can do much more not only to make people aware of the importance of routine immunisation to the health of their children, but also to ensure that vaccination facilities exist at the local level, especially in far-flung areas. Elected representatives must also play a greater role in convincing local people to get their children vaccinated and to ensure that the funds, manpower and logistics are in place to immunise all targeted children in their constituencies.

The wages of violence

Editorial

LONG after every vestige of the blood and gore has faded, long after the cacophony of headlines has receded into the past, the memory of violence lingers. It impresses itself in a myriad ways on the lives of survivors: in the physical wounds, the emotional toll, the lost livelihoods. Over the last few years in Pakistan, violence has become synonymous with terrorism, which has claimed over 50,000 lives. However, as a recently released British Council report, Next Generation: Insecure Lives, Untold Stories, explores, that is only part of the picture. Violence in our society has evolved into a pervasive, multi-dimensional malaise that, if left unchecked, threatens to unravel the gains painstakingly accrued over the past decades. The potential for long-term and far-reaching repercussions is very real, for violence impacts not only survivors, but those who witness it, as well as victims’ family members, sometimes in life-altering ways. Given Pakistan’s age demographics, the British Council report looks at the issue from the point of view of a critical segment of Pakistani population: its youth.

LONG after every vestige of the blood and gore has faded, long after the cacophony of headlines has receded into the past, the memory of violence lingers. It impresses itself in a myriad ways on the lives of survivors: in the physical wounds, the emotional toll, the lost livelihoods. Over the last few years in Pakistan, violence has become synonymous with terrorism, which has claimed over 50,000 lives. However, as a recently released British Council report, Next Generation: Insecure Lives, Untold Stories, explores, that is only part of the picture. Violence in our society has evolved into a pervasive, multi-dimensional malaise that, if left unchecked, threatens to unravel the gains painstakingly accrued over the past decades. The potential for long-term and far-reaching repercussions is very real, for violence impacts not only survivors, but those who witness it, as well as victims’ family members, sometimes in life-altering ways. Given Pakistan’s age demographics, the British Council report looks at the issue from the point of view of a critical segment of Pakistani population: its youth.

Two-thirds of Pakistanis are under 30 years old, with the median age being only 21. This youth bulge could be a potential asset but in the absence of policies for a more equitable and inclusive society, the frustrations simmering in this demographic may further nudge the country towards instability. The report gives voice to over 1,800 stories of young people across Pakistan and includes a national survey of more than 5,000 such individuals. Together they offer a glimpse into what the study describes as “the public health crisis that is emerging from the trauma of conflict and violence”. A significant minority of respondents — 22pc — said they had directly experienced violence themselves or knew someone who had.

Violence in Pakistan is often rooted in cultural and economic factors, but in many respects it is an indictment of a state that has long shirked its responsibilities towards its citizens. There is among Pakistanis in general a profound disillusionment with the institutions of the state to safeguard their rights. Where young people are concerned, the psychological fallout of dashed hopes and thwarted ambitions engenders depression and mental illness, fuels rage, and further perpetuates the cycle of violence. In a society awash with guns, a culture of machismo, and the paucity of legal means of recourse, violence is increasingly seen as an acceptable way of settling disputes. In the process, society is fragmented along ethnic and sectarian lines. A divided polity is scarcely equipped to fight the existential crisis that Pakistan faces today. There must be a concerted effort by the state to address the underlying factors that perpetrate this culture of violence. The time for band-aid solutions is long gone.

Electoral reform process

Editorial

THE first anniversary of last year’s general elections, which passed yesterday, is an ideal opportunity to look back at the democratic exercise, analyse it and incorporate the lessons learnt into a larger policy framework in order to undertake credible electoral reform. While 2013’s polls were on the whole free and fair and featured the highest voter turnout in decades, the process was not perfect. There were some irregularities that must not be there when the nation votes in 2018. Soon after the polls, there were claims of rigging; for example, candidates recovered ballot papers from unusual locations as ‘proof’ of wrongdoing while in a few constituencies, it was discovered that many votes were fake or unverifiable. While the angry clamour then has died down and the majority of political players have made peace with the 2013 results, some are adamant about the rigging claims. Neutral observers, such as the Free and Fair Election Network, have also pointed towards anomalies. For example, in a recent statement Fafen said over 71,000 irregularities were observed in last year’s polls. These included anomalies in pre-voting preparations and the voter identification process, as well as incidents of ballot stuffing. Yet, going forward, all stakeholders need to discuss how such irregularities can be overcome to make the electoral process more transparent.

THE first anniversary of last year’s general elections, which passed yesterday, is an ideal opportunity to look back at the democratic exercise, analyse it and incorporate the lessons learnt into a larger policy framework in order to undertake credible electoral reform. While 2013’s polls were on the whole free and fair and featured the highest voter turnout in decades, the process was not perfect. There were some irregularities that must not be there when the nation votes in 2018. Soon after the polls, there were claims of rigging; for example, candidates recovered ballot papers from unusual locations as ‘proof’ of wrongdoing while in a few constituencies, it was discovered that many votes were fake or unverifiable. While the angry clamour then has died down and the majority of political players have made peace with the 2013 results, some are adamant about the rigging claims. Neutral observers, such as the Free and Fair Election Network, have also pointed towards anomalies. For example, in a recent statement Fafen said over 71,000 irregularities were observed in last year’s polls. These included anomalies in pre-voting preparations and the voter identification process, as well as incidents of ballot stuffing. Yet, going forward, all stakeholders need to discuss how such irregularities can be overcome to make the electoral process more transparent.

With reference to reforms, the Election Commission of Pakistan has done well to come up with a draft strategic plan for 2014-2018. By inviting debate from political parties, NGOs, civil society and the government, a comprehensive path towards electoral reform can be paved. The proposals include complete independence of the ECP, specifically empowering the commission to appoint election officials. The ECP has also highlighted the objective in the plan of developing biometric voter identification and introducing electronic voting machines by the time the next polls take place. Electronic voting machines are already in use in India where they have streamlined the process. Hopefully, if reforms are pursued with dedication and honesty in Pakistan, and most importantly, implemented in their true spirit, the electoral process should become a much more transparent and error-free exercise.

Solar plant significance

Editorial

IN these dark times of electricity shortages, any news that indicates an increase in the amount of power available for consumption must be appreciated, especially when the source of the electricity is clean, sustainable and green. This should be the case with the solar power plant inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Bahawalpur on Friday. A joint venture between the government of Punjab, the Bank of Punjab and a Chinese firm, this is the country’s first effort at generating solar power for public consumption, and while the additional power it presents to the grid will hardly resolve the country’s issues, it isn’t insignificant either. If all goes according to plan, the plant will start generating 100MW of electricity in December this year, and by 2016 will be contributing 1,000MW to the national grid. The prime minister has promised that by the end of his government’s tenure, Pakistan would not just be meeting its own power requirements but would even be producing surplus energy, including through alternate sources.

IN these dark times of electricity shortages, any news that indicates an increase in the amount of power available for consumption must be appreciated, especially when the source of the electricity is clean, sustainable and green. This should be the case with the solar power plant inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Bahawalpur on Friday. A joint venture between the government of Punjab, the Bank of Punjab and a Chinese firm, this is the country’s first effort at generating solar power for public consumption, and while the additional power it presents to the grid will hardly resolve the country’s issues, it isn’t insignificant either. If all goes according to plan, the plant will start generating 100MW of electricity in December this year, and by 2016 will be contributing 1,000MW to the national grid. The prime minister has promised that by the end of his government’s tenure, Pakistan would not just be meeting its own power requirements but would even be producing surplus energy, including through alternate sources.

From the vantage point of the present, where load-shedding is for the citizens a regrettable aspect of life, and for industry and business appears nothing less than a death knell, contemplating a future where we will have surplus electricity feels nothing short of utopian. Still, while the government deserves luck in its endeavours, it is worth reiterating that Pakistan needs to work much harder at exploring alternate, green sources of power. Sporadically, there have been a few attempts in this regard, including the setting up of small- and medium-sized wind farms, to which has now been added this solar plant. The country has much power in natural assets that can be harnessed in terms of electricity generation. Sunlight is available in vast supply. And in the coastal areas, there is no shortage of wind. Both can be exploited to greater benefit than is currently the case.

Dar’s Swiss solution

Editorial

BUSINESS persons know Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as a hardworking man. He always has his hands on one task and his eyes on the next. Now he has set for himself a new target — that of bringing back $200bn of dirty money that wealthy Pakistanis are believed to have stashed away in Swiss banks. He informed the National Assembly on Friday that Islamabad plans to renegotiate its tax treaty with Bern in August to use the new Swiss laws to get confidential information about illegal money kept in banks by Pakistanis. A summary has already been placed before the cabinet to seek its permission to negotiate the existing but deficient Pakistan-Switzerland Tax Treaty approved in September last. The objective of the exercise is to catch the tax dodgers who have illicitly shifted capital outside the country.

BUSINESS persons know Finance Minister Ishaq Dar as a hardworking man. He always has his hands on one task and his eyes on the next. Now he has set for himself a new target — that of bringing back $200bn of dirty money that wealthy Pakistanis are believed to have stashed away in Swiss banks. He informed the National Assembly on Friday that Islamabad plans to renegotiate its tax treaty with Bern in August to use the new Swiss laws to get confidential information about illegal money kept in banks by Pakistanis. A summary has already been placed before the cabinet to seek its permission to negotiate the existing but deficient Pakistan-Switzerland Tax Treaty approved in September last. The objective of the exercise is to catch the tax dodgers who have illicitly shifted capital outside the country.

Under the Restitution of Illicit Assets Act 2010, the Swiss government allows the exchange of information on dirty money in its banks. It will be no less than a miracle if the government succeeds in retrieving this illicit money, which Mr Dar claims is almost three quarters the size of Pakistan’s economy. But there is no dearth of sceptics who consider the pursuit of money lying in Swiss banks as a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. The claim about the size of the Swiss accounts held by Pakistanis is said to be rather exaggerated and most account holders are believed to have already moved their deposits to safer havens ever since Bern agreed to open up its banking system for outside scrutiny in a global effort to crack down on the movement of funds for terrorist activities.

Thus, the much better, more sustainable and easier way for the minister to increase tax revenues would be to reform the inefficient and corrupt tax machinery at home and bring tax thieves into the net instead of encouraging evasion through different incentive schemes. This is one of those areas of the economy where the government’s performance has been very poor. The failure to increase the miniscule base of taxpayers and punish tax dodgers means the government will again miss its target of Rs2.475 trillion by a wide margin. Although the Federal Board of Revenue has collected 15.5pc more tax revenue during the first 10 months of the present financial year, the IMF has further cut its tax collection estimate for the country. Most of us, as well as the minister, know that the economy cannot be turned around and sustainable, high growth rates cannot be achieved without raising the tax net and bringing the wealthy segments of the population into it. Ignoring this fact for a longer period in the hope of a Swiss miracle or more ‘gifts’ from the Gulf countries will only compound our economic difficulties at the expense of ordinary Pakistanis.

The Haqqani network again

Editorial

ONCE upon a time, there was a demand of Pakistan: do more, the Americans urged, against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. That time eventually passed, with the Americans seemingly coming to the conclusion that overt pressure on Pakistan on the North Waziristan/Haqqani issue was counterproductive in other areas while perhaps also recognising that the post-surge pivot to eastern Afghanistan never materialised and dialogue with the Afghan Taliban became the more pressing concern. But, in what must surely come as a surprise for those outside the closed circles in which such matters are debated, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns has revived the do-more mantra on his visit to Pakistan this week. What that seems to suggest is that as the security and governance transition in Afghanistan approaches a critical phase, the US is once again worried about the power of the Haqqanis to impact security and stability in Afghanistan. And if that is the case, then as the de facto patrons of the Haqqani network, the Pakistani state could find itself yet again under renewed pressure.

ONCE upon a time, there was a demand of Pakistan: do more, the Americans urged, against the Haqqani network in North Waziristan. That time eventually passed, with the Americans seemingly coming to the conclusion that overt pressure on Pakistan on the North Waziristan/Haqqani issue was counterproductive in other areas while perhaps also recognising that the post-surge pivot to eastern Afghanistan never materialised and dialogue with the Afghan Taliban became the more pressing concern. But, in what must surely come as a surprise for those outside the closed circles in which such matters are debated, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns has revived the do-more mantra on his visit to Pakistan this week. What that seems to suggest is that as the security and governance transition in Afghanistan approaches a critical phase, the US is once again worried about the power of the Haqqanis to impact security and stability in Afghanistan. And if that is the case, then as the de facto patrons of the Haqqani network, the Pakistani state could find itself yet again under renewed pressure.

Yet, where there is danger, there is often opportunity too. In the past, by swatting aside any plea, request or demand to squeeze the Haqqani network, the security establishment was essentially sticking to its hedging strategy — something that all sides involved in Afghanistan practise to some degree or the other. But if there has ever been a moment to stop hedging — not from some narrow, self-interested distorted security point of view, but from the perspective of desirable regional and national stability — this may be it. What was once one-way traffic in terms of accusations and the movement of militants has become two-way traffic across the Durand Line — with Pakistan having much to worry about in terms of the TTP leadership escaping to Afghanistan where it will almost surely find suitors eager to pay Pakistan back for its perceived sins over the years. From there, it would be a short hop to Fata truly going up in flames and the settled areas of Pakistan coming under renewed and intense pressure. A new understanding on cross-border militancy is important, and achievable. Policymakers here must also know that the drone campaign can be restarted with the flick of a switch.

Slash in Haj rates

Editorial

WHILE the government’s decision to slash Haj rates by Rs23,000 deserves to be welcomed, there are related issues that need to be sorted out to make the pilgrimage convenient for about 150,000 Pakistanis who will perform Haj this year. Nearly 47,000 of them will travel on the government quota, while the rest, which means the majority, will be handled by private operators. The final list of successful Haj applicants will be out soon, and as announced earlier there will be no balloting, for applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Also, no one will be allowed to proceed on pilgrimage if he has performed Haj during the last five years. This is a welcome decision and should help provide Haj slots for applicants from lower income groups who miss it simply because the moneyed can afford many trips. Meanwhile, private companies that run what has become a lucrative Haj and umrah ‘business’ deserve close governmental monitoring because of complaints against them.

WHILE the government’s decision to slash Haj rates by Rs23,000 deserves to be welcomed, there are related issues that need to be sorted out to make the pilgrimage convenient for about 150,000 Pakistanis who will perform Haj this year. Nearly 47,000 of them will travel on the government quota, while the rest, which means the majority, will be handled by private operators. The final list of successful Haj applicants will be out soon, and as announced earlier there will be no balloting, for applications will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Also, no one will be allowed to proceed on pilgrimage if he has performed Haj during the last five years. This is a welcome decision and should help provide Haj slots for applicants from lower income groups who miss it simply because the moneyed can afford many trips. Meanwhile, private companies that run what has become a lucrative Haj and umrah ‘business’ deserve close governmental monitoring because of complaints against them.

