DWS, Sunday 3rd August to Saturday 9th August 2014

DAWN

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DWS, Sunday 3rd August to Saturday 9th August 2014

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National News

PPP seeks joint session of parliament over Article 245

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party has called for summoning a joint session of parliament to discuss the government’s decision to seek the army’s assistance in Islamabad under Article 245.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Peoples Party has called for summoning a joint session of parliament to discuss the government’s decision to seek the army’s assistance in Islamabad under Article 245.

Talking to Dawn, Senator Raza Rabbani said the government should place before parliament the intelligence reports that forced it to invoke Article 245.

“If the government thinks sensitive information is involved, it can convene an in camera session.”

Mr Rabbani said invocation of Article 245 could have serious political repercussions because it would suspend the high court’s jurisdiction during the army’s stay in Islamabad and people would be unable to approach the court against violation of their fundamental rights.

The senator expressed fear that a parallel judicial system could also be put in place, recalling that military courts had been established in the past.

Know more: PPP will no longer be ‘friendly opposition’ in Parliament: Khurshid Shah

He said the government should explain why sections of the Pakistan Penal Code were not invoked, instead of Article 245.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Ahmad Shah termed invocation of Article 245 a blunder of the prime minister.

He told Dawn that neither parliament nor political parties were consulted before taking such a critical decision. An end of consultations with political forces on important issues would lead to chaos, he added.

Mr Shah said the prevailing political situation appeared to have made the government to behave in a confused manner.

He warned that the democratic system would be in jeopardy if dialogue with political forces was not urgently restarted.

The opposition leader made it clear that the PPP would no longer play the role of a friendly opposition in parliament.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Gaza offensive to last as long as needed: Netanyahu

AFP

TEL AVIV: Israel would continue its military campaign in the Gaza Strip for as long as needed and with as much force as necessary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

TEL AVIV: Israel would continue its military campaign in the Gaza Strip for as long as needed and with as much force as necessary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

“From the beginning, we promised to return the quiet to Israel’s citizens and we will continue to act until that aim is achieved. We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed,” he said in a public address.

Earlier in the day, the Israeli army gave a first indication that it was ending operations in parts of Gaza, while continuing to bombard other areas.

As a Palestinian delegation flew to Egypt in search of a ceasefire, the Israeli army told residents of a part of northern Gaza that it was “safe” to return home.

“They have been infor­med it is safe for civilians to return to Beit Lahiya and Al-Atatra,” a spokeswoman said, in what was understood to be a confirmation that troops had stopped operating there.

Witnesses in the north confirmed seeing troops leaving the area as others were seen leaving another flashpoint area in southern Gaza.

Israel’s devastating 26-day operation has so far claimed more than 1,660 Palestinian lives and displaced up to a quarter of the territory’s population.

Of those killed, at least 296 are children and adolescents, according to the UN.

“The number of child casualties during the last 48 hours may rise as a number of incidents are pending verification,” it said in a statement. Unicef said the toll among children broke down to 187 boys and 109 girls, with at least 203 of them under the age of 12. Most of those killed have been civilians, and more than 8,900 have been wounded. Israel has itself lost 63 soldiers, while two civilians and a Thai worker have been killed inside the Jewish state. A spokesman for Israeli army said the partial pullout came because Israel was “quite close to completing” the destruction of tunnels used for infiltrating southern Israel — the main objective of its ground operation.

Despite the partial withdrawal, Israel’s security cabinet decided against sending a delegation to ceasefire talks with the Palestinians in Cairo, media reports said.

Chances of achieving a more permanent ceasefire nosedived on Friday after Israel said it believed Hamas militants had captured a 23-year-old soldier in a Friday morning ambush near the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Immediately afterwards, Israel bombarded the Rafah area in shelling that is still ongoing, with medics saying it killed 114 people in 24 hours.

Since midnight, more than 86 people have been killed, the vast majority in Rafah, raising the overall toll to 1,676, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, putting the number of wounded at more than 9,000.

The alleged capture of Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin drew sharp condemnation from the United Nations and the White House, which jointly brokered the abortive 72-hour truce and demanded his immediate release.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, acknowledged its militants had staged an ambush early on Friday in which soldiers were killed, but denied holding the soldier, saying the attackers were missing and presumed dead.

“We have lost contact with the mujahedeen unit that was in that ambush, and we think that all the fighters in this unit were killed by Zionist shelling along with the soldier, who the enemy says is missing, assuming our combatants captured this soldier during the fighting,” it said.

“Until now, we in Qassam have no knowledge of the missing soldier, or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance.”

Meanwhile, air strikes and tank fire continued pounding huge areas of southern Gaza into rubble, killing scores more people on Saturday, as militants kept up their cross-border fire, with 56 rockets hitting Israel and another six downed, including two over greater Tel Aviv.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Politicking in full swing as showdown approaches

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: With the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Azadi March scheduled to arrive in the capital in a week’s time, it seems this is crunch time for both the chest-thumping PTI and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

ISLAMABAD: With the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Azadi March scheduled to arrive in the capital in a week’s time, it seems this is crunch time for both the chest-thumping PTI and the ruling Pakistan Muslim League.

Both sides are now completely immersed in planning their next moves; insiders say Imran Khan’s party wants to ensure that its Independence Day show is a big success while the government is doing everything it can to dilute the impact of the demonstration.

Know more: [Azadi] march madness: 7 days to go

They are not alone. Lea­ders from across the political spectrum spent a rainy day on Thursday in the capital engrossed in meetings. The prime minister met a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) delegation as well as leaders from the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and Balochistan’s National Party, while Syed Khursheed Shah, leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, also met MQM and ANP leaders.

PTI’s plans: Over the last few days, party sources said, Mr Khan and his top team have been burning the midnight oil, fine-tuning their list of demands, as well as the modus operandi to achieve them, which they will present on August 14.

More importantly, the PTI leadership is also preparing a separate list, which sources said was meant for negotiations between the two sides.

A PTI source, who refused to speak on the record, said Mr Khan was always open to talks, provided there was some reasonable response to the demands. “Until now, the government has only proposed talks but never showed a willingness to sit across the table with us and resolve the issue,” the source said.

Talking about their de­­m­a­nds, the source said that while the party was willing to negotiate on the calls for the prime minister’s resignation, it would not budge from its stance on issues such as the reconstitution of the Elec­tion Commis­sion, the prosecution of certain players who were involved in electoral rigging as sufficient evidence against them exists, as well as a recount of votes in certain constituencies.

Also read: PM’s resignation out of question: minister

Referring to Imran Khan’s Wednesday meeting with Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq, the insider said some of these demands had been shared with the JI leader, who had in turn conveyed them to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when he met the latter later in the day. Mr Haq confirmed as much in his remarks to reporters after meeting the PM.

“During a press conference in Peshawar, the JI chief categorically said that the ball is now in the government’s court, which clearly shows that the PTI is ready for negotiations,” the PTI official said.

The party is all set for the Azadi March; talks or no talks, the source concluded.

Senior PTI leader and lawmaker Dr Arif Alvi told Dawn his party’s struggle would “remain within Constitutional limits”.

“The PTI core committee will meet on August 10 to finalise its demands and will reiterate the party’s commitment to unmasking those who rigged the last general elections and bring them to book,” Dr Alvi said.

When asked if the PTI was willing to drop its call for the prime minister’s resignation if the government agreed to introduce radical electoral reforms, Dr Alvi said this decision lay with the party leadership.

Govt seeks advice: On the other hand, the prime minister had a busy day as he sought input from within and without on the PTI’s demands. A PML-N source told Dawn the party was divided over whether or not to negotiate with Imran Khan. Party hawks believed that if talks were initiated, this would make Mr Khan more rigid on the smaller issues.

But more reconciliatory voices – which are in a minority – in the PML-N want the government to engage Mr Khan, accept his specific demands around electoral reforms to let him save face, while securing a peaceful resolution to the current crisis. The PTI chief, they reason, has also gone quite far and can’t afford to back out now.

“Let’s see what the prime minister decides,” the insider said.

Political manoeuvrings continued behind-the-scenes as well on Thursday. JI media coordinator Shahid Shamsi told Dawn that in response to Wednesday’s meeting between its emir and the PM, he had received a call on Thursday from the government, requesting a meeting of the party leadership with Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and Khawaja Saad Rafique.

The JI chief had made a few suggestions to the prime minister on Wednesday and the latter had promised to get back after discussing them within the party, Mr Shamsi explained. The two ministers, Mr Shamsi said, will be meeting Liaquat Baloch on Friday (today).

After their meeting with the prime minister, MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar told reporters they had asked the prime minister to hold an all parties’ conference to resolve the standoff, adding that the MQM was ready to act as a facilitator if the two sides were willing to sit down for negotiations.

In a separate meeting with an ANP delegation – which was accompanied by the PPP’s Raza Rabbani and the National Party’s Hasil Bizenjo – the prime minister reportedly sought each party’s suggestions on the issue. A government official privy to the meeting told Dawn that the PM assured the leaders that the government was willing to listen to the PTI’s demands as long as they were within the parameters of the Constitution.

The visiting politicians also agreed and the ANP’s Haji Adeel and Ghulam Ahmad Bilour told the media following the meeting that their party stood for the supremacy of the Constitution and wanted to protect democracy in the country. “There should be no hurdle in the way of PTI’s long march as long as Imran Khan and his party workers remain peaceful,” they said.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Widening of Zarb-i-Azb operation likely

Zulfiqar Ali

PESHAWAR: The government has asked people in Mirali and Shawal sub-divisions of the conflict-hit North Waziristan Agency to leave their homes amid reports of expansion of ground offensive to other areas.

PESHAWAR: The government has asked people in Mirali and Shawal sub-divisions of the conflict-hit North Waziristan Agency to leave their homes amid reports of expansion of ground offensive to other areas.

The people of Razmak, Spinwam, Shewa, Shawal, Eidek and other areas of the agency were exempted from evacuation before the launch of Zarb-i-Azb on June 15.

The authorities issued evacuation notices to the people of Shawal a few days ago. They have been asked to move to Bannu.

According to officials, the political administration asked about 4,000 families of Eidek, some seven kilometres west of Mirali, to vacate their homes after Saturday. The notices triggered resentment among the residents of the area and they refused to follow the orders.

Know more: Zarb-i-Azb: Widen the operation

The military operation has already forced over 52,000 families in Miramshah and Mirali to move to Bannu. Initially, over 92,000 families were registered as IDPs but their number has been reduced after verification by the National Database and Registration Authority.

The army has claimed that Mirali, Miramshah and adjacent villages have been cleared of militants. Over 500 local and foreign terrorists were killed. Air Force planes have been attacking militant hideouts in Shawal, where hundreds of local and foreign terrorists are reported to have moved in after the operation was launched in Miramshah.

An official in the office of Bannu’s deputy commissioner said evacuation of civilians from the mountainous Shawal area, near the Afghan border, would start on Friday. They will arrive at the Sidgai checkpost in Frontier Region Bannu for registration – mandatory for receiving cash and food assistance.

The Fata Disaster Management Authority (FDMA) has deputed staff at the checkpost where about 4,000 families are expected to come from Eidek. An FDMA official said that arrangements had been made at the checkpost, including registration of IDPs, provision of cooked food, water and distribution of SIM cards. “We are prepared to tackle the new influx,” he added.

According to sources, the political authorities had issued notices to the residents of Eidek on Wednesday night, asking them to pack up their belongings. The residents accused the government of backing out of its commitment. A jirga of elders will be held on Friday to decide whether or not to leave homes.

An elder, Maulvi Mohammad Alam, told Dawn that before the operation Peshawar Corps Commander Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani and the General Officer Commanding had assured them that they would not be evacuated.

The notices caused panic among the residents, he said. “This decision is not acceptable to the people and they will not vacate their homes.”

Maulvi Alam accused the authorities of violating the agreement under which the people had assured the corps commander that they will protect the area.

There was no justification for evacuation, he said, adding that the government had allowed transportation of rations and other basic commodities to the residents of Eidek and two convoys carrying food were recently sent to the village.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Qadri claims Sharifs trying to flee country

Amjad Mahmood

LAHORE: As the PML-N gove­rn­ment is taking ‘administrative’ measures to curtail the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s protest plans, the latter’s chief has claimed that the Sharifs are trying to flee the country and have applied for US visas.

LAHORE: As the PML-N gove­rn­ment is taking ‘administrative’ measures to curtail the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s protest plans, the latter’s chief has claimed that the Sharifs are trying to flee the country and have applied for US visas.

The administration erected barricades and placed containers around Model Town, which houses the central offices of PAT and its sister organisation Minhajul Quran, adjacent Faisal Town and a portion of Garden Town. It caused hardship for the residents, including those wishing to visit nearby Jinnah Hospital, one of the city’s main health facilities.

Even PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi and leader of opposition in the Punjab Assembly Mahmoodur Rashid were not allowed to enter Model Town. The Chaudhrys were, however, allowed to go to the PAT offices on foot.

A crackdown on PAT activists has also been launched across Punjab and vehicles, particularly motorcycles, are being impounded. The measures have been taken to prevent PAT workers from attending a Quran Khwani programme scheduled for Aug 10 to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town incident.

However, hundreds of PAT workers — both men and women — have already made it to Model Town. Women are camping in a small ground facing the PAT chief’s residence, while tents have been erected for men in the main ground outside the offices of Minhajul Quran. Their number is growing day by day as the party is providing them three meals every day.

Talking to reporters, PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri alleged that the government had asked the private agency providing him security to withdraw its guards at the earliest. He claimed that Nawaz Sharif and other members of his family were trying to escape from the country and had applied for US visas for their personal attendants and cooks since the Sharifs had already got their own visas.

Copies of a covering letter written to the US embassy on July 15 on the letterhead of MNA Hamza Shahbaz were also distributed among the journalists. Comments and signatures of the embassy officials on the letter have been smudged to protect privacy.

However, the leakage of the letter from the US embassy gives credence to the reservations Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had expressed at a meeting of his close friends the other day that the Americans were also playing a role against the government in the current political crisis.

Dr Qadri claimed the embassy had invited the Sharif family’s staff for interview on Aug 18, but the rulers approached the Foreign Office for an early appointment. He said the UK and Saudi Arabia had already refused to give ‘asylum’ to the Sharifs.

He urged people to reach his Model Town offices so that the Sharifs could not escape accountability and said he would soon announce his next step.

In reply to a question about Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s statement that doors for talks were open, Dr Qadri said he had shut all such doors. He said he did not believe that his movement would lead to imposition of martial law in the country.

Meanwhile, PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat said a civilian martial law had been imposed in Lahore and asked Shahbaz Sharif not to try to name Model Town as ‘Jallianwala’ Town, a reference to the massacre in an Amritsar (India) park by the British in 1919.

He chided the government for registering a case against Dr Qadri under anti-terror laws on charges of inciting people to violence. He recalled that during the PPP tenure Shahbaz Sharif had used even stronger words against the then president by saying he would drag Asif Zardari in the streets and hang him upside down.

Chaudhry Shujaat said Shahbaz had got public properties damaged during protests against loadshedding and in the light of these acts and statements 300 to 400 cases should have been registered against him.

Chaudhry Shujaat said the government itself was creating a situation conducive for the army to take over. In these circumstances, he said, the army would need just two trucks and one jeep.

He predicted that former army chief Pervez Musharraf would soon be allowed to go abroad as the government had retracted its stance on the cases against him.

When told that the army had been summoned to protect important installations, including the Prime Minister and President Houses, he said the army was ‘chowkidar’ (protector) of Pakistan and not of these two houses alone.

Talking to reporters outside Dr Qadri’s residence, Chaudhry Shujaat and Pervaiz Elahi said Nawaz Sharif was “in a great hurry to leave”.

A spokesman for Hamza Shahbaz clarified that visas had been sought because the mother of the PML-N leader was ill and going abroad for treatment.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

US to stay neutral if govt is changed constitutionally

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: The United States has been quietly telling Pakistani politicians that it would stay neutral if the threatened agitation in the country leads to a government change through “constitutional means”, but would be opposed to a coup.

ISLAMABAD: The United States has been quietly telling Pakistani politicians that it would stay neutral if the threatened agitation in the country leads to a government change through “constitutional means”, but would be opposed to a coup.

This message from Washington has been delivered to government and opposition politicians and military leaders by US Ambassador Richard Olson ahead of next week’s planned agitation by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and some other opposition parties amid worries that the situation could spiral out of control.

“Ambassador Olson has been discussing the political scenario,” said one politician who had recently met the envoy. He asked not to be named.

Mr Olson, who had held a series of meetings earlier, met JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Thursday.

Another politician said the American ambassador had quite candidly conveyed the US concerns in his meeting with him and had categorically opposed a military takeover.

Speculations are rife in the country about an impending political change, as PTI’s long march and sit-in planned for Independence Day anniversary draws closer.

Foreign diplomats have been closely watching the developments. Mr Olson too has been meeting key leaders to keep tabs on the situation.

In a country where people believe in the myth of American influence over political developments, the words of the ambassador are seen as a bellwether of things to come. No-one could be a stronger believer of the myth than Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself, about whom a former US ambassador had noted: “The fact that a former prime minister believes the US could control the appointment of Pakistan’s chief of army staff speaks volumes about the myth of American influence here.”

In his conversations with political and military leaderships, Ambassador Olson has said the US would not take any position if a change in the government comes through constitutional means. He was quoted as having said that the test has been the country’s Constitution and that “Constitutional change would be perfectly legitimate”.

This message, it is said, has been conveyed across the political spectrum.

The second part of the American message being delivered to the army and the politicians is that a military coup would be unacceptable and could trigger suspension of assistance.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Analysis: Moment of truth for Sharif and Khan

Arifa Noor

EARLY on Thursday morning, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq was busy meeting his aides in Islamabad and dealing with questions from the press.

EARLY on Thursday morning, Jamaat-i-Islami chief Sirajul Haq was busy meeting his aides in Islamabad and dealing with questions from the press.

Wednesday evening had been equally hectic when he held meetings all over the capital, reaching across party lines to intransigent politicians holed up in their respective residences and positions.

“In politics, it is the norm to ask big, but it is also in the nature of the beast that solutions are reached through give and take,” he said when asked about the seemingly impossible demands of PTI chief Imran Khan.

However, the JI chief did not reveal details about what he discussed with Khan and with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He did reiterate that the ball was in the government’s court.

“The prime minister said he would consult his advisers and get back to me,” he said, adding that he had communicated four ‘options’ or ‘demands’ from the PTI to the government.

Know more: [Azadi] march madness: 7 days to go

Though he didn’t divulge details, the capital is rife with rumours about what the options may be — ranging from the resignation of the ECP to a recount in constituencies.

All the JI chief would say is that they “relate to what has happened up till now since May.”

His words can be interpreted to mean that the four points relate to the May 2013 election.

After all, the parliamentary reforms committee has been constituted; but this has not proved enough for PTI that is looking to the past as well as the future.

In this regard, the PTI — to an extent — enjoys the support of the JI and the PPP.

Farhatullah Babar frankly admits that the former president has advised the prime minister to heed some PTI demands.

Explaining that the PPP is in favour of electoral reform through the parliament, he makes it clear that the party also supports a recount in some constituencies, though he does not specify which ones.

“This recount must be a result of the legal process — they should be ordered by the electoral tribunals and not the government.”

One can then conclude that negotiations between the ruling party and Khan will focus on the past — there is little disagreement on how to proceed on reform.

The PML-N is willing to talk — finally. This is evident from the tone of PML-N’s senior leadership including Sharif junior who gave an exclusive television interview on Wednesday night. But before the firecrackers can be pulled out to commence the celebrations, there is the issue of what the common ground — for May 2013 — will be.

The PTI will have to backtrack from the resignation demand — Khan’s huffing and puffing notwithstanding.

Members of the party are reluctant to speak when confronted with this question — one party leader told Dawn, on the condition of anonymity, “The situation is fluid”.

Another senior party member, Shafqat Mahmood, who is also representing the party in the National Assembly, would only go so far as to say that the “core committee is meeting on Sunday where the final formulation will be decided.” He hastens to add that the “March is on”.

His words can be interpreted to mean the PTI is still to figure out its detailed plan of action, which further indicates that the party might settle for less than resignation especially because its demands — as they stand at the moment — defy logic.

The prime minister’s resignation — even if a peaceful but long sit-in provokes it — will not resolve anything. If the assembly stays intact, Sharif will simply nominate a prime minister and continue to sit pretty — as did Asif Ali Zardari.

If, on the other hand, Sharif advises the president to call new elections, when and how will the electoral reforms take place? And Khan will be forced to contest another election under a system he finds unfair.

Add to this mix, the reports of the reluctance of PTI’s existing parliamentarians to go home and there is more than enough reason for Khan to accept something short of what he is demanding — if he behaves rationally and not like a man who is high at the thought of power.

Khan would also do well to remember that resignations result from arm twisting and not Tahrir Square like sit-ins, be it a Hosni Mobarik, Musharraf or Nixon.

So far, there is no evidence that anyone is willing to carry out this arm twisting as the political parties want the elected set up to continue.

So can the army be expected to step in?

But would the Khan want to be seen as the military’s B team? And even if he does, does the army need a B team, which is a requirement when a coup is carried out?

The environment is not conducive to the boots marching in.

Those dreaming or whispering of the Kakar/Kayani moment are also off the mark. (The Kakar moment is when Chief of Staff General Waheed Kakar intervened to end the fighting between Nawaz Sharif and Ghulam Ishaq Khan during the former’s first term and forced them both to resign after which fresh elections were called. Kayani’s moment came during the 2009 march)

Even if Raheel Sharif can be bothered to make a call in the middle of the night, what will he tell Khan? That he will force PM Sharif to resign and dissolve the assemblies? Or that Khan should turn back?

One can only imagine the criticism that will be directed at the military if it exercises either of the two options?

In 2009, Kayani’s intervention restored the political status-quo (Sharifs in the Punjab and Zardari at the centre) — and it came at a moment when both the PML-N and the PPP were headed for a crash collision.

But if this is what Raheel Sharif is expected to do (tell the PML-N to stay put and also force them to commit to a recount) then why wait for the military to avert the crash?

The political parties can surely do this without allowing space to the military. All it needs is for the government to pull a political rabbit out of the hat.

It has to figure out what it can offer on the 2013 election results that will be legally and politically acceptable to the PTI and others. This will mean, at the very least, putting aside the fears that if any probe reveals any irregularity on a critical seat such as that of the speaker or a federal minister, it will not just cause the government major embarrassment but also dent its legitimacy. This apparently is why the government has ignored this issue for so long, allowing the date for the PTI’s March to come so close before it woke up.

But there is still some time to find a solution to the problem that must be causing the inhabitant of the PM office a sleepless night or two.

But if Sharif can sacrifice his sleep and find an answer, he will get the credit for ending the political uncertainty that has afflicted the country, drawing attention away from worthier issues. Surely, this is far better than allowing his army chief to hog all the glory or sitting quietly till the PTI wallahs reach Islamabad where some unforeseen incident of violence will allow the situation to spiral out of control. Then all bets are off.

The writer is Dawn’s Resident Editor in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Parties scramble to defuse govt-PTI tension

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: A day after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) revealed that it would not settle for anything less than the prime minister’s resignation and a re-election, leaders from across the political spectrum scrambled on Wednesday to try to defuse political tensions that have come to head over the past few days.

ISLAMABAD: A day after the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) revealed that it would not settle for anything less than the prime minister’s resignation and a re-election, leaders from across the political spectrum scrambled on Wednesday to try to defuse political tensions that have come to head over the past few days.

Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) emir Sirajul Haq had a busy day, separately meeting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Ahmed Shah and PTI chief Imran Khan. “The main purpose of our meeting today is to ensure that we have a peaceful Independence Day,” he told reporters after meeting Mr Khan at his Bani Gala residence in the capital.

The PPP also got into the act, as its Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari telephoned Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri, while Khursheed Shah met former coalition partner and Awami National Party head Asfandyar Wali to discuss the prevailing political situation.

The JI is a PTI coalition partner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it has yet to announce support for Imran Khan’s party in its ‘Azadi March’. After meeting Mr Khan, Sirajul Haq said his party had also raised the issue of electoral rigging and supported the PTI demands for a reformed Election Commission.

“As far as our participation in the Independence Day demonstration is concerned, we will take a decision after August 10 – the day our party will hold a Gaza march in the capital to condemn Israel,” he said.

However, the JI chief said, there was still time until August 14 and that he, along with other political leaders, was trying to find some middle ground between the PML-N and the PTI. “In politics, there is always a solution,” he added.

A PTI statement issued after the meeting claimed that the JI emir fully supported the party’s demands, adding that “PTI will wait for JI in the long march”.

After his meeting with Prime Minister Sharif, the JI emir told reporters: “I have briefed the prime minister on my meeting with the PTI chief and shared with him a possible way out of this crisis.”

But he evaded questions on whether this party supported the PTI’s call for re-elections, saying only that, “Political parties always have demands and it is the responsibility of the government of the day to respond to them. In the ongoing crisis, this task falls to the prime minister.”

In an official statement issued after the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office highlighted the importance of dialogue between political parties and stressed the need for democracy in the country. “The solution to all of Pakistan’s ills lies in dialogue and democracy,” it said.

PPP MEDIATION: On the PAT front, former president Asif Zardari called Dr Tahirul Qadri from London on Wednesday. The PPP co-chairperson condemned the registration of a case against him by Lahore police, but stressed that democracy should not be derailed by any movement against the government.

PPP spokesperson Farhatullah Babar quoted Mr Zardari as saying, “Our party has never supported political victimisation and it will not allow anyone to victimise political opponents, or permit the registration of cases against political leaders.”

According to Mr Babar, both leaders agreed that democracy should be allowed to continue for the ‘betterment of the nation’.

“The phone call was part of a consultative process initiated by the party to ward off threats to democracy,” he said.

Over the past three days, Mr Zardari has spoken to Imran Khan, PML-Q head Chaudhry Shujaat and ANP leader Asfandyar Wali. The prime minister is also said to have phoned Mr Zardari late on Tuesday night.

Separately on Wednesday, Khursheed Shah also met the JI and ANP chiefs to discuss the prevailing political impasse.

A source close to Mr Shah quoted him as saying that one should not go to an extent that would put democracy in danger.

Talking to Dawn, former PPP information minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who accompanied Mr Shah in these meetings, said they primarily intended to mediate between the government and PTI to end their confrontation.

“We believe PTI’s genuine demands and the government’s stance should be honoured for the sake of improving the democratic system, not derailing it,” he said, adding that PPP leaders would try to meet the PTI chief and PML-N leaders on Thursday or Friday in an effort to bridge the divide between the two parties, he said.

Political insiders believe that energetic efforts from parties on both sides of the aisle will help defuse the tensions that exist between the PTI and the PML-N.

“Except for re-elections, the government is willing to negotiate with the PTI on all its other demands, such as the reconstitution of the Election Commission and changes to the criteria for selecting caretaker governments,” a senior government functionary told Dawn.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

6 militants killed in drone attack

Bureau Report

PESHAWAR: A drone strike on the Pak-Afghan border in North Waziristan tribal agency on Wednesday killed six militants, four of them foreigners, a security official said.

PESHAWAR: A drone strike on the Pak-Afghan border in North Waziristan tribal agency on Wednesday killed six militants, four of them foreigners, a security official said.

The drone fired missiles at a compound in Alwara Mandi, 65km from the agency’s headquarters of Miramshah, early in the morning. “It is a remote area and details are sketchy,” the official said.

Four Uzbek nationals and two from the Haqqani network were among the dead, he said.

The area borders Afghanistan’s Paktia province. Four missiles were fired at the compound and a vehicle parked inside it.

However, there was no independent confirmation of the drone strike, the seventh this year.

Alwara Mandi is located in Dattakhel, considered to be a stronghold of local and foreign militants.

Security forces deployed in the area to beef up security on the border have been pulled back to Miramshah, weeks before the launch of the anti-terrorist military operation Zarb-i-Azb on June 15.

Officials say troops have moved into areas around Dattakhel. Forty soldiers have been killed since the launch of the operation in which the military claims to have killed more than 600 local and foreign militants.

The claim could not be verified through independent sources because journalists have no access to the area.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Sikh trader killed, two injured in Peshawar attack

Ali Hazrat Bacha

DSP Ashfaq Ahmed said that Jagmohan Singh, who dealt in cosmetics, mobile phones and accessories, died while he was being taken to the Lady Reading Hospital.

DSP Ashfaq Ahmed said that Jagmohan Singh, who dealt in cosmetics, mobile phones and accessories, died while he was being taken to the Lady Reading Hospital.

The injured traders, Pram Singh and Manmit Singh of Mohallah Jogan Shah Dabgari, were under treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital and their condition was said to be stable.

Witness Diva Singh told Dawn that the three were in their shops at Khush Hal Bazaar in Hashtnagri when a man entered the premises and opened fire on them in their shops.

Other shopkeepers in the market were alarmed by the firing and shut their shops.

He said the attacker, who had come on a motorbike, did not face any resistance and escaped. Police arrived there after the gunman had escaped.

Mr Singh said that this was not the first attack on the community.

He urged the government to tell them how they should protect themselves if it could not provide them security. After incidents of kidnapping of a number of Sikhs in the KP and other tribal areas, some members of the community have decided to wind up their shops and shift to other places in the country.

“The incident took place in the Khush Hal Bazaar in Hashtnagri area,” SP City Mustafa Tanvir told journalists.

Immediately after the attack, a large number of Sikhs took to the streets, placed the body of Jagmohan Singh on the road, burnt tyres and blocked the GT Road and Hospital Road. They shouted slogans against the government.

The protesters blocked the main thoroughfares for several hours.

They demanded immediate arrest of the killer and all those men who were involved in the murder of other members of the community in Bara and Shabqadar (Charsadda) area, some months ago.

The demonstrators later marched on the Khyber Road and reached the Chief Minister’s House where a delegation led by Sardar Suran Singh, Special Assistant to Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, met Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and apprised him of the grievances and demands of the community.

The protesters later took the body of the deceased to the Gurdwara in the Jugan Shah Street for last rites.

PTI CONDEMNATION: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s provincial president Azam Khan Swati, secretary general Khalid Masood and information secretary Ayesha Gulalai condemned the killing.

They accused enemies of the country for the heinous crimes carried out to destabilise the country.

They said the chief minister had issued orders for investigation and strict measures against elements involved in the crime.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Qadri booked for inciting people

Faisal Ali Ghumman

LAHORE: Police booked Pakistan Awami Tehreek chairman Dr Tahirul Qadri in a case for allegedly inciting people to rise against the government, provoking his followers to resort to violence and inciting them to confront police through his fiery speeches.

LAHORE: Police booked Pakistan Awami Tehreek chairman Dr Tahirul Qadri in a case for allegedly inciting people to rise against the government, provoking his followers to resort to violence and inciting them to confront police through his fiery speeches.

Police began a crackdown on PAT leaders and activists in some parts of Punjab in the run-up to the Youm-i-Shuhada slated for Aug 10, arresting a few of them.

Punjab police have been given an amount of Rs70 million by the provincial government to counter the PAT show and the Lahore police hired about 380 containers allegedly by force from different companies to block entry-exit points and some inner areas of the city.

There have been some reports of impounding of motorcycles by Lahore police from across the city as officials of Punjab police and traffic wardens were seen stopping young motorcyclists on different roads. However, city police authorities denied issuing any such order.

The police inserted a clause of the Anti-Terrorism Act in the case registered against Dr Qadri on behalf of Muhammad Khursheed of Mohni Road, Lower Mall. Other sections included 121 (waging or attempting to wage war or abetting waging of war against Pakistan) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Also Read: FBR sends Rs350m income tax notice to Tahirul Qadri

Women activists of the Awami Tehreek, supported by women from PML-Q, staged a protest against police action outside the Lahore Press Club and raised anti-government slogans.

Sources privy to the case told Dawn that police authorities sought advice from the legal branch to lodge a case based on the application moved by the applicant at the Data Darbar police on Tuesday last.

They said the case was finally registered against Mr Qadri on Wednesday and the First Information Report (FIR) was temporarily sealed by the police till the constitution of Joint Investigation Team which was expected to be constituted in a day or two.

Meanwhile, police crackdown against PAT leaders and activists was reported in different parts of the province.

PAT’s central Deputy Secretary Information Mushtaq Ahmad told Dawn that PAT tehsil president Tariq Rahim and Saeed Mughal from Fazilpur (Rajanpur district), who is also president of Tehrik Minhajul Quran, had been picked by police from their residences and were shifted to unknown locations.

He claimed police raided the house of Khanewal PAT president Rao Yasir, trespassed and tortured a woman family member, adding policemen also raided the Burewala outhouse of PAT provincial secretary general and ex-PPP MPA Fayyaz Warriach.

Mr Ahmad said such police actions have also been reported in Muzaffargarh, Sialkot, Gojra and other districts of the province.

According to a police source, the crackdown had been initiated on the ‘orders’ of the PML-N led Punjab government who initially ordered the Special Branch to finalise lists of PAT leaders and activists for their detention under 3-Maintennace of Public Order.

The source said the lists had already been dispatched to all district police for action and police had strictly been directed to check movements of PAT activists on roads and make best efforts to stop them from reaching the provincial capital.

He said PAT leaders and activists from Lahore district would be detained at the last stage shortly before August 10, the day on which PAT leadership is set to observe Youm-e-Shuhda in connection with the Model Town mayhem.

Our Staff Reporter in Rawalpindi adds: Late in the night, police launched a crackdown against PAT workers in Rawalpindi division and arrested at least 10 of them under the Maintenance of Public Order law.

According to sources, police had been provided lists of PAT workers to be arrested. Raids were carried out in Attock, Fateh Jang, Gujar Khan, Jhelum,Chakwal,Murree and Rawalpindi. A police official said that most of the workers whose names were on the lists had gone into hiding. He said the arrests would continue.

Meanwhile, special branch field staff were deployed at bus stands, railway stations and entry point of the city to check the movement of activists workers, in addition to surveillance of transporters and catering firms. The special branch was sending reports regarding PAT workers’ activities to the provincial government after every four hours.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Finally, NA moves for Umerkot Hindus

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: After a prolonged disinterest, the National Assembly on Wednesday came out strongly for the Hindus of the historic Umerkot district of Sindh, empowering the house speaker to name a special committee to investigate alleged excesses such as murders, kidnappings for ransom and attacks on their temples.

ISLAMABAD: After a prolonged disinterest, the National Assembly on Wednesday came out strongly for the Hindus of the historic Umerkot district of Sindh, empowering the house speaker to name a special committee to investigate alleged excesses such as murders, kidnappings for ransom and attacks on their temples.

And while all major parties on both sides of the aisle agreed all was not well in Umerkot for years, Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif recalled what he called an ‘ahsan’, or favour, “done to us” by Hindu Rajputs of the area by giving refuge to the 16th century Mughal emperor Humayun after his defeat at the hands of Sher Shah Suri.

Hindu lawmakers from different parties and PPP member from Umerkot, Nawab Yusuf Talpur, have frequently spoke of harassment of Hindus of the district both in the previous and the present National Assembly, to hear only ministerial assurances of remedies but find little action while there were reports of Hindu migrations from the area to neighbouring India.

Last Sunday’s murder in Umerkot of two Hindu brothers and relatives of a Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf member of the house, Lal Chand, allegedly by robbers, provided the latest spark in the National Assembly, first on the opening day of the house session on Monday and then on Tuesday, when PTI parliamentary leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi came out with a sentimental speech about the incident, accusing a local PPP MPA and police of obstructing justice.

Those allegations were met with protests from PPP benches before the situation calmed down after both Mr Talpur and Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Ahmed Shah suggested forming a house fact-finding committee, which was endorsed by all sides.

However, Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who was chairing the proceedings at the time, said the committee would be formed after parliamentary parties chose their nominees for the body and agreed on its terms of reference.