Ferrying Hajis from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia is easy; far more difficult is managing their proper stay by providing them adequate accommodation, food and possible medical help. Not all private operators perform these tasks well, for there have been complaints against the way they shortchange their clients. There is stiff competition for living space among millions of Hajis at Makkah, Madina and Mina, and unless arrangements are made well in advance by experienced, professional hands, their clients will face severe hardships. Private operators are selected by the religious ministry according to the marks they earn on the basis of their performance. Unfortunately, there have been allegations of favouritism. Last month, a National Assembly subcommittee found that 19 Haj operators had been given preferential treatment. While the incompetent among the Haj operators need to be blacklisted, the religious ministry first ought to put its own house in order: the scandal that led to the arrest of a federal minister following the 2010 Haj is still fresh in people’s memory.

Columns and Articles

Grand budgetary design

Sakib Sherani

THE Ministry of Finance and FBR have begun to burn the midnight oil to give final shape to the federal budget for 2014-15. By this time, most budget proposals from the chambers, the stock exchanges and the business forums have poured in.

THE Ministry of Finance and FBR have begun to burn the midnight oil to give final shape to the federal budget for 2014-15. By this time, most budget proposals from the chambers, the stock exchanges and the business forums have poured in.

Virtually year after year, the tax proposals are disjointed and contain too much focus on tinkering with tax rates for individual sectors, while, on the expenditure side, the government’s own proposals suffer from the same narrow focus. Hence, as an example, a major topic of discussion could be whether there is enough fiscal space to accommodate a 7pc increase in salaries of government employees, or 12pc. If a 12pc pay raise is opted for, then which other line allocation will need to be cut, to ensure that the overall fiscal deficit ceiling is not breached.

In doing so, the annual budget formulation is reduced to a number-crunching exercise, devoid of foresight or innovation. Ideally, a country’s (or a province’s, for that matter) budget should be the manifestation of an economic vision, and all its targets and allocations should reflect medium- to long-term aspirations. Hence, countries have introduced ‘rolling’ budgets which are embedded in a three-year framework. (Pakistan is also in the process of implementing a ‘medium-term budgetary framework’, which parliament needs to begin taking more seriously — like everything else relating to the economy!)

However, since the early 1990s at least, very few budgets in the case of Pakistan have articulated a longer-term economic vision and strategy. Among the few that stand out is the budget presented by the first PML-N government in 1992. Piloted by Mr Sartaj Aziz, it laid out a medium-term path for fundamental economic reform, by initiating major tax and tariff rationalisation, introducing deregulation and embarking on privatisation.

Another significant attempt at structural reform of the economy was undertaken in the 2003-2005 period under the stewardship of Shaukat Aziz, which included, among other measures, providing a medium-term path for a decline in corporate tax rates and customs duties. The budget presented by Hafeez Sheikh in 2012 articulated a vision for the tax scheme that went well beyond a routine re-ordering of tax slabs and import duties.

The inability of most governments to formulate budgets underpinned by a well thought-out longer-term vision is a function of two developments that have played out since the 1990s. First is the widening drift between the finance ministry and the Planning Commission, with the latter increasingly relegated to a secondary role under the dominance of the MOF. This has led to a near-complete divorce of the annual budget from the country’s five-year plan. The quarterly conditionality of IMF programmes with their unwavering emphasis on achieving a fiscal deficit outcome at the end of a three month-cycle, has further shortened the country’s planning horizon.

The second development that has reduced budget-making to an exercise in staying within a given fiscal deficit ceiling, with little room for long-term thinking or innovation, is a sharp deterioration of the fiscal position. If one statistic captures the worsening fiscal ‘squeeze’, it is this: without borrowing, the federal government has 16pc of net revenue left for running the state.

So if it were possible under these circumstances to formulate an economic vision, what should the ‘grand design’ be?

Clearly, the first and foremost objective should be to restore the confidence of the private sector to begin investing in the economy once again. For this the government will have to first recognise, and then address, the worsening business conditions — especially for the country’s large-scale formal sector. The trend of rising informalisation of the economy needs to be arrested and reversed.

To achieve this, the finance minister needs to ensure that FBR stops resorting to ‘predatory taxation’ — where it places increasing demands on existing large taxpayers. For this, ideally, the finance minister should reformulate FBR’s target: instead of an absolute rupee target for the year, FBR should be given a target defined in terms of bringing new taxpayers into the base, and a target to stop x% of the annual leakage from government revenue due to collusion and complicity of FBR staff.

It may not seem obvious at first, but increasing the confidence of existing taxpayers is extremely important, especially if the government wants to draw an investment response from the private sector. To this effect, the finance minister’s budget speech should contain an explicit policy commitment that ‘all income above the legal threshold, irrespective of source’ will be brought into the ambit of taxation within three years, subject to parliamentary approval. At the same time, a commitment to ‘progressive’ taxation should be made.

Other measures that should be taken include the provision of investment incentives (as in Shaukat Tarin’s budget in 2009), and solid measures to control smuggling and under-invoicing of imports.

On the expenditure side, a well thought-out budget will reflect proper prioritisation of spending to achieve desired outcomes, and sufficient allocation for the same. The budget process will ensure spending efficiency via monitoring and evaluation, budgetary reviews and concomitant processes such as a system of audits and pre-audits. It is imperative that budgetary spending is linked to outcomes.

Finally, what the budget should not contain is new projects. Projects will not make Pakistan prosperous — a stronger institutional framework will.

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Naively curious

Asha’ar Rehman

SOME of us are constrained — by our narrow vision or because of a general lack of understanding of evolving rules — to see the simple, the more basic side to things. They might be perturbed by the sound of a Faisal Raza Abidi shouting at the top of his voice.

SOME of us are constrained — by our narrow vision or because of a general lack of understanding of evolving rules — to see the simple, the more basic side to things. They might be perturbed by the sound of a Faisal Raza Abidi shouting at the top of his voice.

They may even be angry at him blurting out innuendoes, but at the end of it they still want to ask whether some effort has been made to address the basic point that he has raised, the substantive part that lies untouched and conveniently concealed in the loudness of his call.

In another instance, the same naive souls will be terrified by the media circus following an attack on Hamid Mir. They would be pulled in opposite directions by their duty to free expression and their inability to stomach anything in excess. Ultimately, they would be confronted with the search for the question basic to the occurrence: who carried out the attack and who was behind it?

Imran Khan’s quest for proving that the election in 2013 was rigged has its own basics and its own loud theories which threaten to take the attention away from the original quest. Everyone is so keen to remind the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief about the timing of his protest movement – that he had either left it far too late or was guilty of synchronising his campaign to complement and be complemented by the military establishment’s mood.

Next, Imran is criticised, even made fun of, for his confused signals on the issue. He is deemed to have more than earned his boos with his inconsistent statements betraying his immaturity as a politician and he is taken to the cleaners over his inability to as yet come up with a final list of those he holds responsible for the vote fraud. He is dubbed as an irresponsible childish player as the modern version of the doctrine of necessity is invoked.

The basic fact remains: were there problems with the conduct of the election? Imran Khan has been saying all along that there were and others have selectively concurred with his assertion.

The opposition leader in the National Assembly, Khursheed Shah, even agrees with Imran’s demand that those sitting on the Election Commission should quit after aspersions have been cast on their roles. That should leave the people — in and outside the fold of the PTI — with a desire to search and find out what the problems with the election that have led to such drastic demand were.

The PTI may have its own, even if dark and opportunistic, motives for raising this protest but if these are thought generally to disqualify the party from seeking redress, the principle doesn’t change even if you and I don’t like Imran Khan: It is always in the interest of people to get a picture as close to reality as possible.

There are some issues also with how the PTI’s show on May 11 was measured on the success scale. It was not uncommonly billed as a show of solidarity with the military establishment at a time when it had just been through a rough stretch in its ties with the elected government and was in the middle of a stand-off with a powerful media group. Not only did Imran target the PML-N government he also took on the media group, thereby appearing to be putting his weight behind the same people he has often been accused of taking his lines from.

In the context, to say that his May 11 rally was a failure would amount to disregarding the warning Imran and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and Jamaat-i-Islami — which held rallies the same day to coincide with the PTI’s show — were able to send across. The purpose was to display the respective strengths of all these three parties and illustrate not so abstractly the combined numbers these three were capable of bringing to the streets. The objective was achieved.

It can be said the speech or the non-speech at the end of the PTI rally on May 11 was incidental and not the main course, even if the speech part could have been performed better. Imran Khan and those who took the dais before him last Sunday in Islamabad could have given those who had turned up at the venue a little more to be upbeat about. None of them appeared to even attempt that and they all sounded a bit hollow.

Public speaking is not the PTI’s strong point, but it seems that even someone as brash and bold as Sheikh Rashid of his own Awami Muslim League is more inclined to prosper in television studios now in comparison to addressing a crowd from stage. He sounded so unlike his old self in his dismissal of the PML-N government, like a labourer who is asked to find fault with a memorial he has helped build over time.

Imran Khan, in his turn, should have concentrated on the ‘evidence of rigging’ that has come to the surface in the more recent past to back the accusation he and many others first made in May 2013. He did mention a Lahore constituency and the alleged bogus votes cast there and just how lengthy and costly it was to pursue a case of alleged poll rigging. That was comparatively a more powerful portion of his address and the point where he could have looked for his climax.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

Red tape

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

STATE bureaucracies are notorious for being both opaque and unresponsive to the needs of the very citizens they are supposed to serve. In post-colonial countries where citizenship is itself a pipe dream, their reputation is especially bad.

STATE bureaucracies are notorious for being both opaque and unresponsive to the needs of the very citizens they are supposed to serve. In post-colonial countries where citizenship is itself a pipe dream, their reputation is especially bad.

We in Pakistan have been witness to many a general, judge and politician promising to eliminate corruption and nepotism within state institutions and delivering the country from the clutches of bureaucracy. These promises have never borne fruit. It is time we delved deeper to investigate exactly why the bureaucratic behemoth has never been tamed. In short, before proposing ‘solutions’, we must understand the ‘problem’.

To begin with, the state bureaucracy is a crucial cog in our political-economic order and it is hence impossible for it to be radically overhauled in isolation. Granted the ‘system’ looks and feels somewhat different now to when the British created the so-called ‘steel frame’ to manage their Indian colony. Yet even if the state bureaucracy no longer exercises unchallenged power in the body politic, the system does not function without it. Ignoring the bureaucracy’s symbiotic relationship to other power brokers is inexcusable.

In most accounts the civilian bureaucratic apparatus bequeathed to us by colonialism was dealt a hammer blow by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s 1973 reforms which abolished the elite Civil Services of Pakistan cadre and undermined the insularity of the higher echelons of the state bureaucracy. While Bhutto’s intervention against what he called ‘colonial mandarins’ was a turning point, it is necessary to interrogate other related changes that have shaped the evolution of the state bureaucracy, and Pakistan’s political economy more generally.

First, Pakistan is no longer a predominantly rural country generating most of its economic output from agricultural land. Yes a significant chunk of the people remains tied to the land, but the overall socio-economic structure has changed. Remember that the civilian bureaucratic apparatus was created by the British to extract revenue from the land whilst at the same time maintaining political control over the rural masses. The social formation that the bureaucracy was designed to administer is long gone, yet the obsolete administrative and policing practices remain.

Second, the state has progressively ceded more economic decision-making power to market forces. The deepening of capitalism, urbanisation and migration mean that the formal bureaucratic apparatus cannot monopolise the allocation of resources as it did during the colonial period (and a couple of decades after partition). Yet the state bureaucracy clings on to a mediatory role wherever it can.

Third, the politicisation of ethnicity, religion and other identities has affected the civilian bureaucratic apparatus. The ideal-type bureaucracy a la Weber is impersonal in composition and action. The colonial state bureaucracy was qualitatively different, but did retain the pretence of what Weber would call legal-rationality. Over the past four decades this pretence has been dispensed with entirely, and the state bureaucracy looks and acts in concert with ethnic, religious and other affiliations of those that populate it.

All three changes are encapsulated in the fact that individual state functionaries are as important in the functioning of the whole system as ever, while the state bureaucracy as a whole exhibits less coherence in terms of its appearance and actions. In other words, instead of acting in unison in the name of public interest, state functionaries use their positions to benefit themselves and parochial constituencies of their choosing.

Importantly, this is all a matter of degree. State functionaries abused their authority during the colonial period too, if not so brazenly. The fact that the bureaucracy executed relatively unified policy directives in the past did not necessarily translate into a positive net effect with regard to the welfare of the popular classes.

Still there’s something to be said for the fact that the self-perception and practice of the bureaucracy has changed significantly over recent decades. Decidedly paternalistic attitudes towards the unruly masses may not have disappeared entirely but there’s much less sociological distance between state functionaries and the populations that they serve (read: dominate).

It is thus that the exchange of favours and money is explicit at the lowest levels; those who indulge most are also keenest to avoid being found out. My experience suggests that those who rant most about corruption and nepotism are the biggest beneficiaries. The poor and voiceless suffer not only on account of the bureaucracy but also the classes, corporations and other state institutions that make this system tick. A politics of change would name all the culprits and take them on. Mere sloganeering is not politics.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

No respite for media

Razeshta Sethna

WHAT does it tell you about the state of a country’s media when the latter fails to protest in solidarity against the murder of colleagues? There is little safety in isolation.

WHAT does it tell you about the state of a country’s media when the latter fails to protest in solidarity against the murder of colleagues? There is little safety in isolation.

This is the same media corps that had come together in the past after fighting off dangers to its values. But now, attacks on and the killing of Pakistani journalists have failed to elicit a collective response from within the press and from influential media house owners who appear to have prioritised corporate interests and have rivalries with competitors. That is why the government is not pressed about taking meaningful action against the mounting dangers to journalists.

Not only is the media divided in its approach, the bodies representing it have yet to act jointly through government lobbying, or even publishing an endorsed editorial demanding press protection and justice. In the ratings game, rival television channels spew hate almost in the manner of some religious extremists who incite their flock against denominations different from their own. The anchors don’t realise that public opinion is moulded during their one-hour slot.

When dissenting voices speaking out against extremism are silenced, something needs to give. Minimising risks to the media, a joint approach (a code of ethics) supported by media house owners is required. Unfortunately, differences have come in the way of evolving a common strategy to actively engage the government in investigating the cases of murdered journalists.

Prosecuting murder cases will not fix the more complex reasons for why journalists have become easy targets, but it will act as a deterrent. Pakistan’s independent media, having won its freedom after huge sacrifices, is at the risk of losing its voice, not only from its usual detractors, but from vested business and political interests within.

After meeting with a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists in March, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif hasn’t followed through on his government’s commitments to protect journalists — or journalism for that matter. (Two Indian journalists have been given a week’s notice to leave the country: their visas were refused, despite pledges to “make Pakistan accessible to journalists”.)

Addressing the protection of journalists as a negotiating point with the Pakistani Taliban, the media must work without having to appease dangerous frenemies. Safeguards include having an active media complaints commission and a joint government­ -journalists’ commission as well as appointing special provincial prosecutors to investigate attacks. The government could also be collectively approached for instituting a national training institute for mandatory safety training for journalists.

According to Amnesty International, 34 Pakistani journalists have been killed since 2008 — others have been threatened, tortured and have barely escaped assassinations attempts. In hardly any have the perpetrators been brought to justice.

Investigating 70 cases, an AI report, A bullet has been chosen for you: attacks on journalists in Pakistan, looking into complaints of harassment and attacks many allegedly connected to the intelligence, establishes that any sensitive story could put journalists at risk. Attacks on the media should be examined in the larger context of violence stoked by religious extremism, political rivalries and sectarianism, reminding us that the ‘war on terror’ has multiplied strains between civilian and military institutions.

Threats from state and non-state actors to censor and control coverage come from intelligence services, political parties, armed sectarian groups, Baloch separatist groups and the Taliban — more frequently after 2007, when the media stood by civil activists to create public opinion favouring the lawyers’ movement.

While reporters attacked for highlighting abuses or not promoting the ideology of certain groups have openly publicised threats, this has not helped. In an email sent to Umar Cheema at The News and documented by the CPJ, the sender writes: “you simply do not listen when asked politely … That’s it. Just remember; you chose to play with fire”. Cheema was abducted and tortured in September 2010. AI recommends that “a critical step will be for Pakistan to investigate its own military and intelligence agencies and ensure that those responsible for human rights violations against journalists are brought to justice”.

We can’t print all names of dead journalists here. Because there are so many murdered truth-tellers. Malik Mumtaz with Geo TV was gunned down in February last year in his hometown of Miramshah, North Waziristan. He had reported on the polio vaccination programme. An Abb Takk Television reporter, Shan Dahar was shot in the back in January this year while filming outside a pharmacy in Larkana, investigating the unauthorised sale of pharmaceutical drugs. The consequences of reporting the truth are indeed becoming riskier.

The writer is a journalist.

razeshtas

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2014

New fault lines

I.A. Rehman

ONE should be grateful to the political heavyweights who competed for public attention last Sunday for putting the new tug-of-war in the country in clearer perspective. While the immediate target is the one-year old government of Nawaz Sharif the longer-term target is the system of democracy.

ONE should be grateful to the political heavyweights who competed for public attention last Sunday for putting the new tug-of-war in the country in clearer perspective. While the immediate target is the one-year old government of Nawaz Sharif the longer-term target is the system of democracy.

The arguments are incredibly simple: the government lacks legitimacy because the 2013 election was not fair, and if it claims to have the support of the masses its rivals too can collect big crowds everywhere. And as far as the democratic system is concerned, for one, what is being derailed is not democracy, and, for another, Pakistan does not need democracy, it needs a caliphate.

This development is not unexpected. It conforms to the normal pattern of an intra-right battle for supremacy. Following the self-managed exit of the nominally left-of-centre parties and the political heights having fallen to different shades of the right, those on the extreme right want to have the whole cake to themselves. And soon.

The use of different assault tactics is immaterial. Whether democracy is rejected on the grounds of incompatibility with belief or with praetorian prescriptions the result will be the same — tyranny in one form or another.

Since in Pakistan no government has needed its opponents’ help in digging its own grave, it will be interesting to see whether the present government will follow the norm or whether it will be able to break with tradition.

No satisfactory explanation is available for the decision by three political outfits — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Jamaat-i-Islami and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek — to unsheathe their swords in concert on May 11.

There is no point in speculating on any possible coordination among them, direct or through intermediaries, or any nexus with the Geo affair, for there may not be much room for speculation. Besides, the issues raised last Sunday — the unsatisfactory state of the democratic framework, the allegations of rigging in elections, and the need for a stronger Election Commission — are important enough to merit a dispassionate discussion.

Nobody can claim that the present order is really democratic or that it is meeting the people’s aspirations. But where does the fault lie? It’s been known all along that we have been trying to impose democracy on a society that is steeped in anti-democratic values.

Over the years, the rise of religiosity has rendered the imbalance nearly fatal. The accumulated human wisdom rejects the view that a people’s political structure should be no higher than the level of their understanding.

The state structures are therefore expected to facilitate social transformation in the country so that the people’s acceptance of the ideals of equality, liberty and social justice can provide the necessary underpinning to a democratic order.

If this is not done any system chosen in place of democracy will also be corrupted. This will only aggravate the people’s plight. Unfortunately, little is being said on this point by the new champions of the people’s cause.

As regards rigging, the fact is that Pakistan’s culture does not permit fair elections. An element of irregularity has been present in each election we have had. Even when the establishment does not manipulate the polls, which is rare, the candidates and their supporters resort to all manner of foul means to achieve victory.

The more popular parties have obviously better opportunities to manipulate the outcome. Thus an element of cheating proportionate to a party’s fairly gathered votes is considered in order.

It has also been seen that those who manage elections choose to favour the likely winners. The pre-poll favourites in 1945-46, 1970 and 2013 benefited from the opportunistic preferences of state functionaries.

The answer to electoral cheating, which is not the same thing as rigging, lies with the Election Commission only up to a point. A radical improvement in the situation will follow public awakening to the need and benefits of honest elections and the rise of genuine political parties, though some minor changes can be brought about through an overhaul of the electoral system.

Such a review of the electoral system and reform of the Election Commission are issues that the government should be prepared to discuss on a priority basis. The task is quite stupendous and even if a general election is held no earlier than 2018 there is not much time to lose.

What needs to be done is far more complex than the politicians in the news can imagine. The civil society has a long list of proposals for a truly independent and efficient election authority. It challenges the basic assumption that the Election Commission should be an all-male, all-judiciary apparatus. There is much in the People’s Representation Act that needs to be reviewed.

Besides, quite a few other issues need to be addressed, such as the holding of a fair census (even more problematic than an election), the distribution of National Assembly seats among provinces, the monstrous eligibility provisions (Article 62, 63), the undue favour to clerics by including them with technocrats (for the Senate), and the practical denial of representation to peasants, workers and the poor in general.

Everybody has a right to raise these issues in the media and at public rallies but neither of these forums is adequate for arriving at a proper settlement. The best way out is to create an all-party committee, with due civil society representation on it, to devise an efficient electoral machinery that can absorb some of the shocks of our cultural aberrations.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Mixed messages

Khurram Husain

ANOTHER week of mixed messages on the economy has just passed. The week began with an announcement from the IMF, one of the most important external watchdogs on economic developments, saying that it is “encouraged by the overall progress” being made by the government towards stabilising the economy and reviving growth and investment.

ANOTHER week of mixed messages on the economy has just passed. The week began with an announcement from the IMF, one of the most important external watchdogs on economic developments, saying that it is “encouraged by the overall progress” being made by the government towards stabilising the economy and reviving growth and investment.

But the statement hides behind generalities. The reform programme, for instance, is “broadly on track”. Economic indicators are “generally improving”. Is the government prepared to take the tough choices that necessarily lie ahead to sustain this “generally improving” state of affairs? The Fund “recognises the authorities’ determination” to push ahead.

Some of the assessments have left people a little puzzled. For instance, the Fund is clear on the fiscal side, saying revenue performance was “strong during the first nine months of the year”, although it adds an important observation that there is “an emerging revenue shortfall in April”. This might be an obvious question, but how can the performance be termed “strong” if a revenue shortfall is “emerging”?

On the same day that the Fund’s press release was issued, at least two papers carried a news item claiming that the revenue target for the current fiscal year has been revised downward one more time (the last downward revision was in September). In the budget approved in June 2013, the revenue target had been set at Rs2.475 trillion, which was revised down to Rs2.345tr in September.

Now, as per reports that trickled in at the same time as the press release, the target has been revised down further to Rs2.275tr, a reduction of Rs200 billion. The press statement from the Fund, however, made no mention of this, noting only a “strong revenue performance” with an “emerging revenue shortfall”.

At least one newspaper that closely follows the macroeconomic scene and the Fund discussions is not impressed. In an editorial, they advanced the rather unkind view that the Fund has become “an enabler of the FBR’s [Federal Board of Revenue] gross incompetence”.

I say unkind because the reports that brought news of the second downward revision also carried the reason behind why it became necessary. Apparently, the rising value of the rupee negatively impacted customs and excise collections, because as the rupee rose relative to the dollar in February, the rupee value of imports landing at the port went down, meaning the assessed value of the cargoes was lower than expected and as a result the amount of tax assessed was also lower.

Fair enough, but let’s also acknowledge another thing here. The finance minister went on record as early as December saying he wanted the rupee at 98 to a dollar, and follow-up statements and developments since then have shown that this was not empty rhetoric. Therefore, was December not the right time to ask what impact a rising rupee will have on the fiscal framework? Was this asked during the second review that the Fund had with the government in February?

In any event, where the finance minister was quick to point out the savings that a stronger rupee would bring in debt servicing costs, not a word was said about its impact on the fiscal framework.

To add to the mixed messaging, Moody’s also gave an assessment of the government’s track record, saying that risks facing the country had in fact increased, citing a “weakened external position and large government financing needs”.

“[L]arge fiscal imbalances and debt structure weaknesses, coupled with a narrow tax base and heavy reliance on the banking system for deficit financing will likely remain credit constraints,” said the credit rating agency.

Basically, Moody’s pointed out something that the Fund has been too shy to mention thus far: the turnaround in the country’s economic fundamentals has been purchased with borrowed money, and if structural changes don’t accompany this trend, the underlying weaknesses of the economy will make it difficult to carry this heightened debt burden for very long.

Now the Fund has thrown the ball in the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) court, which is due to announce its monetary policy on Friday, capping the week of mixed messages. This will be the first time the central bank will speak after getting a new governor, who is widely perceived to be beholden to his political benefactors.

The Fund has given it an opening by saying that inflation remains an important risk. “The mission urged the SBP to remain vigilant on recent inflationary pressures,” said the Fund, without elaborating on where these inflationary pressures might be coming from.

Will the State Bank add some clarity to the picture? Is the economic turnaround all that it is cut out to be, or are there important caveats lurking below the surface? If they want to go along with the story the government is telling, they’ll need to answer one key question: why is the improving economic picture not reflected in an improving credit rating? Are the rating agencies playing politics? Or are those tasked with vigilance themselves derelict in their obligations?

When institutions speak, it’s always worthwhile to listen closely. The Fund has, thus far, failed to go the full distance to discharge its obligation to provide a clean and impartial picture of the state of the economy. Now it’s the turn of the State Bank to step up to the plate and speak. Rest assured, we’ll be listening carefully.

The writer is a business journalist and 2013-2014 Pakistan Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington D.C.

khurram.husain

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Image reforms for police

Mohammad Ali Babakhel

SKIRMISHES between the police and members of society not only erode public confidence in the criminal justice system but do the country’s image no good. In a terrorism-infested land, the police are the foremost line of defence. But despite their many sacrifices, they do not have a public-friendly image. In fact, because of the security situation, the police here often make headlines, and the media hardly lets pass even a minor mistake by the service.

SKIRMISHES between the police and members of society not only erode public confidence in the criminal justice system but do the country’s image no good. In a terrorism-infested land, the police are the foremost line of defence. But despite their many sacrifices, they do not have a public-friendly image. In fact, because of the security situation, the police here often make headlines, and the media hardly lets pass even a minor mistake by the service.

It is a fact that the effectiveness of the police service is linked with the latter’s public image. A police service with a positive image results in public cooperation and helps create a conducive environment for community policing.

Public expectations from the police are high. Apart from preventing and detecting crime, the police are expected to be combatants, human rights protectors and social workers. The dilemma is that society wants to see them as servants and masters, and that has an impact on the police’s image. But perceptions are based on realities, and as far back as 1902 a police commission documented: “The police force is far from efficient, it is defective in training and organisation, it is inadequately supervised, it is generally regarded as corrupt and oppressive; and it has utterly failed to secure the confidence and cordial cooperation of the people.”

In Pakistan, police commissions have stressed the need for image-building. Mere cosmetic change does not work, and substantial reform is emphasised. Such a change would entail public-centric police laws, financial autonomy for police stations, improved community relations and an autonomous complaint authority. But before that, surely an organised effort should be made to elicit the feedback of the public.

While there is a general negative perception of the police service, some countries have gone through the trouble of assessing the extent of the problem. In India, in an image assessment survey in the mid 1990s, 54pc of the respondents thought it was “better to stay away from police”. Only 5pc said they respected the police. Conversely, the Canadian police enjoy the highest level of public trust, while in Indonesia, surveys have shown an overwhelming 80pc expressing confidence in the police.

Pakistan too has some positives to its credit. For example, the Motorway Police focus on image-building as a mission. On a daily average, they help some 2,300 commuters in distress, and in fact their initiative has been known to extend to giving polio drops to children in transit.

Unfortunately, at the other end, where the law provides for the establishment of police complaint authorities, these have yet to prove their worth. Other grim realities have also caused a dent in the police’s image, not the least of them corruption. For instance, owing to flaws in the procedure, corrupt elements who may have been suspended, are reinstated. Such returns further erode the public’s confidence. Zero tolerance of corrupt elements is needed. In Paraguay, from 2011 to 2013, 375 policemen were dismissed for corruption.

So how can the police’s image be refurbished?

Apart from correcting the essentials, what can also help is modifying appearances. For instance, alterations to police station buildings could make for a positive change, as could changes to the police uniform.

Similarly, the use of technology can expedite police matters, making the police service more efficient. The Indian states of Punjab and Gujarat introduced e-police stations where FIRs can be lodged directly in the computer. Recently, the French police introduced drive-through police stations for people to report crime for convenience.

Conversely in Pakistan, police websites are neither updated daily nor are they public-friendly. Websites could in fact be a tremendous source of public education and help in the prevention of or combating crime.

Meanwhile, greater incorporation of women in the police can also improve the image of the service. Presently in Pakistan, the total strength of the police service is 420,205. This figure includes only 3,737 female officials. Also, the constable-officer ratio needs to be addressed. Instead of recruiting thousands of constables, the focus should be on the recruitment of officers. A mere increase in salaries does not improve one’s image, hence recruitment standards need more transparency and rigidity.