Khawaja Asif, speaking earlier, said that though it was a provincial subject, collective efforts were needed to remedy the problems of both religious and ethnic minorities, describing what he called “mass migrations” of Hindus to India a serious matter.

The minister noted the hospitality shown by Umerkot Hindus to a fleeing Humayun after a Sodha Rajput ruler at the time of what was then called Amarkot hosted his stay there “when none else in whole India would give him refuge”, and said: “They did an ‘ahsan’ to us.”

During that refuge, Umerkot also became the birthplace of Humayun’s son and the future emperor Akbar.

Amidst concern for other religious minorities, which dominated the day’s proceedings, nobody talked of persecution complaints by the Ahmedi community, at least three of whose members – a woman and two children – were killed on July 27 by a mob in the Gujranwala city of Punjab that also burned Ahmedi homes during a protest against alleged blasphemy by a community member.

BEACH TRAGEDY: What was expected to be a heated debate on the drowning of 42 picnickers in sea off Karachi beaches during Eid holidays late last month drew only a lonely thunder against authorities from a PTI lawmaker from the city, Arif Alvi, while members of the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement were absent from the house for unknown reasons.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

PM acts to shore up political support

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, on Tuesday, clearly looking for support from likeminded political parties to counter the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s long march, which is expected to roll into town on Independence Day.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, on Tuesday, clearly looking for support from likeminded political parties to counter the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s long march, which is expected to roll into town on Independence Day.

As PTI chief Imran Khan made it clear that his party wanted to depose Mr Sharif, the PM, in an afternoon meeting with heads of other political parties in the National Assembly, sought outright support against what the government believes is an ‘undemocratic’ movement launched by the PTI and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek of Dr Tahirul Qadri.

According to a statement released after the meeting by the PM’s Office, “the current political situation came under discussion, during which all leaders agreed to uphold the sanctity of the Constitution and preserve the supremacy of democracy and parliament.”

Know more: PML-N, PTI gear up for Aug 14

It went on to say, “The government and opposition would play their role in strengthening the system and resolve their mutual issues with consensus.”

Leader of Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, PkMAP president Mehmood Khan Achakzai, QWP chief Aftab Sherpao, as well as Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid and Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq attended the huddle.

Saying that the mood in the meeting was a pleasant one, a government official told Dawn the participants sounded concerned about the PTI’s demonstration and the possible repercussion this would have on the overall political situation. In the meeting, the government source added, political party heads were curious about the government’s plans and wanted to know whether they would let Mr Khan gather people in the capital and lock it down for days.

In response, the prime minister said categorically that the government would abide by the Constitution and law of the land in its treatment of the PTI demonstrators. The PM coolly and calmly assured political leaders that the government had nothing to hide and would not resort to high-handed tactics in a bid to stop the long march.

Mr Sharif reminded the participants how – between 2008 and 2013 – he had withstood pressure from within and without to push the Pakistan People’s Party out of government. “I didn’t buy the argument when people asked me to form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or hold a vote of ‘no confidence’ against the PPP government in Azad Jammu & Kashmir,” the source quoted the PM as saying.

Another official Dawn spoke to said the government did not seem especially worried by the Azadi March, but was far more concerned about the safety of its participants. “God forbid, if something were to happen during the long march, he (Imran Khan) will blame the government, which is why we’ve been having sleepless nights,” the source said.

Aftab Sherpao confirmed to Dawn that he had met the PM alongside other political leaders to discuss the PTI long march. After the PTI chief’s announcement that he would not settle for less than the PM’s resignation, Mr Sherpao feared the situation had become quite serious for both parties. “If tomorrow, Dr Tahirul Qadri joins hands with Imran Khan, both of them together might create problems for the government,” the veteran politician said.

In a statement issued later, PPP leader Khursheed Shah asked the prime minister to allow the PTI to go ahead with its long march. At the same time, Mr Shah said, “I have asked the prime minister to restrain his ministers from passing controversial statements because that will only spoil the already strained political atmosphere in the country,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Sharif’s resignation, early polls main objectives: Imran

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf formally announced on Tuesday that its demand for early elections was the bare minimum the party would settle for on August 14.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf formally announced on Tuesday that its demand for early elections was the bare minimum the party would settle for on August 14.

However, addressing a crowded press conference, PTI Chairman Imran Khan said he would unveil the complete blueprint of how to have free and fair elections on the day of long march, which the party has named the ‘Azadi March’.

“The resignation (of) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif followed by re-elections will be the main demand of the long march,” Mr Khan said when pressed by reporters for details of his plans for the Independence Day demonstration.

“I will present a complete set of demands and the way to achieve them on August 14,” he said.

Asked if the PTI’s march on the capital and the demands for early elections were not paving the way for ‘undemocratic forces’, Mr Khan replied that he was struggling for true democracy, as the country right now was under ‘one-family rule’.

Sticking to his party’s guns on the question of electoral rigging, he said the PTI had been raising its grievances at various forums for over 14 months. Now, he said, the only option left to them was the Azadi March.

“Those who think we will go back without achieving our objective — removing this government, which has come into being as a result of ‘fake elections’ — are truly mistaken,” he said, referring to his party’s earlier demands for the resignation of all members of the Election Commission and punishments for those returning officers who had helped manipulate the 2013 elections.

When a reporter prodded the PTI chief on whether these demonstrations were being held on cue from the “powers-that-be”, he said it was Nawaz Sharif who was backed by the Inter-Services Intelligence early in his political career, referring to the Asghar Khan case.

When it was pointed out that senior parliamentarians, such as Mehmood Khan Achakzai, had criticised the PTI’s long march as an “anti-democratic movement”, Imran Khan said it was time for the entire political leadership of the country to understand the difference between ‘true democracy’ and ‘monarchy’.

He said he was in contact with other political parties that were also willing to resign from the National Assembly but he did not name them.

The PTI chief also did not rule out the possibility of an alliance with Dr Tahirul Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek, which has also announced an anti-government demonstration around the same time.

PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi explained how the 2013 elections were rigged in various constituencies throughout the country to favour the PML-N.

He said that all the constituencies where vote verification had been ordered by election tribunals, massive irregularities had been found. “Therefore, by all accounts, the last polls were the worst-ever electoral exercise conducted in the country. The only way forward now is a re-election.”

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

UK minister Warsi quits over govt’s Gaza policy

AFP

LONDON: A minister who was the first Muslim to sit in the British cabinet resigned on Tuesday over the government’s “morally indefensible” policy on Gaza.

LONDON: A minister who was the first Muslim to sit in the British cabinet resigned on Tuesday over the government’s “morally indefensible” policy on Gaza.

The decision by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a minister at the Foreign Office and for faith and communities, heaped fresh pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to take a tougher line against Israel over its actions in Gaza.

His coalition government has faced sustained criticism in recent days, led by the main opposition Labour Party, that it has not spoken out strongly enough over a conflict that has killed at least 1,867 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side.

“Our approach… in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long-term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically,” Ms Warsi wrote to Mr Cameron in her resignation letter.

She said there was “great unease” in the Foreign Office, where Philip Hammond took over as Foreign Secretary from William Hague last month, about how recent policy decisions had been made.

While Ms Warsi’s star has dimmed somewhat in recent years, she was once a high-profile example of Mr Cameron’s desire to diversify his Conservative party away from its traditional white, male base.

Ms Warsi’s parents were Pakistani immigrants and she trained as a lawyer before being made a member of parliament’s upper House of Lords in 2007.

She was appointed to Mr Cameron’s cabinet when his coalition government took power in 2010 but was shuffled out of the full cabinet, the powerful inner circle of government ministers, in 2012.

Ms Warsi describes herself on her website as “best known for being the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet and the foremost Muslim politician in the Western world”.

Labour leader Ed Miliband last week accused Mr Cameron of “inexplicable” silence over the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

“The government needs to send a much clearer message to Israel that its actions in Gaza are unacceptable and unjustifiable,” he said.

“What I want to hear from David Cameron is that he believes that Israel’s actions in Gaza are wrong and unjustified, and we haven’t heard that from him.”

On Monday, Mr Cameron said the United Nations was “right” to condemn an air strike near a school in Rafah on Sunday which killed 10 people but would not say whether he thought it was a “criminal” act.

Downing Street said Mr Cameron regretted Ms Warsi’s decision, and added: “Our policy has always been consistently clear — the situation in Gaza is intolerable and we’ve urged both sides to agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.”

Finance Minister George Osborne called her resignation “disappointing and frankly unnecessary”.

“The British government is working with others in the world to bring peace to Gaza and we do now have a tentative ceasefire which we all hope will hold,” he added.

However, Ms Warsi’s resignation drew praise on Twitter from some Labour MPs. “Very courageous of my brave friend @SayeedaWarsi to resign over this Government’s inexplicable silence and total weakness on the #Gaza crisis,” wrote Sadiq Khan, Labour’s lead spokesman on justice.

Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson, seen as a possible future successor to Mr Cameron, said after Ms Warsi’s announcement that events in Gaza were “utterly horrifying and unacceptable”.

“I cannot for the life of me see why this is a sensible strategy,” Mr Johnson said on his show on London radio station LBC.

“It is disproportionate, ugly and tragic and will not do Israel any good in the long run.”

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Govt refuses to budge on using troops in Islamabad

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seemed the same old hawk he was before an estrangement with his party leadership as he rejected opposition calls in the National Assembly on Tuesday against using troops in Islamabad without judicial oversight.

ISLAMABAD: Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seemed the same old hawk he was before an estrangement with his party leadership as he rejected opposition calls in the National Assembly on Tuesday against using troops in Islamabad without judicial oversight.

But he and a couple of his cabinet colleagues repeatedly assured the house that a notification issued last month under the Constitution’s Article 245 – and provinces advised to replicate it, if needed – was meant only to use troops in aid of civil power only to combat terrorism, not to stifle any political event like a protest march on Islamabad planned by the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for Aug 14.

Both he and Defence and Water and Power Minister Khwaja Mohammad Asif also said that Article 245, which debars courts from questioning military’s actions in an area of its deployment, had been invoked to protect troops from litigation as was happening now in connection with the missing persons.

The government had managed to block an opposition-sought debate on the controversial notification on the opening day of the National Assembly session on Monday in favour of a debate on the Israeli invasion of Gaza. But it agreed, under opposition pressure, to discuss the notification on Tuesday by suspending the agenda of the session’s first members’ day — instead of Wednesday set by a government-dominated house business advisory committee.

After all opposition parties demanded a withdrawal of the notification, Khwaja Asif, who talked of having “learnt from our mistakes”, indicated the possibility of accommodating the opposition viewpoint, saying that though there was no malice or ill-will in the government move, “we will accept whatever decision is taken by this house”.

But speaking immediately after him to wind up over three hours of debate, Chaudhry Nisar seemed conceding little to the opposition as he defended what he called a decision taken in a “very limited meeting” of the civilian and military leadership to requisition troops “wherever needed” under Article 245.

In his first speech to the house after a long absence from parliament since early June because of undisclosed, and now resolved, differences, apparently with the prime minister, the minister said all provinces had also been told to requisition troops, if needed, on the same lines.

Informing the house that troops had already been deployed at seven places in and around Islamabad, including the Margalla hills overlooking the capital in the north, he said they were there for “the protection of the people” and that they “will not be used against any ‘dharna’ (sit-in) or march”.

Railways Minister Khwaja Saad Rafique said the PTI chairman Imran Khan should have waited for two more months until the completion of the current military operation against militants in North Waziristan instead of planning his march on Islamabad now to press his grievances about alleged rigging in last year’s general elections. But he ruled out the troops and PTI marchers coming face to face.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Democracy should not be derailed: Zardari

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: Former president and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari continued his consultations with political forces for the second consecutive day on Tuesday. He called PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq from London and told them that democracy should not be derailed by movements.

ISLAMABAD: Former president and PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari continued his consultations with political forces for the second consecutive day on Tuesday. He called PTI Chairman Imran Khan and Jamaat-i-Islami emir Sirajul Haq from London and told them that democracy should not be derailed by movements.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also telephoned Mr Zardari and, according to sources in the PML-N and PPP, the two renewed their pledge to save democracy and the constitution.

“Mr Zardari’s telephonic conversations are part of a consultative process with political forces to ward off any threat to democracy,” PPP’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar said.

He said Prime Minister Sharif had called Mr Zardari on Tuesday night and the two exchanged views on the current political situation in the country.

On Monday, Mr Zardari called PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Awami National Party chief Asfandyar Wali.

Talking to Imran Khan, Mr Zardari condemned the summoning of the army in Islamabad under Article 245 of the Constitution, but said that any attempt which might wrap up democracy should be avoided.

According to Mr Babar, the former president told Mr Khan that the PPP agreed with his demand for recounting of votes in disputed constituencies under the law and opposed the summoning of troops under Article 245, but it was also crucial that no opportunity was provided to anyone to derail the democratic set-up on the pretext of political instability.

He quoted Mr Zardari as expressing his views on democracy: “The baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater.”

Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Khursheed Ahmed Shah of the PPP, is expected to meet Imran Khan and Sirajul Haq on Wednesday.

Talking to reporters while sending relief goods to the IDPs of North Waziristan on Monday, Mr Shah said the PPP was ready to act as mediator between the government and PTI to end their confrontation.

Imran Khan has given a call for a march on the federal capital on Aug 14 against the alleged rigging in the general elections held last year.

Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri has announced that his party will observe Aug 10 as ‘martyrs’ day to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town incident. He is expected to give a call for ‘revolution march’ on the day.

The PTI spokesperson, Shireen Mazari, claimed in a statement that Mr Zardari had supported the PTI’s call for fair and transparent elections.

According to the statement, the PTI chairman expressed gratitude to the former president for supporting his party’s point of view about re-elections in four controversial constituencies in Punjab.

In his telephonic conversation with Sirajul Haq, the PPP co-chairman also urged him to work for protecting democracy. The PPP spokesperson quoted Mr Zardari as saying: “I believe that the guiding principle should be that worst democracy is better than any so-called benign dictatorship.”

The JI’s spokesman, Shahid Shamsi, said his party would not be part of any move that threatened democracy. He said holding demonstrations and sit-ins was the right of every party, but no opportunity should be given to any ‘third party’ to destabilise democracy.

Sources in the JI told Dawn that the party would not take part in Imran Khan’s long march and it was expected that one or two leaders of the party would attend it for an hour or so to register their token participation.

The PPP spokesman said the purpose of Mr Zardari’s phone calls to political leaders was to lay emphasis on protecting and promoting democracy and the constitution and, at the same time, sending a clear message to the government to listen to the “voices of reason and logic and not overshoot the bullet”.

Mr Babar said the former president had expressed concern over the political scene in the country. “He is keen to consult all political forces in a bid to protect democratic structures from being undermined under any pretext.”

The former president, he said, was keen to dissuade the government from any knee-jerk reaction or embarking upon an irrational and illogical course that might result in political instability and expose democratic institutions to new and unforeseen threats.

Mr Babar said the PPP believed that the decision to summon troops under Article 245 would have serious repercussions and the government should review it.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

PML-N, PTI gear up for Aug 14

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: On a hot and humid Monday political temperature in the federal capital also remained high as top leaderships of the PTI and the ruling PML-N held separate meetings on the same issue – Aug 14 long march Imran Khan has planned to oust the government.

ISLAMABAD: On a hot and humid Monday political temperature in the federal capital also remained high as top leaderships of the PTI and the ruling PML-N held separate meetings on the same issue – Aug 14 long march Imran Khan has planned to oust the government.

At the PTI meeting, its lawmakers authorised the party chairman to decide on their resignations in a bid to enforce early elections.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif discussed with senior leaders of the party various options to handle the PTI march before and after Aug 14.

Know more: PML-N to let PTI go ahead with march

While of late the PTI has increasingly started talking about mid-term elections, the PML-N seems sitting comfortably on a safe majority in the National Assembly, facing no constitutional or legal threat as a result of Mr Khan’s call for the long march.

Mr Khan presided over the PTI’s parliamentary committee meeting at the Parliament House, while Prime Minister Office was venue of the ruling party’s meeting.

PML-N MEETING: Prime Minister Sharif brainstormed various options to respond to the long march. Although no official statement was issued, sources privy to the meeting said the government was keeping all its options open.

A source in the PML-N told Dawn that the government would continue its efforts to persuade the PTI leadership to hold talks on electoral reforms. Since the prime minister has himself announced more than once that the government is open to listen to the opposition on the issue of electoral reforms, the doors for talks will remain open.

One of the options discussed at the meeting was to ask the PTI to come up with a constitutional amendment for whatever changes it wanted in the electoral process and the government would support it.

However, the meeting decided that as far as PTI’s demands for recounting of votes, audit of entire election results and punishment for the returning officers allegedly responsible for mismanaging the 2013 general elections were concerned, Mr Khan and his party should seek relief from the Election Commission or the judiciary.

The PML-N leaders were also of the opinion that the government should aggressively campaign against the PTI for disrupting democracy and take other political forces on board for the purpose.

On the administrative front, the prime minister asked Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to take necessary measures for the long march concerning its security and arrangements for its final destination in Islamabad.

“The meeting decided that no hurdles will be created in the way of the march. However, law-enforcers will remain on high alert to deal with troublemakers,” the PML-N source said.

The Punjab government was asked to take necessary legal action against Dr Tahirul Qadri for his civil disobedience call.

The meeting was attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan, Punjab Governor Muhammad Sarwar, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, Ishaq Dar, Pervaiz Rashid, Chaudhry Nisar, Ahsan Iqbal, Abdul Qadir Baloch, Irfan Siddiqui, Hamza Shahbaz, Rana Sanaullah, Rana Mashhood and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.

PTI MEETING: PTI’s Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari told Dawn that all members of the National Assembly “will hand over their resignations to the party chairman to use them when he sees fit”.

When asked if the decision also applied to the party’s lawmakers in the provincial assemblies, notably in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the PTI was ruling, she said: “Yes, the decision is same for all legislators of the party.”

In a press statement, the party’s central media cell also said the PTI lawmakers would submit their resignations to the party chairman, allowing him to use them at an appropriate time.

It rejected media reports about backchannel contacts between Mr Khan and Chaudhry Nisar.

Talking to Dawn, a PTI member of the National Assembly who attended the meeting said much of the deliberations was how to increase pressure on the government to meet PTI’s demands because the issue of resignations had been decided at a core committee meeting held in the last week of June.

He said the PTI lawmakers had been categorically told that the Aug 14 march wasn’t just another rally. It will determine future of politics not only for the PTI but also for the country and, therefore, they are required to put in all their resources for its success.

When asked if the lawmakers had been informed about the party’s strategy to press the government for early elections, he said the leadership had decided in principle that the party would forcefully highlight the fact that the present government was formed as a result of rigged elections.

Reflecting the party’s mode in a TV talk show, Shafqat Mehmood, a senior PTI leader and MNA from Lahore, said that since it had been abundantly proven that the 2013 elections were rigged, new elections were the only options left.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Seraiki party leader Faqir Jamshed dies in blast

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Faqir Jamshed Ahmad Gesu Daraz, leader of the Pakistan Seraiki Party (PSP), and his companion were killed in a bomb blast on Mudhi Road in Kulachi tehsil on Monday.

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Faqir Jamshed Ahmad Gesu Daraz, leader of the Pakistan Seraiki Party (PSP), and his companion were killed in a bomb blast on Mudhi Road in Kulachi tehsil on Monday.

Faqir Jamshed, also known as a spiritual leader, and his companion died when their car hit a bomb placed on the road.

Their bodies were taken to a hospi-tal in Kulachi.Police are looking for the people responsible for the attack.

Faqir Jamshed earlier belonged to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf but left it before the general elections after he was denied the PTI ticket.

He contested the elections on PSP ticket for NA-24 and NA-25 seats and lost.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

PPP to attend PAT’s gathering

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: The Pakistan Peoples Party has decided to attend the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s ‘martyrs day’ gathering to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town tragedy.

LAHORE: The Pakistan Peoples Party has decided to attend the Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s ‘martyrs day’ gathering to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town tragedy.

The PPP had not attended a multi-party conference held in connection with the Model Town incident in June as it did not want to give a message that it was with Dr Tahirul Qadri. However, now the PPP has decided in principle to take part in the Aug 10 event which is seen a prelude to PAT’s ‘revolution march’.

Know more: PPP not to support undemocratic moves, says Khuhro

“The PPP will attend the Quran Khawani for the victims of Model Town tragedy,” PPP Secretary General Latif Khosa told Dawn on Monday.

He said the PML-N government should shun double standards and register an FIR against those involved in the killing of innocent protesters.

“The PPP during its tenure had registered a case even against Z.A. Bhutto but the Sharifs are not ready to accept the supremacy of law.”

Mr Khosa said the PPP supported Dr Qadri’s dem­and for electoral reforms because it would not like to contest the next elections under the same system which was used by the PML-N for ‘massive rigging’ in the 2013 election.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

NA calls for OIC session on Gaza

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly called on Monday for an emergency session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take “effective action” against the Israeli invasion of Gaza after the government managed to skip an opposition-sought debate on its controversial move to call in troops in Islamabad without any judicial oversight.

ISLAMABAD: The National Assembly called on Monday for an emergency session of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take “effective action” against the Israeli invasion of Gaza after the government managed to skip an opposition-sought debate on its controversial move to call in troops in Islamabad without any judicial oversight.

But before the adoption of a unanimous resolution condemning “brutal Israeli strikes” against the Palestinian people of Gaza for four weeks, the opening of a new session of the house was marked by fireworks over a notification issued by the government last month authorising itself to use troops in the capital under Article 245 of the Constitution without being challenged by courts.

The opposition had called for an immediate adoption of the resolution on Gaza without a debate and threatened to boycott the proceedings if the government did not allow a discussion on the notification, which critics say is meant to be used to block a threatened August 14 march on Islamabad by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

However, Leader of the Opposition Khursheed Ahmed Shah agreed to a debate on Gaza as sought by the government and its allies, saying he had been assured by Science and Technology Minister Zahid Hamid that the invocation of Article 245 would also be discussed immediately afterwards instead of an earlier decision of a multi-party business advisory committee to take up the matter on Wednesday.

But that assurance did not materialise after Mr Hamid, who overlooks most of the government’s business in the house, and Kashmir Affairs Minister Birjees Tahir were seen conferring with the opposition leader inside the house, apparently to persuade him to let the day be devoted to Gaza.

The resolution, moved by the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security, Sartaj Aziz, voiced the house’s “heartfelt sympathy for the Palestinian people and unequivocal support for their cause” and called upon the OIC to “convene an emergency session in order to take effective action to stop Israeli brutality against innocent civilians forthwith”.

It did not say whether the session of the 57-state organisation should be at the summit-level as demanded by some members of the house – some recalled the Islamic summit called in Lahore in 1974 by then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – or at the foreign ministers’ level.

In a policy speech earlier, Mr Aziz had told the house that in a meeting with him earlier in the day the visiting OIC secretary general, Iyad Ameen Abdullah Madani, had “indicated” calling “such a meeting” on August 12, but he spoke of no possible venue.

The resolution also called upon the international community to negotiate an “immediate and unconditional ceasefire” in Gaza and require Israel to remove its forces from the area and end its blockade of Gaza.

The resolution also demanded that the international community ensure an immediate resumption of negotiations to achieve a “comprehensive peace” agreement providing for the establishment of a “viable, geographically contiguous Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders” with Jerusalem as its capital and compensation for the destruction of the entire infrastructure of Gaza.

It called upon the Muslim Ummah to “focus, in parallel with political initiatives already taken, on direct and tangible support for the affected persons (in Gaza) by providing substantial financial assistance to alleviate their immense suffering and meet their growing humanitarian needs”.

Some opposition lawmakers pressed for an explanation from the government about the justification for invoking Article 245 right in this sitting rather than waiting until Wednesday – because Tuesday is to be devoted to private members’ business – with Mr Khursheed Shah saying “we will boycott unless (invocation of Article) 245 is taken up”.

But the opposition leader angrily rejected a suggestion by a government ally, JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, that he gave less importance to Gaza, saying that his Pakistan People’s Party and the rest of opposition were “far ahead of the government” in supporting the Palestinian cause.

Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid Ahmed walked out of the house announcing his boycott of the sitting as the government and its allies, and even the opposition Jamaat-i-Islami, a PTI ally, insisted on holding a debate on Gaza before passing the resolution.

The day was also marked by a token walkout by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to protest against an alleged overnight raid on the Karachi home of MQM parliamentary leader Dr Farooq Sattar by paramilitary Rangers and arrest of what a party lawmaker, Abdul Rashid Godel, called innocent party activists, and protests over the July 31 killing of two relatives of a PTI Hindu lawmaker, Lal Chand, in Umarkot district of the Sindh province.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Shujaat refuses to budge on Zardari’s call

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: In a phone call on Monday, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari unsuccessfully tried to persuade PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to stay away from rallies to be organised by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) later this month.

ISLAMABAD: In a phone call on Monday, PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari unsuccessfully tried to persuade PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain to stay away from rallies to be organised by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT) later this month.

But the Chaudhry refused to buy Mr Zardari’s arguments and abandon his plan to join the rallies, though he was told that the situation prevailing in the country called for an all out support for the military operation against terrorists.

Former president Zardari also made a similar call to Awami National Party (ANP) President Asfandyar Wali Khan. The ANP and the PML-Q were part of the ruling coalition led by the PPP.

Know more: PPP says willing to join drive for mid-term polls

The PPP’s spokesperson, Senator Farhatullah Babar, said the phone calls were made from London. “Mr Zardari believes that it is necessary to engage other political forces for defending the constitution and democracy.”

In the telephonic conversations, he discussed with the chiefs of the PML-Q and ANP the current political situation.

“Mr Zardari keeps himself abreast with events taking place in the country and views with concern some recent developments,” Mr Babar said.

The PPP, he said, was committed to protecting democracy and constitutionalism.

The PTI chief, Imran Khan, has given a call for a long march from Lahore to Islamabad on Aug 14 in support of his demand for electoral reforms and other unspecified matters.

Sources in the PPP told Dawn that Mr Zardari talked to Chaudhry Shujaat for 12 minutes and asked him not to join PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri’s “revolution march.” The date for the march will be probably announced on Aug 10, when the PAT will observe ‘martyrs day’ to mourn the death of its workers in the police crackdown in Model Town, Lahore, on June 17. Police had come there to remove barriers from outside Dr Qadri’s house.

But PML-Q spokesman Kamil Ali Agha denied that Mr Zardari had asked Chaudhry Shujaat to stay away from the marches of the PTI and the PAT. The PML-Q will support the PAT in its protest.

He said the PPP chief emphasised that in the prevailing situation the whole nation should back the army and its massive operation Zarb-i-Azb against terrorists in North Waziristan. Chaudhry Shujaat and Mr Zardari agreed that national security should not come under threat.

The government has invoked Article 245 of the constitution to summon army in the federal capital for three months, apparently to prevent the PTI from staging a long march to Islamabad or a sit-in in the city.

Haji Adeel, the ANP’s Vice President, said before getting Mr Zardaris advice, his party had decided that it would not participate in any anti-government march.

He said staging a march was a right of a political party but it should be peaceful and for positive goals instead of creating anarchy.

“Imran Khan has a right to stage a long march but if any untoward incident takes place or a single person is injured or killed in it he will be responsible for it,” the ANP leader said.

To a question about the army deployment in Islamabad, he said his party was against the ‘needles move’. “Such emergency measures are taken in case of war or an external aggression and not to face any internal threat,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Seven Uzbeks, two soldiers killed in Waziristan

Bureau Report

PESHAWAR: Two security personnel and seven suspected militants, said to be Uzbeks, were killed in clashes as security forces carried out a search and clearance operation in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan tribal region on Monday.

PESHAWAR: Two security personnel and seven suspected militants, said to be Uzbeks, were killed in clashes as security forces carried out a search and clearance operation in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan tribal region on Monday.

According to the update on Operation Zarb-i-Azb issued by ISPR, the military’s media wing, Naib Subedar Mashkoor and Lance Naik Zaheer were killed when militants attacked a group of security personnel who were carrying out a search operation in villages on Miramshah-Dattakhel road.

Troops conducted a snap operation on the hideouts of Uzbek terrorists in Dattakhel Bazaar, killing seven of them, the ISPR said.

The security forces claimed to have cleared Miramshah, Mirali, Boya and Degan up to Dattakhel and action was under way in the villages of Momin Gul Ziarat, Darpakhel, Tappi, Spalga and the south of Tochi River to clear pockets of resistance between Miramshah and Mirali.

A large quantity of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide jackets were seized in areas near Mirali in Shahbaz Khel along with 75 rockets, chemicals and propaganda literature, it said.

Security forces also found an IED-manufacturing factory in Umer Ki Kalli.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Imran warns of paralysing country if he is detained

Khalid Hasnain

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has warned that his party will paralyse the entire country if the government tries to put him under house arrest.

LAHORE: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has warned that his party will paralyse the entire country if the government tries to put him under house arrest.

“We will surely march on Islamabad on August 14 because we believe that the 2013 general elections were massively rigged,” Zulifqar, a PTI activist, told Dawn as he waited for his party’s chief, along with other charged workers in Gulberg.

Mr Khan said that after removing the government through the long march his party would hold free, fair and transparent elections through an independent Election Commission.

About media reports that PTI members of the national and provincial assemblies had submitted their resignations to him, he said it was a small thing, adding that PTI workers were ready to do something beyond this and even die for him.

He said there was a difference between democracy and monarchy. “In a democratic system, rulers are accountable to people. And in a monarchy, one man or his family rules the state without being accountable to anyone. The Sharifs have become kings because they and their family members are holding key posts, including the one held by Mariam Nawaz.”

Mr Khan challenged his opponents to prove any corruption in the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

He claimed that a caravan of youngsters with 50,000 motorcycles was ready to leave for Islamabad and expressed the hope that the number would grow on its way to the capital.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Abdul Aleem Khan and other PTI leaders also address the convention.

Ikram Junaidi adds from Islamabad: Demanding a complete re-election to correct the “massively rigged” general elections of 2013, PTI spokesperson Shireen Mazari ruled out any possibility of negotiations or a settlement with the PML-N government over the party’s upcoming ‘Azadi March’.

The PTI information secretary told a press conference in Islamabad on Sunday that the government did not have the mandate to rule because the elections were rigged. “This is why our party has been demanding re-elections instead of mid-term elections,” she said.

Ms Mazari said her party had given the government ample time to redress their grievances, but it seemed that the rulers were not willing to ensure democracy in the country. They do not have democracy within their own party and want to run the country through their own family members.

When asked to comment on a recent statement by Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain, who called upon Nawaz Sharif to step down to avert a political crisis, Ms Mazari said the PML-N was not a political party but a family enterprise and would never agree to such a move because they wanted power for themselves. “Even if Nawaz resigns as prime minister, PTI will continue to demand a re-election,” she said.

“The Election Commission should have disposed of the petitions filed by candidates within four months of the elections, but as many as 14 months have passed without the major cases being settled,” she said.

“A number of politicians have been suggesting that parliament is the relevant forum to resolve all these issues, but unfortunately the government is not willing to take up these issues in parliament.”

To prove her point, Ms Mazari said PTI had tabled as many as six bills seeking reforms, but all of them were still pending.

“PTI tabled bills seeking the use of electronic voting machines in the next elections, greater accountability of returning officers, ratification of foreign agreements from parliament as well as an Islamabad local government bill and a bill regarding the audit of taxes paid by parliamentarians. But all these bills have been lost in the files,” she said.

Her sentiment was echoed by Asad Umar, the PTI MNA from Islamabad, who said the backlog of PTI-introduced bills showed that the government was not willing to resolve issues in a democratic manner.

“Now, the only option available is to take to the streets. PTI is not holding a fun fair, and the Azadi March in not being held in F-9 Park. Workers will not go back home until the issue is resolved. The protest will be peaceful and it is responsibility of the government to provide security,” Ms Mazari said, laying down her party’s agenda.

She said the government had not contacted PTI for negotiations and the impression that PTI had been negotiating with the government through back-channels was incorrect.

She said that all political parties had been invited to participate in the march, but PTI would seek support from only those parties and groups who wanted to bring about change through democratic means.

“All of our National Assembly members are ready to resign. Hundreds of thousands of people will participate in the march,” she said.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Protests and long march no threat to govt: PM

APP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Sunday that there was no threat to his government from any protests or long march.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Sunday that there was no threat to his government from any protests or long march.

He said he was ready to listen to the opposition’s grievances and redress them it they sat with him before or after the long march.

According to Radio Pakistan, the prime minister said in an interview that certain elements were out to create lawlessness and violence by following the path of agitation.

Political problems are always solved through dialogue and understanding and not through protests and marches. The people are fully aware of their designs and will not let them succeed.

Mr Sharif said the judiciary and other institutions were working independently to address complaints of the opposition and they should be trusted.

He said the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan had reached a decisive stage.

The entire nation is backing the operation and opposition parties must also extend their support to the armed forces and the IDPs.

He called upon the opposition to play a positive and constructive role in the larger interests of the country.

Answering a question, the prime minister said his government was taking steps to increase power generation and expressed his resolve that the government would not sit idle till it resolved the power crisis.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

PAT to observe Aug 10 as ‘martyrs day’

Amjad Mahmood

LAHORE: Postponing his call for a ‘revolution march’ to an appropriate time, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri said on Sunday that his party would observe Aug 10 as ‘martyrs’ day to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town incident.

LAHORE: Postponing his call for a ‘revolution march’ to an appropriate time, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr Tahirul Qadri said on Sunday that his party would observe Aug 10 as ‘martyrs’ day to pay homage to the victims of the June 17 Model Town incident.

The announcement was made by Dr Qadri at a meeting of the party’s general council. Leaders of the PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad Council, Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen and representatives of minorities were present on the occasion, but they were not invited to be with the PAT chief on the dais, but were seated beside it.

Dr Qadri said the case of Model Town ‘massacre’ was being fought in Lahore while that of suppressing the economic, social and political rights of the 200 million people would be contested in Islamabad, a reference to PTI’s march on the federal capital on Aug 14.

He said Quran Khawani for the 14 party activists killed in the June 17 police raid on the central offices of Minhajul Quran, a sister organisation of the PAT, would be held in a peaceful manner but warned that the assurance about observing the day peacefully would stand annulled if the government tried to harass and arrest its participants. The venue will be shifted from Model Town to “Raiwind estate of the Sharifs” if the government tries to disrupt the programme.

He asked police not to carry out ‘unlawful’ orders of the rulers and warned them of a tit-for-tat response in case of ‘abuse’ of powers. Policemen must act cautiously, he said and warned them of the same treatment meted out by them to PAT workers. “Beware that your protectors will no more be there in power.”

Dr Qadri asked his workers to prepare lists of policemen who might mistreat them. He directed them to resist any crackdown and bring the policemen forcibly entering their homes to the Quran Khawani function.

He said PAT’s patience should not be taken as a sign of weakness. He predicted that he would bring about his ‘revolution’ before the end of August and asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to decide which government, the one at the centre or in Punjab, should go first. “It’s up to Nawaz Sharif to decide who will leave his office first, he or his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif.”

The PAT chief regretted that the heirs of Model Town victims had been running from pillar to post for two months to get justice but even their FIR against the accused was not being registered. He alleged that some of the accused had been allowed to go out of the country and vowed to avenge the blood under the Islamic law of Qisas.

Addressing the western countries supporting the current dispensation in the name of democracy, he asked if any government there could have survived a Model Town-like incident there.

“The incumbent government and the current governance system are neither constitutional nor democratic because under it people are not enjoying the rights which are granted even to animals in the West,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Powerful quake hits southwest China; over 360 killed

Agencies

BEIJING: A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck southwestern China on Sunday, killing at least 367 people and leaving 1,881 injured in a remote area of Yunnan province, and causing thousands of buildings, including a school, to collapse.

BEIJING: A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck southwestern China on Sunday, killing at least 367 people and leaving 1,881 injured in a remote area of Yunnan province, and causing thousands of buildings, including a school, to collapse.

The US Geological Survey said the quake registered at a shallow depth of less than 1 mile (1.6 km). Chinese state media said it was felt most strongly in Yunnan as well as in the neighbouring provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan.

The official Xinhua news agency said the epicentre was in Longtoushan town in Yunnan’s mountainous Ludian county.

Communications have been seriously affected and rescuers have begun arriving on the scene, the report said.

Pictures posted online by state media showed troops stretchering people away and cars damaged by fallen bricks.

Ludian resident Ma Liya told Xinhua the streets were like a “battlefield after bombardment”.

The government is sending 2,000 tents, 3,000 folding beds, 3,000 quilts and 3,000 coats to the disaster zone, where heavy rain forecast for the coming days will add to the misery, the report said.

Ludian is home to some 265,900 people, Xinhua added.

The region is frequently struck by quakes, with one killing more than 1,400 in the same part of Yunnan in 1974.

A quake in Sichuan in 2008 killed almost 70,000 people.

“Too many buildings were damaged and we are collecting data on deaths and injuries,” Xinhua quoted local official Chen Guoyong as saying in the township of Longt­oushan, which sits at the epicentre.

“The walls of several buildings crumbled, and water pipes were ruptured. The electricity was cut off,” wrote a user who said they lived in Ludian county, 23 kilometres from the epicentre, on China’s Twitter-like Weibo.

The user’s message was accompanied by images of cracked walls and a pile of bricks strewn across the road.

State media announced that 2,500 troops had been dispatched to quake-hit areas late Sunday, joining a team of more than 300 police and firefighters from Zhaotong City. The equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools.

The province also sent 392 rescuers and sniffer dogs to aid the relief operation.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Overemphasis on additional power generation may also lead to trouble

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: The government seems to be getting nervous that its overemphasis on generation of additional electricity may turn the existing power crisis into a far more burdensome and multidimensional liability if it is not managed carefully and pragmatically now.

ISLAMABAD: The government seems to be getting nervous that its overemphasis on generation of additional electricity may turn the existing power crisis into a far more burdensome and multidimensional liability if it is not managed carefully and pragmatically now.

That’s apparently why Finance Minister Ishaq Dar directed the water and power ministry on Sunday to ensure recovery of electricity bills from provincial governments in 60 days, as agreed with them during a meeting of the Council of Common Interests two months ago.

Mr Dar issued the instructions at a preparatory meeting he chaired ahead of a review meeting on the subject which would be presided over by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Monday (today).

According to sources, Mr Sharif has been told by some of his ‘unofficial advisers’ that his aides were overzealously pushing for new electricity generation projects which may expose the economy to unnecessary risks and lead to repetition of the 1994-like situation when the-then PPP government contracted out too much capacity.

The prime minister has been advised to scrutinise the entire infrastructure chain “realistically and pragmatically” now, instead of facing political and economic crises at a later stage, according to the sources.

Mr Sharif was told that Pakistan Railways alone would require about Rs400 billion to transport the coal required to fire coal-based projects of 5,000MW capacity in Punjab’s cities like Sahiwal, Rahimyar Khan, Jhang and Faisalabad.

The capacity of the ports also needed to be examined carefully, he was told. Then there was the question of laying of fresh transmission lines to transmit additional electricity.

Under the power policy of 1994, the PPP government contracted out capacity of more than 9,000MW even though the country needed only about 3,000MW for the next five years. The next government, led by the PML-N, tried in vain to export over 3,000MW of surplus electricity to India.

It then launched controversial investigations against independent power producers to slow down commercial operations of half the power plants and wind up others, causing irreparable damage to the investment climate.

An official told Dawn that the prime minister was expected to review the entire infrastructure chain before prioritising the upcoming and future projects in order to avoid a 1994-like situation.

He said that at their Sunday meeting the ministries of finance and water & power noted that average power shortage was about 4,000MW, as demand was 18,000MW and existing capacity 14,000MW.

The meeting observed that with power projects of 4,000-5,000MW already in the pipeline, the country would require an additional capacity of 10,000MW over the next five years based on an economic growth rate of between four and seven per cent.

It remained unclear during the meeting whether or not funds could be arranged by the government for Pakistan Railways to augment its transportation capacity from the existing 1.6 million tons of coal to 18 million tons, the official said.

Mr Dar told the meeting that investment for the projects was available as the Asian Development Bank would be financing the Jamshoro project and Exim Bank of China would fund the five coal-based power projects in Punjab. Similar funding was committed for projects at Gwadar and Port Qasim.

The minister criticised the Planning Commission for not playing a central role in planning of the power sector. He said the commission should be a focal point for coordination among various ministries to figure out if port and shipping facilities were sufficient, transportation arrangements were adequate and transmission lines were capable of handling additional electricity.

Mr Dar said the government must be realistic and pragmatic at this stage of planning and frame policies for future investment in the light of future demand.

He underlined the need to improve the energy mix to bring down the electricity price in order to facilitate the people and the industry.

He added that international investors, including the Chinese companies, were interested in financing the energy projects.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Israeli planes attack another UN school in Gaza; 10 killed

Reuters

GAZA CITY: An Israeli air strike killed 10 people and wounded about 30 on Sunday in a UN-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave.

GAZA CITY: An Israeli air strike killed 10 people and wounded about 30 on Sunday in a UN-run school in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official said, as dozens died in Israeli shelling of the enclave.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the attack as a “moral outrage and a criminal act”.

The United States was “appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling” and urged Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties, according to a statement by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

She also called for an investigation into recent attacks on UN schools. It was the second strike on a school in less than a week.

The Israeli military said it had “targeted three Islamic Jihad terrorists on board a motorcycle in the vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah” and added it was “reviewing the consequences of this strike”.

Islamic Jihad did not report any of its militants killed or injured in the incident.

A Palestinian health official said all those wounded or killed were from inside the school.

Amid Hamas accusations that Israel had misled the world about the alleged capture of an Israeli soldier, the officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was buried on Sunday after the military said it recovered remains and he was killed in action.

Goldin’s suspected abduction led to the collapse of a US- and UN-brokered ceasefire on Friday.

“We are redeploying and regrouping, and we have extensive forces both on the ground in Gaza and on the border at this time,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

Israel’s troops were “awaiting further orders and preparing a course of action for the next stage,” Lerner said.

In the town of Rafah, where the military has been battling militants, a missile from an Israeli aircraft struck the entrance to the UN-run school, where Palestinians who had fled their homes were sheltering, witnesses and medics said.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the Gaza health ministry, said 10 people had been killed and 30 wounded, all from inside the school.

Robert Serry, UN Middle East Special Coordinator, said the school had been sheltering 3,000 displaced persons and the strike caused multiple deaths and injuries.

“It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities,” he said.

Last Wednesday, at least 15 Palestinians who sought refuge in a UN-run school in Jabalya refugee camp were killed during fighting, and the UN said Israeli artillery had apparently hit the building.

The Israeli military said gunmen had fired mortar bombs from near the school and it shot back in response.

Earlier on Sunday, Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network used by Palestinian militants to attack Israel.

“I saw a man on a donkey cart bringing seven bodies into the hospital. Bodies are being kept in ice-cream refrigerators, in flower and vegetable coolers,” Goma said.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

PTI to prolong sit-in till demands are met

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) plans to prolong its proposed sit-in at the capital’s D-Chowk for an indefinite period or until its demands are met. But party leaders tell Dawn that the demands are still being shaped up decision on what those demands exactly are is still awaited.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) plans to prolong its proposed sit-in at the capital’s D-Chowk for an indefinite period or until its demands are met. But party leaders tell Dawn that the demands are still being shaped up decision on what those demands exactly are is still awaited.

The party is also said to be divided over the demand for mid-term elections and certain members have opposed the suggestion as they consider it “ill-timed”.

“We will stay in Islamabad until our demands are accepted,” said Asad Umar, the PTI lawmaker from Islamabad, in reply to a question about his party chief Imran Khan’s recent comments on TV, where he said he would even sleep at D-Chowk with other demonstrators on Aug 14.

“Imran Khan has given the call to the whole country. He is not just coming to deliver a speech and go back home,” he added.

Although Imran has hinted at the possibility of turning the long march into an indefinite sit-in, he never put it in so many words before.

Also read: Imran’s long march to coincide with govt’s Aug 14 celebrations at D-Chowk

Whenever asked about his actual plans for Indepen­dence Day, his response would be that he was coming to Islamabad for a “decisive battle, not just for a public meeting”.

“You can call it an indefinite sit-in, which will continue until we get what we are asking for,” Mr Umar told Dawn.

Party leaders have been saying for the past few days that the time for talks with the government was over and PTI would now present its demands and a “plan of action” on the day of the demonstration.

Mr Umar, however, was unable to explain what specific demands the party would present on Aug 14.

“I leave it to Imran Khan. Let him speak on the matter when the time comes,” he said when pressed for details on the matter.

The PTI chief and his deputy, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, have already hinted that the party may press for mid-term elections.

MID-TERM ELECTIONS: Both have stated in recent interviews that mid-term elections were the “only solution” to rescue the country from the prevailing crisis.

On the other hand, a senior PTI leader and a key office-bearer told Dawn that the issue of mid-term elections had come under discussion several times during party meetings, but there had been no decision on whether the party should include it in its final list of demands.

“Imran Khan’s TV interview was shocking for me as well,” the PTI leader — who is also a member of the party’s core committee — said when asked about the possibility of the demand for mid-term polls.

Asad Umar, however, maintained that asking for mid-term elections was a “legal and constitutional right”. But he refused to speak further on the matter, saying that any statements on this subject may create confusion.

“Please, wait for the appropriate time” was his reply when asked if mid-term elections were the main objective of the party’s Azadi March.

On May 7, in his speech on the floor of the National Assembly ahead of the one-year anniversary of the 2013 elections, PTI president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi made it clear that mid-term polls were not part of his party’s agenda and that the PTI would only exercise its democratic right to protest the alleged rigging in the general elections.

When Mr Umar was reminded of Mr Hashmi’s statement, he said, “This is an old speech. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.”

The MNA also refuted Engineer Hamidul Haq’s claim that the party leadership had asked legislators to submit their resignations. He said resigning from the assemblies was one of the options available to the party, but this would be deliberated in a meeting of the party’s parliamentary group, to be held on Monday.

But talking to Dawn, Mr Haq insisted that the party leadership, including Imran Khan himself, had asked its legislators at certain Iftar parties, held last month, to have their resignations ready.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Levies man shot dead

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

GWADAR: A soldier of Levies Force was shot dead in Turbat area of Kech district on Saturday.

GWADAR: A soldier of Levies Force was shot dead in Turbat area of Kech district on Saturday.

Official sources said that soldier Ejaz Ahmed was going to his place of duty in Balicha area when gunmen on a motorcycle attacked him. He received multiple injuries and died on the spot.

Levies personnel, who shifted the body to the district hospital Turbat, said the cause of the killing was not clear and the matter was being investigated.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack.

Meanwhile, one Rafiq Ahmed allegedly committed suicide in the costal town of Peshkan in Gwadar district on Saturday.

Police said Rafiq was found hanged in his room, adding that they were looking into the cause of the death.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Chinese president due this month

Amjad Mahmood

LAHORE: Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan later this month to lay foundation stone of some mega projects, said a senior official of the Foreign Office on Saturday. Date for the visit is being decided by the two sides.

LAHORE: Chinese President Xi Jinping will visit Pakistan later this month to lay foundation stone of some mega projects, said a senior official of the Foreign Office on Saturday. Date for the visit is being decided by the two sides.

An invitation to the Chinese president was extended by President Mamnoon Hussain during his visit to China in February.

The FO official said that the Chinese leader would lay the foundation stone of the Lahore-Karachi motorway section and a couple of power generation projects.

During Mr Xi’s visit officials of the two countries would also give final touches to the proposed Pakistan-China railway link.

China has announced $32 billion to be invested in next seven years in various Pakistani projects of infrastructure building and power sector.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Footprints: Where do we go from here?

Aurangzaib Khan

A CLUTCH of little girls burst through the narrow opening between a flowered tent wall, their laughter ringing in the school compound. Their bobbing ponytails, pink outfits and bright smiles betray the universal glee students feel when the school is closed for vacations. They are not on vacation here, nor is this their school. But for the moment, it is their home and their playground. It will be no more, come September and the end of the summer vacation.

A CLUTCH of little girls burst through the narrow opening between a flowered tent wall, their laughter ringing in the school compound. Their bobbing ponytails, pink outfits and bright smiles betray the universal glee students feel when the school is closed for vacations. They are not on vacation here, nor is this their school. But for the moment, it is their home and their playground. It will be no more, come September and the end of the summer vacation.

For the past two months, about 39 Christian families have lived in Saint John Basco, a girls school close to the Bannu cantonment. Nearly three generations of these families had lived in North Waziristan Agency, before they were displaced from Mirali and Miramshah in June. Even though they were not the only ones to find refuge in schools closed for the summer vacation, the shelter available in schools was a lifeline for the Christian community considering few had the support system available to the largely Pashtun population displaced from NWA.

The displaced Pashtuns moved to districts like Bannu, Karak, Lakki Marwat and D.I. Khan where they had families or found shelter with relatives, rented houses or were taken in by Pashtun host communities. For the Christians of NWA, mostly low-paid government workers, renting expensive houses wasn’t an option. Nor did they want to inconvenience their community in the districts surrounding NWA, poor families living in small houses in cramped conditions.

As for the Bakakhel camp in FR Bannu, the Christian families had the same reservations as the Pashtun population that refused to go to the camp for reasons of honour. The Christians, assimilated in the local population over the years, have adopted their language, culture and their honour-bound outlook on life.

“They don’t want their women to live among strangers,” says Hanuk Masih, principal of St John Bosco. Bed sheets strung from the clothes line serve as soft walls between families living in classrooms. Men in white vests, their bodies glistening with sweat, lounge around in string cots, while women are at work in their private spaces, going about their chores, keeping up a semblance of family life and protection they have lost.

Nor could the Christian community of NWA leave for Punjab where they had originally come from, decades ago. They want to be around to go back and claim their jobs in NWA when it is time for them to return. However, the label that has turned the displaced from NWA into pariahs all over Pakistan has stuck to the minorities as well, perhaps more viciously because being Christians and Hindus make their loyalties to the state suspect.

“If we go to Punjab, the police treat us as terrorists because we are from NWA,” says a member of the Christian community who doesn’t want to be named. “They become suspicious because we speak both Pashto and Punjabi.”

It is not known if and when the Christians, among the one million people said to have been displaced by the military operation, will be able to go back to NWA. What is known though is that they will have to be displaced once again — this time from schools where they and others had found shelter. The education authorities have asked the displaced people living in 1,400 schools in Bannu, Karak and Lakki Marwat, cities close to NWA, to vacate the schools before August 10. The schools will reopen on September 1 after the summer vacation.

Faced with evictions, the Pashtun population and minorities living in schools have been running around for shelter. But they are up against tremendous odds. The houses in the cities have been taken up by displaced persons at exorbitant rents, something beyond the means of those living in schools.

“We will have to go find shelter under the bridges in the city or live out in the street,” says Ashfaq Rashid Masih, who lives in St John Bosco. “In the camp, we will have security but we can’t worship because there is no church, sing our hymns or play music during services.” He and others at the school want the authorities to provide them tents and space close to their worship places in the city. And take steps for their security.

While the displaced Christians have received support from their community, the army and the provincial government, their dual addresses — current residents of NWA and permanent residents of Punjab — make them ineligible for financial support the federal government provides to the displaced. The policy also affects others who have dual addresses, including displaced Pashtuns from NWA who are residents of cities like Bannu, Karak, Peshawar and Karachi.

“We have been forced to sell our rations to make money for our medical bills, fuel and other needs,” says Ashfaq Rashid Masih. To make matters worse, the Christians who worked as clerks, medical support staff and teachers while in NWA, haven’t received their salaries for three months now.

“Where will go without money to restart our lives now?” says Ashfaq Rashid Masih. “Here in the city, everything is within reach. We can travel out and get supplies. In the camp out in the wilderness, where will we buy ice in this terrible heat?”

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Militants overrun several towns in northern Iraq

AFP

KIRKUK: Militants seized Iraq’s largest Christian town and surrounding areas on Thursday, sending tens of thousands of panicked residents fleeing in what is being called a humanitarian disaster, officials and witnesses said.

KIRKUK: Militants seized Iraq’s largest Christian town and surrounding areas on Thursday, sending tens of thousands of panicked residents fleeing in what is being called a humanitarian disaster, officials and witnesses said.

The onslaught saw the Sunni extremist Islamic State (IS) extend its writ over northern Iraq and move within striking distance of autonomous Kurdistan, in one of the most dramatic developments of the two month-old conflict.

IS militants moved into Qaraqosh and other towns overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, who are stretched thin across several fronts, residents said.

“Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants,” Joseph Thomas, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, said.

Entirely Christian Qaraqosh lies between Mosul, the militants’ main hub in Iraq, and Arbil, the Kurdish region’s capital. It has a population of around 50,000.

Tal Kayf, the home of a significant Christian community as well as members of the Shabak Shia minority, also emptied overnight.

“I heard some gunshots last night and, when I looked outside, I saw a military convoy from the Islamic State,” said Boutros Sargon, a resident who fled and was reached by phone in Arbil.

Pope Francis urged the international community to protect Iraq’s Christians, many of whom have emigrated over the past decade as a result of successive waves of violence.

Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, who heads Iraq’s largest Christian denomination, said the overnight offensive had displaced 100,000 Christians. “This is a humanitarian disaster.

“The churches are occupied, their crosses were taken down,” he said, adding that 1,500 manuscripts had been burnt.

The latest numbers dwarf the exodus sparked last month by an IS ultimatum to Mosul’s Christians to convert to Islam, pay jizya (protection money) or leave on pain of death.

French President Francois Hollande said he was ready to “support forces” battling the militants in Iraq but did not specify how.

The latest IS advance means the militants are now within striking distance, in some areas barely 20km, of the official border of the Kurdish region and 40km from Arbil.

The group launched a devastating offensive on June 9, seizing the country’s second city Mosul the next day and sweeping across much of the Sunni heartland.

Peshmerga forces apparently redeployed to Arbil some of the forces they had assigned to the disputed land they grabbed from the government during the army’s initial debacle.

They also beefed up security in Kirkuk, the most significant conquest they made during the June chaos, but the city was rocked by a car bomb on Thursday.

The blast ripped through a Shia mosque where displaced people had sought refuge, killing at least nine, police and medical sources said.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

US ‘considering air strikes’

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

WASHINGTON: The White House said on Thursday that the United States was closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and might act to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

WASHINGTON: The White House said on Thursday that the United States was closely monitoring the situation in Iraq and might act to avoid a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

But the White House also made it clear that it was not resending its troops to the country from where it withdrew its military in December 2011.

The New York Times reported earlier on Thursday that US President Barack Obama was considering airstrikes to halt IS militants who have further expanded their territorial gains.

Know more: Islamic State takes control of Iraq’s largest Christian town

The report said that the United States might also carry out emergency relief airdrops to help 40,000 religious minorities trap­ped on a mountaintop after death threats by militants.

“The situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe. We are gravely concerned for their health and safety,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a briefing.

The White House Press Secretary said the US would help Iraqi military and Kurdish authorities in pushing back the militants.

“There are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq,” he said, adding that there would be no American boots on the ground.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Gaza killings genocide: Pakistan

Masood Haider

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan criticised the 193-member United Nations General Assem­bly for remaining silent as Israeli military wreaked havoc on Gaza for nearly one month, which it termed “genocide”.

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan criticised the 193-member United Nations General Assem­bly for remaining silent as Israeli military wreaked havoc on Gaza for nearly one month, which it termed “genocide”.

Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Masood Khan told a hurriedly-called UN General Assembly meeting on Wednesday — which was even not authorised to pass a resolution under pressure of Western countries — that the force used by Israel had been disproportionate, indiscriminate and lethal.

Know more: Israel vows to crush Gaza tunnels, snubs UN

“The established norms of international humanitarian law — distinction, proportionality and precaution — were cast aside. The whole territory of Gaza has been wrecked and ravaged. Most of Gaza is a wasteland. This was no war between two equals; there was no symmetry,” he added.

Pakistan, he said, regretted that the General Assembly was meeting so late, and that too in an informal setting, with its members serving as a mere sounding board and that no decision was on the anvil.

Mr Khan said that Pakistan emphasised that the human rights and humanitarian dimensions of the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory was a direct consequence of the denial of the fundamental right to self-determination of the Palestinian people.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Qadri says he wants to go beyond early elections

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: Though Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Dr Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have the same immediate goal — to send the PML-N government packing — their final objectives are quite different.

LAHORE: Though Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Dr Tahirul Qadri of Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) have the same immediate goal — to send the PML-N government packing — their final objectives are quite different.

The PTI has called for mid-term polls under a transparent system. Dr Qadri, on the other hand, says he doesn’t favour mid-term elections and wants to go even further.

At a press conference here on Wednesday, the PAT chief said: “Our objective is revolution. Our revolution is not for mid-term elections. Our revolution is for roti, kapra and makan (bread, clothes and shelter) for people.”

Dr Qadri met Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Pervez Elahi of PML-Q, Sunni Ittehad Council chairman Sahibzada Hamid Raza and Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen president Allama Raja Nasir Abbas at the Gulberg residence of the Chaudhrys and discussed with them the upcoming “revolution march” and the “martyrs day”.

A source who attended the meeting told Dawn: “Though Dr Qadri is not in agreement with Mr Khan on the issue of early polls their objective is the same, to get rid of the Nawaz Sharif government.

“Once this goal is achieved, the rest will fall in place with the passage of time.”

Dr Qadri told the meeting that he would lead the long march, whatever the cost. He also announced that his group would pay tribute to the martyrs of Zarb-i-Azb and Model Town on Aug 10.

“The sacrifices of the army will not go to waste. Let me tell the rulers that ‘martyrs day’ will be observed peacefully,” he said.

He warned the authorities against stopping or harassing his activists and supporters.

The government, he said, would be responsible for any law and order problems erupting afterwards.

The Punjab government, even after the passage of two months, was reluctant to let an FIR be registered in the case of the innocent people killed in the Model Town tragedy, he said.

“Nobody will be hanged merely on registration of an FIR. The champions of democracy should tell me whether this is democracy.”

He said the PML-N leaders had been trying for the last one month to meet him but he had declined to meet them.

“By the end of August, neither will Nawaz be the country’s premier nor Shahbaz the Punjab chief minister.”

On the occasion, Chaudhry Shujaat said: “Freedom comes only after a revolution. The outcome of the revolution will be for the betterment of the people. Pakistan was created through a revolution.”

Meanwhile, former president and PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari discussed the political situation with Dr Qadri by phone.

He reportedly condemned the government’s move of registering an FIR against the PAT chief.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Iraqi govt’s air strike on IS ‘court’ kills 60

Reuters

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi government air strike on a Sharia court set up by Islamic State (IS) militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed 60 people on Wednesday, the office of the prime minister’s military spokesman said.

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi government air strike on a Sharia court set up by Islamic State (IS) militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul killed 60 people on Wednesday, the office of the prime minister’s military spokesman said.

The militant judge who ran the court was among those killed, the spokesman said.

The Sunni militants routinely hand down sentences such as beheadings.

Hospital officials and witnesses said earlier that the air strike had killed 50 people in a makeshift prison set up by the IS, which seized large chunks of Iraq in June.

Meanwhile, Kurdish forces attacked IS fighters near the regional capital of Arbil in northern Iraq in a change of tactics supported by the Iraqi central government to try to break the Islamists’ momentum.

The attack 40km southwest of Arbil came after the Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Kurds on Sunday with a rapid advance through three towns, prompting Iraq’s prime minister to order his air force for the first time to back the Kurdish forces.

“We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with the Islamic State in Makhmur,” said Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the ministry in charge of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

The location of the clashes puts the IS fighters closer than they have ever been to the Kurdish semi-autonomous region since they swept through northern Iraq almost unopposed in June. Yawar said the Kurds had re-established military cooperation with Baghdad.

Ties had been strained with the Shia-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over oil, budgets and land. But the dramatic weekend offensive by the Sunni militants — who seized more towns, a fifth oilfield and reached Iraq’s biggest dam — prompted them to bury their differences.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Lawmakers want Obama to review Afghan pullout policy

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: Leading Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to reconsider his plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan as the country was still in a state of war.

WASHINGTON: Leading Republican lawmakers urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to reconsider his plan to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan as the country was still in a state of war.

In separate statements, the lawmakers said the murder of a US general in Afghanistan on Tuesday was a stark reminder of the need to keep American troops in the country for as long as it took to stabilise it.

Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner also offered to work with the president should he decide to stay in Afghanistan longer than scheduled.

The Obama administration announced a new timetable in May, which calls for ending the US combat mission in Afghanistan in December this year. About 9,800 US troops, however, will remain till 2015, but will be cut in half by the end of next year. By the end of 2016, the United States will maintain only a “normal embassy presence” in Afghanistan.

Also read: Obama says US finishing Afghan job

The Obama administration has also warned that it can withdraw the troops earlier than scheduled if Afghanistan failed to sign an agreement for legalising their stay.

But Speaker Boehner said that Major General Harold Greene’s assassination was “a setback that demands leaders in Washington and Kabul to take time to assess the state of our shared campaign and the necessary steps forward”.

He said he had told President Obama “privately and publicly, that my biggest concern is that America will end its mission in Afghanistan just short of the goal line”.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, a California Republican, said the attack “only underscores the importance of leaving Afghanistan when the job is finished — rather than stubbornly adhering to arbitrary political deadlines”.

Senator Jim Inhofe, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Gen Greene’s murder also underscored the need to protect US troops as they withdrew.

“As the president withdraws our forces, it is critically important that we listen to our commanders on the ground to determine what is necessary to safely and effectively accomplish our mission in Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.

Speaker Boehner said the Taliban’s recent campaign of high-profile attacks was calculated to accompany a global PR strategy. The Taliban, he noted, were highlighting President Obama’s pullout schedule to convince the world that the US was ready to abandon Afghanistan’s weak and ineffective government.

“So let me reiterate: if the president decides to rethink his strategy, including withdrawals, deadlines, and policy restraints, particularly on certain associated terrorist networks, he will have my support,” he said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama’s outlook on Afghanistan remained the right strategy and the Afghans needed to take charge of their own security, instead of depending on others.

“Afghanistan is a dangerous place,” he said. “It has been for some time. It was before the US got there. … At some point, their security efforts need to be self-sufficient.”

In a condolence message on Gen Greene’s death, Chief of Staff of the US Army Gen Ray Odierno said the military remained committed to its mission in Afghanistan.

“We … will continue to work with our Afghan partners to ensure the safety and security of all coalition soldiers and civilians,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Talks under way to extend Gaza truce

Agencies

GAZA CITY: A Gaza ceasefire was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Hamas-dominated enclave.

GAZA CITY: A Gaza ceasefire was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives on an enduring end to a war that has devastated the Hamas-dominated enclave.

Egypt’s intelligence chief met a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, the state news agency MENA said, a day after he conferred with Israeli representatives. The Palestinian team, led by an official from Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, includes envoys from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.

“The indirect talks between the Palestinians and Israelis are moving forward,” an Egyptian official said, making clear that the opposing sides were not meeting face to face. “It is still too early to talk about outcomes but we are optimistic.”

Israel’s delegation to the talks arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, sources at the airport in the Egyptian capital said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri told reporters his country was working for a deal and sought “solutions to protect the Palestinian people and their interests.”

But a senior official with Hamas’s armed wing said the group might quit the Cairo talks if progress was not made towards meeting its main demands to lift a blockade on Gaza and free Palestinian prisoners.

“Unless the conditions of the resistance are met the negotiating team will withdraw from Cairo and then it will be up to the resistance in the field,” a senior commander of Hamas’s armed wing said.

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning and started a 72-hour Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Hamas as a first step towards a long-term deal.

Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,867 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Afghan guns down US general at Kabul military academy

AFP

KABUL: An Afghan soldier shot dead a US general on Tuesday at an army training centre in Kabul — the highest-ranking American officer to be killed since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

KABUL: An Afghan soldier shot dead a US general on Tuesday at an army training centre in Kabul — the highest-ranking American officer to be killed since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The shooting, which left more than a dozen other soldiers including a senior German officer wounded, rocked the US-led project to train the Afghan army as Nato combat forces withdraw after 13 years of fighting the Taliban.

The Afghan soldier was himself killed after he opened fire during a high-level visit by Nato officers to the Marshal Fahim National Defence University, a sprawling training complex on the outskirts of the capital.

“Among the casualties was an American general officer who was killed,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters in Washington, declining to name the general.

Rear Admiral Kirby said that the fatality was the highest-ranking US officer to have been killed since the 9/11 attacks when Lieutenant General Timothy Joseph Maude was killed by a hijacked airliner that crashed into the Pentagon. No US general has been killed in combat since the Vietnam War.

Separately, the German army said that one of its generals was wounded.

“We believe that the assailant was an Afghan soldier,” Rear Admiral Kirby added.

Afghan officials had earlier described the attacker as a man wearing Afghan uniform, suggesting he might not have been a soldier.

The shooting was by far the highest profile “insider attack” of the Afghan conflict, in which scores of US-led Nato troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers turning their guns on their allies.

Also known as “green on blue” attacks, the killings have bred fierce mistrust among soldiers and forced joint patrols to be overseen by armed guards.

The Taliban did not immediately claim responsibility for the attack, and Western officials say that most such attacks stem from personal grudges and cultural misunderstandings rather than insurgent plots.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as a “cowardly” strike against Afghan and Nato officers. “It is the work of those enemies who do not want to see Afghanistan have its own strong institutions,” he said.

General Mohammed Afzal Aman, the chief of staff for operations at the Afghan Ministry of Defence, said that three Afghan army officers were injured.

“Isaf ( International Security Assistance Force) have quarantined the site, allowing nobody, including Afghan forces, to approach,” he said.

An official statement from Berlin said the injured German brigadier general was not in a life-threatening condition.

The Afghan military has been built from scratch since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, and it has struggled with high casualty rates, “insider attack” killings, mass desertions and equipment shortages.

In February this year, two Afghan men wearing military uniforms shot dead two US soldiers in the eastern province of Kapisa.

Also on Tuesday, Afghan officials accused an Isaf air strike of killing four civilians in the western province of Herat.

“After rockets were fired at Shindand airbase, an aircraft carried out strikes on the area where they were launched,” Herat’s Deputy Governor Asiludin Jami said.

“A man, a woman, a kid and a teenager were killed. They were all civilians.”

Isaf said it took all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and was assessing the facts surrounding Monday’s incident.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Zardari stops PPP members from attending PAT event

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari stopped on Tuesday members of his party from attending Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s ‘martyrs day’ gathering to be held in Lahore on Aug 10.

LAHORE: PPP co-chairman and former president Asif Ali Zardari stopped on Tuesday members of his party from attending Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s ‘martyrs day’ gathering to be held in Lahore on Aug 10.

Earlier, PPP Secretary-General Sardar Latif Khosa had announced that the party’s members would attend the gathering to be organised by PAT to pay tribute to the victims of the Model Town incident.

There was no harm in attending a Quran Khwani, he had said.

Know more: PPP to attend PAT’s gathering

Taking notice of Sardar Khosa’s statement, Mr Zardari declared that no member of his party would be attending the PAT event.

He also asked leaders of his party to exercise caution while issuing statements regarding Dr Tahirul Qadri’s “revolution march” and Imran Khan’s “Azadi march”.

“We don’t want to give the slightest impression that the PPP is supporting Dr Qadri,” the former president’s spokesman Farhatullah Babar told Dawn.

“We condemn the Model Town incident and sympathise with families of the victims. But the PPP will not attend any PAT event because doing so may give the impression that we are supporting Dr Qadri,” Mr Babar remarked.

“This is our party’s policy statement on the issue,” he added.

Because he is active in efforts to “save democracy” and contacting various opposition leaders to find a way out of the ongoing political crisis, Mr Zardari does not want to give an impression that his party is supporting PAT or PTI at this critical juncture, according to sources in the PPP.

“Mr Zardari wants the PPP leaders to give a clear message that their party is with democratic forces and fully supports the PML-N and wants it to complete its tenure,” the sources added.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Palestinian Authority seeks ICC war crimes case against Israel

Agencies

THE HAGUE: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was clear evidence of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

THE HAGUE: Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki said there was clear evidence of war crimes by Israel during its offensive in Gaza as he met International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors on Tuesday to push for an investigation.

Mr Malki visited The Hague shortly after Israel and the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement that dominates Gaza entered a 72-hour truce mediated by Egypt in an effort to secure an extended ceasefire.

Last week, the United Nations launched an inquiry into human rights violations and crimes alleged to have been committed by Israel during its offensive, given the far higher toll of civilian deaths and destruction on the Palestinian side.

Know more: Israel violating laws of war: HRW

“Everything that has happened in the last 28 days is clear evidence of war crimes committed by Israel, amounting to crimes against humanity,” Mr Malki said.

Malki told reporters that the Palestinian Authority (PA) wanted to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes by both sides in the Gaza conflagration and that he had discussed a timeline with prosecutors to join the court. Unless the Palestinians do so, no investigation is possible.

Mr Malki said the PA’s status as an observer state at the United Nations, granted by the General Assembly in 2012, qualified it to become an ICC member and that the decision on whether to apply could happen “very soon”.

But he pointed to possible complications by saying this could go ahead only with the cooperation of Hamas, which is shunned by the West as a designated terrorist group and is a strong political rival of the Western-backed PA, which governs only in parts of the West Bank not occupied by Israel.

By joining the court, the Palestinian territories would automatically open themselves up to war crimes committed both by adversaries and by themselves within their borders, if any.

Children killed

More than 400 children have been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza, and almost a thousand times as many are traumatised and face an “extraordinarily bleak” future, according to a top Unicef official in Gaza.

Pernille Ironside, head of the field office run by the UN children’s agency in Gaza, said rebuilding children’s lives would be part of a much larger effort to reconstruct the Palestinian enclave once the fighting has stopped for good.

By Aug 4, 408 Palestinian children were reported to have been killed, 31 per cent of all civilian casualties. More than 70 per cent of the 251 boys and 157 girls killed were 12 or younger.

Even before the latest violence, Gaza’s children were schooled in shifts because of a lack of schools and graduated into a job market with 59 per cent youth unemployment.

“If you’re over the age of seven, you’ve already lived through two previous wars,” and the latest escalation was far worse than those in 2008-9 and 2012, Ms Ironside said.

“It is an extraordinary thing to live through, and especially to survive and witness the use of incredibly damaging weapons that tend to slice people with terrible amputations and maimings, shredding people apart in front of children’s eyes and in front of their parents as well,” she said.

Unicef estimates about 373,000 children have had some kind of direct traumatic experience and require immediate psycho-social support, she said.

She estimated that just sheltering families whose homes had been destroyed would cost $40-50 million in the next year, which would be a small fraction of the total reconstruction cost.

“I would estimate we’re looking at hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. And certainly the question needs to be closely considered, who will pay for it: Is it the occupying power who inflicted it? Or is it the international community who are going to pay the bill again?”

But she said neither the international community nor the Palestinians would accept the rebuilding of Gaza on the same terms as before, and suggested Israel’s tight control on building supplies coming into Gaza needed to be relaxed.

Mission accomplished?

Israel withdrew ground forces from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and started a 72-hour ceasefire.