And lastly, for building a positive image, police departments need a written media policy and a dedicated public relations department. As per the existing practice the police management focuses only on statistics, thus an ‘image audit’ is not a priority. Such an image audit, to be conducted by an independent body, is necessary, and on the basis of the findings, training modules can be prepared and operating procedures modified. In short, image-building would require a combination of gradual, sustained and immediate reforms.

The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police.

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

Metro Bus concerns

Syed Umair Javed

THERE is little doubt that we need Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) systems for our major cities. With an ever-growing population, increased urbanisation, and the decreasing space for further expansion of intra-city road networks, the need for MRT will greatly increase in the years to come. As such, the initiatives by the federal and provincial governments in recent years are indeed a welcome sight.

THERE is little doubt that we need Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) systems for our major cities. With an ever-growing population, increased urbanisation, and the decreasing space for further expansion of intra-city road networks, the need for MRT will greatly increase in the years to come. As such, the initiatives by the federal and provincial governments in recent years are indeed a welcome sight.

Given our limited financial and physical resources, however, governments must opt for MRT systems that are efficient, sustainable, and environment-friendly. In terms of efficiency, projects must be cost-effective, while offering the widest possible coverage to the public.

An excessively costly MRT will invariably mean that commuters will end up paying higher fares. At the same time, the projects must have support from the local public to ensure long-term sustainability.

A project that is forced on a city without public discourse is less likely to sustain itself in the long run as compared to one that is developed with broader public consensus. Not least, learning from the senseless road expansion of the last two decades, and keeping in mind the ever-increasing pollution in many cities, governments must ensure that MRTs do not cause unnecessary environmental damage.

In this context, the Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Project is an example of how not to build an MRT. The Islamabad section of the project has been started in haste without seeking any input from the local people. As a result, the shortcomings are evident.

The proposed route conveniently ignores the bulk of potential commuters along the Islamabad Expressway and Kashmir Highway. The Metro Bus project is reported to cost around Rs44 billion. In comparison, a 2012 feasibility study by the Asian Development Bank gave an estimate of Rs4bn for a bus-based metro project in Islamabad. The proposed project is, on the face of it, highly inefficient in terms of coverage and cost. The only beneficiaries are likely to be the private contractors involved in the project.

When protests started against the proposed project, the government, rather than initiating public debate, simply increased the speed of construction. This raises questions not just about the transparency of the project, but also about its long-term sustainability.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the CDA, the statutory body responsible for development work in the capital, has been completely sidelined while the project is being supervised by its Rawalpindi counterpart. Exactly who will be responsible for running the project after its completion is unknown.

Another major drawback of the project is the environmentally reckless manner in which it is being constructed. The Islamabad master plan envisions green belts along the sides of the major roads to provide crucial breathing spaces for the city. This green belt feature is an integral part of Islamabad’s character and defines what the city means to its residents.

Despite that fact that bus lanes were incorporated on all major roads during 2004-2005, the government seeks to eat up the green belts housing thousands of trees to make new lanes for the Metro Bus. Interestingly, the government did not even bother to undertake a proper environmental impact assessment or clearance from the EPA before initiating the project.

An alternative to the Metro Bus envisions the running of fast-moving buses along the Islamabad Expressway (Rawat-Faisal Mosque), Kashmir Highway (New Airport to Bani Gala), and Jinnah Avenue (F-11-Parade Ground) by converting the existing left-most lanes into dedicated bus lanes, dotted with minimalist-design bus stations. The passengers between Rawalpindi and Islamabad could switch at the Faizabad Interchange.

In the second phase, the routes could be extended to include the Ninth Avenue (IJP Road to Shaheen Chowk) and Seventh Avenue (Aabpara to Daman-i-Koh Chowk). It does not take rocket science to figure out that such a grid network would offer better coverage at a low cost, be more sustainable, and cause absolutely no harm to the environment, all the while remaining within the limits of the master plan. In the long term, the buses could eventually be replaced with fast moving trams.

This is just one of the several alternative proposals that exist. More important than a particular proposal is the right of the public to debate the efficiency, sustainability and environmental friendliness of any MRT system. Sadly, the government does not agree.

Perhaps this is why last week, Asad Umar and Mushahid Hussain, two opposition parliamentarians, had to approach the Supreme Court on behalf of the residents of Islamabad. One can only hope that the government will review its decision and encourage public debate before initiating such important projects.

The writer is a legal affairs professional based in Islamabad.

Twitter: @SyedUmairJaved

Published in Dawn, May 15th, 2014

A tale of two rallies

Zahid Hussain

THE two rallies in the twin cities on Sunday evening did not have much in common except for their anti-government rhetoric and expression of allegiance to the military. There was more of a festive mood at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s D-Chowk rally in Islamabad with its mixed crowd of the urban elite and party loyalists from the hinterland. But though an impressive turnout, it lacked the charge of past public meetings. Maybe times have changed since last year’s elections.

THE two rallies in the twin cities on Sunday evening did not have much in common except for their anti-government rhetoric and expression of allegiance to the military. There was more of a festive mood at the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s D-Chowk rally in Islamabad with its mixed crowd of the urban elite and party loyalists from the hinterland. But though an impressive turnout, it lacked the charge of past public meetings. Maybe times have changed since last year’s elections.

In contrast, Tahirul Qadri’s rally in Rawalpindi was more of a gathering of devotees drawn from small towns in central Punjab and students of religious schools run by Minhajul Quran. These men, women and children were transported there to hear their leader’s address by video link from his comfortable abode in Canada.

Like disciplined members of a cult, every order of their leader is sacred. Remember last year when they stayed put in Islamabad for three days, braving the harsh, cold winter? But they are hardly vanguard material for the revolution that Qadri promises to bring about.

Sheikh Rashid’s usual bombast, vowing to bring down the government in 10 minutes, may have provided for some brief, light entertainment to the audience, but the speeches at D-Chowk lacked direction. They mostly revolved around the oft-repeated charges of election fraud and rigging. Much time was spent on castigating a particular media group, with all sorts of allegations reserved for it — from being a partner in crime to working on an anti state agenda.

One year is a long time to revive the rigging issue. Too much has happened since then. The PTI had already lost the initiative when it called off the protests against the poll results. It is, perhaps, too late now to mobilise public opinion on the matter.

Imran Khan had not only accepted the PML-N’s mandate to rule, but also worked closely with the Sharif government on some key policy issues during this period. The PTI almost played a secondary role to the government’s on the issue of militancy, extending full support to the talks with the Pakistani Taliban. The bonhomie was further strengthened after the prime minister visited the PTI chief at his residence early this year.

There is no clarity on who Imran Khan is actually blaming for the electoral fraud. He has accused everyone — from the Election Commission to the former chief justice to the Punjab caretaker administration to a media group — for this. That makes things much more complicated. It is hard to fathom the direction in which he is pointing his finger.

For sure there had been reports of widespread vote rigging across the country and no party seems to be satisfied with the results. The elections were not ‘stolen’ only in some Punjab constituencies where the PTI is demanding a recount and verification of the votes. Why should the complaints of other political parties not be heard as well?

What the PTI does not talk about is the pre-election rigging in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the Awami National Party was forced to abandon its campaign following the targeted terrorist attacks on its candidates. It certainly made the elections one-sided with only the Taliban-approved parties being allowed to stay in the field. But no political party wants to raise this issue.

Surely one cannot agree more with Imran Khan on the imperative of electoral reforms and establishing an all-powerful and independent election commission to make the electoral process more credible and non-controversial in the future. But that requires a constitutional amendment. This could only be achieved by developing a consensus across the divide in parliament.

Imran Khan vowed to continue the protests until his party’s demand for recounting in four constituencies is accepted. A major question is whether it will resolve the controversy, or open a Pandora’s box. An oft-offered solution to end the conflict are mid-term elections. But that certainly would not be acceptable to the main political parties.

A one-point agenda has indeed diverted the PTI’s attention from other critical issues facing the country. Imran Khan’s speech had no mention of the problem of terrorism that continues to take a huge toll, particularly on KP that is ruled by his party.

Meanwhile, in Rawalpindi, Qadri called for the overthrow of the entire political system through people’s power. Unlike last year, the cleric was not there in person, opting to lead the ‘revolution’ from outside. After last year’s humiliation, he wanted to test the waters before deciding to return for what appears to have become an annual ritual.

In his absence, his sons took charge of organising the rally. Obviously, there was nothing wrong in family members of the crusader against hereditary politics inheriting his mantle. What is wrong for others appears kosher for him. Qadri’s nuisance value owes to his massive financial resources. That, he seems to have used for his media publicity. No wonder his interviews have regularly been telecast on TV channels.

Those two rallies have exposed the credibility and the so-called independence of the electronic media. Objectivity has been the biggest victim in the reporting of the events. Qadri’s rally would hardly have had any impact had the TV channels not telecast his entire speech live. Surely the government has overreacted by declaring the PTI campaign a conspiracy to derail the democratic set-up. But it remains to be seen whether Imran Khan is able to bring the Sharif government under more pressure.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

The Brunei ‘model’

Rafia Zakaria

THE Sultanate of Brunei is running out of oil. Lower production levels led to a 34pc drop in crude oil exports last November, which amounted to a loss of nearly $400 million in revenue. Because so much of the country’s economy is dependent on the energy sector and oil exports, the result was a drop of 1.4pc in the country’s GDP.

THE Sultanate of Brunei is running out of oil. Lower production levels led to a 34pc drop in crude oil exports last November, which amounted to a loss of nearly $400 million in revenue. Because so much of the country’s economy is dependent on the energy sector and oil exports, the result was a drop of 1.4pc in the country’s GDP.

The people of Brunei are quite troubled. By any standards, the country’s population of 420,000 has enjoyed a lovely life thanks to their oil reserves: none of the citizens pay taxes, everyone gets a pension, medical care is free, there is little crime, and many leisure activities are paid for by the government. With such a surfeit of cash divided amongst so tiny a population, life has generally been easy.

On top of all those enjoying the good life is the Sultan of Brunei himself, who lives in a palace of 1,800 rooms and has ruled the country for decades. For all involved, times have been good — until recently, when the prediction that Brunei would run out of oil, along with the actual and drastic drop in oil production in the last quarter of the year, have together lent credence to the awful prospect that there may be an end to paradise.

But the sudden plummeting of oil reserves is not the only news from Brunei these days. On May 1, the sultan (who is also the defence and finance minister) announced large-scale legal reforms that would implement his chosen version of Sharia law. In this, the first phase of the implementation, violations such as not fasting in the month of Ramazan and the missing of Friday prayers are now punishable by hefty fines or jail sentences.

In the next phase, which is to take place after a year, Hudood punishments for theft and the consumption of alcohol will be implemented. In the final phase, capital punishment (including stoning) for the crimes of blasphemy, adultery and fornication will be in place.

Coming as they do in quick succession, the two developments — the implementation of Sharia and the realisation of dwindling oil reserves — can be said to bear some connection. Indeed, Pakistan, which has (as per the Brunei definition) already seen some enforcement of Sharia, has experience in using large-scale legal reforms during times of crisis.

One form of implementation took place under Gen Ziaul Haq’s martial law regime, when the shadow of a military coup and an executed prime minister darkened the political landscape. Promulgating various ordinances, the Zina and Hudood Ordinances among them, helpfully redirected the national debate away from the violations of the Constitution and the impact on institutions of democracy. It worked in Pakistan back then, and perhaps Brunei has taken note.

There are other reasons to question the intentions of the sultan. Until now, few of his habits and predilections have reflected much of a concern for religion and its place in the public sphere.

One example presented itself in the immediate aftermath of his Sharia announcement. Appalled by the descriptions of the flogging and stoning punishments to come, a gaggle of celebrities in Hollywood announced a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel because it was owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, which is owned by the sultan. The event, the ‘Night before the Oscars’, which was scheduled to be held at the hotel, one Hollywood news source reported, would now be held elsewhere. Another awards event, to be hosted by television personality Jay Leno, was similarly moved to another location.

Those are the misgivings of Hollywood. For our purposes of evaluating the intentions of the sultan’s implementation of Sharia, the interesting aspect of this latest development is quite simply the fact that he continues to own properties that, under the code imposed in Brunei, would require the fining and jailing of his customers.

In simple terms, then, and in the tradition of oil-rich monarchs elsewhere, the sultan sees no problem in owning assets and encouraging abroad what he has himself declared sinful and punishable at home. The ruse is not limited to owning hotels in Hollywood. A cursory search of the sultan’s past and that of other men in his family reveals a decadent lifestyle shorn of any sense of ethics, Islamic or otherwise.

In one article, a woman claimed she was the mistress of the prince of Brunei, the sultan’s brother. Hers is a story of casting calls held in New York through which beautiful women were selected and taken to Dubai. Once there, it is alleged they were entertained at lavish parties featuring gold woven carpets and limitless alcohol, and encouraged to compete to attract the attentions of the lucky prince.

This month, the brother of this profligate prince became a champion of Sharia law, the hypocrisy visible to all who know anything about the decadent doings of the Brunei royal family.

Here in Pakistan where the Sharia’s influence in several areas has still not succeeded in making the country adequately Islamic, the experiment in Brunei is worthy of note. Protecting the sanctity of faith, and of the legal code based on it, should perhaps also mean preventing it from being so grossly misused as a cover-up for the political machinations of the power-hungry.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

India’s Modi moment

Mahir Ali

A PAIR of senior Israeli ministers recently argued that Jewish settlers who carried out gratuitous attacks on Palestinians should be classified as terrorists. The celebrated author Amos Oz went further, describing them as neo-Nazis.

A PAIR of senior Israeli ministers recently argued that Jewish settlers who carried out gratuitous attacks on Palestinians should be classified as terrorists. The celebrated author Amos Oz went further, describing them as neo-Nazis.

In eastern Ukraine, it is not uncommon for the interim authorities in Kiev to be viewed as fascistic, while the latter routinely classify pro-Russian forces as terrorists. It could be argued that they are both at least partially mistaken — although it is clearly a grievous mistake on the part of the West to gloss over the far-right influence in the Ukrainian capital.

At the same time, there can be little doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nationalistic tendencies have steadily served as a dose of Viagra for the most regressive elements in post-Soviet Russia.

It is hardly an isolated phenomenon, though. The ascendancy of right-wing extremists is a narrative that extends across much of Europe. And beyond. Asia is certainly no stranger to the authoritarian capitalist model, and it is widely feared that its Indian manifestation following a six-week electoral process in which about 13pc of humanity cast a vote, will be associated with a religiously focused nationalist streak with occasional fascistic overtones.

Monday’s exit polls have appeared to confirm earlier prognostications about a sweep by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), although almost every report was at pains to point out that previous predictions on this basis were way off the mark.