Israeli armour and infantry left Gaza ahead of the truce, with a military spokesman saying their main goal of destroying cross-border infiltration tunnels dug by Islamist militants had been completed. “Mission accomplished,” the military tweeted.

Troops and tanks would be “redeployed in defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip and we will maintain those defensive positions”, spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said, reflecting Israeli readiness to resume fighting.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Hamas, said Israel’s offensive in the densely populated, coastal enclave was a “100 per cent failure”.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Saudis told not to marry women from Pakistan, 3 other states

Syed Rashid Husain

RIYADH: Saudi men have been prohibited from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar, says a report in Makkah daily quoting Makkah Police Director Maj Gen Assaf Al-Qurashi.

RIYADH: Saudi men have been prohibited from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar, says a report in Makkah daily quoting Makkah Police Director Maj Gen Assaf Al-Qurashi.

According to unofficial figures, there are about 500,000 women from these four countries currently residing in the kingdom.

In a move apparently aimed at discouraging Saudi men from marrying foreigners, additional formalities have been placed before issuing the permission for marriage with foreigners. Saudi men wishing to marry foreigners now face tougher regulations.

Those wanting to marry foreign women should first obtain the consent of the government and submit marriage applications through official channels, Maj Gen Qurashi was quoted as saying.

Know more: Saudis begin clampdown on illegal immigrants

The official said applicants should be over 25 and attach identification documents signed by the local district mayor as well as all other identity papers, including a copy of his family card. “If the applicant is already married, he should attach a report from a hospital proving that his wife is either disabled, suffering from a chronic disease or is sterile,” he said.

Maj Gen Qurashi said divorced men would not be allowed to apply within six months of their divorce.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Isaf commander lauds offensive in Waziristan

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan is a step in the right direction and there’s need for continuing such actions, says the new commander of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON: The Pakistani military offensive in North Waziristan is a step in the right direction and there’s need for continuing such actions, says the new commander of the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a media roundtable at the Pentagon, US Army’s Vice Chief of Staff General John F. Campbell also underlined the need for continued cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan to defeat the militants.

Also read: Operation in North Waziristan disrupting militants, say US officials

According to the US Army News Service, Gen Campbell urged Pakistan and Afghanistan to work together to remove the terror “that threatens their people and their way of life”.

Last week, the US Senate confirmed Gen Campbell as the next commander of the International Security Assistance Force and US forces. He departs for Afghanistan later this month.

At his farewell roundtable with the media, the general said that the insurgents crossed the porous Afghan-Pakistan border “back and forth”, which can only be stopped if the countries combined their efforts to root them out. He urged Afghanistan and Pakistan to stay engaged with each other and continue their discussions on this and other issues.

Gen Campbell said he hoped there would be an agreement that allowed US and Nato forces to stay in Afghanistan until the country became more stable. “Ninety-nine per cent of the Afghans want us to stay,” he said.

The general also emphasised the importance of personal relationships during this period of transition in Afghanistan as the United States was withdrawing its forces and the Afghans were taking over security responsibilities.

He recalled that while serving as the commander of Regional Command East in Afghanistan in 2010, he visited the 11th Corps commander in Pakistan, a lieutenant general who was a 2006 graduate of the US National Defence University.

The Pakistani general also knew others who’d graduated from NDU, which helped him to build a personal relationship with him right from the outset, the US commander said.

“That means if we have something going on, on the border, I can get on the phone and call him up,” he said.

“It helped immensely, and I think we’ve got to continue working on relationships like those.”

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

RAF jets escort airliner to Manchester airport

AP

LONDON: British police arrested a man on Tuesday on suspicion of making a hoax bomb threat aboard a Qatar Airways plane bound for Britain, following a warning to the pilot of a possible explosive device on the aircraft.

LONDON: British police arrested a man on Tuesday on suspicion of making a hoax bomb threat aboard a Qatar Airways plane bound for Britain, following a warning to the pilot of a possible explosive device on the aircraft.

Royal Air Force fighter jets escorted Qatar Airways Flight 23, carrying 269 passengers and 13 crewmembers on a flight from Doha, Qatar, to a safe landing at Manchester Airport, the flight’s original destination.

Greater Manchester Police had been dealing with the incident as a full emergency, and the runway was briefly closed. After landing, the plane was moved to a designated area to allow specialist officers to board, and the suspect was swiftly removed.

The Ministry of Defence said the fighter jets were launched in their quick reaction alert role to investigate “a civilian aircraft whose pilot had requested assistance”.

“The aircraft was escorted to Manchester where it landed safely,” the ministry said in a statement. “This incident is now being handled by the civilian authorities.”

Qatar Airways said in a statement that the crew on the Airbus A330-300 received a “threat about a possible device on board” and immediately alerted British authorities. It did not clarify the nature of the threat or say how it was communicated.

Crewmembers were assisting police with the investigation, the carrier said. It said that it could not comment further because the matter is part of a police investigation.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Saudi beheaded for torturing his two-year-old baby to death

AFP

RIYADH: A Saudi man was beheaded on Tuesday for torturing and beating his two-year-old boy to death, the interior ministry said.

RIYADH: A Saudi man was beheaded on Tuesday for torturing and beating his two-year-old boy to death, the interior ministry said.

Maqbul bin Madi al-Sharari hit his son Mohammed “repeatedly with a cane on the back of his head and the rest of his body”, the ministry said in a statement carried by SPA state news agency.

He also punched the toddler in the face repeatedly and “burned him in different parts of his body, torturing him several times, which led to his death”, the ministry said.

The execution in the northern Jawf region brings to 18 the number of death sentences carried out this year in the conservative kingdom.

Saudi Arabia beheaded 78 people in 2013, according to a count.

Last year, the UN High Commission for Human Rights criticised a “sharp increase in the use of capital punishment” there since 2011.

According to human rights group Amnesty International, the number of executions rose from 27 in 2010, including five foreigners, to 82 in 2011, including 28 foreigners.

In 2012, the number of executions dipped slightly to 79, among them 27 foreigners.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under Saudi Arabia’s laws.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Footprints: Bari Imam Urs — A spent festival

Mina Sohail

“We were young and would run away and our mother wouldn’t know where we had gone. We would hear drums beating, qawwalis echoing in the air, children laughing and devotees chanting prayers. Now, we don’t hear anything,” said Hamida Jamil, reminiscing about the Urs that used to be held at the Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad every year. Sitting on a charpoy next to her siblings Farzana Amir and Mohammad Shaukat, Jamil described the energy that used to be in the air. The three siblings, who live a 10-minute walk from the shrine, have been residing in the colony since childhood.

“We were young and would run away and our mother wouldn’t know where we had gone. We would hear drums beating, qawwalis echoing in the air, children laughing and devotees chanting prayers. Now, we don’t hear anything,” said Hamida Jamil, reminiscing about the Urs that used to be held at the Bari Imam shrine in Islamabad every year. Sitting on a charpoy next to her siblings Farzana Amir and Mohammad Shaukat, Jamil described the energy that used to be in the air. The three siblings, who live a 10-minute walk from the shrine, have been residing in the colony since childhood.

A melange of spiritual and worldly activities, the death anniversary (Urs) of a saint is celebrated, not mourned.

In May 2005, the shrine was hit by a terrorist attack that left 20 people dead and several injured. This happened within the compound when the congregation for the festival was under way. This May, the police foiled a terror threat by recovering explosives from the shrine. The Urs celebrations have been discontinued since 2009, with security reasons as the main cause.

“I went to the shrine last month and the police said it would open on July 17 but it hasn’t yet,” said Jamil. “Word around our neighbourhood is that engineers are at the shrine trying to elevate the grave of the saint,” added her brother, Shaukat.

Earlier this month, when I went to the shrine, it was surrounded by barbed wire and several policemen were sitting under some shade. After questioning me for a few minutes, they let me inside the barricaded area but would not let me enter the shrine complex.

The policeman in charge, Assistant Sub-Inspector Saleem Raza, was elusive in his response but blunt to let me know that I was welcome — only at the exit. He was evasive, easy irritable and said that any plans to resume Urs festivities would depend on the security situation in the country and nothing could be confirmed now. This was in contradiction to my visit there a few weeks ago, when police said it had been closed for renovation and the shrine would be open for the public by Eid.

“We heard through word of mouth that a bomb had exploded,” said Jamil. “The shrine was closed and there were a lot of policemen who sealed the area. They were checking everyone’s identification,” she added, recalling the day of the blast all those years ago when her colony was splattered with debris and blood. Given its proximity to the presidency and the diplomatic enclave, the entire area is now a declared the red zone, i.e. it is vulnerable to extremism. There is less public transport there now and several policemen are deployed.

“Our relatives would come and stay with us for days and we’d take them to the Urs but now most of them are too afraid to come,” said Jamil. “Now devotees just offer their prayers outside the shrine.”

Roadside vendors at the shrine said that every day, visitors still come from cities across the country. During the Urs days, people would come from as far as India and England. “People would bring niaz to distribute and pray,” said Syed Ahmed, who has been running a small shop outside the shrine for over 15 years, selling cloth bedecked with gold and silver Arabic verses and traditional food items in jars. “People come to us all the time and inquire if the Urs will take place this year.” He said he was very keen for the Urs activities to resume, not just because it was good for his business and generated income for the shrine but because of the mystical ambience during the five days of the festival. Earthen lamps used to be lit all around, glittering lights would adorn the adjacent buildings, and the whole town used to throb with people and prayers.

However, despite the celebratory atmosphere that used to prevail in the neighbourhood during the festival days, Jamil and her siblings said they don’t want the Urs to be revived because of the dubious activities it engenders. “Our neighbourhood would be affected,” said Shaukat. “There is more danger during those days, more theft and often children are kidnapped.” He claimed that drug addicts infiltrate the area and he doesn’t feel comfortable taking the women of his family out, adding that there had been cases where children had even been killed and women could not be left unattended. “Things have changed since the last blast,” added his sister. “Routine has changed. We just want peace here, we’d rather be safe than celebrate.”

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Rangers say killer held in raid near Sattar’s home

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

KARACHI: Hours after a raid on a PIB Colony street where Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar lives, the Rangers claimed on Monday to have arrested a man accused of having killed around a dozen people, among them three policemen, at the behest of a political leader.

KARACHI: Hours after a raid on a PIB Colony street where Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Dr Farooq Sattar lives, the Rangers claimed on Monday to have arrested a man accused of having killed around a dozen people, among them three policemen, at the behest of a political leader.

The party called for an independent inquiry into the midnight action taken by a heavy contingent of the paramilitary force. It termed it ‘siege and raid’ action on Mr Sattar’s house and a ‘threat to MQM’ because of its support for democracy.

It said that during the raid the paramilitary personnel had removed security barriers and a camp outside the MNA’s home, leaving him ‘unprotected’.

The Rangers responded strongly to the allegation, saying it appeared to be aimed at ‘confusing the public opinion and undermining the rule of law’.

The raid was conducted ‘two streets away from Dr Sattar’s residence’ and led to the arrest of ‘a serial killer and extortionist’, a statement issued by the security force said.

“The Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, conducted an intelligence-driven raid in PIB Colony area.

“During above mentioned action notorious target killer Shamshad Ali and bhatta collector namely Ahmed Yasir have been arrested. The raid was conducted two streets away from the house of Dr Farooq Sattar. The unnecessary hue and cry seems to be aimed at saving criminals and to confuse the public opinion and undermine rule of law,” it said.

In a separate statement in Urdu, a Rangers spokesman said that Shamshad was a close aide of a political leader and wanted in several murder cases.

“He is said to be close aide of a political leader and has been involved in several crimes under his directives.

“Apart from killing some 12 people, including three policemen, he also headed a team of killers which targeted some 35 people. He was also involved in extortion and after collecting that amount used to hand it over to the leader.

“He is an employee of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and through financial misappropriation in the local body organisation used to fund political leaders.”

Without naming the leader and his political affiliation, the Rangers warned that more ‘disclosures’ were expected during the course of investigation that could expand to the political leader to ‘uncover his real face’.

Earlier, talking to reporters outside his home, Dr Sattar termed the action ‘strange’ and said he had tried to contact the Rangers director general but his call was not attended.

“I am unable to understand the reason behind this raid,” he said. “They even seized my .9mm licensed pistol, picked up our worker Rao Shamshad Ali and my two neighbours Yasir and Kashif. From day one we supported the Karachi operation and even raised demand for such action. But the way Rangers raided the place is a source of concern and I must appeal to the prime minister, governor, chief minister and Rangers DG to take notice of that.”

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Lebanese troops clash with Syrian militants

AP

LABWEH: Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees crammed into cars and pickup trucks fled a town in eastern Lebanon on Monday as troops battled Al Qaeda-linked militants from Syria who overran the border region last week. It was the most serious spillover into Lebanon of the three-year conflict next door.

LABWEH: Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees crammed into cars and pickup trucks fled a town in eastern Lebanon on Monday as troops battled Al Qaeda-linked militants from Syria who overran the border region last week. It was the most serious spillover into Lebanon of the three-year conflict next door.

The fierce fighting in Arsal since Saturday has killed 17 Lebanese soldiers and compounded fears that tiny Lebanon is fast becoming a new front in the Syrian conflict.

The Lebanese government rushed reinforcements to the scene, including dozens of armored personal carriers, tanks and elite troops, suggesting fighting was about to worsen.

The civilian exodus came in the early morning hours during a relative lull in fighting and just a few hours later the bombardment around the town of Arsal had reached an intensity of three shells every minute.

“We call on the Lebanese army to strike with an iron first,” said Mohammed Hojeiri, who fled Arsal with his family packed in an SUV. “Those gunmen are terrorising civilians.”

The clashes in Arsal, a predominantly Sunni town of 40,000 whose population has almost tripled because of the presence of Syrian refugees and rebels, could worsen already bubbling sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

The town is wedged between Syrian government-controlled territory and Lebanese Shia villages sympathetic to Hezbollah.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Pakistanis to be evacuated from Libya

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office said on Monday it was making arrangements for evacuating through Tunisia thousands of Pakistanis stranded in violence-hit Libya.

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office said on Monday it was making arrangements for evacuating through Tunisia thousands of Pakistanis stranded in violence-hit Libya.

“Our Embassy in Tripoli has already registered a large number of Pakistanis and referred their documents to Tunisian authorities for visa on arrival,” a Foreign Office statement said.

Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz said in a statement in the National Assembly that efforts were being made to evacuate the Pakistanis stranded in Libya.

He said the country’s ambassador would remain in Tripoli till last of the Pakistanis had been evacuated.

The Foreign Office estimates that there could be up to 6,000 Pakistanis in Libya needing evacuation.

With Libyan airports closed because of the conflict, people are leaving the country through land routes.

“Since no Libyan airport is operating at the moment, our Embassy in Tunisia is making arrangements for Pakistanis to get Tunisian visa on arrival at the border from where they will be able to take flights for Pakistan,” the FO said.

It advised Pakistanis in Libya to get themselves registered with the embassy in Tripoli so that they could be included in the evacuation plan.

About 200 people have been killed in the past two weeks in fighting between rival militias in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Situation in Libya has been deteriorating for two months and many countries have already evacuated their nationals from the country.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Israel bombs refugee camp

Reuters

JERUSALEM: A brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended on Monday amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.

JERUSALEM: A brief Israeli truce to allow aid to reach Palestinians ended on Monday amid accusations of strikes by both sides, while Jerusalem was rocked by two attacks that appeared to be a backlash against the war in Gaza.

Palestinians said Israel had bombed a refugee camp in Gaza City, killing an eight-year-old girl and wounding 29 other people, in an air attack after the start of the truce.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said there had been no strikes during the seven-hour truce, which started at 0700 GMT. She said four rockets had been fired from Gaza later and two had crashed inside Israel. There were no casualties or damage.

In Jerusalem, a Palestinian driving an excavator ran over and killed an Israeli and then overturned a bus, in what police described as a terrorist attack. Police shot the excavator driver dead; there were no passengers on the bus.

Several hours later, a man shot and wounded a soldier near Jerusalem’s Hebrew University before fleeing on a motorcycle.

Israel had announced its ceasefire to free up humanitarian aid and allow some of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by almost four weeks of war to go home.

The Israeli military is wrapping up the main objective of the ground assault, the destruction of cross-border infiltration tunnels from Gaza, and it has told residents of some towns they can return home.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, however, Israeli forces would be on both sides of the border once the tunnels operation ended.

“The campaign in the Gaza Strip goes on,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office. “What is about to end is the Israeli military’s handling of the tunnels, but the operation will end only when a prolonged period of quiet and security is restored to Israel’s citizens.”

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 following what it called a surge in Hamas rocket salvoes. It escalated from air and naval barrages to overland incursions centred on Gaza’s tunnel-riddled eastern frontier, but also pushed into densely populated towns.

Gaza officials say 1,831 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed and more than a quarter of the impoverished enclave’s 1.8 million residents displaced. As many as 3,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged.

Israel has lost 64 soldiers in combat and three civilians to Palestinian cross-border rocket and mortar fire that has emptied many of its southern villages.

Iron Dome interceptors, air raid sirens and public shelters have helped stem Israeli casualties.

CAIRO NEGOTIATIONS: Palestinian groups, including representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, held their first formal meeting in Cairo on Monday with Egyptian mediators hoping to pave the way towards a durable ceasefire agreement with Israel.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

72-hour truce

AFP

CAIRO: Israel and the Palestinians have agreed a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza that would start at 0500 GMT on Tuesday, said a senior official in Egypt, which is hosting truce talks.

CAIRO: Israel and the Palestinians have agreed a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza that would start at 0500 GMT on Tuesday, said a senior official in Egypt, which is hosting truce talks.

“Egypt’s contacts with relevant parties have achieved a commitment for a 72-hour truce in Gaza starting from 0500 GMT tomorrow morning, and an agreement for the rest of the relevant delegations to come to Cairo to conduct further negotiations,” the official said on Monday.

A Palestinian delegation, including Hamas representatives, has been holding talks in Cairo with Egyptian mediators for a durable truce in Gaza, but Israel has not yet sent any negotiators to the Egyptian capital.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

18,000 rescuers deployed as China quake toll rises

AFP

LONGTOUSHAN (China): Rescuers laid out bodies in the streets on Monday after at least 398 people were killed by an earthquake in China, leaving the idyllic mountain landscape littered with scenes of devastation and sparking a huge rescue effort.

LONGTOUSHAN (China): Rescuers laid out bodies in the streets on Monday after at least 398 people were killed by an earthquake in China, leaving the idyllic mountain landscape littered with scenes of devastation and sparking a huge rescue effort.

More than 18,000 rescuers were deployed in the disaster zone in the southwestern province of Yunnan, where nearly 80,000 houses were destroyed and 124,000 more seriously damaged, the official news agency Xinhua said.

In Longtoushan, at the epicentre of the quake, a volunteer gently placed the body of a one-year-old infant next to an eight-year-old, near other small corpses.

Each one was wrapped in dirty blankets and old clothes tied with string to anything resembling a stretcher — a ladder, two branches, or planks of wood — as rain fell from darkened skies.

Also read: Powerful quake hits southwest China; over 360 killed

“There are about 70 to 80 bodies here,” one woman shouted helplessly.

“We cannot move them because the roads are all blocked,” said a man, as more bodies were recovered from the rubble and placed on the dirty pathway, an AFP reporter saw.

The village sits at the end of a road from the urban centre of Ludian that winds through treacherous cliffs with signs of landslides — fresh dirt, rocks and huge boulders — littering the concrete. Along the route were stationed hundreds of army vehicles, ambulances and trucks loaded up with supplies.

The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported Sunday’s quake at a magnitude of 6.1 and said it struck at a relatively shallow depth of 10 kilometres.

The Yunnan province civil affairs office said 398 people had been confirmed killed and 1,801 injured.

A total of 18,000 emergency personnel, including 11,000 police and firefighters, and 7,000 soldiers and armed police had been mobilised, Xinhua said.

Equipment brought to the area included life detection instruments and excavating tools.

“They are also battling the continual downpour that has brought down the temperature in the remote area and made shortages of food and medicine even more pernicious,” Xinhua added.

Drenched survivors wait for food

In Ludian county, which includes Longtoushan, Xinhua said its reporters “saw drenched survivors sit along the muddy roads waiting for food and medication. Some half-naked survivors were quivering in the rain”.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in Yunnan on Monday and because of the road conditions had to walk for “over three miles” to reach the worst-hit village, Xinhua said on a verified Twitter account.

Residents fled in terror as the earthquake hit, television images showed, and in the immediate aftermath soldiers stretchered the injured away from the scene.

As dusk fell in Longtoushan, many residents huddled underneath sheets held by poles as they prepared for another night of misery.

“My home has gone. And so are my toys,” a seven-year-old boy named Tang Xiao told AFP.

“I am very scared,” he added, sitting at the end of a six-metre-long blue tent with about 30 people, mainly children, huddled inside.

He glanced away as a minor aftershock sent scores of jittery residents scurrying away from buildings they were standing under to shelter from the rain.

Volunteers from across China were heading to Yunnan to assist in the relief effort. At the airport in the provincial capital Kunming, one group was discussing how to reach the worst-hit areas.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2014

Militants seize Iraqi towns, dam in victory over Kurds

Reuters

BAGHDAD: Islamic State fighters seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns on Sunday after inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping through the region in June.

BAGHDAD: Islamic State fighters seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns on Sunday after inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping through the region in June.

Capture of the electricity-generating Mosul Dam, after an offensive of barely 24 hours, could give the Sunni militants the ability to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water from farms, raising the stakes in their bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government.

“The terrorist gangs of the Islamic State have taken control of Mosul Dam after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces without a fight,” said Iraqi state television.

The swift withdrawal of Kurdish “peshmerga” troops was a severe blow to one of the only forces in Iraq that until now had stood firm against the Sunni fighters who aim to redraw borders of the Middle East.

The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, also seized the Ain Zalah oilfield — adding to four others already under its control which provide funding for operations — and three towns.

Collapse of resistance

Initially strong Kurdish resistance evaporated after the start of an offensive to take the town of Zumar. The Islamists then hoisted their black flags there, a ritual that often has preceded mass executions of their captured opponents and the imposition of an ideology even Al Qaeda finds excessive.

The group, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over all Muslims, poses the biggest challenge to the stability of OPEC member Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

On Sunday its members were also involved in fighting in a border town far away in Lebanon, a sign of its ambitions across the frontiers of the Middle East.

It controls cities in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valleys north and west of Baghdad, and a swathe of Syria stretching from the Iraqi border in the east to Aleppo in the northwest.

Iraq’s Kurds, who rule themselves in a northern enclave guarded by the “peshmerga” units, had expanded areas under their control in recent weeks while avoiding direct confrontation with the Islamic State, even as Iraqi central government troops fled.

But the towns lost on Sunday were in territory the Kurds had held for many years, undermining suggestions that the Islamic State’s advance has helped the Kurdish cause.

The latest gains have placed Islamic State fighters near Dohuk Province, one of three in the autonomous Kurdish region, which has been spared any serious threat to its security while war raged throughout the rest of Iraq.

Since thousands of US-trained Iraqi soldiers fled the Islamic State offensive, the Kurdish fighters were seen alongside Shia militia in the south as the main lines of defence against the militants, who vow to march on Baghdad.

By calling into question the effectiveness of the Kurdish fighters, Sunday’s advances may increase pressure on bickering Iraqi leaders to form a power-sharing government capable of countering the Islamic State.

Two people who live near Mosul dam said Kurdish troops had loaded their vehicles with belongings including air conditioners and fled.

Islamic State fighters attacked Zumar from three directions in pick-up trucks mounted with weapons, defeating Kurdish forces which had poured reinforcements into the town, witnesses said.

The Islamic State later also seized the town of Sinjar, where witnesses said residents had fled after Kurdish fighters put up little resistance. It was not immediately clear why the Kurds, usually known as formidable fighters, pulled back without a fight.

On its Twitter site, the Islamic State posted a picture of one of its masked fighters holding up a pistol and sitting at the abandoned desk of the mayor of Sinjar. Behind him was the image of a famous Kurdish guerrilla leader.

In a statement on its website, the Islamic State said it had killed scores of peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters whose name means “those who confront death”. Those deaths could not be independently verified.

“Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas,” the Islamic State statement said.

“The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey.”

The Islamic State has systematically blown up Shia mosques and shrines in territory it has seized, fuelling levels of sectarian violence unseen since the very worst weeks of Iraq’s 2006-2007 civil war.

The group has stalled in its drive to reach Baghdad, halting just before the town of Samarra, 100km north of the capital. It has been trying to consolidate its gains, setting its sights on strategic towns near oilfields, as well as border crossings with Syria so that it can move easily back and forth and transport supplies.

So far, the Islamic State is not near the major oilfields of the northern city of Kirkuk, which were seized by the Kurds in the chaos that followed the group’s advance. It controls part of a pipeline from Kirkuk to Turkey which has been idle for months because of its attacks in the area.

Maliki’s critics

The Islamic State has capitalised on Sunni disenchantment with Mr Maliki by winning support or at least tolerance from some more moderate Sunni communities in Iraq that had fought against Al Qaeda during the US “surge” offensive of 2006-2007.

Mr Maliki’s opponents say the prime minister is to blame for galvanising the insurgency by excluding Sunnis from power. Kurdish leaders have also called for him to step down to create a more inclusive government in Baghdad.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Thousands rally outside White House, call for end to Israeli offensive

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: Tens of thousands of people protested outside the White House this weekend, demanding an end to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

WASHINGTON: Tens of thousands of people protested outside the White House this weekend, demanding an end to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

The march — the largest display of solidarity with the Palestinians in many years — drew people from all ethnic and religious groups living in this large country, including Jewish Americans.

The protesters also urged the Obama administration to stop supporting “Israeli war crimes” in Gaza and to reconsider its Middle East policy.

“The massive demonstration received wide media coverage, and is further proof that the world is uniting for Palestine,” said a spokesperson for ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism), which organised the march. The organisation is a coalition of about 40 anti-war groups.

Protest rallies and meetings, which started on Friday, continued till Sunday, but the largest one was held on Saturday. It turned “Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Square, the park opposite the White House, into a sea of demonstrators,” observed ABC News.

“It’s an exceptionally large number of protesters,” a Washington DC police spokesman told The Washington Post, adding that there were no disturbances during the protest.

“Demonstrators waving Palestinian flags and dressed in the flag’s green, red, white and black colours filled a square outside the White House,” the Associated Press reported.

“Children of Gaza, don’t you cry, we will not let you die,” the crowd chanted as they reached the White House from an adjacent street. “Free, free Palestine, killing children is a crime.”

Many among them were holding Palestinian flags while some also carried cardboard boxes decorated as coffins and pictures of those wounded in Gaza.

“We have come to show solidarity with the children of Gaza,” said Sue Thompson of Orlando, Florida. “This is not about politics. This is about children killed by Israeli soldiers and about Israeli citizens killed by Hamas rockets.”

She said the violence would end only “if the US administration stops supporting the Israeli government”.

On Friday, he shared his ordeal with a select gathering on Capitol Hill.

Tariq’s family also came with him from Florida to participate in the march.

“We do not like dragging children into this but we are forced to,” said Tariq’s father Salah Abu Khdeir who also brought his daughters, Jenna, five, and Shahad, 10, with him.

“When they see all this on TV, they want to know what’s happening and why.”

Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd. Shelley Cohens Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring, Maryland, told the Post that she was one of many Jewish Americans in the crowd.

Ms Cohens, a coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace in Washington, said she came because she was against violence.

“We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,” she said.

Caya Cagri, 60, of Kensington, Maryland, told reporters she was from a mixed family. “Our mother’s Jewish and our father’s a Muslim,” Ms Cagri said, explaining the family’s Turkish roots.

“They had three daughters; one married a Jew, one married a Muslim and one married a Catholic.”

Ms Cagri’s husband is Catholic and his sister’s is Jewish.

The protesters urged President Obama to stop providing weapons to the Israeli military.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Modi offers $1bn concessional credit to Nepal

AFP

KATHMANDU: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought to secure energy deals with Nepal at the start of a two-day visit aimed at boosting New Delhi’s influence in a neighbourhood increasingly wooed by Beijing.

KATHMANDU: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought to secure energy deals with Nepal at the start of a two-day visit aimed at boosting New Delhi’s influence in a neighbourhood increasingly wooed by Beijing.

In an address to Nepal’s parliament, Mr Modi announced $1 billion as a concessional line of credit to the impoverished nation as he attempted to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between the two neighbours.

“Nepal can free India of its darkness with its electricity,” said Mr Modi, whose government has pledged to end the country’s frequent blackouts.

“But we don’t want free electricity, we want to buy it. Just by selling electricity to India, Nepal can find a place in the developed countries of the world,” he said.

He told lawmakers that India and Nepal had relations as “old as the Himalayas and the Ganga”, after he arrived in Kathmandu for the first bilateral visit by an Indian prime minister in 17 years.

The right-wing nationalist has sought to shore up support with India’s neighbours since sweeping to power in May’s national elections, in a bid to check China’s sway in the region.

Mr Modi held talks with Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala during which he pushed to revive stalled power projects including developing hydropower plants using Nepal’s abundant water resources and Indian investment.

Earlier proposals to develop joint ventures between the two countries have faced delays due to disagreements over perceived threats to Nepalese sovereignty, allowing China to step into the breach.

Nepal’s Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said the two leaders agreed to fast forward a long-stalled plan to develop a 900-megawatt project on Nepal’s Karnali river to provide power to both energy-starved countries.

The joint venture signed between Kathmandu and Indian infrastructure giant GMR in 2008 would be approved and signed within 45 days, Mr Mahat told reporters.

During the talks, Modi also offered $1 billion worth of concessional loans to help develop Nepal’s infrastructure, Mr Mahat said.

“He (Modi) offered $1 billion line of credit towards our infrastructure, including hydropower and roads,” he said.

New Delhi is Kathmandu’s sole provider of fuel and its biggest trading partner, accounting for a massive 47 per cent of foreign direct investment in the country.

In a sign of his ambition to bolster India’s standing in South Asia, Mr Modi said New Delhi had a responsibility to help its neighbours “fight poverty”.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Exodus of foreigners from Libya gathers momentum as 22 more killed in capital

AFP

TRIPOLI: The exodus of foreigners from Libya gathered pace on Sunday as the government said at least 22 people were killed in clashes in Tripoli and warned of a “worsening humanitarian situation”.

TRIPOLI: The exodus of foreigners from Libya gathered pace on Sunday as the government said at least 22 people were killed in clashes in Tripoli and warned of a “worsening humanitarian situation”.

Thousands of Egyptians seeking to flee the strife-torn North African country were being airlifted home after being allowed into neighbouring Tunisia, many after a wait of several days at a border crossing.

A British navy ship was evacuating Britons from Tripoli, the defence ministry in London said.

The latest flare-up, which broke out on Saturday, takes the death toll in Tripoli to 124 since July 13, with more than 500 wounded.

A medical source said the weekend casualty figures of 22 dead and 72 wounded did not cover hospitals outside Tripoli, in particular in the town of Misrata which has sent fighters to the capital.

The transitional government said “several hundred” families had been displaced and there was a “worsening humanitarian situation” in Tripoli, where petrol, bottled gas and food supplies were scarce.

On Sunday, the city centre was livelier than in past days despite the renewed fighting around the airport to the south.

However, most shops and banks were shut and the sky was filled with black smoke from a fuel depot ravaged by a fire resulting from the clashes of the past two weeks.

Tripoli airport has been closed and several aircraft destroyed or damaged in the clashes between rival militias which fought together in 2011 to help overthrow dictator Muammar Qadhafi.

The unrest is seen as a struggle for influence, both between regions and political factions, as Libya plunges into chaos, with authorities failing to control the dozens of militias in the absence of a structured regular army and police force.

Tripoli airport has been closed since gunmen, mostly Islamists, attacked it in a bid to wrest control from the Zintan brigade of former rebels who have held it since the 2011 revolt against Qadhafi.

Britain’s defence ministry, meanwhile, said HMS Enterprise, which had been on a Mediterranean deployment, arrived off Tripoli on Sunday.

“A number of passengers were transferred to Enterprise by boat and given supplies for the journey,” it added.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that most of those being evacuated from Tripoli, believed to number around 100, were British.

Britain is also planning to temporarily suspend its embassy operations in the North African country.

Michael Aron, Britain’s ambassador in Tripoli, said on Friday he had “reluctantly” decided to leave because of the worsening security situation.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Abdullah agrees to rejoin audit of tainted election

AFP

KABUL: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has agreed to rejoin an audit of the votes, the United Nations said on Sunday, after tense negotiations to rescue the election amid a prolonged dispute over fraud.

KABUL: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has agreed to rejoin an audit of the votes, the United Nations said on Sunday, after tense negotiations to rescue the election amid a prolonged dispute over fraud.

The country’s first democratic transfer of power has been engulfed in fraud allegations, undermining international hopes that a smooth election would help vindicate the costly US-led military and civilian aid effort since 2001.

Mr Abdullah’s representatives refused to attend the recount on Sunday due to disagreements over how votes would be judged fraudulent or clean — throwing the election into further chaos.

But a deal was finalised later in the day, averting an imminent collapse of the process to choose President Hamid Karzai’s successor as Nato combat troops wind down their 13-year war against the Taliban.

Mr Abdullah’s team “informed the United Nations that it will… resume its participation in the audit process tomorrow,” the UN said in a statement on Sunday evening.

More than eight million votes were cast on June 14, with Mr Abdullah quickly lodging complaints that “industrial-scale” fraud had denied him victory over poll rival Ashraf Ghani.

The US ambassador in Kabul hailed Mr Abdullah’s decision to rejoin the audit as a major step forward, adding that he expected the new Afghan president to be inaugurated at the end of August.

“It is very welcome news,” Ambassador James Cunningham said. “A lot of work has been done… so that the audit can go forward at a rapidly accelerated pace in the next couple of days.

“We hope very much that will happen starting tomorrow… with an outcome to be produced in the next coming weeks.”

The candidates’ spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.

The election battle between Mr Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, and Mr Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, has threatened to spark a spiral of instability as foreign troops pull out and violence increases nationwide.

After Mr Abdullah rejected preliminary results that named Mr Ghani as the easy winner, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded the two candidates to agree to the audit to sift out fraudulent votes.

Mr Kerry’s intervention quashed growing fears that Mr Abdullah was about to set up a “parallel government”, but the UN-supervised audit triggered another outbreak of disagreements.

Mr Abdullah’s team also alleged on Sunday that second Vice President Karim Khalili had been caught on tape saying that President Karzai was working illegally in favour of Mr Ghani.

Mr Karzai has vowed to stay neutral in the election.

“We hope that the two candidates will have an understanding that further delay is not in the interest of the country,” Mr Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi said, adding the audit result was now due by August 25.

“The delay has had a negative impact on the economy, on the security situation, on public opinion,” he said. “Further delays could be very dangerous for the country.”

The first-round vote in April and the June run-off were both hailed for their high turnouts and lack of major militant attacks, but the fraud allegations soon undermined a burst of optimism over Afghanistan’s prospects.

Mr Abdullah believes he was also cheated of victory in the 2009 election when President Karzai retained power.

Mr Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is barred from standing for a third term in office.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Footprints: Libraries: Public and Private

Aurangzaib Khan

Also read: Peshawar gets research library

Also read: Peshawar gets research library

Turned brittle by time, longhand accounts as old as 160 years provide a rare insight into the individual and collective preoccupations of Raj officials as they mulled expeditions on the Frontier, dictated terms to the tribes and fought wars in Afghanistan. And if the Great Game doesn’t stir the scholar in you, perhaps the Cold War will: the directorate has just received official record from the home department dating back to the Afghan ‘Jihad’ years. It is all here, just as grave men in government offices planned, and plotted.

“The official record dating back to 1849 forms the nucleus of the archives,” says Zahirullah Khan, director of archives.

“That is when the British took Punjab from the Sikhs. The NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) was part of Punjab. After an organised government was established in Punjab, government affairs were documented and an official record was maintained. We have all that and some manuscripts and royal orders from the Mughal era.”

Embalming history

The directorate, with some ten million documents, is constantly battling with the enemies of paper: worms, termites, dampness and disaster. Fluctuations in temperature and humidity set alarm bells ringing. Records are regularly monitored for acidity and alkalinity that turn paper brittle, and elaborate processes are undertaken to neutralise them.

The directorate is digitising the record but the process is slow and the originals still need to be preserved.

Based in a grand brick edifice designed by Nayyar Ali Dada, the directorate also houses a public library, a reference library, a section for old, out-of-print books, another where private libraries donated to the directorate are shelved, and one dedicated to women and children.

Public libraries do not usually cater to research but this one does. With dedicated sections on diverse disciplines, research scholars and browsers can access digital libraries such as the Library of Congress, downloading books and documents for free through an arrangement with the Higher Education Commission.

“If we want literacy to grow, schools and colleges alone won’t do,” says Khan. “Public platforms for the dissemination of knowledge and informal education are key to awareness about self and the world.”

The directorate is out to achieve this through creating model libraries in district headquarters all over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, complete with a print and digital library, internet access and a dedicated building. Bannu, D.I. Khan, Swabi, Haripur, Swat, Timergara, Abbottabad and Mardan have operational public libraries now. Next in line for the model public libraries, each of which costs about Rs70 million, are Chitral, Kohat and Lakki Marwat, followed by Karak, Buner and Mansehra.

Conflict and the reading culture

Conflict in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has robbed the libraries of their readers in recent years. The general public is increasingly wary of public spaces. In educational institutions, students restrict themselves to textbooks and notes.

For the last few years, candidates from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa appearing in competitive exams have performed poorly, a trend that worries Fasihuddin, a police officer who has established a private research library in Peshawar to promote a culture of research and inquiry.

A platform for public discourse

Fasihuddin set up the Research Library, Peshawar, with a little help from his friends who donated books. He hauled up his personal library — some 7,000 books — from his village of Takhtbai to a ten-marla house on Warsak Road, which also serves as the office for the Pakistan Society of Criminology that he helped found.

“I was in Karachi recently and was quite amazed that despite the law and order situation, there is a vibrant library and reading scene,” he says. “People don’t go home when offices close. They go to libraries, of which there are many. When a library closes down, another opens somewhere else.”

The Research Library is meant to serve as a model that, says Fasihuddin, cannot be sustained without public patronage. Among other things, it is meant to focus on the social sciences and languages — the Urdu and Persian collection is quite extensive — and serve as a forum for public discourse.

“We have reached out to foreign missions like the British High Commission that funds the education sector in Pakistan to provide us encyclopaedias, and we have asked the PTI government to give us space,” says Fasihuddin. “I have been very fortunate to learn from books and libraries. Now it is time to give something back.”

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Obama admits US tortured ‘some folks’ after 9/11

AP

WASHINGTON: The Uni­ted States tortured Al Qaeda detainees captured after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, Presi­dent Obama said on Friday, in some of his most expansive comments to date about a controversial set of CIA practices that he banned after taking office.

WASHINGTON: The Uni­ted States tortured Al Qaeda detainees captured after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, Presi­dent Obama said on Friday, in some of his most expansive comments to date about a controversial set of CIA practices that he banned after taking office.

“We tortured some folks,” Mr Obama said at a televised news conference at the White House. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”

Addressing the impending release of a Senate report that criticises CIA treatment of detainees, Mr Obama said he believed the mistreatment stemmed from the pressure national security officials felt to forestall another attack.

He said that Americans should not be too “sanctimonious” about passing judgment through the lens of a seemingly safer present day. That view, which he expressed as a candidate for national office in 2008 and early in his presidency, explains why Mr Obama did not push to pursue criminal charges against the Bush era officials who carried out the CIA programme. To this day, many of those officials insist that what they did was not torture, which is a felony under US law.

Know more: State Dept says no American proud of CIA tactics

The president’s comments are a blow to those former officials, as well as an estimated 200 people currently working at the CIA who played some role in the interrogation programme.

In 2009, Obama said he preferred to “look forward, not backwards” on the issue, and he decided that no CIA officer who was following legal guidance — however flawed that guidance turned out to be — should be prosecuted.

A long-running criminal investigation into whether the CIA exceeded the guidance which is an allegation of the Senate report was closed in 2012 without charges. Still, Mr Obama’s remarks on Friday were more emphatic than his previous comments on the subject, including a May 2009 speech in which he trumpeted his ban of “so-called enhanced interrogation techniques,” and “brutal methods,” but did not flatly say the US had engaged in torture.

At an April 2009 new conference, he said: “I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.”

In addition to waterboarding, the CIA used stress positions, sleep deprivation, nu­­di­­ty, humiliation, cold and other tactics that, taken together, were extremely brutal, the Se­nate report is expected to say.

President Obama on Friday did not mention a specific method, but he said the CIA used techniques that “any fair-minded person would believe were torture”.

“We crossed a line,” he said. “That needs to be understood and accepted…We did some things that were wrong, and that’s what that report reflects.”

Mr Obama did not address two other central arguments of the soon-to-be-released Sena­te report — that the brutal interrogations didn’t produce life-saving intelligence, and that the CIA lied to other elements of the US government about exactly what it was doing.

The president also expres­sed confidence in his CIA director, John Brennan, in the wake of an internal CIA report documenting that the spy agency improperly accessed Senate computers. There have been calls for his resignation by congressional lawmakers.

Mr Obama said the internal report made it clear that “some very poor judgment was shown,” but he seemed to say it wasn’t Mr Brennan’s fault, and he praised his director for ordering the inquiry in the first place.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Editorial News

Predicament of minorities

Editorial

It is becoming increasingly clear that virtually no place in the country, be it rural or urban, mainstream or remote, offers even a modicum of safety for members of Pakistan’s religious and ethnic minorities.

It is becoming increasingly clear that virtually no place in the country, be it rural or urban, mainstream or remote, offers even a modicum of safety for members of Pakistan’s religious and ethnic minorities.

The theatre of oppression is growing larger, the danger stalking ever more closely and the risk comes as much from out-of-control mobs as from those who target their quarry with precision — all the while the state behaves like a disinterested bystander. It has been only days since a rioting mob set on fire houses belonging to members of the Ahmadi community in Gujranwala, leading to deaths from suffocation and smoke inhalation.

The state has much to answer for in terms of the treatment that has been meted out to this group of people, yet the Ahmadis are far from alone in their haplessness. On Wednesday, in Peshawar, a gunman opened fire on Sikh traders as they worked in their shops, killing Jagmohan Singh and injuring two other men.

Underscoring this intolerance towards minority faiths, after years of disinterest, the National Assembly, also on Wednesday, empowered the speaker to constitute a special committee to investigate excesses such as murder, kidnappings for ransom and other forms of attacks against Hindus in Sindh’s Umerkot district. Here, too, the latest incident of violence is only days old.

In fact, this community has faced so much hostility that there are reports of people fleeing across the eastern border. Whichever minority community dominates the headlines of the day as the victim of the newest atrocity — and hardly any group, be it the Christians, the Hazaras or even the remote Kalash, has been spared — this much is clear: the white strip in the national flag, that was meant to represent the country’s religious minorities, is bleeding.

What compounds the tragedy faced by these communities is the fact that in most cases the latter are as much the owners and inheritors of the land that falls within the borders as the majority population. The Sikh community of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for example, has been there for generations and there was space in earlier times for it to integrate with and be welcomed by its compatriots.

In recent years, however, as the area has been increasingly wracked by violence, many have had to flee places such as Tirah valley where they were being particularly targeted by militants and extremists. Clearly, even the provincial capital cannot offer them safety.

Is there a way out still from this vortex of religious and ethnic divisions, and the resultant violence? Yes, but the first step lies in the state going beyond commiserations and demonstrating its commitment to protecting the minorities through deed rather than word. Until the general air of hostility against ‘the other’ is cleared, the way forward will continue to be difficult to locate.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Dar’s doubts

Editorial

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar says government policy should not be made with the intention of pleasing specific institutions or people “in Washington or Lahore”.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar says government policy should not be made with the intention of pleasing specific institutions or people “in Washington or Lahore”.

He also says economic analysts and writers are taking the IMF too seriously, pointing out the various places in which the Fund’s forecasts have been wrong.

He wants to swat away speculation that the rupee will come under severe pressure in the forthcoming year, and also any suggestions that Pakistan’s reserves and exchange rate have stabilised largely on the back of one-off inflows, such as the Saudi grant or auction of 3G licences.

Lastly, he warns that continued political uncertainty can unwind the economic gains his government has brought about in the last year, which in his view are substantial.

It is true that government policy should not be made to satisfy a specific institution or individual. But, by the same token, policymaking is a public job and will be subject to critical commentary of all shades and stripes by all manner of persons and institutions, and learning to deal with this aspect of the job is part of every minister’s portfolio.

It is also true that some of the IMF’s forecasts have not materialised. But then, let us be frank and also admit that many of the government’s own promised outcomes — putting an end to load-shedding for instance — are nowhere near fruition either. The minister’s confidence that the rupee will hold its value is admirable, but there is a view that he is putting too many eggs in that basket. After all, there is a fine line between stability and rigidity when it comes to currency management.

The warnings on the one-off inflows against which the reserves have stabilised have been echoed by the State Bank as well as the Fund so Mr Dar would be well advised to take them a little more seriously. And lastly, if he wants to minimise the rigour of the analysis provided by the IMF and the State Bank, then he needs to explain why we should see Moody’s pronouncements as a more reliable yardstick.

After all, Moody’s and all other rating agencies have not exactly a stellar track record of forecasting events, as their role in the great financial crisis of 2008 made very clear. And finally, political uncertainty is indeed clouding the outlook. But let us hope it does not end up being used as an excuse to further delay necessary reforms.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Food safety loopholes

Editorial

When it comes to food safety, there can be no room for lethargy where standards are concerned as it is a matter of public health. Sadly, across the country food safety laws are violated with impunity.

When it comes to food safety, there can be no room for lethargy where standards are concerned as it is a matter of public health. Sadly, across the country food safety laws are violated with impunity.

While provincial and municipal governments leave much to be desired where monitoring the quality of locally produced foodstuffs is concerned, it appears that the authorities are equally lax when it comes to confirming that imported food items are fit for human consumption.

As reported in this paper on Wednesday, a meat processing firm in China, which has been shut down by the authorities in that country, had supplied expired chicken meat and beef to an international fast food brand in Pakistan. The fast food company in question says it did not receive meat from the errant factory.

While a neutral probe can uncover the facts behind the situation, the report does raise legitimate questions about the quality of foodstuffs that are entering Pakistan. International food chains sourcing ingredients from across the world have a significant presence in all large Pakistani cities and towns, while shelves in urban supermarkets are crammed with foreign food items.

This is not to suggest that all imported foodstuffs are suspect; however, tighter oversight of imported food is required to ensure that no substandard material enters the country.

Observers familiar with the food import business claim the customs authorities simply rely on the supplier’s certification when it comes to meat products and rarely carry out physical inspections themselves. It is also said that well-connected importers ‘convince’ the customs staff to clear consignments without proper checks.

The import of food items is covered by laws covering food safety as well as the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority Act of 1996. But clearly, these legal instruments need to be amended or fresh legislation needs to be tabled in order to update food safety standards for imported items. Greater vigilance is also required to ensure that the food items entering the country meet basic safety standards.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Challenge ahead

Editorial

The Aug 14 rally — and now threatened sit-in — by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is surely the biggest, most visible challenge to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yet.

The Aug 14 rally — and now threatened sit-in — by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is surely the biggest, most visible challenge to the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yet.

What was once only whispered, and perhaps feared, has now become an open and insistent demand: the PML-N government must go, according to the PTI, because it is illegitimate and elected by fraud.

Yet, just because an opposition party alleges illegitimacy and illegality and because it is aiming to overthrow a government, it does not mean the allegations are automatically true or that the aim will inevitably be realised. Much — perhaps most — will depend on the leadership, equanimity and resolve of one man: the prime minister himself.

In truth, even at this stage, it is incredibly fuzzy just how the PTI can engineer the downfall of the PML-N government at the centre. Resignations from assemblies or dissolving the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assembly will not affect the mandate of the PML-N.

The PTI does have a proven ability to turn out large crowds, but does it have a large enough of a hardcore base that will obey Mr Khan’s call to mass on the streets and stay there, come what may? And will a movement so clearly focused just on Punjab be able to branch out into the other provinces? If not, would a Punjab-only movement be enough to draw in other anti-democratic forces to cause the PML-N government’s downfall through unconstitutional means?

So far the principal threat to Mr Sharif’s government is that street pressure by the PTI will force mistakes from the PML-N that may ultimately allow for anti-democratic forces waiting in the wings to step in and pull the plug on Mr Sharif’s third term.

Yet, when it comes to the politics of derailment and long marches, there is no one more experienced than Mr Sharif himself. Having both launched attempts to overthrow governments and defended against attacks on his governments in the 1990s, the prime minister ought to know every trick in the book, and then some.

Whatever playbook Mr Khan is now using against the PML-N, the prime minister ought not to be surprised by anything that is thrown at his government — and theoretically should be in a position to deflect it. Up till now, though, Mr Sharif has chosen to lead from behind — leaving it to his ministers and party members to defend his government, whether in parliament or on TV talk show sets or in press conferences.

That surely will not be good enough in the days and weeks ahead. The prime minister must not only take charge of the situation but must be seen to be taking charge of the situation. Hanging back has allowed the challenge to his government to become real and the crisis to grow. Now is the time to lead from the front.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Israel’s war crimes

Editorial

Violations of the laws of war by Israel are too numerous to be counted, the ongoing mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza being just a small part of that state’s catalogue of war crimes spread over more than six decades.

Violations of the laws of war by Israel are too numerous to be counted, the ongoing mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza being just a small part of that state’s catalogue of war crimes spread over more than six decades.

Yet there is little possibility that the Palestinian Authority will succeed in prevailing upon the International Criminal Court to act. On Tuesday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki told the ICC’s prosecutor there was clear evidence of war crimes having been committed by Israel, and that it was time the court acted.

In one sense, Mr Malki was generous — he said the PA was prepared to give jurisdiction to the ICC to investigate crimes by both sides, because if the PA did not help the ICC, nobody could. The evidence Mr Malki spoke of must be sketchy, because it is difficult to get facts and gather evidence in the heat of war as bombs fall, fires rage, buildings crash and wounded babies cry.

The full extent of Israel’s war crimes will be known when guns fall silent. Will then the powers behind the ICC rise above geopolitical considerations and gather courage to do what some feel is an impossibility — putting Israel in the dock on charges of war crimes? So far, of the over 1,800 Palestinian civilians murdered by Israel, 408 are children. Not for nothing did the UNRWA official cry.

The use of artillery shells containing white phosphorus material has been just one of the Israeli armed forces’ many war crimes. It used them in Lebanon in 2006 and confessed to their use on a Gaza school in 2008-09 after initially denying it, since UN relief agencies and rights organisations had evidence to the contrary.

Richard Goldstone, who headed the investigation into the Gaza war, accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes. Hamas initially rejected the report but later accepted it, while Tel Aviv boycotted the commission and accused it of prejudice.

This time, the UN, and more astonishingly even America, have condemned Israel’s attack on two Gaza schools, with the State Department denouncing it as a “disgraceful act” and calling for “a full and prompt investigation”. America’s denunciation of Israel is a rarity, but that doesn’t mean the Zionist lobby’s power to block a reference to the ICC has been impaired. The ICC must now assert itself and prove it can stand pressure and try this state for war crimes.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Unhappily ever after

Editorial

Choosing a spouse is a very personal decision and should definitely not be the business of the state. However, in some countries the government very much has a say in who citizens can or cannot marry. Saudi Arabia is one of them.

Choosing a spouse is a very personal decision and should definitely not be the business of the state. However, in some countries the government very much has a say in who citizens can or cannot marry. Saudi Arabia is one of them.

In a report on Wednesday quoting a Saudi newspaper, it was mentioned that the authorities in the desert kingdom have banned Saudi men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad and Myanmar. The report says there are around 500,000 women from these countries currently living in Saudi Arabia.

The rules have also been toughened for Saudi men wanting to marry women from other nationalities. As outdated as such rules may seem to an outsider, especially in the modern age when inter-cultural unions have grown increasingly common, those familiar with Saudi Arabia will not be surprised.

After all, despite its immense oil wealth the kingdom remains at heart a tribal society and such moves are likely dictated by fears of being ‘overwhelmed’ by foreigners. For example, any Saudi who marries a foreign spouse without government approval faces stiff monetary fines.

Also, children of Saudi mothers with foreign partners may be denied state benefits while only very recently were foreign wives of Saudi men given access to social services.

Every country has a right to frame citizenship laws, but such restrictions on marriage appear exceedingly harsh. Saudi authorities may justify the restrictions in order to protect their culture and values, but despite the strictures, reportedly thousands of Saudi men and women contract marriage with foreigners every year.

It is very difficult for any country to live in isolation anymore. The relentless march of globalisation and the communications revolution have brought down many barriers dividing people.

The Saudi government should consider revising the marriage restrictions as culture and values cannot be protected through tough laws, but may flourish in an atmosphere of liberty and openness, while preventing demographic changes will be difficult for even the most controlled of societies.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

OIC’s powerlessness

Editorial

On the day the National Assembly called upon the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to take “effective action” against the Israeli attack on Gaza, the 57-member body’s secretary general did some plain-speaking, admitting that the Arab component of the Muslim world could do little to stop the Israeli state from destroying Gaza.

On the day the National Assembly called upon the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to take “effective action” against the Israeli attack on Gaza, the 57-member body’s secretary general did some plain-speaking, admitting that the Arab component of the Muslim world could do little to stop the Israeli state from destroying Gaza.

The lawmakers’ speeches contained little beyond emotionalism, and the unanimous resolution passed in Monday’s sessions called for an “emergency session” of the OIC to stop “Israeli brutality against innocent civilians forthwith”.

Not far from Parliament House, Iyad Ameen Abdullah Madani showed a lot of realism in his speech to the Institute of Strategic Studies, referred to the loss of the West Bank, Sinai, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 war and said there was nothing the Arabs could do “practically” to confront Israel.

The OIC wanted to press war crimes charges against Israel, but, said Mr Madani, “preachers of human rights” were not only supporting Israel but serving as a “political shield” for the Jewish state. Mr Madani, however, claimed, and not unjustifiably, that the OIC had played a positive role in issues concerning Muslims in Myanmar and the Central African Republic.

It is, however, Mr Madani’s views on what ails the Muslim world that deserve attention and analysis. That the current scene in the Muslim world is dominated by debilitating internal conflicts stemming from extremism and sectarianism is obvious.

From Pakistan through the Fertile Crescent to the Maghreb and the Sub-Saharan region, the Muslim world is witnessing one of its history’s greatest ideological conflicts which have turned such countries as Iraq and Syria into one big charnel house.

An end to the fratricide doesn’t seem in sight, because well-armed militias with motivated cadres have weakened state authority by occupying large chunks of territory but are themselves unable to acquire the status of de facto governments.

This has added to mass misery, forcing the people to go looking for the basic necessities of life during anarchy. The point to note, however, is that even when this anarchy was absent — as when powerful dictators gave phony stability to their states — the Muslim world’s collective voice didn’t count for much owing to the absence of some of the basic elements of geopolitical power.

Because of clashing national interests, it was not possible for OIC states to have a collective security system, but at least the organisation could have fostered closer collaboration in science and technology. Such cooperation was feasible, if the OIC had drawn up a comprehensive plan for active collaboration between oil-rich countries and those with a pool of scientific manpower.

What Muslim countries need today is internal peace and democracy in which to organise their societies along scientific lines to give the Muslim peoples the tools to face the social and political challenges confronting them.

Published in Dawn, Aug 6th, 2014

IMF’s fourth review

Editorial

The fourth review of Pakistan’s programme with the IMF kicks off today in Dubai amidst little fanfare. The talks are expected to continue till mid-August, against a rising arc of political uncertainty in Islamabad.

The fourth review of Pakistan’s programme with the IMF kicks off today in Dubai amidst little fanfare. The talks are expected to continue till mid-August, against a rising arc of political uncertainty in Islamabad.

As the capital girds itself for a noisy confrontation, the small band of economists and bureaucrats who are gathering in Dubai will strain their ears to diagnose the faint but discernible hum emitted by the economy’s growth engines and the state’s policy machinery. The talks in Dubai conclude on the 14th, the day the crescendo of uncertainty reaches its peak in Islamabad.

As the capital is roiled by protest, the Fund mission will hold its customary news conference at the conclusion of the talks, in which the mission chief, the finance minister and the State Bank governor will speak to the media about the mission’s conclusions regarding the health of the economy, the status of reforms implementation, and the benchmarks that will form the programme’s objectives in subsequent months. A more perfect superimposition of the economic and political timelines would be hard to choreograph.

There is little doubt that the government team will draw the Fund’s attention to the disorder in the streets as reasons for slowing the pace of difficult decisions. For its part, the Fund staff will likely want to keep the conversation confined to the economics alone.

This subtle tug of war will animate much of the discussion and frame the ultimate objectives and evaluations both parties emerge with. In its last review, the Fund staff had flagged “delays and slippages in implementing key policy reforms” as an important risk to the fledgling recovery in growth, reserves and fiscal affairs.

Important reforms that need to be discussed this time include strengthening State Bank autonomy, hike in power tariffs, filling vacancies on the board of Nepra as well as other public-sector entities, and the earnest rollback of key tax exemptions. In each area, the government will report patchy compliance and how the Fund team ultimately spins this will reveal how the tug of war between the economic and political priorities played out during the review discussions.

The final report, due by October, will doubtless come couched in a great deal of diplomatic understatement, but both sides should know that watchful and discerning eyes will search the report to see how the political is woven with the economic in the final analysis.

Published in Dawn, Aug 6th, 2014

Asylum seekers in S. Lanka

Editorial

Hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka — most of them reportedly Pakistanis — are stuck in limbo as the authorities in Colombo seem intent on deporting them to their country of origin.

Hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees in Sri Lanka — most of them reportedly Pakistanis — are stuck in limbo as the authorities in Colombo seem intent on deporting them to their country of origin.

The Sri Lankan authorities also feel the UNHCR has been too slow in determining the status of the asylum seekers and processing their resettlement. The UN refugee agency says it wants greater access to the asylum seekers and disagrees with the policy of deportation.

The crisis came to the fore in June when Sri Lankan authorities started rounding up asylum seekers and put them in detention facilities awaiting deportation. Along with Pakistanis, Afghans are also included, while Ahmadis, Hazara Shias and Christians are said to be among the asylum seekers.

Colombo has said the refugees are posing “security and health-related” risks to the country. But considering the rough treatment that is often meted out to minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Sri Lanka needs to take a more humane view of the plight of these people.

Some Sri Lankan commentators have said rising nationalist sentiment has caused the government to take a hard line against foreigners seeking refuge in the country. Indeed, the line in Colombo is that these are ‘economic migrants’.

While economic migration is a fact and some of the Sri Lankan government’s concerns may be valid, it is difficult to believe all those seeking protection are simply doing so for economic benefit. Considering the reported religious backgrounds of the individuals, there are valid concerns that if they are deported they may face threats to their lives. The UN is right when it says deportation goes against the principle of ‘no forced return’.

The Sri Lankan authorities should grant UNHCR greater access to the asylum seekers so that their cases can be processed in a way that is acceptable to all sides. In the meantime, there is much to be remedied in Pakistan where a narrative of extremism and hate holds out no hope for those at the receiving end.

Published in Dawn, Aug 6th, 2014

PTI’s unclear goals

Editorial

What were once amorphous demands have turned into ominous threats. And yet, even now, there is little clarity about what Imran Khan’s real goal is: electoral reforms or something more?

What were once amorphous demands have turned into ominous threats. And yet, even now, there is little clarity about what Imran Khan’s real goal is: electoral reforms or something more?

The confusion extends to the senior leadership of the PTI itself, with some members talking about reforms, others talking about elections and all suggesting that the final demands would be left up to Mr Khan himself. What is clear though is that the PTI is determined to push the government a fair distance — and perhaps all the way over the edge too.

Troubling as the PML-N’s conduct has been in some instances and while recognising that as the incumbent power, there is greater responsibility resting on the shoulders of the PML-N leadership, the PTI cannot quite escape blame for the growing sense of crisis and perhaps even threats to the system.

The most significant problem from a democratic perspective is not that Mr Khan wants to hold another large rally or that he is arguing that the May 2013 elections were not as free and fair as the best democratic standards demand.

The most significant problem is that Mr Khan seems unconcerned about the impact of his agitation on fundamental national political stability and the space his growing threats of street agitation is creating for anti-democratic forces in the country. It is really a question of degree. To what extent is political discontent possible before the original fault line in Pakistani politics — democracy or something else — is re-exposed?

It is not enough for Mr Khan to simply claim that he and his supporters will never allow the democratic system to be cast aside — when decisions to cast aside the democratic system have been made in the past, there is no civilian political entity that can simply reverse the decision. Once the trigger is pulled, after the circumstances have been created, it is all but impossible to put the anti-democracy bullet back in the chamber.

Yet, it is not just the possibility of the ultimate anti-democratic measure, threatened by Mr Khan, that the entire civilian political spectrum has to worry about. Already, in subtle though difficult-to-deny ways, the civil-military imbalance has tipped further in favour of the military. Part of this is clearly the government’s fault, given its panicky responses to the PTI’s rally planned for Aug 14. No one outside the government considers the invocation of Article 245 of the Constitution to be a wise political move.

But in the always critically important sphere of civil-military relations, Mr Khan and the PTI’s actions have already, even if not deliberately, increased the pressure on the government to somehow pacify the army-led security establishment and do nothing on the policy front that would rankle. Surely, a government so much on the defensive can do little to further the transition to democracy.

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Obama on torture

Editorial

Torture is employed by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies across the world. But when states that claim to respect democratic values and human rights look the other way while their operatives indulge in torturing suspects, the incongruity becomes glaringly obvious.

Torture is employed by law-enforcement and intelligence agencies across the world. But when states that claim to respect democratic values and human rights look the other way while their operatives indulge in torturing suspects, the incongruity becomes glaringly obvious.

In the post-9/11 years, the US, under George W. Bush’s leadership, was widely accused of torturing terrorism suspects across the world. It was during this period that terms like ‘waterboarding’, ‘black sites’ and ‘extraordinary rendition’ entered the global lexicon, while Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib became symbols of abuse and rights’ violations.

After Barack Obama’s election it was thought this dark chapter in American history would come to a close. To his credit, Mr Obama did ban many of the more brutal methods employed on his predecessor’s watch. While addressing a news conference on Friday, he admitted that the US had “tortured some folks” in the period following the Sept 11 attacks.

Though Obama has alluded to the harsh Bush-era practices earlier after assuming office, this is the current president’s most frank admission of the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency and the US military used torture as part of counterterrorism efforts.

The US is, of course, not alone in the use of torture; Pakistan’s security establishment, for example, applies equally brutal methods during interrogations. But whether used by Washington, Islamabad or any other government, it can safely be said that torture is not an effective counterterrorism tool.

Apart from being in flagrant violation of international law and human rights, its negatives far outweigh any potential positives. For example, if governments argue that harsh methods can make suspects confess valuable information, it can also be argued that such methods are a catalyst for further radicalisation.

Fighting terrorism is essential, but this must be done within the confines of the law. Further, when established democracies allow the use of torture, the hypocrisy is evident. For example, the US regularly points out alleged human rights abuses committed by other states.

But as Mr Obama’s admission highlights, Washington itself does not have a stellar human rights record. And perhaps the biggest example of America’s own flirtation with torture is Guantanamo. Despite promising to do so early in his first presidential tenure, Barack Obama has failed to shut down the notorious detention facility located in Cuba. To send a strong signal that the US no longer condones torture, the modern-day gulag needs to be shut down.

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka

Editorial

A number of challenges await the Pakistan cricket team as it plays its first Test series in almost six months when they take on Sri Lanka in the Galle Test that begins tomorrow. Sri Lanka, though still smarting from a Test series loss to South Africa, remains a tough adversary on their home turf.

A number of challenges await the Pakistan cricket team as it plays its first Test series in almost six months when they take on Sri Lanka in the Galle Test that begins tomorrow. Sri Lanka, though still smarting from a Test series loss to South Africa, remains a tough adversary on their home turf.

Unlike Pakistan, which appears somewhat rusty owing to the absence of any top-level cricket since February, the Sri Lankans are in form and have been playing non-stop international cricket with a fair amount of success. In fact, the Islanders had a particularly satisfying first six months in 2014 when they not only won the coveted World T20 title in Bangladesh but also a Test series against England.

Pakistan, however, can take heart from the fact that they had emerged victorious in their last Test outing against Sri Lanka in Sharjah by pulling off an improbable target of over 300 on the last day. That said, Misbah-ul-Haq’s men will have to be at their competitive best to pose any real threat to the Sri Lankans on the current tour.

For that to happen, it is imperative for young guns such as Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali, Khurram Manzoor, Asad Shafiq, Junaid Khan and Mohammad Talha to shoulder responsibility as the main guard of the team. Most of these men have travelled with the team long enough to know they must take over the mantle of match-winner from stalwarts like skipper Misbah, Younis Khan, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal who have served the team well during the past decade.

The tour will also test the skills and abilities of a rather elaborate Pakistan team management which comprises chief selector-cum-manager Moin Khan, head coach Waqar Younis, spin coach Mushtaq Ahmed and ex-Zimbabwean player Grant Flower as the new batting coach. The two-match series will mark the end of a truly illustrious career for Sri Lankan batting great Mahela Jayawardene who is determined to depart on a high note against Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Parliament’s role

Editorial

Lamenting the near-irrelevance of parliament and hoping for its flagging fortunes to be turned around and for parliament to be given the pre-eminence it deserves is a sport almost as old as parliament itself.

Lamenting the near-irrelevance of parliament and hoping for its flagging fortunes to be turned around and for parliament to be given the pre-eminence it deserves is a sport almost as old as parliament itself.

The National Assembly session set to begin today is probably as unlikely a time as there ever has been to hope for meaningful proceedings inside parliament.

Nationally, the political discourse at the moment is dominated by the PTI’s plans to hold a rally in Islamabad on Aug 14 at which as yet unspecified demands will be made and where PTI may or may not seek the immediate ouster of the government via street power — meaning the latest session of parliament will be completely overshadowed.

Yet, present events notwithstanding, the problem is also how lawmakers themselves — both in government and opposition — tend to approach parliament.

Consider the usual course of events during a parliamentary session. On the first day, there is considerable attendance and a few fiery speeches by senior parliamentarians.

The media presence is significant and politicians compete for the TV cameras’ attention. But rarely is there anything of parliamentary significance discussed or debated in those early exchanges.

That lack of parliamentary content and substance means the tone set at the outset of a session does not provide any guidance for the work that legislators ought to be doing.

Take for example the PPP’s alleged interest in convening a joint session of parliament to debate the government’s decision to invoke Article 245 of the Constitution and draft in more army troops to protect the federal capital.

A joint session of the National Assembly and Senate implies a serious or high-profile parliamentary undertaking. But other than passing a non-binding resolution, even if such a joint session were to be held, what would it achieve in legislative or executive-oversight terms?

Consider also the myriad ways in which a more functional parliament could take up serious work at the moment. If there were such a thing as parliamentary intelligence committees, the PPP’s demand could be met in there — what, after all, are the security threats that necessitated invoking Article 245?

Parliament should not just be told; parliament should have the ability to wrest important answers from the government. There is also a major military operation in North Waziristan under way.

Surely, the plans, objectives, the execution of the operation so far, how many casualties there have been, the regional dynamics, the military needs — all of that and more could, in fact should, be shared with defence, foreign affairs and interior committees.

Finally, there is the ongoing electricity crisis that seems impervious to the government’s attempts to fix it — could parliament not have a role to get more transparency in that sector? There is much work that could be done. But for that to happen parliamentarians would need to take the institution more seriously.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Debt management

Editorial

Argentina’s messy and volatile default on its bonds provides a moment of reflection for Pakistan. It is a reminder that large external debt liabilities can sometimes go horribly wrong.

Argentina’s messy and volatile default on its bonds provides a moment of reflection for Pakistan. It is a reminder that large external debt liabilities can sometimes go horribly wrong.

In Argentina’s case, the default in question actually happened more than a decade ago but has been in painstaking negotiations ever since. Moreover, the debt in question — a total of $100bn — is owed to private creditors who are much more strident in demanding repayment than government or multilateral creditors.

It would be a mistake, therefore, to make too direct a connection between the debt profiles of Argentina and Pakistan. Our external debt stands around $5bn, is one-third of the total public debt, and this ratio has been on a downward glide path since 2009.

But it would also be a mistake to find too much reassurance in these differences. For one, these proportions are about to change. Under the advice from its own debt management office, the government is in the midst of sharply increasing its external debt, particularly from market sources while reducing its borrowings from the domestic banking system.

Already, in the first year of its rule, exposure to private debt has risen through a large Eurobond auction, as well as other private short-term borrowing. The government plans to continue this pattern of borrowing till 2017, when servicing of privately owed debt that was rescheduled in the wake of 9/11 is scheduled to resume.

The strategy has helped lift some pressure off domestic debt markets, but has also reversed the downward trend of external debt, and is creating exposures to international capital markets precisely at a time when these markets are being roiled by volatility from the Argentine default.

The State Bank has provided a soft but steady drumbeat of cautionary advice through all this, urging the government to focus more on efforts “to enhance the country’s external debt repayment capacity to avoid payment pressures when newly taken loans fall due”.

The debt policy statement put out by the finance ministry has also faintly echoed these words, saying “[s]erious efforts should be made to enhance export earnings” if the growth of external debt liabilities is to remain within sustainable limits.

It is true that the government faces difficult choices in trying to restart growth while cutting the debt burden. But Argentina shows us that money from international capital markets comes with a label attached: ‘handle with care’.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Monsoon preparedness

Editorial

While the dark monsoon clouds bring with them welcome spells of rain in the country, a sense of apprehension also accompanies the wet season in Pakistan, mainly because of fears of flooding.

While the dark monsoon clouds bring with them welcome spells of rain in the country, a sense of apprehension also accompanies the wet season in Pakistan, mainly because of fears of flooding.

The threat of urban flooding is of particular concern, especially in Karachi, as the metropolis has no effective system of draining rainwater. The Sindh capital saw monsoon showers early Saturday morning; though there was no flooding several rain-related deaths — mainly due to wall collapses and electrocution — were reported.

Tragic as the deaths are, there could have been greater havoc if the city had witnessed heavier rainfall. The problem in Karachi is that due to haphazard growth and rampant encroachment, in many city areas the natural flow of water has been blocked, while numerous storm-water drains have been occupied.

The Met office has predicted below average monsoon rains this year, so the threat of major urban flooding may be averted. However, municipal authorities in all major cities and towns need to ensure measures are in place to minimise havoc in case of heavy showers.

In Lahore, efforts have been made over the years to improve the city’s drainage system; for example, encroachments have been removed from nullahs. However, some parts of the city, especially areas apart from the main thoroughfares, still have problems with standing rainwater.

But the Punjab capital’s main monsoon-related concern is dengue; the authorities need to make maximum efforts to eliminate the breeding places of mosquitoes that carry the virus. The situation in Peshawar has also improved, as encroachments from drains have been largely removed from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa capital.