Ten years ago, the BJP’s ‘India Shining’ slogan had faced rejection at the ballot box, partly because it sought to ignore all the evidence of tarnish that was clearly visible to most voters. This time a key factor in the party’s resurgence has been the promise of economic lustre: a replication of the supposedly exemplary development model in Gujarat, whose long-serving chief minister Narendra Modi is all but certain to take over as prime minister from Manmohan Singh.

A number of analysts have suggested that should the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) fail to acquire a clear majority of seats in the Lok Sabha and thereby be compelled to seek alliances with smaller parties, it may be persuaded to ditch Modi and pick a less divisive prime ministerial candidate. That, however, comes across as wishful thinking in the wake of a presidential-style campaign in which Modi’s personal standing was paramount. Besides, let us not forget that roughly one-third of the popular vote would suffice for an NDA majority. It may seem like a travesty, but in common with so many other countries that rely on the first-past-the-post system, a convincing popular mandate in the world’s largest democracy does not require more than 50pc of the popular vote.

That’s not an indictment of the BJP, mind you — even in the first Lok Sabha election, which stretched from October 1951 to February 1952, the Indian National Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru won an overwhelming majority of seats on the basis of 45pc of the popular vote.

His heirs — in terms of bloodline as much as party affiliation — have never fared better than that, and his great-grandson is certain to do considerably worse. India’s disenchantment with the Congress is perfectly understandable, even though the obvious alternative is so much worse.

Not surprisingly, Narendra Modi’s campaign focused mainly on his supposed economic credentials rather than the allegiance to Hindu nationalism that he has never denied. And it is likely that many of those who voted for him did so in the hope of economic enhancement rather than as an endorsement of his despicable nonchalance towards the anti-Muslim pogroms that blighted Gujarat under his auspices in 2002.

Since the age of 10, Modi has been a votary of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, one of the least palatable manifestations of Hindu extremism. And there have been plenty of indications that the Sangh Parivar —the umbrella for religious fanaticism — will be inclined to wrestle itself free of the secularist restraints that have hitherto usually held it back once he is ensconced as prime minister.

It is alarming, albeit not entirely surprising, that the Sangh Parivar’s ‘Hinduism in danger’ slogan echoes the theme of pre-partition Muslim separatism. The advent of Modi may well align India with Pakistan in terms of ideological inclination while relegating even further the prospect of fraternal coexistence.

Whether India’s justly lauded multifariousness will militate against the risk to its secularist identity posed by Modi’s most vociferous acolytes remains to be seen. Likewise the inevitable tendency towards neoliberalism of the crony capitalist variety. There’s no getting away from the fact, though, that a Modi-fied India could pose a challenge whose dimensions extend well beyond South Asia.

mahir.dawn

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

Dance away the war

Zubeida Mustafa

HOW does one get one’s message across to a large audience when a cacophony of sounds drowns out one’s voice before it is heard? Politicians scream into microphones making aggressive gestures before a captive audience that has been assembled for their benefit by their minions. Extremists and militants hire killers and suicide bombers to drive home their point. Television talk show hosts broadcast their inanities.

HOW does one get one’s message across to a large audience when a cacophony of sounds drowns out one’s voice before it is heard? Politicians scream into microphones making aggressive gestures before a captive audience that has been assembled for their benefit by their minions. Extremists and militants hire killers and suicide bombers to drive home their point. Television talk show hosts broadcast their inanities.

At the other end, artists draw pictures to tell their story, while authors and poets play with words. In fact, there is another medium that can be employed to win the hearts and minds of people. Last week, Suhaee Abro demonstrated effectively that dance can be used to convey the message of love and peace.

Having seen this talented child blossom into a charming dancer-cum-choreographer, I was fascinated by the ease with which Suhaee and the 44 dancers she brought together captivated a crowd of more than 2,000 people with their message of harmony and beauty blended with a lot of colourful cheer.

The performers brought diversity and richness to the stage as a number of them had travelled from outside Karachi and displayed their skill in a variety of dance forms. So strong was their commitment to their medium and the message that the only honorarium they accepted was a bouquet. And they left no one in doubt that dance can be a compelling tool to

influence opinion and to counter hatred. That is so because dance has an emotional appeal.

Having trained under Sheema Kermani, the renowned women’s rights activist and dancer, since an early age, Suhaee has now formed a dance group of her own, Nritaal. She is a practitioner of the Bharatanatyam and is also a skilful choreographer. Her forte is the contemporary Sufi and folk genre of her native Sindh.

Suhaee is an artist with a mission. She befittingly titled her latest show Raqs mein hai sara jahan (the whole world is dancing) — a powerful expression of her yearning to get people to dance away their differences. This message of inclusiveness was driven home by her move to collect well-reputed and seasoned dancers from Lahore and Balochistan to join her performance to uphold this mission.

The presence of Nighat Chowdhry, a Kathak dancer, and Adnan Jahangir, also a Kathak dancer and choreographer, Munawar Chao, a seasoned dancer specialising in the Bharatanatyam, and Wahab Shah, a choreographer and performer, became symbolic of the bonds that tie dancers from all regions together.

But what stole the show was the ‘Do Chappi’ performed by the Baloch troupe directed by the Napa-trained filmmaker Tariq Murad who dedicated the dance to the missing Baloch students whose trace cannot be found. They are the persona non grata of the country and the powers that be would prefer that their voices not be heard as they do not want their message to be sent out.

The ‘Do Chappi’ is performed by a group with dancers holding each other’s hands and tapping their feet rhythmically. It is a dance of celebration: a cultural manifestation of rejoicing.

It symbolises the ‘united we stand’ and ‘we will win’ spirit of the Baloch. The Baloch have since 1947 demonstrated their defiance of the ‘accession’ they claim the Khan of Kalat was coerced into. There have been a series of insurgencies — in 1948, 1958-59, 1963-69, 1973-1977, and 2005 onwards. The end of the 1969 insurgency led to Balochistan being incorporated as the fourth province of the country.

The conflict has acquired an agonising urgency with human rights implications. The ‘kill and dump’ operation has cast a shadow over our collective conscience More than being a violent territorial or constitutional dispute, Balochistan’s political history with its ups and downs now has state actors — both civil and military — responding to the nationalists and separatists by allegedly abducting and killing their leaders.

The commission set up in 2011 to investigate the cases of missing people — quite a few of them are Baloch — has been faced with a daunting agenda. With 138 cases before it four years ago it now has another 1,856 cases on its file and almost a third of these relate to the Baloch. The Baloch missing people were said to be 621 but this figure has been challenged by the Voice of the Baloch Missing Persons that recently led a march to Islamabad.

But for many of us even one person missing equals the agony of a thousand people missing. The struggle then goes on. In the ‘Do Chappi’ dance the groom has his nuptial outfit snatched from him but he wins it back as he and his friends continue to dance. Is anyone listening in Islamabad?

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2014.

Proposals for the budget

Shahid Kardar

EVEN amongst developing countries Pakistan is in the bottom-ranked nations, with tax revenues less than 10pc of GDP. There’s rampant tax evasion, partly with the official machinery’s collusion. Theoretically, revenues can be raised through broadening bases, improving the tax regime’s equity, incentivising documentation, checking evasion by embracing a zero-tolerance policy, and greater reliance on technology. However, any tax regime can only produce the results we hope for provided it is driven by our experience of what works.

EVEN amongst developing countries Pakistan is in the bottom-ranked nations, with tax revenues less than 10pc of GDP. There’s rampant tax evasion, partly with the official machinery’s collusion. Theoretically, revenues can be raised through broadening bases, improving the tax regime’s equity, incentivising documentation, checking evasion by embracing a zero-tolerance policy, and greater reliance on technology. However, any tax regime can only produce the results we hope for provided it is driven by our experience of what works.

In that spirit, although the outcomes of our income tax systems suggest otherwise, if we still insist on pursuing an income tax system as generally understood then it can only work if:

i) the same level incomes are taxed equally, irrespective of source; ii) legislation renders benami transactions illegal; iii) there’s a clear signal of no-tolerance, subjecting cabinet ministers to detailed scrutiny throughout their period of office, and the tax returns and wealth statements of parliamentarians and key public office holders and their spouses (including secretaries, chief justices, army chiefs, etc.) are public documents during their period of office and a year after; iv) FBR periodically reconciles provincial property tax registers, credit card holders and members of private clubs with those allotted National Tax Numbers; v) tax arbitrage by major shareholder executives is prevented by eliminating the tax differential between the highest individual tax rate and the corporate income tax rate; vi) withholding tax on cash withdrawals is abolished to incentivise the Rs2.2 trillion currency in circulation into the banking system, helping lower debt servicing costs; net tax collection on cash withdrawals is significantly lower than the likely saving on debt servicing costs.

However, if we choose to learn from the implementation of various initiatives to mobilise resources and encourage documentation only presumptive taxes have worked. Going forward this may be the only route but by replacing them with withholding taxes:

i) This rate should be increased by three percentage points to incentivise documentation, penalising those trying to avoid the tax net, with monthly bills in excess of Rs20,000 for domestic and all commercial electricity connections being subjected to a withholding tax of 10pc and 15pc respectively; ii)value-added exports are incentivised by raising the tax rate on the receipts of exports of products like cotton etc to 2pc, retaining the 1pc rate for exports of finished products like cotton, shoes, carpets, etc;

iii) for companies the turnover tax should be raised to 2pc — excluding those treated as special cases or exporters for tax purposes — to be regarded as withholding tax for those adopting this route. The other option is to exempt from audit unlisted companies paying a 20pc higher tax (15pc in the case of listed companies) than that paid in the previous year. Adequate safeguards can be built to check abuse by entrepreneurs — closing existing companies and starting new ones — while subjecting to audit those declaring losses; iv) revisit capital gains tax on profits from stock market trades.

If we wish to continue with GST on domestic transactions (treating imports separately), despite the evidence of failure, then to incentivise formal transactions the rate for registered entities should be 12.5pc with the unregistered paying the current rate.

There are different rates of import duties on the same item depending on the consuming industry, creating opportunities for ‘extracting rent’. The tariff structure should be simplified through ‘one-chapter one-rate’; although ideally we should gradually shift to a single, uniform rate on all imports.

On administrative measures, the focus should be a) on improving the quality of FBR’s data warehouse and IT systems; b) ensuring that taxes collected by ‘withholding agents’ or GST from the end-consumer are eventually deposited in government coffers by initiating a lottery for hotel and restaurant sales tax paid bills furnished by consumers.

However, the bigger problem lies on the expenditure side. It’s a black hole because of poor prioritisation, corruption and waste. Our political, military and bureaucratic leadership treats public money as its own, without ordinary citizens gaining much from such spending. For instance, development programmes are driven by politicians, contractors and corrupt officials, and mostly suffer from poor scheme selection, leakages and lack of transparency in procurement processes with no accountability for unsatisfactory impact.

Project staff, connected to important decision-makers, get hired while cars, mobile phones, laptops, etc; are procured years before the real work starts. These gadgets end up in their homes, with maintenance paid by the project, while those recruited get a job almost for life since the scheme is never completed.

Overstaffing in public-sector agencies and the salaries, perks and privileges of elected representatives and civil, military and judicial officials is a huge drain on scarce resources.

So what reforms are needed?

Following the 18th Amendment the federal government size should be drastically reduced while all VIP privileges such as planes, bullet-proof cars (except for those facing high security risk), Haj/umrah on government expense should be withdrawn and less than five hours’ travel should be in economy class.

Ministers and civil, military and judiciary officials should only get 1,300cc cars, while housing for officials should be eliminated in five years (if it’s to be provided then it should be in the form of apartments only).

Moreover, all producer-related subsidies on wheat, fertiliser, etc. should be in the provincial budgets, based on their respective priorities. The federal government should only fund interprovincial projects (eg national highways) shifting resources to higher priority areas, eg energy and railways, from lower priority programmes eg airports, roads.

No new schemes should be launched and all available resources should be devoted to completion of ongoing projects. Finally, each award of contracts over Rs25 million should be made in media presence with bid evaluations posted on PPRA’s website.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Lessons from Indian polls

Jawed Naqvi

“According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; everyday, more than four ‘Untouchable’ women are raped by ‘Touchables’; every week, 13 Dalits are murdered and six Dalits are kidnapped. In 2012 alone, the year of the Delhi gang-rape and murder, 1,574 Dalit women were raped (the rule of thumb is that only 10pc of rapes or other crimes against Dalits are ever reported).

“According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; everyday, more than four ‘Untouchable’ women are raped by ‘Touchables’; every week, 13 Dalits are murdered and six Dalits are kidnapped. In 2012 alone, the year of the Delhi gang-rape and murder, 1,574 Dalit women were raped (the rule of thumb is that only 10pc of rapes or other crimes against Dalits are ever reported).

“In 1919 in what came to be known as the Red Summer in the US, 76 Black Americans, men and women, were lynched. In India, in 2012, 651 Dalits were murdered. That’s just the rape and butchery. Not the stripping and parading naked, the forced s—eating (literally) the seizing of land, the social boycotts, the restriction of access to drinking water.”

When our eyes were turned on the inordinately long election campaign in India, writer Arundhati Roy was engaging with Dalit intellectuals and ordinary ‘Untouchables’ in their hub in Yawatamal in Maharashtra. She was sharing with them notes, such as her observations cited above, on how the Indian system, led by Hindutva, has successfully broken down the solidarity of the common people, and pitted them against each other in a way that the colonial maxim of ‘divide et impera’ would pale in comparison.

That’s why I believe the most curious thing about Indian elections is that you can count the numerous lessons that can be drawn from any one of the contests even before they are held. There was nothing in the elections for the Dalits, nor the Christians, the tribespeople or the other lower-caste Hindus. The system has divided them nicely. As a result, the Muslim thinks he is the most targeted, the Dalit sees himself as the worst hit by an unequal system. Modi has got them to lacerate each other, in Gujarat, in Muzaffarnagar, wherever Hindutva has spread its roots.

In other words, the lessons from an average election tend to be mostly unrelated to what the much discussed and widely appreciated process of Indian democracy purports to be. That’s how we get angry voters mocking politicians of being opportunists, leaches. But they vote nevertheless, may be for an Alice-like moment of relief, who knows, and to be able to observe again and again how the more we change the more we remain the same.

Take the two major issues that occupied the discourse for well over a month of a bitter election campaign: communalism and development. Who could have sown communalism better than the British? And who could have sponsored India’s ‘development’ at such a massive scale that even Marx could not help being impressed. Colonialism ‘developed’ India for its own narrow reasons, not necessarily to improve the natives’ lot. It sowed communal friction in exactly the way that Narendra Modi uses it — to push an economic agenda by stealth.

After all Modi, like his fellow heirs of colonialism, has been tasked by the big financiers to press the accelerator on a so-called ‘development’ model before another freedom movement takes root to challenge it. And it may have begun to strike roots in the form of a nationwide anti-communal, anti-corporate initiative — not in a doctrinaire way a communist-led Left Front would have preferred, but in its own erratic yet purposeful, possibly Indian way.