Hence, it is primarily Karachi’s administration which must be prepared to deal with the after-effects of heavy rainfall. Storm-water drains need to be cleaned and cleared of blockages to ensure rainwater doesn’t collect on thoroughfares. In the longer term, a sustained anti-encroachment drive is needed — with full political backing — to clear the illegal occupation of the city’s drains which would significantly reduce the chances of flooding.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

PML-N’s faulty track

Editorial

A REARGUARD action has begun, with the PML-N deploying Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, known for his good relations with PTI chief Imran Khan over the years, to try and appease the PTI. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has reached out to non-politician friends for advice on matters political.

A REARGUARD action has begun, with the PML-N deploying Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, known for his good relations with PTI chief Imran Khan over the years, to try and appease the PTI. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has reached out to non-politician friends for advice on matters political.

With a National Assembly session scheduled to begin tomorrow, the PTI pressing ahead with rally preparations, the army distancing itself from perceived attempts by the PML-N to drag it onto the PML’N side in the political arena and the country returning to work after Eid, the days ahead will be packed. We will witness a familiar political frenzy and churning of waters that will require all hands on deck for the PML-N and a need to keep sight of the bigger picture and the larger goals.

Yet, it is far from clear that the PML-N leadership, as well as the brain trust it relies on or looks to for navigating political crises, has grasped the present situation properly. In reaching out to Imran Khan and the PTI, the government has made it clear that its foremost concern is to somehow prevent the Aug 14 rally to Islamabad that the PTI is preparing for. That necessarily suggests electoral reforms — the issue that Mr Khan and his party are agitating for — are only an issue to the extent the PTI cares about it, rather than a genuine and serious matter from a systemic and democratic perspective.

Why not, for example, use the start of the next National Assembly session on Monday to have the prime minister himself give a speech that takes ownership of electoral reforms and gives a clear vision of how the PML-N will nudge the electoral system towards greater transparency and fairness? Does the Aug 14 PTI rally matter more or do democracy-enhancing reforms? If it is the former for the PML-N, then surely the party’s leadership is on the wrong track — with either immediate or later consequences to be faced.

Also read: PM in consultation mode to end impasse

Similarly, a report in this newspaper yesterday on a summit of close friends that Prime Minister Sharif convened at his Raiwind residence recently indicates that Mr Sharif is working from an old mould of politics and is perhaps even in self-denial.

If Mr Sharif is waiting for March 2015 when the PML-N’s Senate seat count will more than double, but still fall far short of a majority, it sounds suspiciously like the excuses that executive action was hamstrung under former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and more governance and leadership would be visible after his retirement. That clearly has not happened. And what of the suggestion that somehow external interference, implicitly by the US, is constraining Mr Sharif’s government? It sounds suspiciously like the government is looking for scapegoats rather than undertaking some serious self-scrutiny.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Kerry’s India visit

Editorial

DESPITE some outstanding issues that have soured relations, the joint statement issued simultaneously in Washington and New Delhi shows a determined attempt by the two sides to forge deeper strategic ties.

DESPITE some outstanding issues that have soured relations, the joint statement issued simultaneously in Washington and New Delhi shows a determined attempt by the two sides to forge deeper strategic ties.

The statement comes in the wake of John Kerry’s first visit to India after Narendra Modi came to power. It was also the American secretary of state’s first visit to India since the arrest of an Indian diplomat, accused of underpaying her housekeeper, in New York last year.

There were other irritants too as Mr Kerry and Sushma Swaraj, his Indian counterpart, began probing the possibilities of delivering on what Mr Kerry called “incredible possibilities” in their relationship. The contentious issues included Indian anger over America’s surveillance activity, and Washington’s complaint that New Delhi has made every attempt to block a WTO accord on trade facilitation and its demand for concessions on food stockpiling.

That, in spite of these stumbling blocks, the two governments should express the kind of sentiments they did at the conclusion of their fifth strategic dialogue highlights the deep understanding they have developed on a number of issues, including America’s assurances to the Modi government to support India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council as a permanent member. With corporate America keen to do business in a market as large as India’s, Mr Kerry’s visit also signals an end to whatever reservations America had about Mr Modi’s record as Gujarat’s chief minister.

Islamabad, however, must take note of those contents of the joint statement in which America and India have not minced words and have shown an extraordinary degree of understanding on matters concerning Pakistan. The call for speeding up the trial of the Mumbai carnage suspects was coupled with a dig at Islamabad. Even if ritual condemnation of terrorism is standard fare in diplomatic rhetoric, there is little doubt that the two countries had Pakistan in mind when the need for “eliminating terrorist safe havens and infrastructure” was stressed.

However, while Pakistan may have its own concerns about such views, the fact is that LeT is a proscribed group within the country. This reality alone should compel the state to expedite the trial of the Mumbai suspects. Indeed, cracking down on militant groups is in Pakistan’s own interest and should not be linked to attempts by New Delhi and Washington to develop a relationship that, despite the hurdles, may in the long run alter South Asia’s geopolitical contours.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

The cab is back

Editorial

IT appears that nothing — high costs, low economic returns, media criticism, etc — can dissuade a Sharif government from implementing a scheme that promises high political returns. The yellow cab scheme was one of the PML-N’s populist, signature enterprises.

IT appears that nothing — high costs, low economic returns, media criticism, etc — can dissuade a Sharif government from implementing a scheme that promises high political returns. The yellow cab scheme was one of the PML-N’s populist, signature enterprises.

It latest edition aims at retaining the loyalty of Punjab’s youth, especially in the face of a strong political challenge from Imran Khan’s PTI. Impressed with the ‘success’ of its previous edition initiated before the last elections, the Shahbaz Sharif government has set aside a hefty amount of Rs25bn in the budget for the present fiscal year to distribute 50,000 subsidised vehicles among the unemployed below the age of 35 in the province.

Previously, it had leased out 20,000 units at a discounted price. The purpose is to create employment for jobless young men and women across the province. The new, much bigger edition of the scheme is being executed from October this year. That it is being launched without any assessment of the economic impact on the lives of the recipients of 20,000 vehicles in 2012-13 indicates that the PML-N leadership is concerned more with the political impact of the project. It is not even known if the cabs already distributed are actually being used for the purpose they were given out for. The tradition dating back to the first yellow cab scheme by the PML-N in the 1990s is of many using it as ‘family’ car.

Indeed, there are some measures in place to avoid repetition of the yellow cab scam of the 1990s when banks lost billions.

But this is not enough. With the economy in trouble because of acute energy shortages, and inadequate and ageing economic and social infrastructure, the Punjab government needs to reset its priorities. It will do a favour to its voters and the country’s economy by diverting the taxpayers’ money away from politically motivated initiatives to projects that will bridge the infrastructure gap in the province and create sustainable jobs.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Columns and Articles

Deciphering the stock market

Sakib Sherani

Barring the last few days, Pakistan’s equity market has been on an explosive roll for the past two and a half years. The Karachi Stock Exchange’s benchmark index, the KSE-100, has recorded growth of 165pc since starting its seemingly unstoppable winning streak in January 2012 — placing it firmly among the top-performing markets in the emerging universe during this period.

Barring the last few days, Pakistan’s equity market has been on an explosive roll for the past two and a half years. The Karachi Stock Exchange’s benchmark index, the KSE-100, has recorded growth of 165pc since starting its seemingly unstoppable winning streak in January 2012 — placing it firmly among the top-performing markets in the emerging universe during this period.

Macroeconomic stability, an improvement in investor perceptions about political stability and economic prospects, better liquidity conditions, changes to Pakistan’s outlook by international credit rating agencies and in the weightage of the KSE in Frontier Market indices, have all contributed to powering the KSE-100 to historic highs.

A part of the rocketing skyward of the KSE indices has roughly coincided with the installation of the PML-N government, prompting the finance minister to declare on more than one occasion (like his predecessors) that the domestic stock markets’ performance is the manifestation of business confidence in the government’s policies and reflects a change for the positive in wider investor sentiment.

To examine this assertion, and to put the stock market performance in context, it is important to ask — and hopefully, answer — the following: what’s behind the KSE-100’s meteoric rise? Is it fundamental economic performance, or are other factors playing a dominant role? Is the recent performance sustainable? And, in economic terms, what do the gyrations of the stock market signify? For many readers not familiar with the peculiar working of our equity markets, and for those planning to take a first-time plunge, it is important to understand that the stock market’s performance is not ‘uni-directional’ nor is it ‘linear’. Put simply, the fact that the stock market has been going up and up for the past nearly three years, does not guarantee that it will continue moving in the same direction in the foreseeable future.

While the KSE’s overall performance over a five- or 10-year period does seem impressive at first sight, it masks significant variations and ‘boom-bust’ cycles within the period. Since 2008, for example, the KSE-100 has delivered an annual average nominal return of 16.5pc; however, during this period, it witnessed two years of negative return (2008 and 2009), cumulatively totalling nearly minus 53pc. On an annual basis, the KSE-100’s variation (as measured by the difference between its high and low point) amounted to an average of nearly 50pc. In some cases, this represented a drop from a ‘high’ to a ‘low’, while in many cases it simply represented a progression from a ‘low’ at the start of the period to a ‘high’ at the end.

More generally, for the decade of the 2000s, in overall terms the KSE has done phenomenally well. Many factors contributed to this stellar performance, including political and economic stability, record low interest rates and a policy of ‘easy money’ followed by the State Bank between 2002 and 2007, as well as record amounts of foreign investment. However, the KSE also witnessed two episodes of the worst market crashes in Pakistan’s history, which collectively wiped out billions of US dollars in market capitalisation from the bourses and necessitated, in one case, a massive bailout of stock market investors using public money. This history underscores the inherent higher volatility of equities as an asset class, alongside its potential for delivering above-par returns. (A lesson for investors: comparison of risk-adjusted returns for different asset classes over a longer period of time will give a clearer picture of the suitability of a particular investment with regard to an individual’s risk appetite.)

Does the equity market represent the wider economy? Prima facie, the stock market covers 32 different sectors of the economy, ranging from oil and gas to technology hardware and equipment. However, the benchmark KSE-100 index is dominated in its composition by six to seven sectors — and an even fewer number in terms of active trading. (Another peculiar feature is the prominent role of public-sector entities in the index, with the likes of OGDCL, PSO, the two gas utilities, PIA and NBP.)

In addition, the base of ‘investors’ in Pakistani stock markets is small and narrow, with around one million active participants, and overall proceedings heavily influenced and dominated by a coterie of large brokers. Even the foreign portfolio investment is thought to be concentrated in a handful of large funds (while a significant chunk is considered by insiders to belong to large Pakistani investors who are ‘round tripping’ their investments).

Finally, eroding the reliability of the stock market as a barometer of the wider economy is the fact that fewer and fewer companies are participating in active capital raising from this source, which is dwarfed by borrowing from the banking system.

However, somewhat surprisingly, in one important way the stock market does correlate loosely to underlying economic conditions — but only if viewed over a period of time. Generally, the annual return on the KSE-100 has tended to exceed underlying corporate profits by a significant margin, with the excess possibly reflecting ‘irrational’ exuberance or fear. However, the average for the period 2004-2012 indicates a closer correlation: the average return of the KSE-100 was 14.8pc compared to average annual growth in corporate profits of 12.4pc.

Looking at the evidence, it can be argued that the stock market has ‘re-rated’ to better reflect longer-term economic fundamentals. Even after its recent rise, the trailing market price-to-earnings ratio is still around nine times, which is not expensive by regional or historical standards.

However, like in the build-up to the market crashes of mid-2000s, one potential area of concern is the speed of the rise in the equity indices, and the drawing-in of ‘off-the-street’ retail investment by housewives etc. Another measure investors should keep a watch on is the equity risk premium — the excess return over government bonds equity investors demand for investing in a riskier asset class. Currently, with an earnings yield of around 11pc, the equity market is discounting the risk over a five-year government bond yielding 12.74pc. If the market rises any more, this negative gap will widen further, and is something investors should take into account with the other factors mentioned.

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

The substance in a protest

Asha’ar Rehman

Ultimately, the essence of a protest is how sensibly and responsibly it is reacted to by those it is aimed at. In Pakistan protests have lost their effect.

Ultimately, the essence of a protest is how sensibly and responsibly it is reacted to by those it is aimed at. In Pakistan protests have lost their effect.

The Hazaras sat in vigil for days in Quetta, refusing to bury their dead until the state made its presence felt. The government did finally oblige and one or two ministers were sent to placate the mourners. That’s how far the redress went.

The Baloch set up a hunger strike camp in Karachi and then in Islamabad. They marched through the country seeking to draw the attention towards those who go missing all too easily and frequently. There was little response generally, the most conscientious of the civilians simply confessing that an intervention, let alone attempt at redress, was beyond them.

Inside the more visible Pakistan, a lawyer went down defending a blasphemy accused in Multan. The incident was followed by cries of anguish. It’s been three months and little headway has been made in the investigation, just as, days after a mob attacked homes belonging to Ahmadis in Gujranwala, no suspects are on the radar.

Sometime ago, doctors were out on the streets in Lahore demanding improvements in their service structures. Their daily demonstrations went unheeded. They next stopped work in selected departments in public hospitals, but still they were ignored.

It took some more extreme actions at the hospitals before the government showed signs that it was prepared to at least hear the protesters out. Even now, while the government claims to have addressed and solved the problem, tension simmers in the ranks of young doctors who think they have yet not been given a fair deal.

There is a pattern to these examples that lays the blame at the doorstep of a state which is either disinterested or which no more has the capacity to even appear concerned at the issues faced by its citizens. In the absence of a responsive, responsible state, the protesters lose their purpose and are expected to fade way after ‘due’ projection on the television screen.

The media itself is a painful picture of frustration and desperation. It highlights issues by the minute but very few of them ever get the government’s attention. The media avoids implosion and releases pent-up energy by replacing the old group of protesters with a new set every now and then. The old ones must now resign themselves to fate and to the non-resolution of their grievances.

This is the state of official unresponsiveness in Pakistan where people in a group — or two groups — are now pressing for a resolution of their problem. They — the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek — have been able to come thus far purely on the strength of their numbers and by overcoming indifference that bordered on ridicule. A smaller group would have just been ignored, disregarding noises being an official policy that seems to have found its most avid practitioners in Mian Nawaz Sharif and his associates.

Equally alarming is the increased or enhanced presence outside the state apparatus of those who must, initially if not all through, dismiss the challenges of a serious nature by resorting to trivialising the challenger. They complement the state’s habit of not taking the protesters too seriously in the interest of keeping things light — too light for our collective good.

The initial dominant response that came to the fore through the media against Tahirul Qadri was one which tried to make fun of him. The tendency remains at this late stage, when a disruptive protest under the allama’s command looms large.

Similarly, Imran Khan, having inspired his share of the jokes, continues to be routinely dismissed as a headstrong individual with little knowledge of politics. But it is precisely this un-thought-out response that sustains him, sets him apart from the rest of the Pakistani politicians and endears him to large numbers pressing for the supremacy of their brand of politics.

The harder they assert themselves, the louder are the taunts that brand the PTI cadres as a bunch of apolitical, misguided souls with nowhere in particular to go. This is the best defence some amongst us have been able to put up against a group whose politics we are, maybe, too afraid to acknowledge let alone discuss earnestly.

If Imran Khan was alien to the country’s politics, the government and his dismissive fun-making critics have aided in further alienating him from the stream here. He was considered someone not quite deserving of serious engagement, the ‘majority’ confronting him secure in their own perceptions of what serious politics in Pakistan is all about.

He was labelled as an outsider and as naïve, and however dangerous his trajectory may seem to the other side now, he has used the situation well to gather a strong, menacing force of the naïve and the outsiders around him And it is only now that the old-timers, the veterans of the system, are feeling the urge to call up each other and discuss ways to deal with the real threat that he poses.

A more earnest discussion right from the start of what issues he had could perhaps have avoided the isolation that Imran revels in right now. So much so that while so many of the wise and the knowledgeable now consider him worthy of urgent placation, there is practically no prominent name around which could be confidently employed as an emissary to the PTI chief.

This is the price you pay for disregarding one protest too many — for pretending for so long that you were only up against a comic character you could use for some cheap entertainment.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Long-term insecurity

Farhan Bokhari

As the PML-N government grapples with the political challenge posed by Imran Khan’s promised ‘azadi march’ to Islamabad on Aug 14, Pakistan remains an increasingly insecure land.

As the PML-N government grapples with the political challenge posed by Imran Khan’s promised ‘azadi march’ to Islamabad on Aug 14, Pakistan remains an increasingly insecure land.

Beyond the threat from Taliban militants battling Pakistan’s army in North Waziristan, the ruling structure appears keen to block Imran Khan’s march on the grounds of its implications for the capital city’s security.

However, the official narrative increasingly looks half-baked. The official position suggests the abject failure of the civil administration in Islamabad, creating the urgency to invoke Article 245 of the Constitution for seeking the army’s assistance. At the same time, however, there is a more serious risk to Pakistan’s future in the shape of worsening socio-economic conditions at the heart of a largely dismal outlook.

In a country with a stubbornly growing population of poverty-stricken have-nots stuck in energy-starved neighbourhoods, policymakers must first and foremost focus on tackling the most vital human needs. In brief, this is the fundamentally vital gap between the official philosophy seeking to modernise Pakistan through a quick fix, as opposed to measures to deal with the complicated reality that clouds the country’s future.

Not too far from the ‘D’ chowk — the proposed venue of Imran Khan’s protest — stands the road network that has been badly disrupted as the Sharif government pursues another monstrous project to establish a metro transport system linking Islamabad to Rawalpindi. Eventually, an elevated road system is planned for running a bus network, emulating a similar project already in place in the PML-N heartland of Lahore.

Each set of criticisms of the regime’s infrastructure projects are immediately rebutted by the ruling PML-N stalwarts on the grounds of their essential utility for Pakistan’s future. Indeed, the Lahore-Islamabad motorway built in the 1990s often crowns such defence. Drive without bumps on the motorway and the journey is worth your while, goes the argument.

And yet, it is the very policy direction behind this approach which will likely enlarge the many bumps along Pakistan’s future outlook. In addition to the fancy bus project now well under way in Islamabad, the PML-N’s other similarly controversial choices present a compelling gap between Pakistan’s glaring realities and whimsical policies.

In the past year, the government has come up with spendthrift plans to supposedly kick-start a largely moribund economy. These notably include a train network in Lahore, the Lahore-Karachi motorway and a train project linking Islamabad via Murree to Muzaffar­abad. In an ideal world, pursuing such grandiose projects alongside taking care of the needs of Pakistan’s impoverished population could have presented the best choice.

And yet, Pakistan does not live in an ideal world. Pressed to make careful choices due to chronic budgetary constraints, the country’s top planners must carefully sift through the array of plans on the table, taking note of the multiple pressures all around.

For instance, as Pakistan grapples with mounting electricity shortages and growing scarcity of water in many parts of the country, does it not make sense to fix these two essential problems before embarking on the many infrastructure projects?

Reconsidering Pakistan’s economic priorities is fundamentally vital for two inter-related reasons.

On the one hand, a push to tackle the fallout from poverty across the country is essentially the only way to begin blocking an oft-proven source of breeding militancy. Time and again, it has been proven beyond doubt that it is often the widely ignored shanty neighbourhoods which provide the human cannon fodder for militant groups to thrive than the upper-class neighbourhoods.

Pakistan’s continued neglect of key social services, notably in healthcare and education, has fuelled discontent across its increasingly marginalised neighbourhoods. High-profile infrastructure projects will never work to rejuvenate those neighbourhoods, while strengthened social services will indeed make a very visible difference.

On the other hand, laying the ground for Pakistan’s sustainable reform must begin with an overhaul of the country’s tax collection system that effectively lies in tatters today. For too long, privileged Pakistanis from both rural and urban areas have gone scot free without paying their dues. The evidence surrounding the all too visible underpayment of taxes by Pakistan’s top tiers of politics and society is indeed overwhelming. Without forcing the well endowed to pay their dues, the idea of making Pakistan a sustainable country will remain a pipe dream.

Ultimately, a series of robust reforms to turn Pakistan around is the only way to secure Pakistan beyond the upcoming political turbulence in Islamabad.

The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist.

farhanbokhari

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

Never to return

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

Over the past 10 days yet another Ahmadi was lynched in Punjab while a Sikh trader was gunned down in Peshawar, the latest in a long list of targeted killings of those condemned for being outside the pale of ‘official’ Islam. It is small wonder that so much of our time and energies are spent on lamenting what is undoubtedly a dismal state of affairs.

Over the past 10 days yet another Ahmadi was lynched in Punjab while a Sikh trader was gunned down in Peshawar, the latest in a long list of targeted killings of those condemned for being outside the pale of ‘official’ Islam. It is small wonder that so much of our time and energies are spent on lamenting what is undoubtedly a dismal state of affairs.

If for no other reason than to gain respite from the doom and gloom, I believe it is necessary to remind ourselves that things in this society looked and felt very different before the fateful politicisation of religion under the Raj.

Until 67 years ago, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists, Parsis, Jews and a whole host of other confessional groups lived in all parts of northwestern India, and outnumbered Muslims in many regions. There were periodic episodes of conflict between those of different religious persuasions — mostly at the individual rather than collective level — but there was also a richness to social life that those of us born and bred in post-partition Pakistan cannot imagine.

Popular culture was not distinguished as ‘Muslim’ or ‘Hindu’, no matter what the two-nation theorists continue to claim. Those who are interested in the history of religion will know that some subcontinental faiths are actually hybrid versions of pre-existing ones, Sikhism the most obvious example. Indeed, regardless of one’s faith, places of religious worship were patronised across confessional divides. I dare say that atheists were as likely to be found taking in the sights and sounds of shrines and other cultural sites as anyone else.

In India today, one comes across such ‘anomalies’ regularly, because the Indian state has never insisted that it is the paragon of a world religion, notwithstanding the ongoing attempts of right-wing Hindu nationalists to capture and then mould the state in that very image. Our stunted imaginations do not, unfortunately, permit us to conceive that what is still commonplace in today’s India was also once commonplace in what became Pakistan.

Of course, India is hardly a paragon of religious tolerance, and the rise to power of a right-wing demagogue like Modi who has presided over organised anti-Muslim pogroms is a worrying sign. But my sense is that there are many Indians from across the religious divide who will stoutly defend the pluralism of that country; certainly it is far from a foregone conclusion that the Hindu right is well on its way to taking over India.

We, on the other hand, have yet to develop anything resembling a consensus on what kind of society we wish to build, let alone a pluralist vision of the future. The secular liberal crowd claims to be the vanguard of pluralism but in aping the rhetoric of the American Empire ignores, wilfully or otherwise, the political and economic underpinnings of the religious right. The secularists may be committed to pluralism but also to elitism, and this is why they pose very little challenge to the populism of the right.

A significant chunk of society has imbibed the state ideology and therefore thinks that Islam, and Muslim practice, is totally irreconcilable with the ‘infidels’. I cannot help but feel that the rampant sectarianism within the Muslim faith (in Pakistan) is a direct consequence of us not being exposed to the religious diversity that our previous generations were fortunate enough to experience.

It is certainly worth trying to imagine what it must have been like in the pre-partition era; Muslim children celebrating Holi with their Hindu friends; being exposed to different written scripts, languages, foods, and forms of dress; developing a genuine appreciation for the religious sensibilities of all.

It is more than a little ironic that so many Pakistanis get a glimpse — admittedly a rather warped one — of such a society in their regular viewings of Bollywood movies. In other words, somewhere inside the embers of a plural society continue to burn, in spite of the ideological suffocations of the past seven decades.

I suspect that the generation of young people increasingly integrated into the globalised world through the new information technologies is, in any case, less parochial in its thinking. It is far removed from that dark period in the late 1940s and early 1950s when what was still a reasonably large community of Hindus in metropolitan centres like Karachi were forced to migrate.

Yet it is a rule of the human condition that our imagination rarely transcends what we have known, and our young people have grown up during and after the Zia years. What is most troubling about target killings of so-called ‘non-Muslims’ is that they do not trigger a yearning for a society in which religion is not used as an instrument of violence. Could it really be that we have forever evicted such an idea from our heads and hearts, never to return?

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, August 8th, 2014

A new challenge to Muslim world

I.A. Rehman

The challenge to the Muslim world’s stability presented by the Islamic State, earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has become quite serious over the past few days.

The challenge to the Muslim world’s stability presented by the Islamic State, earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has become quite serious over the past few days.

Baghdadi’s organisation comprising the breakaway extremist faction of Al Qaeda has made significant gains in Iraq. Following its capture of minor oil fields and demolition of quite a few heritage monuments it has seized control of the large dam on the Tigris and the international media is now warning of the possibility of a catastrophic flood.

These fears may appear exaggerated but the conflict in Syria continues, an incident has been reported on the border of Lebanon and according to an agency report, Saudi Arabia is strengthening its defences along the border with Iraq. The Arab fratricide is obviously taking a heavier toll than expected earlier.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India. NewAgeIslam, a well-known online forum for debate on Muslim affairs, has disclosed a charter of demands presented by a leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Salman Husain Nadvi, urging Saudi Arabia to establish a caliphate.

Maulana Nadvi is reported to have pleaded for a world Islamic army and argued against branding the religious militants as terrorists. Instead, these “sincere Muslim youth fighting for a noble cause” should be united in a confederation of jihadi organisations for worldwide action under the guidance of the ulema.

Maulana Nadvi is quoted as saying: “As for the issue of Qadianis, particularly Safavids [meaning Iran?] and those who abuse the sahaba [meaning Shias], we should not be afraid of them and we do not need to go to the US or Israel to ward off threats from them. Just recruit the Ahle-Sunnah youth from the Indian subcontinent [does that include Pakistan?] and form a powerful Muslim army of the Islamic world. After that there will be no need of the so-called army of the sick youth of the Gulf states.

If you are sincere towards the true faith, true path, Sunnah and for the protection of the true path of Islam, then simply make an appeal, a call. Five lakh youth from the Indian subcontinent will be provided.”

Maulana Nadvi is also quoted as saying: “Military training among the Muslim youth should be stressed. Every effort should be made to save them from freedom and social evils.”

Pakistani religious circles should not be unfamiliar with Maulana Nadvi. His grandfather, Syed Suleman Nadvi, a close associate of Shibli Naumani, was at one stage adviser to the Pakistan government. It is not easy to believe that Maulana Nadvi is unaware of the contradiction between his call for an all-powerful khalifa and the Quranic dictum that Muslims decide their matters through mutual consultation, or that he does not realise the consequences of his posturing for the Muslim world, the Indian Muslims in particular.

The logic of Maulana Nadvi’s letter, if it has been correctly reported, leads to the politics of religious exclusivism that has already caused the Muslims of the subcontinent colossal harm. Regardless of their reading of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power the best course for the Muslims of India, as indeed for Muslims anywhere else, is to adopt non-theocratic, inclusive political ideals.

Apart from the fear that Maulana Nadvi’s policy will exacerbate Shia-Sunni differences in India and elsewhere, the Indian Muslims’ relapse into communal politics, and revival of their suicidal tendency to look for succour beyond the national frontiers, will strengthen the rabid communalists in India’s majority community, especially among the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hawks, and further undermine the state’s secular assumptions. Any such development is bound to strengthen conservative and anti-democratic elements in Pakistan.

The need to repel the arguments of the new advocates of caliphate cannot be gainsaid. Unfortunately, the question of caliphate, its justification or otherwise, has not been seriously debated in Pakistan. The Muslims living in the Pakistan territories in the 1920s took the Khilafat agitation (1919-1924) perhaps a little more seriously than their co-religionists elsewhere in the subcontinent. They fought for the Turkish caliphate with more passion than reason and cursed the British for not heeding their prayers for saving the caliph though his own community had had enough of him.

The subject was discussed by Allama Iqbal in the last of his 1930 lectures, published under the title The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and he defended the decision of the Turkish Grand National Assembly that the functions of the caliph could be performed by democratically elected representatives of the people.

Iqbal quoted Ibn Khaldun to argue that there was no unanimity among Islamic authorities on the idea of a universal caliphate; two other views were that caliphate was “merely a matter of expediency” and that there was “no need of such an institution”.

Allama Iqbal described Ibn Khaldun’s argument in favour of changes in the concept of caliphate as the first dim view of international Islam that was taking shape in the 20th century. The lecture was marred by some contradictions Iqbal did not notice but it did offer a memorable warning to Muslim scholars “that a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay”.

The point that needs to be grasped is that the upholders of liberal Islam, for which the subcontinent’s scholars used to enjoy a clear distinction, in both Pakistan and India, must equip themselves now to meet the challenge to peace, democratic development, gender justice and love of heritage the storm in Iraq and Syria is posing.

For all one knows, Baghdadi may have supporters in Pakistan too. This country is in no position to bear the cost, in lives and material resources, of an intra-religious conflict that is being extracted from the Arab family.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Number in the news

Khurram Husain

An absurdity is doing the rounds, saying there are $200 billion of ill-gotten gains stashed by Pakistanis in Swiss bank accounts. Not only that, we are told that “a director” of a Swiss bank has himself “stated on record” that $97bn of Pakistani money is parked in his bank alone, and that a former Swiss foreign minister has also “stated on record” that the total sum of money stashed by Pakistanis is close to $200bn.

An absurdity is doing the rounds, saying there are $200 billion of ill-gotten gains stashed by Pakistanis in Swiss bank accounts. Not only that, we are told that “a director” of a Swiss bank has himself “stated on record” that $97bn of Pakistani money is parked in his bank alone, and that a former Swiss foreign minister has also “stated on record” that the total sum of money stashed by Pakistanis is close to $200bn.

These are absurd figures, and anybody who knows about banking or diplomacy will tell you that no such statements can possibly be made by a responsible director or minister.

But the news reports have attributed the words to the finance minister. When I asked the minister about the veracity of this number he denied ever having said such a thing. So where did these numbers come from? And why are they being attributed to the minister?

Here’s what happened. Back in May of this year, Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf asked the finance minister about the “steps being taken by the government to bring back assets of the country which are illegally deposited in Swiss Banks; and whether there is any proposal under consideration of the government to take help of the 2010 Swiss Law, the ‘Restitution of Illicit Assets Act (RIAA)’”.

The minister replied in writing that the government intends to take advantage of the RIAA but in order to do this the government needs to renegotiate the Pak-Swiss Tax Treaty currently in force. These negotiations are set to begin on Aug 26. That’s all.

But the minister’s reply was furnished in writing, in his absence, by the Parliamentary Secretary for Finance, Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan. The good secretary decided to go on the record himself, and speaking on behalf of the finance minister threw out the two additional bits of information on his own.

The next day the headlines zoomed in on the $200bn figure. When reporting the exchange one paper attributed the statement to “the government,” another attributed it to the secretary by name, and a third followed an older reporting convention and attributed it to the finance minister himself, since the secretary was speaking on the minister’s behalf.

And then we had a salacious cocktail.

And where did the secretary get his information from? He should tell us. For my part, the earliest mention I find of the $200bn figure is back in 2010 in an article by a pair of regular writers in a leading business daily of Pakistan. The article had an exciting headline: “Swiss ‘Return of Illicit Assets Act’: We can get billions back!” where, in one line, the authors blandly stated that “[a]ccording to an estimate, the money lying in Swiss banks of Pakistanis (sic) is to the tune of US $200 billion…”. Which estimate, by whom? We are not told.

Then in June, 2011, a leading TV anchor picked up the figure and dedicated a whole show to it. One of the authors of the original article was the lead guest. Nowhere in the entire show did the anchor think of asking where she obtained the figure from.

A few months later a dodgy wire service carried a news report headlined “Pakistan has $97 billion in Swiss banks” and attributed the figure to an unnamed director in a Swiss bank, giving its source as “messages being sent on the cell phones.” So SMS messages being forwarded around somehow got picked up by this wire service and turned into a news story. Once the story went out over the wires, two small papers picked it up and ran with it, giving it a place in the regular news flow.

Today, we’re hearing these numbers repeated almost every single day. In the last one week alone, for instance, half a dozen news outlets, large and small, have reported them. And just yesterday the leading business daily which first carried the figure dedicated its lead editorial to the issue, castigating the finance minister for having “vowed to bring back the $200 billion banked in Switzerland by Pakistanis” because it “raises expectations,” but not questioning the veracity of the number itself.

Yet, a quick search is all that is required to demonstrate that the number is garbage. On its website the Swiss National Bank actually provides a geographical breakdown of the assets and liabilities of all 80 banks under its supervision. The data shows that “amounts due” to customers from Pakistan in 2013 is just over one billion Swiss francs. The exchange rate is $1.10 to a franc. Now do the math.

It’s equally easy to see where the authors of the original article went wrong in generating their figures. Take, for example, the fifth piece they wrote on the matter, which appeared on July 25 in the same leading business daily, where they rely on a story from the Times of India to give a brief history of the amounts held in Swiss banks by Pakistanis. In one place they write that in 2010 this amount hit a “record low of 195bn Swiss francs”. But in the original Times of India story that they cite as their source, this figure is given as 1.95bn francs. Apparently a decimal point fell off during the cut and paste operation. In another place they have converted 3bn Swiss francs into $418bn, again with the decimal point as the casualty.

It’s a pity that this absurd number has been allowed to circulate in the news flow for this long without anyone asking after its veracity. But it’s a bigger pity that absurdities of this sort can turn the serious matter of retrieving ill-gotten gains into a joke.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Difficult to rig

Javed Masud

The common perception in Pakistan is that every general election, with the possible exception of that held in 1970, has been rigged. However, there is little analysis on the mode or extent of rigging.

The common perception in Pakistan is that every general election, with the possible exception of that held in 1970, has been rigged. However, there is little analysis on the mode or extent of rigging.

One generally ignored aspect is that for any government, however strongly entrenched, it is well nigh impossible to ‘steal the mandate’. If that were possible, the authoritarian regi­mes of Ziaul Haq or Musharraf would not have been so fearful of holding a general election. It was only after Musharraf felt confident about the electoral success of the so-called ‘King’s party’ that he opted for a general election. Even then, a simple majority proved elusive.

Ayub Khan also had to resort to restricting eligible voters to 80,000 (the ‘basic democrats’) when the number of Pakistanis of voting age was close to 60 million. What could have prompted Yayha Khan to venture into the untested experiment of holding a general election based on adult franchise? The only plausible explanation is that he had been assured by his military advisers that given the multiple number of parties, it was unlikely that anyone would secure a majority. But the election results stunned the junta and it had to adopt a different strategy to subvert the public mandate.

According to most accounts, the 1977 elections were ‘massively’ rigged and, therefore, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) protest movement. Yet, rigging allegations have not been subjected to much close scrutiny.

The White Paper published by the Ziaul Haq government was one such attempt but it hardly contains any tangible evidence of planned rigging. It merely contains ‘confessional’ statements by some officials about their ‘role’, for example that of Munir Hussain Shah, the chief secretary of NWFP in 1977: he was ‘directed’ to ensure that non-PPP candidates, including retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, should not be ‘allowed’ to win. Ironically, the only time the venerable Mr Khan won in an election was in 1977.

The sound and fury generated by the post-election PNA movement did convince many people about extensive rigging. The sordid episode of Jan Abbasi of the Jamaat-i-Islami being harassed and abducted to prevent him from contesting against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in Larkana was widely quoted as strong evidence of the government’s mala fide intentions. Notwithstanding this unjustifiable administrative abuse, it is inconceivable that in any fair election Bhutto could have been defeated in his home constituency.

Yes, in several constituencies — particularly in Punjab — anecdotal evidence suggests that candidates of the ruling party won with the connivance of local administration. In order to facilitate a quick redressal of such ‘rigging’, a presidential ordinance was issued empowering the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to investigate, which declared the results of some 15 constituencies invalid. However, this action or even the substantive offer of countrywide re-election failed to mollify the PNA leadership.

Subsequent events prove that the PNA had a one-point agenda: the ouster of the government followed by fresh elections. The participation of large crowds in the PNA’s protest movement convinced the leadership that in any ‘fair’ election, they would emerge winners. However, in the years following the Zia takeover, realisation dawned that it would not be possible to defeat the PPP; hence the chorus of ‘accountability before elections’. This provided a convenient ploy to postpone the elections indefinitely.

The first general election after Zia presents an interesting pattern. Apprehensive of the PPP’s prospects, the government resorted to several gimmicks. The increase in voting age from 18 years to 21, the introduction of separate electorates, the re­­quirement of a valid national identity card, the cobbling together of opposition parties in the form of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, doling out funds to ‘other’ parties and the elimination of the sword (the PPP’s original election symbol) from the list of approved election symbols were all meant to disenfranchise potential PPP voters. Yet, these shenanigans failed to prevent the PPP from emerging as the single largest party.

Pakistan’s electoral history has a clear message: even if the combined ‘evil forces’ — the ECP, returning officers, the caretaker chief minister of Punjab, a media house and the chief justice — had all decided to vest the electoral mandate in the party of their choice, they could not have succeeded.

The 2013 elections should have brought much joy to Imran Khan, who has emerged as a strong force. He can either build on that or regress to the PNA mode: mobilising public protest to destabilise an elected government.

Charlatans such as Tahirul Qadri and political orphans like Sheikh Rashid and the Chaudhries of Gujrat are prodding him to follow the second option, but his well-wishers hope that sanity will prevail. Khan’s decision will determine whether the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is relegated to a footnote in history — like Asghar Khan’s Tehreek-i-Istiqlal — or marches on to become a party representing national aspirations.

The writer is the former CEO of the Pakistan Credit Rating Agency.

javedmasud14

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

Policing Islamabad

Mohammad Ali Babakhel

The city of Islamabad is spread over only 906 square kilometres. However, given its proximity to KP and Punjab, and the presence of VVIPs, VIPs, parliamentarians and the diplomatic corps, policing Islamabad is very different from the rest of the country.

The city of Islamabad is spread over only 906 square kilometres. However, given its proximity to KP and Punjab, and the presence of VVIPs, VIPs, parliamentarians and the diplomatic corps, policing Islamabad is very different from the rest of the country.

Unlike other modern capitals, Islamabad is not purely urban but rather an amal­ga­ma­tion of rural and urban influences. Rapidly ex­­pan­­ding slums also pose a security challenge.

The Islamabad Capital Territory Police (ICTP) was established in 1981; it consists of five divisions and 18 police stations manned by 9,740 personnel.

Sensitive installations within its limits, including the Aiwan-i-Sadr, Prime Minister House, Parliament, Supreme Court, 81 foreign embassies, 329 madressahs, etc have increased its security obligations manifold.

To enhance the ICTP’s capabilities, increase in manpower alone is not the answer. Political ownership, transparent recruitment, quality training, technology-led solutions, community participation and a zero tolerance-based approach will deliver results.

First a word about current personnel; the officers at police station and sub-divisional levels in the capital have been working there for decades and need to be rotated; merit-based recruits from the provinces can instead take their place.

The situation warrants an ‘integrated poli­c­ing model’. As ICTP operates under federal control, it can synergise its efforts with other federal agencies.

Moreover, its location between KP and Punjab makes systemic coordination with both provinces imperative. The city has 164 entry points; to secure these satisfactorily, infrastructural and technological solutions must be employed. Federal agencies can also play a lead role in this.

The nakabandi style of policing using blockades has proved ineffective. Instead of wasting manpower on police barriers, strengthening outermost cordons will better secure the capital. Existing nakabandis should be redesigned to function like the Japanese koban (police boxes), and designated as public facilitation centres equipped with technology, surveillance equipment and a database of criminals and stolen vehicles. Such an initiative will redefine the role of police deployed on the street besides improving police visibility and image. The proposed centres should be linked with Nadra and the motor registration authority.

Attention must also be paid to improving response time. Communication gaps in the traditional chain of command often delay response, with media persons sometimes arriving at the scene before the first responders. Better coordination and clearly defined roles for officers at different levels will facilitate mobility. Mock exercises with other civic agencies can pinpoint operational flaws and improve efficiency.

During hostage situations and live combat with terrorists, operational commanders need clear instructions; a successful outcome can­­not be assured with mere operational reinforcement. Often, ambiguity leads to shifting the responsibility further down the chain of command.

To deal with terrorism, the ICTP is still reliant on the old, understaffed Criminal Investigation Department and the establishment of a specialised counterterrorism department with an intelligence unit and a rapid response force is urgently required.

Of late Islamabad has been a venue for large-scale protests, necessitating special attention to crowd management skills. In such situations, the ICTP often borrows constabulary from other provinces who lack awareness of Islamabad’s dyna­mics, which creates operational complications for field commanders. A trai­ned, dedicated anti-riot unit equipped with modern equipment will improve crowd management.

Since the diplomatic enclave and sensitive installations are located with­­in the red zone, demonstrations should be ban­ned in the latter.

To enhance operational autonomy, institutional structures in place in Dhaka, Delhi and Colombo can be replicated. It is also worth noting that while operations wings of all provincial capitals in Pakistan are headed either by additional IGs or DIGs, the ICTP operations wing is headed by an SSP, whereas the situation warrants the post being occupied by a high-ranking officer.

Finally, there are always external influences operating in capitals, which make it difficult to protect them without proactive intelligence. This can scarcely be provided by the ICTP’s special branch with its outdated methods that require immediate revamping. Recently established intelligence units at police station level are the outcome of a realisation of the importance of ‘intelligence-led policing’. Community policing can also prove very successful in a city like Islamabad with its 85pc literacy rate.

It is thus important for the top police management to convince the political bosses to transform the capital police into a ‘public-friendly service’.

The writer is a police officer.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2014

No winner in the game

Zahid Hussain

The elephant is already in the room and surely by invitation this time. A panic-stricken civilian administration has handed over the security of the nation’s capital to the army at its own peril.

The elephant is already in the room and surely by invitation this time. A panic-stricken civilian administration has handed over the security of the nation’s capital to the army at its own peril.

The Triple One Brigade, whom we hear about mostly in times of military coups, is now deployed around key government installations. All this is happening as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri threaten, separately, to force the government out through a ‘revolution march’, providing enough fuel to keep alive our ever-active rumour mill. The development is ominous nonetheless.

One does not expect anything like the storming of the Bastille on Aug 14. Neither Khan’s young brigade, nor Qadri’s few thousand fanatical followers are the vanguard of revolution. But the government’s own ineptness and paralysis is proving to be its unravelling. An absentee prime minister, a sulking interior minister and some, other irrelevant members of the cabinet do not evoke much public faith in a crumbling power structure.

True to his self, Nawaz Sharif plans to counter the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) long march with unprecedented pomp and show on Independence Day starting with a military parade and the hoisting of supposedly the biggest-ever national flag. Curiously, this military drill is not a routine part of Independence Day celebrations; it is taking place as the civilian administration has abdicated the responsibility of security of the capital, leaving it to the army to handle reported terrorist threats.

This lends some credence to the opposition allegation that it is a deliberate move by the government to involve the military in the political conflict — with dangerous consequences. For sure, Article 245 has routinely been used in conflict zones in order give legal cover to security forces fighting insurgencies. But this provision has rarely been invoked in urban areas in times of peace.

It was in 1977 that the army was summoned by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at the height of the Pakistan National Alliance movement in Lahore and Karachi under Article 245. And that ‘mini martial law’ was perhaps the beginning of the end of the Bhutto government. Article 245 was later also invoked by Nawaz Sharif in Karachi in 1998.

Surely one cannot draw a parallel between the situation then and now, but the outcome may not be very different. What is worse this time is that the army has been called in even though there has not been any serious incident of violence or a law and order situation that cannot be handled by civil law-enforcement agencies.

One wonders whether it is pure naivety on the part of the prime minister or whether he actually believes the army will come to his rescue in a time of crisis. Sharif needs to take a lesson from history for his own sake. It is a great plunge to take from the politics of confrontation to the politics of survival.

One oft-repeated argument offered by the government is that the invocation of Article 245 was linked with the operation in North Waziristan meant to give legal cover to the troops dealing with any militant backlash. But why has this only been exercised in Islamabad? Why not Peshawar, Lahore or Karachi? Interestingly, the provision has been invoked more than six weeks after the start of the operation. Is there any explanation for why now? Particularly since there has been virtually no major terrorist incident in the city during that period that it would require extraordinary measures?

It is now open season with Khan and Qadri having clearly pronounced their intention of bringing down the Sharif government. They may not be following a prepared script, but it is apparent that they cannot achieve their goal in a constitutional way.

There is no way Imran Khan can force early elections with his party’s relatively small presence in parliament. He certainly would not have the support of any other political party for his demand. Early elections would only be possible if Sharif agreed to dissolve the National Assembly. But why would he do that with no serious challenge emanating from within the house?

The only option left to Imran Khan is to increase public pressure through violent street protests. It is a big gamble that may have worked in a cricket match but surely not in the complex game of politics.

Let us assume that the PTI is somehow able to mobilise hundreds and thousands of people for a prolonged sit-in and completely paralyse the capital. A protracted stalemate with the government unable to use the coercive power of the state would inevitably lead to complete chaos and anarchy. This scenario would only strengthen the military’s position as the sole arbiter of power.

Much before this stand-off, the military had already started reasserting its authority through rising tension with the Sharif administration on Musharraf’s treason trial and a host of other policy issues. The public profile of the military leadership has further risen with the North Waziristan operation.

The well-publicised picture of army chief Gen Raheel Sharif spending Eid with his soldiers on the frontline and with the IDPs in Bannu came as a sharp contrast to the prime minister missing from the scene and spending time between his two favourite destinations — Saudi Arabia and Murree. Sharif’s lacklustre attitude has increasingly raised questions about his leadership capability.

All that was certainly in Imran Khan’s calculations when he decided to up the ante, declaring war on the Sharif government. However, it is not going to be that simple. The PTI leader seems to be in a hurry to grasp power, but he may not be the winner in the endgame.

Army intervention, which he may well be aware of, would not put him on the throne. There is no probability of early elections even if Imran Khan is able to create a situation for Sharif’s exit. It will not be the politicians, but the generals who would then decide the future course. It is yet another episode of the Pakistani political soap opera, a tragi-comedy.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100

Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Fiction of the failed state

Rafia Zakaria

These are familiar questions in Pakistan’s current dark times: is the state failing, has it failed, will it fail? These are all questions that have appeared in ink in Pakistani newspapers, fallen from the lips of new analysts, been scattered around by politicians.

These are familiar questions in Pakistan’s current dark times: is the state failing, has it failed, will it fail? These are all questions that have appeared in ink in Pakistani newspapers, fallen from the lips of new analysts, been scattered around by politicians.

A centrepiece in the scientific analysis of governance, a sense of gravity, is invested in the idea; and, consequently, ‘state failure’ is imagined as an objective standard against which existing inadequacies can be tabulated.

In the chaos of Pakistani politics — the inveterate corruption, the endemic nepotism, the lack of oversight and objectivity — the prospect of standards, especially objective ones, gleams and glistens. In this climate of developing-nation despair, therefore, the term “failed” state has been embraced.

Foreign commentators, many of whom make their living on their expertise on Pakistan’s unravelling, have offered their own affirmations. Writing in 2012, following the immediate release of the Failed States Index 2012, Robert Kaplan — the chief geopolitical strategist for Stratfor — dictatorially declared: “Perversity characterises Pakistan.” Many of his ilk have happily followed suit, heaping all sorts negative terms, each supposedly attached to the pristine numerical objectivity of the ‘failed states measure’.

As it turns out, the term “failed state” is a hoax designed precisely to capitalise on the insecurities of struggling sovereignties like Pakistan.

In an article published in The Guardian newspaper over a year ago, commentator Elliott Ross exposed both the term’s origins and the nefarious intentions for whose fulfilment it was coined. The term and the Failed States Index which accompanies it is the child of a man named J.J. Messner, a former lobbyist for the private military industry.

Not only does Mr Messner not disclose this inconvenient fact about his past employment history, he also refuses to release any of the raw data that goes behind the index that he publishes.

Despite this, many political scientists who are usually quite vigilant about trawling through each other’s data to verify claims have accepted the presence of the index in their midst.

As Ross explains, this is not an accident. The term itself was coined by two men, Gerald Helman and Steven Ratner, both employees of the US State Department in 1992. In an article appearing in Foreign Policy (which also hosts the dubious index, that has since been renamed the Fragile States Index), the duo argued that new countries emerging on the world’s map were incapable of functioning or sustaining themselves as members of the international community.

What these weak countries (which, it was implied, were near-delusional in imagining themselves as functioning equally in the international realm) needed was the ‘guardianship’ of the Western world. This, in turn, would ensure the ‘survivability’ of these poor hapless countries (Pakistan among them).

In simple terms, the idea of state failure itself was premised on the assumption that weak or new states should allow and welcome intermeddling from Western overlords whose ‘guardianship’ was really something to be grateful for.

Unsurprisingly, in the years hence, the term has become a mainstay of justifying interventions and intermeddling via the ‘guardian’ countries themselves or international institutions whose hold over global economics permits them similar licence.

An attached plethora of jargon has emerged to support and affirm the concept, which is now alloyed with partners such as ‘ungoverned spaces’. All of them are geared towards the central purpose of defining countries in the developing world as crucially, inherently and ultimately lacking.

The moral underpinning of this framing is that imperial overreach is not something dirty and unwarranted, colonial and corrupt, but necessary, even benevolent. The intervening states are grandfathering, helping along, assisting, and aiding. They are not meddling, provoking, or engaging in self-interested puppetry geared towards accomplishing their own strategic interests, positioning their pawns for their own proxy wars.

Words and typologies determine the way we see the world and our own position in it. The dominance of the jargon of state ‘failure’ means not simply the lens of the world averted from the moral wrongs that emit from intermeddling but also Pakistan’s own image of itself.

Poised against the idea that Pakistan is a ‘failed’ country, the definition of nationalism or its attached patriotism becomes in turn equally deluded. If the world heaps the vacuous term ‘failure’ in order to whitewash the strategic intermeddling of the more powerful on our borders, those opposing it imagine global isolation as a response.

In this oppositional game, opposing the vocabulary of failure seems to require, in turn, a denial of all inadequacies, an imagined utopian purification all poised on a turning away from the world. The cumulative result is a double distortion, where actual problems are hidden away under the dictates of political gloss from within countries or from their would-be overlords without.

In studying international politics and global demarcations, those who are or would be analysts of Pakistan’s condition, or of the post-colonial quandaries and infrastructural inadequacies of any developing country, must be wary of the vocabulary of development and global benevolence.

In the proliferation of glib terms like ‘failure’ and ‘rentier’ and ‘ungovernability’ are the mis-characterisations and deceptions of the new colonialism. Like the old, it presents the shadows of intervention as weightless and the obligations of aid as never, ever, nefarious. The arrangement of data, the selection of criterion, and the ranking of the always-wanting must, because of this, be open to epistemological questioning.

The idea of the ‘failed’ state is a fiction; digging out from its wreckage of selfhood and sovereignty requires not its discounting, but a double challenge that goes beyond both the incorrect characterisations of others and the real flaws we know to be our own.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

A mini Pakistan

Zubeida Mustafa

Ten years ago when I decided to downshift and move into an apartment from an independent house, I was warned by a friend that I should think twice about the change. She said every apartment dweller she knew was constantly complaining of the difficulties caused by the non-cooperation of residents.

Ten years ago when I decided to downshift and move into an apartment from an independent house, I was warned by a friend that I should think twice about the change. She said every apartment dweller she knew was constantly complaining of the difficulties caused by the non-cooperation of residents.

I didn’t heed her advice as I thought Karachi living had its problems, whether one’s abode was a mansion, a townhouse, or a flat in a complex. One had to figure out how to cope.

In retrospect, I feel apartment-living was the microcosm of life in Pakistan — and full of pitfalls. When I moved in, I was in a state of bliss. Having experienced two armed robberies in my home — when living in an independent house — I felt secure after a long time. The flat was bright and airy and had a view of the sea.

Admittedly, there were disadvantages too but one could manage with some adjustments. The builder was an affable gentleman who lived on the premises and managed the resident’s association with the help of a supervisor working on a voluntary basis. No one bothered to ask why this favour. As was only to be expected, the supervisor didn’t observe regular office hours and whenever we inquired for him we were told he had gone to the bank. That seemed to be his preferred activity. Only later I learnt that he was overseeing the construction of the builder’s new project.

We had to pay monthly maintenance dues — rather high compared to what residents of other buildings paid. The accounts were not audited or displayed. At my insistence, the supervisor would present me a sheet every month giving rough calculations of income and expenditure. Most intriguing was that the accounts were always in the red, with the backlog deficit amounting to hundreds of thousands of rupees. Most of this amount, I was informed, was the outstanding bill of water suppliers.

Over the years the quality of services began to depreciate. The guards began to look shabby as their uniforms were not replaced. Security deteriorated and strangers entered the building unchecked. Lifts no longer functioned as efficiently as before. One went permanently out of order but its maintenance charges continued to appear regularly in the accounts. Water, though brackish, had been supplied round the clock by bowsers. But eventually a time came when taps would frequently run dry and the generator couldn’t be operated as there was no money for fuel. Common spaces began to be encroached upon and decisions were taken unilaterally by those who felt strong enough to impose their likes and dislikes on others.

What was conspicuously absent was good governance, exacerbated by the indifference of residents to the basics of community life. The KBCA ostensibly regulates the construction and transfer of apartments in the city, home to about 5pc of Karachiites. But it doesn’t have a say in their running. Unsurprisingly, residential complexes have become islands of autonomy combined with degrees of anarchy all over the city. Residents associations are not mandatory under the law and are generally non-existent or not officially registered. People with clout seize control and use their powers illegally for personal advantage.

In our association, a police official was designated as the secretary. He operated as is the wont of his profession in Pakistan. He once had a chowkidar thrown into the lock-up to tame him.

The majority of the residents remained stoically silent before those wielding power — grumbling when they could — because they had abdicated their moral authority to demand accountability by defaulting on their dues. Few showed up for the rare meetings that were called. Nearly 17pc units were permanently locked as their non-paying owners were settled abroad. Others cheated in lesser ways.

Then came a stage when the builder quietly sold his apartment and left with his supervisor in tow without informing anyone. Before the administration could collapse, a few of us decided to mobilise the residents and take corrective measures. It was not easy. People who spent lakhs on the interiors of their flats had become used to neglecting common spaces. They had no sense of ownership for what was a joint possession. Hence few volunteered to take any responsibility.

But a group of us persisted and managed to get a substantial number round to agree to a regularised arrangement underpinned by registered bylaws. There was hope. Corruption had to be eliminated to balance the budget. We dismissed one chowkidar who was suspected of being in league with the water mafia. He was known to be in the good books of the secretary. That proved to be the last straw. There was a showdown and the reformers withdrew as there was no protection for them. The complex was back to square one when I called it a day. Matters, I hear, are worse than before but there is a deafening silence.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2014

Lest we forget

Mahir Ali

A hundred years ago today, Britain’s prime minister Herbert Asquith stood before the House of Commons to make his government’s case for hostilities against Germany — two days after war had been declared.

A hundred years ago today, Britain’s prime minister Herbert Asquith stood before the House of Commons to make his government’s case for hostilities against Germany — two days after war had been declared.

Several of the debates that raged in the run-up to that horrific conflict remain unresolved a century later, and one particular cause for wonderment is that more concerted efforts were not made to halt the drift towards catastrophe. The scale and duration of the slaughter that lay ahead were obviously unclear at the time, yet who could seriously have doubted that a clash of empires at that juncture would be harsher and more complex than the periodic European wars of preceding centuries?

“We hold it to be the patriotic duty for all good citizens to oppose to the utmost the participation of this country in the greatest crime of our time,” the Manchester Guardian editorialised on the day Britain joined the war. The following day it declared “All controversy is now at an end” and called for a united front against Germany, yet reiterated its regret that the nation had failed to steer clear of “the greatest calamity that anyone living has known”, and predicted: “Someday we shall all regret it.”

The primary focus in centennial commemorations has been on honouring the dead, which is unexceptionable, but sanctimonious talk of sacrifices implies that there was some worthy cause or noble principle at stake. It’s important to remember, 100 years on, that there wasn’t.

The pacifists and conscientious objectors who did indeed sacrifice their liberty and sometimes even their lives by opposing what they saw as an unjust and unnecessary war are unlikely to receive honourable mentions at official ceremonies. Nor, at the opposite end of the spectrum, should we expect a spotlight on those who shamelessly relished the spectacle.

The latter included Winston Churchill, who confessed to a friend halfway through the conflict: “I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment, and yet — I cannot help it — I enjoy every second of it.”

One cannot help comparing his exuberance with that of the Israelis who congregate on hillsides overlooking Gaza to watch the region’s most formidable military force pounding the inmates of the world’s largest prison with high-tech weaponry.

Both the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration, which determined the subsequent shape — and arguably sealed the fate — of the Middle East, date back to the period of the First World War. Interestingly, though, 10 years before the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which announced London’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, British prime minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman had written a report that said: “There are people who control spacious territories teeming with manifest and hidden resources … Their lands were the cradles of human civilisations and religions. These people have one faith, one language, one history and the same aspirations…

“If, perchance, this nation were to be unified into one state, it would then take the fate of the world into its hands and would separate Europe from the rest of the world. Taking these conditions seriously, a foreign body should be planted in the heart of this nation to prevent the convergence of its wings in such a way that it could exhaust its powers in never-ending wars. It could also serve as a springboard for the West to gain its coveted objects.”

To which one might add, QED.

Meanwhile, another anniversary is being marked today whose political fallout continues to attract controversy. The atomic bombardment of Hiroshima 69 years ago and Nagasaki three years later hastened Japan’s surrender in the Second World War, but plenty of historians have credibly argued that it could have been accomplished without demonstrating the genocidal power of those awful weapons — suggesting that the United States’ actual intention was to intimidate the Soviet Union.

In the absence of conclusive evidence, the argument may never be settled. There’s a tangential echo, though, in the Israeli insistence that its latest bout of mass murder is necessary to protect its civilian population against crude rockets from Gaza that were notoriously incapable of doing much harm even before the Iron Dome anti-missile contraptions were put in place.

The dumb rockets and the pathetic tunnels are a measure of Hamas’s weakness, not its strength, but were Israel serious about self-defence it would be planning to end its occupation instead of perpetrating unspeakable atrocities and offering Goebbelsian justifications.

Israel doesn’t have a monopoly over the Nazi mindset, but it does come across as particularly incongruous among those whose ancestors bore the brunt of Hitlerian barbarity. It would seem ‘never again’ doesn’t count when it’s Zionists who are in a position to indulge in genocide.

And, lest we forget, the proportion of civilian casualties in the First World War was considerably smaller than it is in Gaza.

Published in Dawn, Aug 6th, 2014

Interpretations of outcomes

Shahid Kardar

Why is there so much disagreement on the prescriptions and strategies to achieve the aspired goals of growth and poverty reduction? And why are perceptions and interpretations of economic growth and outcomes, so different? It is too simple to argue that those opposing official themes will invariably debunk government achievements and never give credit even when it is well earned.

Why is there so much disagreement on the prescriptions and strategies to achieve the aspired goals of growth and poverty reduction? And why are perceptions and interpretations of economic growth and outcomes, so different? It is too simple to argue that those opposing official themes will invariably debunk government achievements and never give credit even when it is well earned.

This article attempts to examine why perceptions vary on outcomes of government policies and actions.

In this writer’s view, this is because interpretations and some official data may not be consistent with people’s own experiences. Disagreements between the viewpoints of the government and the governed need to be understood in terms of the different perspectives from which each side defines an issue, analyses policies and examines outcomes. And that the aggregate macro results when disaggregated into smaller components that more clearly reflect people’s experiences may help explain the passionate manner in which differences in points of view are expressed and argued.

Disagreements are reinforced by doubts about the credibility of government-generated data, as brought out poignantly by recent controversies. Critics are labelling it ‘data fudging’ with the government disingenuously defending it as mere typos!

Observers believe that poverty has increased in terms of larger numbers (as opposed to percentages of population) of the poor. The claim of a declining incidence of poverty is not held out by their daily experience, eg when they see more beggars at traffic lights. This is compounded by their own experience of a widening gap between incomes and goods and services purchasable from this income, eg, education, health, utilities and housing.

Averages tend to be deceptive and whereas income- and expenditure-based poverty may be falling, this ‘average’ may not be capturing how some members of the household, especially women and children, may be facing malnutrition as a result of the rising share of family spending on food.

Also, this poverty measure may not be fully reflecting the changing consumption basket, which would render people’s experience of being worse off at variance with official statistics (on inflation and the proportion of households below the poverty line) that suggest a decline in the incidence of poverty and the rate of inflation.

Consumer preferences could be changing with a growing middle class — its rising affluence forcing it to shift away from traditional to modern goods. But then weaker household members may be worse off and increases in utility prices absorbing a greater share of household spending. Resultantly, the official poverty line may well be underestimating the true cost of attaining calorie requirements, especially considering the accusations that the government is manipulating inflation-related data.

However, incidence of poverty must have reduced with the growing size and proportion of a more visible middle class, reflected in the increasing number of cars, motorcycles and mobile phones. And this expansion in the middle class must have come from those graduating out of the ranks of less privileged households and not from affluent segments falling in middle-class status; that is, the proportion of the poor in the population must have declined.

Moreover, the decline in the proportion of the poor on the basis of calorie intake could have resulted from households cutting their expenditures on education and health to meet their calorie requirements. And from the quantity and quality of services in education, health, safe drinking water, etc, provided by the government having worsened but without this deterioration showing up in the poverty measure. Income- and expenditure-based measurements of poverty are not designed to capture the ‘quality’ aspect of services.

The rise in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and strands of cancer (all more expensive to manage) are making greater demands on scarce government health services as well. With a stagnant, if not falling, ratio of health spending to GDP, the public perceives, not surprisingly, a weakening in the quality of health services provided by the government.

There has also been a steady decline in the quality and efficiency of civil servants and government institutions and, resultantly, the coverage and quality of public services available to the citizenry. The deterioration in the quality of utility services (particularly of electricity and gas) has accentuated negative individual experiences. None of this is picked up by income- and expenditure-based poverty indicators.

Furthermore, individual and collective experiences suggest that ‘markets’ in Pakistan are characterised by pockets of monopolistic or oligopolistic power structures. These structures do not allow the free functioning of markets. The losers are consumers with little voice.

Examples repeatedly highlighted include: money lenders and arthis in rural areas; cartels formed by fertiliser, cement and sugar manufacturers who regularly and freely manipulate prices; motor car assemblers — Toyota, Honda, Suzuki — that are having a field day with little exposure to competition; Wapda for its high tariffs partly because of corruption and inefficient operations, cellular phone operators with consumers being charged for a busy network; the large gap between the lending rates of banks and what they pay to depositors — even after the privatisation of most of the banking system, etc.

Economic policies of governments are influenced by these agents, who have market power and operate in a structure that is not competitive and does not function freely. Hence, the theory, and the rhetoric, underlying government policy appear to be flawed and out of line with practices and reality.

In a system in which most state actors appear to be personally prospering, and the lifestyles of public representatives and civil and military bureaucrats financed from the public purse are becoming more lavish (newer and more expensive cars, official housing, grants of developed urban plots for military and civil bureaucrats, etc), it becomes difficult for the public to accept that their belts be tightened to lower the level of the government’s budget deficit.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Travel can heal any stubborn myopia

Jawed Naqvi

‘Hasad se dil agar afsurda hai, garm-i-tamasha ho/Ki chashm-i-tang shaayad kasrat-i-nazaara se va ho’. (If the heart is stricken with churlish envy, then you must/Open the apertures of the mind with wanderlust.)

‘Hasad se dil agar afsurda hai, garm-i-tamasha ho/Ki chashm-i-tang shaayad kasrat-i-nazaara se va ho’. (If the heart is stricken with churlish envy, then you must/Open the apertures of the mind with wanderlust.)

Mirza Ghalib’s prognosis for travel is said to have been prompted by a petty streak he came across in his demeanour towards arch-rival Zauq, a fellow poet patronised by the Mughal court. The atonement spawned Ghalib’s eloquent description of mid-19th century Calcutta and Banaras.

While it may offend Urdu buffs, let’s offer Ghalib’s remedy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a victim of socio-cultural myopia that stems from his allegiance to Hindutva, as distinct from the acknowledged lure of Hinduism, which Ghalib celebrated in Banaras, Mr Modi will find benefit in the poet’s prescriptions.

Take the Mughal poet’s love of the temples of Banaras where he dreamt of wearing the ahraam, the unstitched robe of Muslim pilgrims. Isn’t that the culture Mr Modi’s handpicked mendicants of falsified history wish to snuff out from school textbooks?

In some ways it would seem to be a blessing that Mr Modi has discarded the pompous tradition of carrying handpicked journalists on the prime minister’s foreign trips. The media indulged him during his election campaign when saturated communication with voters proved handy. Now that he has got where he wants to be, he could use his periods of takhliya, an oriental practice of solitude favoured by mediaeval rulers, from public scrutiny to contemplate his next foreign tour, preferably alone.

Let’s begin with the two countries in India’s immediate neighbourhood the Indian leader decided to visit first. His tour of Nepal would have just wound up. Most Indian leaders have made it a point to visit the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, but Mr Modi chose to underline the rendezvous with a much thicker felt pen. In doing so, did he seek an ideological fellowship with Nepalese Hindus? In which case he has missed the point about Nepal’s recent history — its unshackling from years of organised religion as state policy inflicted for decades by its former ruling coteries.

Nepal has advanced from a feudal Hindutva-friendly monarchy to become a secular democracy that mirrors an emancipated Hindu majority. There are many reasons to applaud Mr Modi’s promise of non-interference in Nepal’s affairs, not the least because Rajiv Gandhi had shot himself in the foot by imposing an insulting economic blockade on it. Now Mr Modi should rein in his Hindutva brotherhood that seems eager to undo the gains of liberal Hinduism in Nepal, not the least by promoting the discredited monarchy.

In landlocked Bhutan, his first foreign visit, Mr. Modi will have noted the lush organic farmlands spread across the mountainous terrain, a far cry from India’s predominantly toxic fertiliser-fed agriculture. There is something to be said for the environment-friendly policies of the tiny Buddhist kingdom, particularly its non-consumerist route as a measure of the gross national happiness it offers its people.

Mr Modi’s meeting with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff would have brought memories of his very own South Asia, home to the world’s first woman prime minister and several others between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh subsequently. Moreover, Ms Rousseff surely pulled off a coup of sorts by successfully staging the mega soccer tournament recently, a touch of class for a country that is striving to come out of its economic difficulties not dissimilar to India’s.

While in Brazil, there could have been an occasion to glance at the people’s struggle against low wages in sweatshops. Their protests went alongside the World Cup and only gained in appeal when opposed. The share in the country’s governance of the indigenous people, the primacy of political space they enjoy and the dignity accorded to the tribes that want protection from the poisoned chalice of corporate growth and suicidal industrial development make a good point.

From his South African interlocutor at the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Mr Modi might have gleaned the art of dealing with a bitter history of colonial subjugation without losing the proverbial shirt.

In the leaders of Russia and China present at BRICS, Mr Modi could see two of the keenest enthusiasts in the fight against religious terrorism of the kind originally exported from Afghanistan. Also Russia and China have long buried their Ussuri river border shootout, he will note.

Perhaps the most important visit for anyone bogged down by Ghalib’s chashm-i-tang in today’s world should be Japan. Considering that it has not completely recovered from the trauma of its nuclear holocaust, Japan offers a key lesson in its anti-nuclear arms policy.

I was in Tokyo when the Fukushima nuclear disaster was triggered by a devastating tsunami. It was an experience to observe the calm and serene Japanese citizens lining up for miles at the telephone booths to speak very briefly to their families. To change a nagging provincial flavour, Mr Modi might feel tempted to relish the great Japanese tea ceremony, usually served without milk.

In Washington in September, Mr. Modi must shun the domestic blame game about which American administration robbed him of his US visa for his errors of omission and commission in 2002. He should try instead to enjoy a new TV channel launched last week in the heart of the country whose official policy, going by the message on its dollar bills, is belief in God.

He should meet David Silverman, president of American Atheists that threatens to “provide a breadth of content, from science to politics to comedy, all centred around our common freedom from religion”. He could give India’s god-men a run for their money.

If, however, Mr Modi is averse to compromising on matters of faith he can next go to Pakistan though not without Reema Abbasi’s well-researched pictorial book on the amazing Hindu temples of Pakistan. It was recently launched in Delhi. Ghalib will be smiling.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Language imperilled

Khadim Hussain

It is unfortunate that the National As­sembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice recently rejected a bill seeking the status of national language for ‘regional languages’. Linguists across the world point out that referring to native tongues as ‘regional or local languages’ is derogatory. In this context, the bill would have been a welcome deviation from the state narrative of homogeneity and monolithic tradition. A major step towards accepting diversity, leading to more democratic behaviour, could have resulted with its passage.

It is unfortunate that the National As­sembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice recently rejected a bill seeking the status of national language for ‘regional languages’. Linguists across the world point out that referring to native tongues as ‘regional or local languages’ is derogatory. In this context, the bill would have been a welcome deviation from the state narrative of homogeneity and monolithic tradition. A major step towards accepting diversity, leading to more democratic behaviour, could have resulted with its passage.

Homogeneity lies at the core of the militant discourse that has permeated the thinking patterns of both state and society. It is a discourse that deprives people of a chance to understand the voices that emanate from different cultures, faiths and opinions. Homo­geneity decries everything that is different, unknown or unfamiliar. Its promotion in society leads to the suppression of indigenous voices, often through force. In the political domain, it leads to the centralisation of power and resources.

With the state increasingly supporting the discourse of homogeneity, we have seen political marginalisation that, in turn, has created deep fault lines in society. This approach is reinforced by a religious discourse which supports a single interpretation of faith, and is often accompanied by force.

How is the language issue linked to the militant discourse? The fact is that, in contrast to the latter, indigenous languages represent a number of social and cultural narratives that must be clearly understood by our bureaucracy and lawmakers.

The significance of native tongues goes beyond cultural aspects. Language is not only an identity marker, it is also closely related to the empowerment of a community. A community’s goal of sustainable development can only be achieved when indigenous knowledge is tapped and applied to local problems for local solutions.

Loss of a language thus also signifies the loss of indigenous wisdom, authentic cultures, a different worldview and of historical continuity. The promotion of several languages in the national narrative not only strengthens an alternative, more inclusive discourse, it also adds to the cumulative wisdom of society and state.

Unfortunately, linguists fear that almost half of an estimated 7,000 languages around the world may disappear by the end of the next century. Joshua M. Fishman, who has worked extensively on linguistic issues in the subcontinent, has suggested: “To abandon the language may be viewed as abandonment not only of the traditional doings and knowing but an abandonment of personal ancestral kin and cultural ancestral heroes per se.”

Two factors have contributed to the poor understanding of the link between linguistic diversity and pluralism in Pakistan. First, our universities hardly offer courses or encourage research in linguistic analysis. Second, little constitutional protection is offered to indigenous languages, as a result of which they are hardly promoted at the national level. This has also led to indigenous languages being stigmatised, causing their speakers to drift towards languages endorsed by the state.

There has been a strong emphasis on the promotion of Urdu and English in Pakistan since the country’s inception. This has been at the cost of linguistic diversity and to the disadvantage of state and society. While nobody denies the importance of English and Urdu, the exclusion of indigenous languages has paved the way for a narrow discourse besides lack of original research.

Moreover, education in one’s mother tongue in Pakistan is a rare phenomenon. It is erroneously assumed that being educated in one’s native language will lead to schisms and pola­­­risation. Academic research, Pakistan’s political history and the experiences of several multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic states bear witness that the introduction of in­­di­genous languages in several spheres of national life, including officialdom, leads to stronger institutions.