There were gasps of outrage and fear in the secular corner when Modi and his cohorts unleashed communal vitriol during the campaign. But Hindu and Muslim communalism, including their motifs and slogans, are older than India’s independence.

The Charter Act of 1833 categorically established that “no native of India, nor any natural born subject of His Majesty should be disabled from holding any place, office or employment by reason of his religion, place of birth, descent or colour”. Under Modi this rudimentary legal cover, honed by B.R. Ambedkar into India’s statutes, chiefly by including gender as deserving of equality in law, would stand degraded by the exigencies of Hindutva.

This is the foremost lesson everyone ought to have learnt from the rise of Hindu communalism and its Muslim cousin way before 1947. Far from atoning for the massacre of 2002, Modi looks unwilling to dump the 1938 Hindutva principles enunciated by M.S. Golwalkar, which threaten to cancel even the momentary lapse when colonial endeavour nudged civility into India’s social intercourse. As we heard during the elections, from one of Golwakar’s students, anyone criticising Modi (thereby Hindutva) would be sent to Pakistan.

The reality may not be quite so Muslim-specific, however, although the elections might have seemed to be heavily focused on the community.

As Roy put it in Yawatmal, not only the Muslims, the Christians, Adivasis, Sikhs and Dalits are at risk. They “live in a Savarna Hindu State that is permanently at war with its minorities and its Avarnas. But then India is a nation of minorities — so how does this very elite minority (Brahmins and Banias make up less than 6pc of the population) maintain its privileges and its power?

“Like any colonial power — by pitting people against each other. By sending Nagas to fight in Kashmir, Kashmiris to Chhattisgarh, Tamils to Assam. By pitting OBCs against Dalits, Dalits against Muslims. Adivasis against each other.” There was nothing about any of this in the elections and that is clearly the most important lesson they offer — not for the first time, of course.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Our internal challenge

Moeed Yusuf

I HAVE just finished an edited book on the counterterrorism (CT) challenge in Pakistan in which the contributors converge on a number of fairly pessimistic conclusions. The volume confirms that Pakistan’s CT domain is lacking the most basic prerequisite for a state to overcome a multifaceted terrorism challenge: having across-the-board consensus on who your enemy is and being able to galvanise your institutions to work together to tackle it.

I HAVE just finished an edited book on the counterterrorism (CT) challenge in Pakistan in which the contributors converge on a number of fairly pessimistic conclusions. The volume confirms that Pakistan’s CT domain is lacking the most basic prerequisite for a state to overcome a multifaceted terrorism challenge: having across-the-board consensus on who your enemy is and being able to galvanise your institutions to work together to tackle it.

I am pointing to the specific and practical concern about knowing who within the militant enclave represents what threat and how (and by whom) they are to be tackled.

Of course, nothing profound here. From the streets of Pakistan to policy pundits in Washington, you hear people questioning Pakistan’s sincerity on CT. But that debate is distinct in that it features people from outside Pakistan’s decision-making enclave. One can live with lack of clarity there. But the situation becomes intolerable when one finds Pakistani decision-makers as confused and incoherent about whom they are after.

The civilian decision-makers seem to have little visibility on what the military is thinking in terms of the ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ militants. Everyone I speak to suspects that parts of the establishment are still up to no good when it comes to making a clean break with the militants. Their reasons for believing so are varied. Regardless, they do not feel the military is being upfront about this whole business even behind closed doors.

Within the government’s ranks itself, there is much confusion on where the prime minister stands. There are those who strongly feel that he’s got the militancy question worked out and the path of reconciliation will deliver. Others, including some close to him, worry that he’s being manipulated by those who see the Punjab-based militants favorably and that his timidity will lead us to disaster.

As for the military, it is always ready to offer you its set piece explanation of how they are approaching the CT challenge, why they can’t target all groups at once, why the Afghan militants must not become Pakistan’s problem, how the civilians essentially blame them for everything that goes wrong without playing their role effectively, etc.

Their story doesn’t add up. In fact, it’s often indefensible. But it continues to be perpetuated nonetheless.

So where does this leave the executers of the CT policy — those who actually have to go out and do things. Let us take the three aspects believed to be key to successful CT: military, police and the legal system.

The military/ISI combine feels that it is the only one competent enough to hold the fort. Despite having realised they cannot master the CT space without the police’s support in the urban areas, they see the police as woefully incompetent and operating at the whims of politicians — themselves seen as compromised creatures for the most part.

Get into their minds and their distrust for the police and their tendency of ignoring the police’s jurisdiction, withholding information and technology from the police, etc. becomes rather unsurprising.

The police have countless anecdotes of their own. They say they regularly apprehend militants, only to be forced to let a number of them go under pressure either from the khakis or influential politicians. Many of them are not sure if serious CT efforts are worth it given that part of their state seems to be working against them.

Then there is the disconnect within the criminal justice system. The judiciary is dismissive of the police and prosecutors’ performance in terrorism cases. Police keep repeating mistakes in their investigations; the judiciary finds these as evidence of incompetence and lack of seriousness.

The police argue that the judiciary is oblivious to their constraints. And even if these officers understand the judiciary’s compulsions to follow the law in letter and spirit, those actually investigating the cases have even ended up losing their lives at the hands of the acquitted militants. Their peers feel that the judiciary is timid, or worse yet, lenient towards the militants. Again, why risk your lives, they ask!

And finally, members from all state institutions relevant to CT would tell you that their institutions have been penetrated — to varying degrees — by the Islamist mindset. Yes, the West exaggerates the problem multifold. But no, the concern is not made up. Many in these institutions no longer know who to trust.

To use a term of art, it’s a royal mess. If the state is not convinced of its own sincerity, the rest hardly matters.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington D.C.

Health reform in the air?

Shehla AZ

THE 18th Amendment meant that the health sector has been returned to its original constitutional home in the provinces. This was a bold step undoing the centralised service delivery that, over the years, had fragmented local health systems.

THE 18th Amendment meant that the health sector has been returned to its original constitutional home in the provinces. This was a bold step undoing the centralised service delivery that, over the years, had fragmented local health systems.

Now the provinces have an opportunity to shape, test and implement innovations for improving health in line with local contexts. Service delivery needs vary greatly from the remoter districts of Balochistan calling for aggressive outreach services to the growing urban settlements of Punjab requiring private-sector harnessing towards the MDGs. The NFC award of 2009 provides fiscal space for funding such innovations.

To give credit where it’s due, health allocations have gone up in the provinces, both in nominal and real terms. However, the general rise in public-sector salaries, the doubling of Lady Health Workers’ salary by the courts, recurring floods and the upcoming shift of vaccines from the federal to provincial domain in 2015 will strain fiscal space.

The provincial governments must free up funds by re-examining existing allocations. All is not right, here. In Pakistan, health moguls are obsessed with building more specialty centres, medical colleges and expanding an already under-utilised health facility infrastructure. But we have enough infrastructure; it is the softer areas such as drug supplies, the repair of rundown equipment, primary outreach services and supervision that are overlooked in budget-making.

Less is also spent on preventive care. Pakistan has one of the highest levels of under-nutrition with more than 40pc children stunted, it is one of the last reservoirs of polio, and unlike its South Asian neighbours, is off-track on mother and child health targets. Chronic adult diseases are also growing but more cardiac centres will not help unless money is allocated for cost-effective early detection and managing hypertension and diabetes.

KP was the first province to kick-start health reforms, with a Minimum Health Service Package for the poor, commissioning NGOs’ services in hard-to-reach districts, and replacing fossilised polio control campaigns with the Sehat ka Insaf scheme.

Punjab soon followed, setting up the Punjab Health Commission for introducing quality standards, programming for 24/7 Basic Health Units and planning an ambitious health insurance scheme for affordable access to hospital care.

Sindh and Balochistan, while announcing an eight-year 2020 health strategy, have lagged behind in implementation. Sindh has seen a buzz of activity in recent months with the initiation of a public-private partnership scheme to boost under-performing facilities in remoter districts, the m-health monitoring pilot of health facilities, a healthcare regulation act, and several governance measures to revitalise the health department.

However Sindh needs a committed operational plan and visible change in curative and infrastructure-tilted spending priorities for the measures to materialise.

Balochistan faces challenges of access to health services in rural areas due to lack of roads, inadequate water, food insecurity and illiteracy. It recently started a health and nutrition programme to work out these problems but security issues may keep trained manpower away from remote areas.

So the provinces have indeed started out, but will they be able to deliver? Reform requires the stability of a seasoned team to carry it through across the health department as well as line departments such as finance and planning. So far, the constant transfer and postings of the senior civil service leadership has held the provinces back.

Further, reforms need a defined political face, a political vision tied to a party manifesto. In Colombia, the heath minister actively lobbied groups of senators to mobilise support for primary care. And President Obama while passing the Affordable Care Act had to face stiff resistance from private insurance companies and private medical providers.

A test of devolution will also be whether it can achieve grounded agendas on health. HIV control was pushed by nine international agencies but will non-championed causes such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, depression etc find their way to the health agenda? A culture of accountability is needed to move in the right direction. Health indicators can deteriorate even as provincial health budgets grow.

The Pakistan Demographic Health Survey of 2012 provides a credible baseline of health targets. The provinces need time to bed down reforms and two years is not a test of devolution’s impact. However, the 60 years given to the federal health ministry cannot be given again. Let us see which provinces are able to get it right.

The writer is a health policy researcher at a private university.

Our debauched human condition

Babar Sattar

RASHID Rehman was told in court he would be killed for accepting the brief of a blasphemy accused. And then he was killed. TTP believes the administration of polio drops is a devious Western device to render Muslims impotent. It has continued to attack polio workers in Fata, KP and Karachi. Consequently, Pakistan has emerged as one of three countries that still export polio in this century. The other two are Syria and Cameroon. Syria alleges that polio has been exported to it by Pakistan along with militants carrying it and WHO thinks that might be true.

RASHID Rehman was told in court he would be killed for accepting the brief of a blasphemy accused. And then he was killed. TTP believes the administration of polio drops is a devious Western device to render Muslims impotent. It has continued to attack polio workers in Fata, KP and Karachi. Consequently, Pakistan has emerged as one of three countries that still export polio in this century. The other two are Syria and Cameroon. Syria alleges that polio has been exported to it by Pakistan along with militants carrying it and WHO thinks that might be true.

Pakistan hasn’t exported polio to Cameroon. But militancy might be a cause for polio’s existence there as well. Boko Haram — a Nigerian militant group that practises terror in the name of Islam and recently abducted nearly 300 girls and vowed to use/sell them as slaves — is, like TTP, against all things Western. While it focuses on Nigeria, it has safe havens in Cameroon, which makes the polio immunisation drive in Nigeria and Cameroon harder. Boko Haram, like TTP, celebrates Al Qaeda and believes in setting up an Islamic state through the use of force.

Do we even realise how scary a place we appear to the world? If enslavement of Nigerian girls by Boko Haram sounds too medieval and crazy in this day and age, what does TTP attacking polio workers or blowing up schools or slaughtering fellow Pakistanis sound like? And what’s our response to the barbarism in our midst? The resolute minority preaching and practising this madness is winning; the majority is numb to it, but growing acquiescent; and the leadership, consumed by petty quarrels, is oblivious to the approaching doom.

During last week’s media outrage over WHO’s recommended travel restrictions for Pakistanis, our focus remained on non-core issues: was Pakistan caught unawares that travel restrictions were imminent? Are government advisers paid too much and health workers too little? Polio is not a public health but a mental health problem. It is not proliferating in Pakistan just because our health system is corrupt and ineffectual. It is proliferating because our homegrown terrorist brethren believe that administering polio drops is un-Islamic, and anyone found doing so is killed.

When did we lose our ability to spot root causes of ailments and attack the disease and not just symptoms, or the patience to reserve our anger for those primarily responsible for our precarious condition as opposed to easy scapegoats? If you follow Boko Haram’s argument, it claims its position on slavery is supported by our religious texts. Most problematic in this case is not an unacceptable or flawed interpretation of revealed texts, but Boko Haram’s commitment and ability to shove its own interpretation down others’ throats by using violence.

What’s common between Boko Haram, the TTP and Rashid Rehman’s killers? They all believe they have a monopoly over the understanding of God’s word, an obligation to enforce such understanding over others and kill anyone who resists or disagrees. The hate and vigilantism of Rashid Rehman’s killers is one step advanced. They believe that not only is a blasphemy accused devoid of legal rights, anyone with the audacity to claim such rights for the accused also deserves to be executed.

Wanton killings of good men such as Rashid Rehman no longer cause alarm in our society. The majority has made its peace with the presence of Rehman’s killers amongst us and is left with no energy to grieve such ghastly yet commonplace killings. Within the thoughtful minority, still bothered by such undeterred killing, the response is twofold: a note to the self that this place is broken beyond repair; and a resolve not to espouse or practise principles that might make you the next Rashid Rehman.

Pakistan seems to be on a train that has travelled beyond the zone of rationality. The pogrom to eradicate compassionate souls such as Rashid Rehman, who keep a modicum of human dignity alive here, is only accelerating our journey down the abyss. How do you judge a society that starts producing lawyers who themselves don’t believe in the right of the accused to be defended in accordance with the law or whose legal guardians are too timid to stand up to those who insist that an accused can be stripped of his fundamental right to due process?

The right to be treated in accordance with the law and due process not getting entrenched in this society is one gauge of how intolerant we’ve become. The honest amongst us jeer at lawyers defending those convicted as being corrupt in the public eye through media trials. The democrats amongst us scoff at those representing a dictator. The patriots amongst us label as traitors those inquiring after the missing or defending suspects of terrorism. The righteous take judgement to a higher level: they just kill those defending blasphemy suspects.

Can you be dead set against those who subvert the Constitution and still believe in their right to a fair trial? Can you consider the TTP’s worldview the foremost threat to the country’s future and be a fierce advocate of affording TTP militants due process when captured? Can you be bitterly opposed to those insulting the religious sensibilities of others and yet demand that blasphemy suspects be deemed innocent until proven guilty? When did we start regarding perfectly harmonious positions as contradictory?

It is time to grieve for the death of our morality and rationality along with Rashid Rehman.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Paucity of options

Umair Javed

RASHID Rehman Khan, lawyer and human rights activist, was gunned down in cold blood for defending a young man accused of committing blasphemy. The most remarkable thing about this sordid incident is not its rabid senselessness, which is infinite, but the feeling of familiarity it so readily evokes. We’ve all been here before, and multiple times at that. Placards and chart-papers carrying slogans of protest, drawn up after Taseer’s assassination three years ago, haven’t been allowed a coat of dust as yet.

RASHID Rehman Khan, lawyer and human rights activist, was gunned down in cold blood for defending a young man accused of committing blasphemy. The most remarkable thing about this sordid incident is not its rabid senselessness, which is infinite, but the feeling of familiarity it so readily evokes. We’ve all been here before, and multiple times at that. Placards and chart-papers carrying slogans of protest, drawn up after Taseer’s assassination three years ago, haven’t been allowed a coat of dust as yet.

What follows are loud condemnations, silent vigils, and public expressions of grief and anger — all part of routinised, disconcertingly mechanical performances of outrage and dissent; just another act in what’s turning out to be a fast-paced pantomime, starring an unravelling state and a fascistic society.

Rashid, and the HRCP team in Punjab, had identified the individuals who were threatening him for doing his job, but this was clearly not enough. The local authorities exhibited inaction, while the prosecuting lawyer — one of those guilty of making these threats — merely shrugged his shoulders and proclaimed he was carrying out the will of every Muslim.

Such forms of violence are now widespread, and manifest themselves in multiple ways on a daily basis. With the risk of being caught, let alone prosecuted, at an all-time low, the field remains fertile for groups with all sorts of vile agendas to grow their roots and prosper.

The fact of the matter is that every society has its share of exclusivist, hate-spewing individuals. After all, contested visions of how people should behave, how they should worship, and who deserves the privilege of lording over others, are organic to diverse populations. What mitigates these visions into mere slander or sloganeering, though, are legal safeguards backed by credible sanction. Ideally, you can say whatever you want, wherever you want, but you can’t use violence and intimidation as a crutch for your agenda.

Pakistan suffers on two accounts. It has a seemingly limitless supply of groups holding myopic visions of what the country should be like, the ideal laws that should govern our lives, and the space and societal roles that minorities, or smaller sects, should be limited to. They occupy different positions in universities, in the media, within the political sphere, and in nearly every other nook and cranny of public life.

They are echoed through that extended (or immediate) family member who adds a ‘but’ while condemning Qadri, or the growing, and often vocal, reticence in accepting minority sects as part of a ‘wider community’. In this and every other sense, they conjure up frequent reminders of a near-universal existence, and of the growing numbers who share the same vision.

This alone, however, is a resolvable problem. It can, hypothetically speaking, be dealt with politically and intellectually, through active counter-organisation in all these aforementioned spaces, and by challenging the monopoly over academic interpretations that lead to such exclusivist understandings of what religion dictates, and what an ideal society should look like.

It is that other failing, though, that complete and utter inability, or unwillingness, to curtail the use of force, which turns a potential slide into the active freefall that it is now.

Intimidation and violence are by now deeply embedded as meaningful recourse in societal debate; instruments of a sort that can be used to ‘put people in their place’ — people like Rashid Rehman who in his own words was merely doing something that has to be done, ie undertaking the simple, quietly heroic act of providing defence to a man facing a complicit state apparatus, an archaic legal system and an angry mob.

What we often see as an immediate reaction to any such acts of violence is a call for ‘strengthening the state’.

The rationale underscoring such appeals is that a stronger security and judicial apparatus will be able to prevent violence, provide requisite sanction, and balance out what is by now an incredibly tilted playing field. Unfortunately, well-intentioned as these pleas may be, they miss out on the fact that these institutions remain embroiled in perpetuating this very violence and exclusivism at every level.

The most recent example of this is from just 10 days ago, when religious groups, many of whom are involved in exactly the kind of everyday violence and coercion that took the life of Rashid Rehman, paid homage to the bravery and competence of the ‘greatest’ state institution. It really begs the question of how can one reasonably ask for a crackdown on such groups when the state so readily draws legitimacy from their actions?

For at least the past six years, liberals and progressives in Pakistan have backed the state to come clean, make a break from its murky, complicit past, and crack down on religious extremists. What they have gotten in return is more complicity, more incoherence, and zero indication of either willingness or an ability to undertake a course much different from the one charted merrily for the past many decades.

Perhaps more chilling is what this impasse cruelly exposes — paucity of option and poverty of imagination. Extremism can’t be fought out in public spaces for fear of being killed, and the state can’t be coaxed into helping out because it clearly doesn’t want to or is simply unable to.

Maybe those advocating silent withdrawal in the face of such insurmountable odds are right. If nothing else, it leaves one with the option of seeing exactly how far this mess will unravel.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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Polio vaccine choices

Hajrah Mumtaz

WHEN I think of the reaction of state and society over the polio-related travel restrictions recommended by the World Health Organisation last week, in my mind’s eye I get the picture of Chicken Licken running around, worried about the sky falling on its head.

WHEN I think of the reaction of state and society over the polio-related travel restrictions recommended by the World Health Organisation last week, in my mind’s eye I get the picture of Chicken Licken running around, worried about the sky falling on its head.

That is, of course, if the issue wasn’t so frighteningly serious. Pakistan remains one of the three lone countries, the others being Afghanistan and Nigeria, that are still polio-endemic; far from bringing the spread of this virus under control, we actually seem to be seeing some sort of resurgence. As for the acts of aggression visited upon polio teams and their armed guards, the less said about them, the better.

Bottom line: not just are Pakistanis themselves under an increased risk of becoming carriers of or contracting the disease, we are in danger of re-infecting the planet.

Think about that for a second: the world, much of which has succeeded in cleaning up its house with regard to polio, stands in danger of being re-infected because of Pakistan. Think of the thousands of Pakistanis that go to and from other countries, any one of them, or any ten of them, or any hundred of them, a possible carrier of the virus.

The possibility of travel restrictions was introduced in 2011, by the Independent Monitoring Board for Polio Eradication. We’ve had years in which we could have cleaned up our act, and we didn’t.

Despite the hullaballoo, though, there still doesn’t seem to be sufficient understanding of how this virus spreads, who is at danger, and what should be done, even though some of the challenges are obvious.

First, person-to-person spread of the poliovirus occurs through the fecal-oral route, and sometimes oral-to-oral.

Second, polio is an illness with an affinity for children, but adults can get it. It’s rare, but it’s possible.

Two kinds of vaccinations are available. There is the Oral Polio Vaccine (OPV), which is a live virus delivered via the mouth. It is very efficacious, and according to the Centre for Disease Control “probably” provides a lifetime of safety. But, with the OPV, there is a risk — very small, but there nevertheless — of a person contracting the disease because of the administration of the vaccine, called the vaccine-associated paralytic polio (VAPP).

The numbers are fractional: in the US, where the last case of wild-virus polio was in 1979, from 1980 to 1999, VAPP accounted for 95pc of all cases of paralytic poliomyelitis, which eventually led to the administration of the OPV being replaced in 2000. But, to put that in perspective, between 1980 to 1994 in the US, according to CDC data, 303 million doses of OPV were distributed and 125 cases of VAPP were reported.

VAPP is more likely to occur in persons above the age of 18, and is much more likely to occur in immunodeficient children. With certain sorts of immunodeficiencies, the risk of VAPP can be thousands of times higher.

The way around VAPP is the Inactivated Polio Vaccine, or IPV, in which the polio virus has been killed off with formaldehyde. This is injected, there’s no risk of VAPP, and therefore it’s safe for adults. But the duration of the immunity is not known with certainty. The IPV is the standard in much of the world because the assumption is that people will not risk exposure.

But why would world polio bodies be recommending the OPV for immunisation when there’s the risk of VAPP?

The answer is a hard one. The only way to eradicate polio on a mass scale is through the OPV, which is cheaper, easier to administer, and in any case refers primarily to children, who are less liable to contract VAPP. All countries that have eradicated polio have done so with the OPV, and those that have switched over entirely to the IPV have done so after eradication, when exposure is likely to be minimal. In other words, the risk to some few individuals that may contract VAPP must be taken in view of the greater good of the population at large. WHO, or other global bodies care less — as they should — about your or my right to be protected from VAPP when there’s the whole population, the whole world, to be protected.

Pakistan is unique in that this is the only place that is seeing the risk of polio exposure increasing. Medical research is mainly predicated on either progress being made towards the reduction of polio, or eradication.

Regardless of travelling, all of Pakistan’s children need vaccination, and given the risk, so do adults. But they should be aware of the risks — however small — associated with adults having the OPV.

The writer is a member of staff.

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Justice: a lost cause

Huma Yusuf

LAST week, I attended a performance of The Testament of Mary in London, a monologue about the life and crucifixion of Christ delivered from his mother’s perspective. Based on a novella of the same name by Colm Tóibín, the play complicates the image of the Virgin Mary as a doting, silent mother, giving her a voice that is in turns concerned, sceptical, angry and even funny.

LAST week, I attended a performance of The Testament of Mary in London, a monologue about the life and crucifixion of Christ delivered from his mother’s perspective. Based on a novella of the same name by Colm Tóibín, the play complicates the image of the Virgin Mary as a doting, silent mother, giving her a voice that is in turns concerned, sceptical, angry and even funny.

The play raises questions about faith and evokes the uncertainty of times in which new beliefs come into being. It also explores the arrogance and machinations of those who seek to usher in new beliefs at the expense of existing ones. Most powerfully, the play brings the Virgin Mary into a secular realm, depicting her as a mother first and a holy figure second.

In a talk after the play, Tóibín was asked whether Catholics had objected to his script. He described feeling nervous when he saw a minister attend a performance in Ireland, but was surprised to hear from the minister afterwards that he thought it was marvellous. Tóibín also described how performances in the United States were criticised by Christian groups, and often accompanied by ‘stage-managed’ protests outside the venue, but never disrupted by an offended audience member.

Once the discussion was opened up to the audience, a gentleman complimented Tóibín’s writing but concluded his comments by saying that as a devout Christian he disagreed with Tóibín, and pressed him to better explain his views.

Sitting in the auditorium, I could not believe I was inhabiting the same world in which, a day earlier, Rashid Rehman had been shot in Multan for defending a university lecturer charged with blasphemy — that is, for fulfilling his responsibility as a lawyer to uphold the course of justice. Rehman took up the case because no other lawyer was willing to defend a man charged with blasphemy. He took up the case despite the fact that lawyers have been warned by their peers as well as violent extremist groups not to defend those charged with blasphemy. And he continued to defend his client after lawyers illegally appeared in the court where the trial was under way and threatened him with dire consequences.

We already know that open discourse about religion is almost impossible in contemporary Pakistan. We have learned the hard way that the state thinks basic freedoms of speech and religion enshrined in our Constitution are lip service designed to appease the international community (and foreign donors), and not fundamental rights worth protecting. A dwindling number of people are willing to risk their lives to make the argument that free speech, even in matters of religion, is necessary for democracy. The past few decades have also taught us that violence is the most effective speech act in Pakistan, especially since we no longer have the appetite — or even the aptitude — for dialogue.

But when did we become disdainful of justice? When did we decide to diminish the right to be thought innocent until proven guilty, to be given a fair trial in a court of law? Incidents like this highlight that our hard-won democracy is becoming a spectre of the real thing: Pakistan today is increasingly a lawless place where vigilante justice passes for law, and where those who are more violent rule over those who can’t, or won’t, fight.

The horror and injustice of Rehman’s killing is amplified by the nature of those who wished it upon him — members of the legal community. He was threatened by lawyers, and his complaints were registered with the district bar association, which chose to ignore them. This is unsurprising. Members of the same legal community cheered on the killer of Salmaan Taseer, now forever immortalised through the mosque outside Islamabad named after him (to be clear, certain lawyers — and not the legal community as a whole — deserve opprobrium; witness the sanity and courage of the many lawyers protesting Rehman’s murder).

Certain lawyers are not the only ones masquerading as bastions of democratic values. Think of the case that cost Rehman his life — a university lecturer charged with blasphemy by his right-wing students. Think of others who have fallen the same way as Rehman — Taseer, who was condemned to his fate in part by a media personality, herself supposedly an icon of 21st-century Pakistan.

Policy and development discourse celebrates certain trends as signs of progress — a youthful population, a free press, a growing middle-class, urbanisation. These are meant to be antidotes to the backwardness and brutality of illiteracy, rural squalor, and more. But the increasingly intolerant nature of Pakistan’s youth, media and professional and middle classes offers little hope for a country losing sight of itself.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

huma.yusuf

Twitter: @humayusuf

Dangers of nuclear discrimination

Munir Akram

A NUCLEAR South Asia became a more dangerous place when the Bush administration ‘de-hyphenated’ policy towards India and Pakistan. India was favoured with civilian nuclear cooperation and given support for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while leaving Pakistan out in the cold. It was encouraged to build itself up as China’s Asian rival. Not surprisingly, this strategic discrimination led to an intensification of the nuclear and conventional arms race in South Asia.

A NUCLEAR South Asia became a more dangerous place when the Bush administration ‘de-hyphenated’ policy towards India and Pakistan. India was favoured with civilian nuclear cooperation and given support for membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, while leaving Pakistan out in the cold. It was encouraged to build itself up as China’s Asian rival. Not surprisingly, this strategic discrimination led to an intensification of the nuclear and conventional arms race in South Asia.

Some Western analysts have proposed quick fixes to undo the consequences. Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies recently proposed that Pakistan be treated, like India, as a ‘normal nuclear state’ and offered civilian nuclear cooperation and membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group in exchange for signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and stopping fissile material production.

In an opinion piece in this paper, Michael Krepon of the Stimson Centre in Washington pointed out, rightly, that most Pakistanis do not believe that such ‘normal’ status will advance national security or address the underlying reasons for Pakistan’s ‘nuclear build-up’. This would certainly be the case if India is not required to simultaneously sign the CTBT and halt fissile material production.

The new Washington assertion is that ‘the biggest existentialist threat to Pakistan at present — is violent extremist groups, not India’. While terrorist groups have destabilised Pakistan, they do not pose an ‘existential’ threat. Pakistan’s nuclear assets are not likely to be turned against (its own) civil and military authority. The terrorists do not have the military capability to capture these assets. As Fitzpatrick has noted, Pakistan’s security measures to protect its nuclear assets — against internal and external threats — are among the best in the world.

In any case, no terrorist group has the technological capability to actually use nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. The best they could do is explode a ‘dirty bomb’ whose destructive force would be smaller than that of a ‘Daisy Cutter’.

If the danger of a terrorist takeover is a precondition for ‘normal nuclear’ status in South Asia, questions should be raised about India’s nuclear arsenal which is held under loose civilian control.

Pakistan should be admitted to the Nuclear Suppliers Group to secure its full cooperation on safety and security and non-proliferation issues. This would be a prudent step which acknowledges that Pakistan possesses the full nuclear fuel cycle and that its cooperation is essential to broaden and eventually universalise the non-proliferation and safety objectives of the Suppliers Group and the international community.

But the Suppliers Group has no leverage with Pakistan to ask it to accept unequal preconditions to be treated as a ‘normal’ state. Pakistan already has robust civilian nuclear cooperation with China. It is not likely to obtain similar cooperation, for political and financial reasons, from others, even if it joins the Suppliers Group.

Another argument frequently advanced to restrain Pakistan’s response to India’s build-up is that New Delhi will out-compete Pakistan and therefore it should seek security by normalising relations with India. This prescription begs the question.

For more than 60 years, normalisation has not happened largely because India has resisted equitable solutions to disputes, especially Kashmir, and pursued a conventional and nuclear military build-up which is justified by its rivalry with China but is mostly deployed against Pakistan. It is strange that while Pakistan is asked to ‘normalise’ relations with India and refrain from competing with it, the latter is deemed justified, and openly encouraged, to arm against China.

America’s strategic tilt towards India has blurred its vision of the real danger in South Asia. India’s conventional and nuclear build-up, its war-fighting doctrine Cold Start and its refusal to address the volatile Kashmir dispute, have combined to create an ever-present possibility of a nuclear confrontation with Pakistan.

As history attests, India-Pakistan crises can erupt suddenly. A crisis could be sparked by suppression in Kashmir, a terrorist incident in India or new competition in Afghanistan.

Instead of addressing this danger, Western capitals focus on ways to contain Pakistan’s efforts to deter India — witness the opposition to its tactical missile deployment — and project the threat of a ‘terrorist takeover’ in Pakistan as justification for discrimination against it and, worse, for plans to neutralise its nuclear and strategic capabilities.

The path towards ‘nuclear normalcy’ in South Asia is a wide, two-way street. Instead of pressing discriminatory demands on Pakistan, Western governments and think tanks should contemplate what they, and in particular the US as a global power, can do to prevent a nuclear catastrophe in South Asia and promote genuine ‘nuclear normalcy’.

Most importantly, they, as well as Russia and Israel, should restrain India’s arms build-up and stop supplying it with destabilising weapons such as anti-ballistic and intercontinental missiles and technologies as well as nuclear fuel (which will enable India to expand its nuclear arsenal).

Second, the US should encourage India to accept conventional and nuclear CBMS with Pakistan specially the Nuclear Restraint Regime proposed by Pakistan since 1998. Signing the CTBT and a halt in fissile material production could be part of such steps for reciprocal restraint.

Finally, if India’s build-up is indeed thought to be driven by China’s military progress, the US could contribute to South Asian stability by exercising self restraint in its so-called pivot to Asia, stop building alliances around China’s periphery and deploying most of its naval forces in the Asia-Pacfic region, and thus avoid China’s response.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Stumbling transition

Cyril Almeida

SILLY season it may be, but that doesn’t mean it means nothing or that there aren’t any consequences.

SILLY season it may be, but that doesn’t mean it means nothing or that there aren’t any consequences.

The government isn’t falling. There is no coup happening. Life will go on. Yet, short of that, the transition is stumbling in subtle, but important ways.

PPP government last time round, PML-N government in the saddle right now — as different as different can be, but somehow, there’s a pattern repeating itself.

And the PML-N seems just as helpless and clueless as the PPP was.

Rewind to the first year and a half of the PPP stint. Once Musharraf was out, as the unity of the democratic forces frayed in a natural and inevitable way, the PPP quickly found itself under all sorts of pressure.

Because a lot of it was self-inflicted, it was hard to feel much sympathy. And there was no emerging pattern to be discerned back then.

But stuff did happen. Like the immediate slapping down after the ISI-under-the-interior-ministry fiasco. Like Zardari musing about no-first-strike and normalising ties with India and being patronisingly dismissed in private.

Mumbai changed everything, but it wasn’t enough. Infamously, the reaction to Kerry-Lugar happened.

What did it all mean? It was difficult to figure out then because Zardari was so eager to retreat anyway. Everything was about the one-point agenda: five full years.

But, with all the impreciseness of analogies and different sets of circumstances, now a pattern is emerging.

It’s bifurcation: you guys deal with the domestic stuff — economy, service delivery, infrastructure — we’ll deal with the big-boy stuff — foreign policy and key elements of national security.

And it’s happening to Nawaz now.

Somehow, 12-odd months into a civilian’s term in this latest, post-Mush round of transition, the civilians find themselves hounded.

The circumstances change, the actors are different, the facts elusive, but it’s a subtle shift that starts to enforce itself: coexistence is possible, but the boys will decide who gets what.

As with Zardari, with Nawaz too it’s hard to immediately figure out that the same pattern is imposing itself because much of the language of bifurcation is Nawaz’s own. So of his four Es, three of them are the soft stuff: energy, economy and education.

But the Balochistan package is the big, early sign of retreat. Fifty billion rupees, is it? Or maybe 30 billion will materialise in the end.

Who knows, who cares — the fact that a year into his third stint as prime minister, Nawaz’s grand plan for Balochistan is economic, not security, means the surrender is on.

If Nawaz wants to talk infrastructure and economy in Balochistan, what it really means is that he doesn’t want to talk about the other stuff.

The stuff he’s stepping away from. The stuff the boys control. The stuff that is the actual problem.

Or take India. The circle in the know on the trade deal knows why it was called off. But the PML-N took the blame and let itself look stupid. Why?

Because the alternative was to let everyone know what really happened — which would mean everyone would know who still wields the veto and who still doesn’t know what to do about it.

Now, you have this silliness of Imran’s. The PTI will swear it isn’t taking cues from the boys and is doing it’s own thing. Maybe it is.

But there’s this swirl of curious politics and thoughts are turning to dark matters, meaning this PTI silliness is having an effect.

An effect of the government looking briefly over its shoulder. An effect of the government beginning to see shapes in the shadows. An effect of the government wondering what may be afoot.

All of that translates into a government being pushed, slow motion, into a defensive crouch. It will never be visible to all. The government will still talk up all its projects and investments and roads and dams and sound like it’s doing exactly what it wants to do.

But that’s what governments do: talk a good talk.

If Nawaz allows himself to be corralled — and really, there’s little doubt that the corralling has begun — like Zardari did before him, then the bifurcation will become more and more apparent: one side doing what it can on the soft stuff; the other side still in charge of the stuff that really matters.

But if the civilians are so easy to bend and if neither Zardari nor Nawaz really know how to twist civ-mil towards the civilians, why is corralling so important? Why harry and harass and every little while turn up the political temperature just so?

Because a distracted enemy is an enemy never really in a position to plot an attack of its own.

Running around shouting down the PTI and Imran, pooh-poohing TuQ, dealing with dignity and pride issues in the rank and file and among the council of elders, holding hands to plead for patience — none of that leaves much time to try and wrest the big things away.

The core interests. Foreign policy. National security. Commercial empire. Budget demands. Job security of the chief.

But if Nawaz knows this and Zardari quickly figured it out, why do they still fall into the trap? Why not up the pace of the transition? Why accept bifurcation?

The only answer: Nawaz agrees with Zardari. One government, two government, three government, four — and maybe then it will be time.

Until then, you do your thing and let them do their thing.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a

Twitter: @cyalm

Protecting an ideal

Basil Nabi Malik

ON joining the army, every officer is bound to swear that he will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, uphold the Constitution, and not engage in any political activities whatsoever. As per Article 243 of the Constitution, the supreme command of the armed forces vests in the president, who is to maintain, raise, and commission them into service.

ON joining the army, every officer is bound to swear that he will bear true faith and allegiance to Pakistan, uphold the Constitution, and not engage in any political activities whatsoever. As per Article 243 of the Constitution, the supreme command of the armed forces vests in the president, who is to maintain, raise, and commission them into service.

More importantly, the control and command of the army vests in the federal government, led by the prime minister. This is further crystallised in the Rules of Business, 1973, which characterises the army as subordinate to the ministry of defence.

However, although the ideal of civil supremacy over the military is clearly entrenched in law, the distinction on the ground remains obscure. This is a result of various factors, the more important of which revolve around repeated military coups, a skewed power structure inclined towards a dominant army, as well as the perceived incompetency of political representatives.

The situation on the ground is arguably one where the military is routinely seen as transgressing its constitutionally defined boundaries by delving into issues of policy or politics. For example, when Hamid Mir was shot and injured last month, there were allegations linking ISI to the attack. Interestingly, ISPR decided to issue a statement which appeared to have nothing to do with its professional responsibilities.

In its press release, it hit out at allegations made by the family of Hamid Mir, describing them as misleading and regrettable. However, as per constitutional restrictions, the competency of the armed forces to issue such statements is debatable to say the least. In fact, being subordinate to the defence ministry, it was solely the latter’s prerogative to issue any statement.

Furthermore, recently, the army chief while discussing the achievements of his institution at the Martyrs’ Day event, ventured into foreign policy by announcing that any resolution of the Kashmir issue must be in line with the aspirations of the Kashmiri people and the UN resolutions. The statement attracted severe criticism from across the border, with political parties in India questioning the army’s right to make such political statements.

These examples are just a couple among many others indicating that the enactment of constitutional provisions or legislation to entrench an ideal or to contain institutional transgressions may not be sufficient in and of itself. In fact, it appears that to align the realities on the ground with constitutional provisions, the government must take some remedial measures.

The single-most important factor in establishing the ideal of civilian supremacy over the military is to garner the legitimacy of the democratic process itself. At the end of the day, the stakeholder who attains greater legitimacy in the eyes of the people shall be the one to eventually rule the country. In terms of civilian governments, such legitimacy is attained by delivering to its people, that is, by providing better living standards and basic facilities, including better infrastructure, healthcare, employment and education.

In addition, the government must also re-tailor its education system, including what is taught to young recruits of the armed forces and to take a clear partisan position on the upholding of the democratic process as opposed to autocratic regimes.

Syllabi and course work cannot extol military rulers at the expense of civilian leaders, or praise both alike. If Zulfikar Bhutto is praised for being a democrat, adulation of Gen Ziaul Haq for being a visionary is not without contradiction. Such praise for undemocratic regimes disallows democratic values from taking root, creates fissures and confusion in society, and amongst other things, results in polarisation and division in the media, political circles, as well as in civil society. In addition to the above, the government must also ensure that relations with its neighbours remain cordial. If the government were to achieve this, the need for such a large army, exorbitant military expenditure, as well as the military’s dominant role in shaping national security may well be diluted and brought within constitutional limits.

Although the armed forces in any country retain a supposed monopoly on the use of force, the establishment of the democratic ideal by civilian authorities has been achieved in various parts of the world on the strength of practical politics and idealistic objectives.

While this is clearly not appreciated in present-day Pakistan, the political forces of today must come to realise what the 30th president of the United States, Calvin Coolidge, understood during his time in the Oval Office, that is, “there is no force more democratic as the force of an ideal”.

The writer is an attorney-at-law.

basil.nabi

Twitter: @basilnabi

The past is us

Bina Shah

AT the opening ceremony of the Islamabad Literature Festival recently, co-founder Ameena Saiyid of OUP Pakistan told the audience that the Lahore house of famed writer Saadat Hasan Manto had been sold off to property developers, who intend to demolish the house and build a shopping plaza in its stead.

AT the opening ceremony of the Islamabad Literature Festival recently, co-founder Ameena Saiyid of OUP Pakistan told the audience that the Lahore house of famed writer Saadat Hasan Manto had been sold off to property developers, who intend to demolish the house and build a shopping plaza in its stead.

As reported in the Express Tribune, this is the house where Manto wrote his famous short stories Toba Tek Singh, Khol Do and Thanda Gosht. Now it will be gone forever unless the Punjab government takes action to preserve the house.

According to Salima Hashmi, culture minister during the 2013 caretaker government, nothing ever came of recommendations to convert the house into a library and reading room, the way writers’ and artists’ houses are treated as cultural landmarks everywhere around the world.

Ameena Saiyid’s appeal to the media to highlight this development was on my mind as I spoke on a panel during the literature festival on cultural diplomacy.

We discussed the need for soft power in order to promote Pakistan’s image, but many other issues came up during the discussion that proved the broader issue of Pakistan’s cultural identity is very much on people’s minds these days: the Arabisation of Pakistani society; the greater deculturalisation of Pakistan; the promotion of some cultures within Pakistan while others were being ignored; and that overarching question: what is Pakistani culture, and how should it be defined in the first place?

For some years now we’ve seen the creeping influence of Arab culture into the Pakistani way of life. Every year we argue about how we should pronounce the name of the holy month of fasting one way or another, and complain about how Pakistani women are abandoning traditional Pakistani dress for the burqa, niqab and abaya. These and other cosmetic changes seem to point to the prominence of religion above all other traditions in contemporary Pakistani society, the assumption being that Arabisation is synonymous with Islamisation.

But there has always been an Arab influence in this part of the world, through ancient trading ties and travel. These influences predate by centuries the export of a certain strain of Islamic ideology; they haven’t changed us into an Arab society in the least. Indeed, what we see in Pakistani society is not true Arabisation; rather, it is our fantasy of what Arab culture looks and sounds like.

Our ‘adoption’ of certain easily imitated elements of Arab culture speaks not of true cultural colonisation, but instead of an observed, idealised Arabia that exists not in reality in the Gulf, the Levant, or the Maghreb, but in our own consciousness. And while we may dream of mimicking that culture, we must recognise we are actually changing it from its ‘pure’ form and assimilating it into our own Pakistani, and larger South Asian culture.

Our need to adopt this strange version of Arabia also speaks more to our own fear that Pakistani culture is somehow invalid or shameful, rather than the strength of Arab culture. Perhaps our lack of interest in saving Manto’s house, where he chronicled the trauma of Partition, points to certain fault lines in our perceptions of ourselves that arose from those terrible days, compounded by the loss of East Pakistan in 1971.

But denying the common source of our cultural heritage or the ruptures that have created our country will do nothing to prove the case for Pakistan’s existence. It is only by owning our past, honestly and with dignity, that we will be able to define ourselves for the future.

We should not be so fearful of ‘losing’ our culture. We have previously absorbed Persian, Turkish, Mongol, Greek, and even British influences into the fabric of our traditions. Our 5000-year-old civilisation, which sprang from Buddhist and pre-Hindu traditions, and encompasses the great heritage of the Indus Valley, Taxila and Gandhara is strong enough to withstand and dilute the influences of other, younger cultures.

Our Pakistani culture is made up of the rich traditions of our different provinces, but mutual suspicion between them has arisen over the years. Why not use cultural diplomacy between provinces, to build instead a foundation of trust between them that would only serve to strengthen our existing federation and its political systems? A good start would be to create a Fata section at Islamabad’s Lok Virsa Museum, which an audience member pointed out does not even exist. 

Manto’s house deserves to be saved, not just in its own capacity as a historical venue, but in the broader context of owning our culture. In doing so, we would be making the commitment towards saving our own house as well.

The writer is an author.

Twitter: @binashah

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