Linguists like Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine in their seminal work The Vanishing Voices have found a close relationship between biodiversity and linguistic diversity. It is one that seems to be as true for Pakistan as it is for Papua New Guinea, Brazil, Australia and India. Pakistan’s north, with its abundant biodiversity, is linguistically diverse as well. In fact, many of the languages spoken in this part of the country have scarcely been documented, and are under pressure from the competition they face from the more widely spoken languages.

It is becoming increasingly clear that socio-cultural and socio-political diversity depends on linguistic diversity. Acceptance of this diversity boosts a pluralist, democratic narrative and can help debunk a militant discourse that is increasingly becoming more dangerous as various groups compete to impose their particular worldview on society.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

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Twitter: @khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Lost civilian space

Moeed Yusuf

It is now all about Aug 14 it seems. But is it? Isn’t everything about the 14th a tactical distraction from the real strategic concern that neither our political masters nor the faujis have the courage to meet head on: as long as the present institutional power structures exist, we’ll keep failing irrespective of who rules the country.

It is now all about Aug 14 it seems. But is it? Isn’t everything about the 14th a tactical distraction from the real strategic concern that neither our political masters nor the faujis have the courage to meet head on: as long as the present institutional power structures exist, we’ll keep failing irrespective of who rules the country.

Consider.

Civilian governments, no matter who leads them, do not lord over the entire national pie. They have never had uncontested control over neighbourhood policies, they can do nothing with debt servicing and little with defence budgets, and the khaki corporate interests also remain more or less sacrosanct. Add public-sector current account payments to this and my back-of-the-envelope calculations tell me that we are talking about 70 to 80pc of the pie here.

Imagine how deep the dilemma is for any Pakistani prime minister: you win an election promising a reversal in fortunes, only to quickly realise that the rules of the game are frozen. You’ve got to prove yourself by manipulating 20 to 30pc of the pie as best you can. No matter what genius you bring along, this would prove to be a herculean task.

Next, the compounding factor: our civilian administrations have left much to be desired in managing even their share of the pie. Indeed, the urge to defend them in this highly constrained environment aside, do a collective read of the years of civilian rule and you can’t but abhor the mess they were.

The civilian sphere has been subject to mismanagement, pilferage, and neglect. And while there are many individuals within the political spectrum who espouse confidence, the bulk is not fit to be put in charge of such a complicated nation’s destiny.

This — the combination of the all but non-negotiable limits on civilian power and woeful incompetence within the civilian sphere — is Pakistan’s Gordian knot.

How do you fix this? There are basically two views here.

The first says that the army has no business encroaching upon civilian space and must go back to the barracks and follow Islamabad’s orders.

Of course, this is unquestionable. But it defies a basic principle of institutional power politics: status quo beneficiaries do not give up space voluntarily. Especially not in cases where the ‘opponent’ is perceived to be weak and where the status quo power is driven by a guardian mindset — that they believe they alone hold the key to national interest and survival.

Option 2: civilians utilise their 20 to 30pc space efficiently, improve basic governance, and acquire moral legitimacy over time. Proponents argue that if elected governments get to this point, they’ll have mass support and the military will have no space or desire (depending on who you ask) to keep the status quo frozen.

Unfair as it is to put the onus for reformation on the civilians, this view is certainly more pragmatic than simply wishing the military away.

Could our civilians pull this off?

To answer this, you’ve got to wonder why we expect the current stock of politicians, who rise on the basis of patronage and often see meritocracy as a threat, to deliver in ways that would truly give them moral legitimacy.

Some respond by arguing that the real hope lies not in the current stock but in the fact that if you allow an uninterrupted process of democracy for another 10-15 years, a new crop of politicians, more capable and carrying less baggage, will emerge.

Absolutely correct in as far as the hope must be pinned on a new crop. But misplaced if one thinks that just repeated elections will make this happen.

Go no farther than India. For all the accolades about un­­interrupted democracy there, take a look at the political class. Some change over 65 years? Yes. An overhaul of dynastic and hierarchical politics leading to less corrupt, more selfless politicians? No.

Without stretching this comparison, the bottom line is you can’t focus on elections in isolation if the goal is meritocratic politics. The system and context in which they take place must be evolved as well.

In Pakistan, you’ll have to focus on changing the nature of patronage politics, shifting what parties think their voters desire, creating mechanisms for new classes to enter and rise to the top in politics, and reorienting the poll processes so that the contest is not reduced to just one province every time.

A few silver bullets: holding a national census that will alter patronage patterns like nothing else; ensuring intraparty democracy to create space for revolving party leaderships; and redrawing provincial boundaries, especially breaking up Punjab which will ensure a fairer distribution of power and resources in Pakistan.

Only after this will the civilians be in a position to wrest their rightful space from the military. I’ll be hopeful when I see inqilabs promoting this agenda.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC. 

Published in Dawn, Aug 5th, 2014

Return of the gamekeeper

Babar Sattar

In the run-up to Aug 14 what is happening and why it is happening is as clear as why it ought not to be happening. Ayaz Amir is on the mark that the soft coup has already succeeded and khakis now have Nawaz Sharif on a tight leash for which the government itself deserves all the credit. Notwithstanding that civil-military imbalance is the bane of constitutionalism and democracy, one must give the khakis their due: with their unflinching focus on defining and controlling the rules, they are simply better at this game.

In the run-up to Aug 14 what is happening and why it is happening is as clear as why it ought not to be happening. Ayaz Amir is on the mark that the soft coup has already succeeded and khakis now have Nawaz Sharif on a tight leash for which the government itself deserves all the credit. Notwithstanding that civil-military imbalance is the bane of constitutionalism and democracy, one must give the khakis their due: with their unflinching focus on defining and controlling the rules, they are simply better at this game.

The khakis have been able to dominate our polity because they are the only ones in our polity able to distinguish between individual and institution and never allow the interests of the former to trump those of the latter.

Nawaz Sharif has proven himself incapable of such distinction. The Sharif camp argues that it is on one page with the khakis. The crucial flaw here might be mistaking warm personal relations between the prime minister and the army chief for a relationship of mutual trust and respect between the civilian and military parts of the state. Can personal rapport between the two Sharifs override the military’s institutional interests?

Sharif has traditionally been an embodiment of the status quo. Whatever illusions he might have conjured up about reforming institutional structures or his own style of governance during his years in exile now seem to have vanished.

Calling the military in aid of civil power in Islamabad under Article 245 ahead of Imran Khan’s march on Islamabad is a clear message that the rest of his term in office will be about nothing but survival. The problem with the politics of survival is that it sounds the death knell of governance and reform.

What will become of Sharif’s proactive India policy? Who will determine Pakistan’s foreign policy towards Afghanistan in wake of US troop withdrawal? What about the national internal security policy or Nacta or intelligence reform or a new anti-terror force? The distribution of power among various actors has quickly changed over the last few months. Sharif, the most powerful and dominant actor six months back, has now been sized up and boxed.

Have we returned to the ’90s? The judiciary (reeling from loss of credibility due to former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s controversial tenure and Khan’s broadside against its alleged partisanship) is no longer being perceived as a neutral arbiter.

With Geo neutered and its competitors enjoying the spoils of war, the media’s ability to shape narratives or act as a check on the abuse of power by the government or the khakis has largely dissipated. Rival political parties are once again at each other’s throats. And the military, as gamekeeper, reigns supreme behind the curtains.

In Pakistan all politics is personal. Whether it is Khan’s march on Islamabad or Sharif invoking Article 245, this battle is for control over Punjab. To say that Khan has been propped up by the khakis might sound derogatory on TV talk shows.

But no one understands Punjab’s proclivity to stay on the right side of power better than Sharif. In the ’90s, Punjab understood that no government was ever removed under Article 258(2b) to be brought right back. Likewise the guessing game today is only this: will the khakis go all the way to support Khan?

Sharif has elected to call the khakis to his aid in Islamabad not because he wishes Khan’s supporters to get into an altercation with the army or because the army might engage in Model Town-style maintenance of order. The invocation of Article 245 is only meant to send the message across Punjab: Sharif has khaki-patronage for now. The march on Islamabad by the PTI could never go anywhere unless the khakis elected to act in aid of the marchers. If the khakis act as arbiters and not as a dislodging force, the deal will be about reform and not re-election.

So why are the khakis saving Sharif? They are not. They are just getting back in control. As Ejaz Haider concluded in his recent analysis of Article 245 in the backdrop of the Islamabad march: “The army will come out as the rose between two thorns.”

The army has finally recovered the social and political space it lost under Musharraf’s unpopular years, which it couldn’t recover under Kayani. Here is a wartime army protecting Pakistan against the existential threat of terror, without political ownership, but with massive public support.

The role of the judiciary and the media as popular countervailing forces stands diminished. With the crash entry of the PTI in the political space, the compact of not seeking mid-term removal of governments (a lesson the PML-N and PPP learnt from their destructive politics of the ’90s) is dead in the water. And while playing favourites in Punjab had become harder even in the ’90s (with the PPP’s declining support base), the PTI’s emergence as a credible and impatient rival to PML-N has now created viable political options for the kingmaker.

It appears that Sharif’s politics will continue to be defined by his fear of Khan, as manifested in his equivocal policy on terror and foot-dragging on electoral reforms.

Faced with Khan on one side and the khakis on the other, Sharif seems to have concluded that sleeping with the enemy to acquire power might be bad, but not so much to preserve it. Khan’s politics now seems equally personal, whether reflected in his singular focus on Sharif’s ouster or his striking belief that Iftikhar Chaudhry single-handedly stole the 2013 election from him.

Politics is dirty business. But it is about to get dirtier. The Islamabad march is round one. It won’t be a knockout round. It will leave both antagonists beat up and the gamekeeper looking strong. It is unlikely to end in a settlement, leaving room for further rounds and the continuing need for a gamekeeper. Lost in this infighting and politicking will be the agenda of institutional, governance or policy reform, as well as the demand for constitutionalism, democracy and civil-military balance.

The writer is a lawyer.

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Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Between Gaza and Gujranwala

Umair Javed

On these very pages over the past week, a few writers have highlighted the disparity in response to two separate events — Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, and mob violence against Ahmadis in Gujranwala. This much-needed commentary correctly emphasises the hypocrisy visible in societal outrage, and the contradictory standard the public holds for violent acts against what is already a marginalised, and thoroughly ostracised community.

On these very pages over the past week, a few writers have highlighted the disparity in response to two separate events — Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, and mob violence against Ahmadis in Gujranwala. This much-needed commentary correctly emphasises the hypocrisy visible in societal outrage, and the contradictory standard the public holds for violent acts against what is already a marginalised, and thoroughly ostracised community.

What is still needed though is an explanation for why public/political reactions come out looking this skewed, this often.

What determines the amount of public attention towards a particular tragedy in Pakistan? What factors decide which community is worthy of sympathy and which deserves cold indifference?

On the issue of violence in Gaza, the aggressor state, Israel, occupies a larger-than-life presence within the public imagination in Pakistan. Part of this comes from the fact that the state vocally props up a particular position on Israel — whether it’s on international platforms like the UN, where their line is now largely pro-Muslim Ummah and hence pro-Palestine, or whether it’s through official documentation, like a passport, on which the state of Israel simply vanishes.

At the other end of the outrage spectrum, the impact of the state’s position is considerably darker. In a self-professed Islamic country, the Ahmadis are a constitutionally declared minority. Further coupled with the Second Amendment provision are extreme penalties for blasphemy and apostasy, both of which reaffirm the state’s official discrimination against this particular community.

Hence, how the state views a particular issue, or a particular group, becomes a first-level determinant of the public’s moral compass. What happens subsequently is that official positions take on a life of their own within society. A contemporary example from within the Israel-Palestine conflict is hyperbole-loving TV anchors, analysts, and televangelists characterising Israel as one of the three principle enemies of Pakistan; Zionists as a scheming cabal ruling the world; and Jews as the antagonists in an eternal battle against Muslims.

These aren’t official positions in the legal sense of the term (though it’s safe to assume many officers of the state do ascribe to them). What they do act as though are channels of bringing the issue much closer to home, within the Pakistani public conscience, via a simplistic cultural-religious understanding.

Like media personalities, religious political parties, and civil society groups, have incentives to pursue certain causes, delineate certain public positions, and perpetuate silence on some atrocities.

For example, the entire identity and worldview of Pakistan’s largest, (and since the ’90s, only properly functioning) student organisation — the Islami Jamiat Tulaba — is built on pan-Islamic causes. Vast numbers of students at higher education institutes across the country are recruited and then schooled into a particular religion-infused morality over particular causes.

Further down at the neighbourhood level, mosques belonging to all denominations have invoked the plight of Palestinian Muslims since as long as one can remember. It is this timeless prayer for ‘Falasteen ke musalman’ that has played such an instrumental role in making the Palestine conflict a household subject, and thus a national cause.

On the other hand, the state’s official position on Ahmadis translates into an exclusionary structure at the societal level, and one that ensures little to no outrage over acts of discrimination or violence.

Religious groups and other powerbrokers — using the space the state has so openly granted them — actively discriminate against Ahmadis in public life, and engage either in incitement, or carry out acts of violence. Hate literature, often with concocted stories about conspiracies against Islam, is disseminated at street corners, in mosques, and even at traffic lights as part of a dehumanising campaign.

To top it all, the country is currently witness to an entire movement — one that generates large amounts of funding — that exists solely for the purpose of marginalising this particular subset of the population. And because the entire apparatus of discrimination is violent, law-enforcement agencies or national-level politicians are either too desensitised already, or too wary to take up this cause, for fear of being killed and/or portrayed as anti-Islam.

Essentially then, there are two historical determinants of why we see such staggeringly different levels of outrage between Gaza and Gujranwala. The first is the state’s official position over time, which includes the legal framework it functions under, and the rhetoric it employs. In the case of Gaza, the government was quick and loud to condemn Israeli aggression, and even pledged monetary support for the Muslims of Palestine. In the case of Gujranwala, it maintains a scared distance, and a stony silence.

Outrage over a violent mob in Gujranwala, though, will never come even close to the same levels simply because the violence is itself the product of a successful, countrywide ideological campaign. This same campaign actively ensures that any minor tendency to empathise with this particular community is quashed, either through spreading more hate-speech, or through more violence.

Going with the current state of affairs, therefore, it seems quite predictable that incidents like Gaza will always trump incidents like Gujranwala on the outrage and condemnation front.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

The LeT threat

Huma Yusuf

THE timing may have seemed poor to some. Pakistan’s military is mired in a security operation in North Waziristan, which is also targeting the Haqqani network. The government has requested Afghan and US help in pursuing militants who have escaped across the Durand Line.

THE timing may have seemed poor to some. Pakistan’s military is mired in a security operation in North Waziristan, which is also targeting the Haqqani network. The government has requested Afghan and US help in pursuing militants who have escaped across the Durand Line.

The country is finally ‘doing more’, as it has so often been exhorted to by the US. In the midst of this, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Delhi and the US issued a joint declaration with India demanding that Pakistan bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

Kerry’s visit to India had already attracted global attention. He participated in the fifth Strategic Dialogue despite his personal involvement in urgent crises ranging from the Israel-Gaza nightmare to elections in Afgha­nistan and more. He then equated Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) with Al Qaeda and added disrupting its operations to his to-do list.

The thought of taking on yet another militant group — one with sprawling headquarters in the Punjabi heartland and an entrenched presence throughout the country — seems audacious, even ridiculous. But the idea of taking a staggered approach to tackling Pakistan’s militant groups is also fallacious and falls victim to the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ distinction which ignores the reality that groups such as LeT are harming Pakistan even if they aren’t launching direct attacks against its state symbols.

Of course, this is not the reason why Kerry decided to inflame the LeT issue — his concerns are rooted in broader geopolitical considerations. On the most cynical level, criticising LeT is a good way to ease relations with India. This is especially true when faced with a new prime minister who talks tough on terror (and Pakistan), has been denied a US visa for the past decade, and needs some cajoling if US-India relations are to improve.

Washington’s long-running obsession with LeT has long been perceived as an offering to India, a balancing ploy at a time when, owing to the more than decade-long conflict in Afghanistan, the US is more closely linked with Pakistan than India. As Michael Kugelman has written, Kerry in particular needed to say something India wants to hear because of the skewed nature of his personal relationships in the region — he’s very close to Pakistan’s military and civilian elite, but has not spent much time cavorting with Indians.

But focusing on LeT — banned in Pakistan but operating under another name — is not merely a savvy PR move. It relates directly to US interests in the region, which continue to be defined by the engagement in Afghanistan.

A group tracing its origins to the LeT is also accused of attacking Indian consulates in Afghanistan, most recently in Herat in May. A sustained LeT push against India’s presence in Afghanistan could reduce Delhi’s appetite to invest in development and capacity-building there. This is something the US wishes to avoid in the post-2014 scenario, when the world moves on from Afghanistan and funds to prop up Afghanistan’s economy and security forces start to dry up.

The US is banking on Indian involvement in Afghanistan as one source of stability after international troop withdrawal. In this context, any group that threatens to further undermine the fragile situation in Afghanistan — even if it’s via Indian installations — is a cause for worry.

Pakistanis are vulnerable to being swept up in the geopolitical implications of America’s singling out LeT at this time, and might talk themselves out of the fact that the group poses a threat. True, the LeT may not be launching attacks in Pakistan owing to its historic links with the security establishment. But the group is arguably doing something more dangerous: attempting to establish a ‘parallel state’ that erodes government writ and credibility.

The LeT maintains schools, hospitals and mosques throughout the country. Its welfare wings are often the first to provide relief for Pakistanis affected by natural disasters or internal displacement. Its increased presence in Sindh following the floods is one of the reasons for the rise in extremism there. LeT is reshaping Pakistani society in irreparable ways, and it would be tragic if a knee-jerk anti-India or anti-US response prevents Pakistan from taking this domestic threat more seriously.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Not a nanny state

Hajrah Mumtaz

IT would have been tragic in any case but is rendered even more so because of its senselessness, and the culpability of the victims themselves.

IT would have been tragic in any case but is rendered even more so because of its senselessness, and the culpability of the victims themselves.

Picture the scene: Karachi, the second day of the Eid holidays and people seeking to beat the heat and the power shutdowns. What better option in the city by the sea than to head out towards the beaches? This many did, and the Clifton and Hawkesbay beaches in particular were thronged with thousands.

But this is a city that has many ways to kill; a day later, it was confirmed that nearly two dozen had drowned. Another 24 hours, and the number had spiralled to upwards of 30. Several of the victims had shown up on the beach as a last-minute plan, so their families didn’t even know of their fate until their bodies were recovered. Many families ended the festivities of the season with funerals.

In tragedies such as these, it is the administration that justifiably shoulders much of the blame. It was its job, of course, to make sure that people don’t venture where it is dangerous.

But what do you do when official quarters are apparently doing their best (even if it is a meagre best), but — as I said earlier — people seem unwilling to allow the administration to help them?

Every year at popular spots on beaches such as Paradise Point, Clifton beach and Cape Montz, I see signage that tells visitors that it is highly dangerous to be in even shallow water. Red flags indicate the line in the sand that must not be crossed. There are lifeguards employed by both the city administration and an NGO; there aren’t enough of them, to be sure, but even the efforts of these meagre numbers go waste since — as several Cantonment Board Clifton lifeguards that had been on duty at Seaview rued on Thursday — people don’t comply with their advice.

I’ve seen families erupt in anger at lifeguards approaching them to warn them, and knots of young men threatening violence if they aren’t left to do what they please. A day after the initial reports about the deaths at the beaches had been confirmed, people on Twitter were discussing how a bus of beach-goers had been stopped by the police and offered the response: “Let us celebrate Eid.” People take the threat lightly and persist in believing that it’ll all be okay — until, of course, it isn’t.

By Friday, the beaches around Karachi had been cordoned off and police had set up pickets to filter out picnickers from the other traffic. Many are asking why was this not done earlier? The counter question is, of course, should the resources of an already stressed force be diverted to such a cause given that people are heedless about their own safety?

But then, what about consumables such as sugar and salt that can, in excess quantities, prove equally harmful and impose a massive burden on a country’s healthcare sector? Given the costs of obesity, several states have imposed ‘fat taxes’; Canada is formulating regulations on curbing salt content in food.

The writer is a member of staff.

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Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2014

Israel: winning yet losing

Munir Akram

THERE is justified global outrage at the slaughter and maiming of innocent children, women and men in Israel’s latest ruthless military campaign in Gaza. As a Muslim, it is difficult not to feel ashamed at the indifference of most Arab and Islamic governments to the suffering of the beleaguered Gazans.

THERE is justified global outrage at the slaughter and maiming of innocent children, women and men in Israel’s latest ruthless military campaign in Gaza. As a Muslim, it is difficult not to feel ashamed at the indifference of most Arab and Islamic governments to the suffering of the beleaguered Gazans.

Yet, Israel’s military success is unlikely to yield sustainable security. There are four broad trends which portend more difficult times for the Jewish state.

First, Israeli extremism. Over the past decade, Jewish religious parties and the 250,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank have emerged ascendant in Israeli politics. They believe the occupied territories are part of historical Israel — Judea and Samaria — and cannot be returned to the Palestinians. Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu, when compared to the likes of Foreign Minister Lieberman, is considered a ‘dove’!

No Israeli leader is bold enough to advocate the removal of the West Bank settlements. On the contrary, and despite US pressure, Netanyahu has allowed additional settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinian towns, villages and communities there are like apartheid South Africa’s ‘Bantustans’ — separated by increasingly large Jewish settlements connected to each other and ‘mainland’ Israel by a network of roads closed to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Gaza remains blockaded by Israel (and Egypt).

As a consequence, there are diminishing prospects for the two-state solution that all have agreed is the only basis for a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Since Israel will not oblige the settlers to leave the West Bank, not accept East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, nor agree to the return of Palestinian refugees expelled in past conflicts, a viable and geographically contiguous Palestinian state appears impossible to achieve. Israeli occupation is thus likely to continue indefinitely.

Second, demography. Israel will have to rule over a Palestinian population which is growing rapidly; while Jewish immigration to Israel has petered out after the post Cold War inflow of Russian and East European Jews. Controlling a growing, hostile and increasingly radicalised Palestinian population will become, literally, a bloody business.

There is a body of opinion emerging among the Palestinians which holds that a two-state solution is no longer viable and thus Palestinians should focus instead on securing equal ‘democratic’ rights within the (Israeli) state. Reportedly, even the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas’ son, subscribes to this view. Were this view to gain wide support among the Palestinians, it would revive the original debate at the time of Israel’s creation — whether it should be an exclusively Jewish state or one in which Palestinians and Jews live together with equal rights.

Third, Palestinian and Arab radicalisation. The plight of the Palestinian people is often, and rightly, cited as the core cause for the initial rise of religious radicalism in the Arab and Muslim world. Over the past 70 years, Israel has faced ever more ideologically ‘difficult’ adversaries: initially its neighbouring Arab states; then the PLO and Fatah, now Hamas.

Israel’s declared aim is to destroy Hamas, militarily and politically. The present regime in Cairo shares this objective because of Hamas’ affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. If Hamas is discredited in the current or subsequent confrontations, influence over the Palestinians is unlikely to revert to Fatah; it is more likely to move to even more ‘radical’ groups, similar to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or Al Qaeda.

Today, ISIS is not only at the gates of Baghdad but also on Israel’s border with Syria. It has gained adherents in Jordan and Lebanon. Egypt’s suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood may result in the rise of more militant ISIS-like groups operating in the Sinai. At some stage, such extremist groups could turn from pursuing their largely sectarian wars in Syria and Iraq to promoting the ‘sacred’ cause of the Arab and Islamic world: the ‘liberation’ of Palestine.

In sum, Israel may have to deal with a growing and increasingly militant Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank which receives active cross-border support from militant groups located in every one of its Arab neighbours. As evident in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it will not be easy for Israel to put down such an ideologically motivated and battle-hardened insurgency.

Fourth, eroding Western support. Israel has been justifiably condemned for its disproportionate response to the largely ineffective rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza. The images of dead and wounded Palestinian children have stirred revulsion even among Israel’s staunchest Western supporters. A US poll indicates sharply reduced support for Israel among younger Americans.

Israel’s leaders should look into the future. Do they want to consign their people, the Palestinians and the region to never-ending violence and war?

There is a narrow window of opportunity to reverse their disastrous course and agree to the concessions required to achieve a two-state solution. Fatah will obviously accept such a solution. Despite its formal refusal to recognise Israel, Hamas displayed pragmatism in the past and would accept a fair settlement too.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Just enough ain’t good enough

Cyril Almeida

AND round and round in circles we go. Now that Imran is determined to revive the game of musical chairs of the ’90s, you’ve got to wonder, either way, what difference does it make?

AND round and round in circles we go. Now that Imran is determined to revive the game of musical chairs of the ’90s, you’ve got to wonder, either way, what difference does it make?

Yes, yes, continuity matters. Yes, the democratic project needs to be nurtured. Yes, impatience will get us nowhere. Yes, we’ve seen it all before and realised that while the alternative is flashier, the results are no better.

Who will turn out on the streets to protest the gross repudiation of the people’s will? Who but a handful of loyalists with nowhere to go will decry his ouster? Who will consider it an affront that cannot be countenanced?

Who will do anything?

Nobody. At most, some folk on the periphery of the political game will understand the damage done to the system, but even they will know deep down that in the game of power politics, Nawaz hurt himself and the system.

What is Nawaz’s sin at this point? Nothing really. Sure, he hasn’t lived up to expectations, but neither has he really screwed up.

The only thing that comes close to a strategic error is Musharraf. But that for the order of priorities and the way he’s gone about it and the reality of internal power structures. In principle though who can say Musharraf shouldn’t be tried?

At this point, Nawaz’s sin is the same as Asif’s was at the same point five years ago: he has won power.

Zardari was considered illegitimate, an insult to the dignity and honour of the land of the pure, a spot on the good name of Pakistan that had to be rubbed out quickly.

But it wasn’t really that. Zardari had power; others wanted that power. In the game of power you either have it or you don’t — you really can’t share.

See how they’ve turned on Kayani. Again, it’s miscast — a power grab and weakness of character: Kayani wanted a second term and wasn’t willing to pull the trigger on North Waziristan.

But it’s not really that. Kayani’s mistake was the perception of a quid pro quo: three more years for him and Zardari got his five years guaranteed. That’s the sin Kayani never really recovered from.

Now it’s Nawaz’s turn. Governance has been poor and the results unsatisfactory. But so what?

Who’s got better ideas here? Imran? Raheel? Qadri? The Chaudhrys? If it isn’t about results, then it’s surely about power. Nawaz has it; others want it — and the others aren’t willing to wait five years.

But if Nawaz’s real sins are few, there is one mistake that makes everything else irrelevant: he ought to have known better.

Ought to have known there is an enemy — which he does; ought to have known the enemy would attack — the jury is out on whether he did; and ought to have bolstered his defence and offence — which he hasn’t.

Collect allies, keep the public on your side, keep the enemy occupied, keep your options open, be alert.

Nawaz has done none of that.

And with each passing day — whether he survives or not — an old doubt continues to nag: does Nawaz really have an appetite for politics anymore? Is the fire in the belly still there?

There have been spurts of action: the March ’09 long march, the last weeks of the May ’13 election, the post-election focus on electricity.

But each of those episodes also emphasised the overall lethargy.

Had Nawaz really become a democrat or was he just unwilling to do what it would take to oust Zardari? Ousting someone is a gruelling task, something the frequency of ousters in the ’90s tended to obscure.

Meetings, planning, scheming, pushing, pulling, feinting, preparing, haranguing, day and night, work, work, work — making an ouster happen is about as difficult as winning an election.

No fire in the belly, no obsessiveness, no total dedication to the cause — and your opponent will survive. Like Zardari did.

So, Nawaz the democrat or Nawaz the long-in-the-tooth lion?

Or take the run-up to the election. A year out, Nawaz seemed peculiarly comfortable with the idea of a coalition government. There was no real attempt to open the gates to the PML-N tent or to expand the tent. What would be would be.

Then, with weeks to go, Imran swung into action, whipping up a media frenzy and preaching his message to massive rallies seemingly everywhere in the country. Only then did we see an energetic Nawaz, replicating Imran’s dash to constituencies and exhorting the masses.

So, Nawaz the hungry PM-in-waiting or Nawaz on auto-pilot, kicking back instead of pressing forwards?

Then there was the business of electricity. Post-election, Nawaz figured out the election had been a referendum on electricity. He disappeared from public and huddled with his energy advisers — for weeks and months.

Together, they came up with a plan, a plan drawn up knowing that it was probably the make-or-break plan for 2018, a plan that would require intense supervision and massive political will from the very top.

A few months on, the energy and focus was gone. Nawaz the governator or Nawaz the shrug-and-sigh PM?

And now this business with Imran, allowing him to drag a fringe demand to the centre stage of politics, from where anything is possible.

Just-enough Nawaz isn’t good-enough Nawaz. Especially if the enemy is relentless and obsessive.

No fire in the belly usually equals being consumed by someone else’s fire. Imran’s got fire.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a

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Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

A nuclear myth

Michael Krepon

Thomas Schelling, one of the founding fathers of nuclear strategy, wrote that the essence of deterrence was the threat that left something to chance. Nuclear threats were supposed to prevent bad outcomes. If deterrence failed, there would be worse outcomes.

Thomas Schelling, one of the founding fathers of nuclear strategy, wrote that the essence of deterrence was the threat that left something to chance. Nuclear threats were supposed to prevent bad outcomes. If deterrence failed, there would be worse outcomes.

There were other paradoxes and weaknesses in deterrence theory. Strategy had to be rooted in psychology, but this wasn’t easy because adversaries, by definition, think differently. If a bluff were called, one side would have to back down or both would lose. No one had a credible explanation of escalation control. The ransom notes associated with mutual hostage-taking came with rising price tags because deterrence always needed to be strengthened in response to adversarial moves. Failure to compete might imply a weakening of will.

Despite all this, deterrence theory became an article of faith. A key tenet of this faith was that nuclear-armed adversaries have never used the ultimate weapon against each other, despite some close calls. Adherents of deterrence theory took refuge in the belief that, as arsenals grew and when adversaries possessed assured retaliatory capabilities, deterrence would become more stable. Tensions would be relieved. Disputes might be settled.

The evidence so far strongly suggests that this is wishful thinking. Deterrence stability is a myth, except in cases where nuclear-armed states have little, if anything, to fight about. In contrast, deterrence stability bet­ween nuclear-armed adversaries is a mirage. Neither the US nor the Soviet Union achieved deterrence stability during the Cold War, even when their nuclear arsenals and retaliatory capabilities grew to massive proportions.

Instead, they demonstrated that when interests are sharply adversarial and could lead to conflict, additional nuclear firepower on both sides only increases security concerns. Insecurities grew even when incremental capabilities appeared to be best suited for use in retaliation instead of pre-emption or when the competitors sought to improve defences against nuclear attack.

When countries with serious security dilemmas transition from small to mid-sized arsenals, as is now the case in Pakistan and India, their sense of insecurity grows along with the competition. Every move generates countermoves, whether or not in kind. Countermoves are deemed necessary because an adversary might question one’s resolve or be emboldened to take chances.

India and Pakistan are producing more nuclear weapons, diversifying launch capabilities, growing fissile material stockpiles, increasing targeting options and developing more complex command and control arrangements. These steps do not help resolve sources of friction; they magnify them. But they are taken to avoid feeling even more disadvantaged and insecure by failing to compete.

This dynamic has been characterised by another Western construct — the ‘action-reaction syndrome’. Pakistan and India are now enmeshed in this, despite their initial desire to be content with credible, minimum deterrence. India considers dep­loying missile defe­nces, making Pakis­tan feel less secure. Pakistan states a requirement for short-range delivery systems for nuclear weapons because of Indian conventional military advantages.

The battlefield use of nuclear weapons would create havoc with Pakistani military operations and make Indian air strikes a better option. Pakistan builds up fissile material stocks, as does India. Depending on decisions made over the next five to 10 years, the action-reaction syndrome could also apply much more to China and India, with spill-over effects on Pakistan.

There are several off-ramps for competitors that wish to avoid the pitfalls of a nuclear arms competition. One way is to resolve disputes in mutually reassuring ways. Another is to negotiate treaties limiting or reducing the most destabilising aspects of a nuclear competition. This option seems most unlikely in a triangular nuclear competition among states with very different military potential.

A third way is for one of the contestants to voluntarily drop out of a nuclear competition, feeling it has sufficient firepower, enabling it to redirect resources elsewhere. A fourth way is for one of the contestants to involuntarily drop out of the competition because of economic duress or state failure. This is what happened to the Soviet Union. A fifth way is to reach confidence-building and nuclear risk-reduction agreements, tacit or explicit, to defuse the most destabilising aspects of a nuclear competition. These choices are not mutually exclusive.

The writer is the co-founder of the Stimson Centre in Washington, D.C.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

Medical negligence

Basil Nabi Malik

FARZANA Saleem had reportedly been advised surgery for the removal of a cyst from her left ovary. After the surgery, she was told that not only had the cyst been removed, but that her ovary too had been taken out. Despite being given the green signal to return home, Farzana continued to feel severe abdominal pain.

FARZANA Saleem had reportedly been advised surgery for the removal of a cyst from her left ovary. After the surgery, she was told that not only had the cyst been removed, but that her ovary too had been taken out. Despite being given the green signal to return home, Farzana continued to feel severe abdominal pain.

Three days later, her condition was said to have become critical. On the point of death, it was only when she went for a third surgery at another healthcare facility that it was revealed that during her previous surgeries a small yet potentially fatal hole had been created in her large intestine because of the surgeon’s alleged negligence.

For many, the story of Farzana Saleem is hardly surprising. On a daily basis, many average Pakistanis have to face the onslaught of substandard medical services — without recourse to better alternatives.

The apathy towards the country’s medical services is not surprising when we consider that healthcare spending is only an estimated 0.7pc of GDP, and out of a total of 187 countries, Pakistan is ranked 146 on the UN index of human development.

The lack of investment in healthcare has resulted in a dearth of medical practitioners who would be able to meet those demands. It is the government’s inability to fill such a gap, or even to try to do so, that has allowed untrained individuals to freely enter the field at the expense of the patients’ health.

There is no doubt that a variety of measures should have been and can still be taken to meet the demand for skilled medical expertise, including an increase in healthcare spending. However, in the absence of such measures, the state has and will have to continue to lean on legal mechanisms to stem the provision of substandard medical services.

The PMDC was the outcome of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council Ordinance, 1962. Amongst its various functions, the body oversees and regulates medical institutions and teaching hospitals, as well as entertains complaints against medical practitioners on grounds of professional misconduct.

However, although there is a functioning mechanism in the PMDC to address complaints pertaining to medical negligence, there are several issues with it.

Firstly, many of the victims of professional misconduct are too poor or ill-informed to file complaints with the PMDC, or do not possess the resources to pursue their claims. Further, the jurisdiction of the PMDC is limited to medical and dental institutions imparting medical training and to teaching hospitals, whereas certain healthcare establishments, small clinics and similar entities are excluded from its purview.

Also, the PMDC only retains effective authority over registered doctors and practitioners, whereas quack medical experts and other so-called professionals, who are a greater risk, are not covered adequately by PMDC regulations or authority.

In addition to taking one’s complaints to the PMDC, aggrieved patients or their legal heirs may also file civil suits for compensation and recovery of medical bills before the competent courts. Alternatively, aggrieved parties may also institute criminal proceedings against medical practitioners they hold responsible for professional negligence.

However, although such remedies are available under the law, their efficacy is often in doubt on account of the prolonged nature of the proceedings, and the inadequate compensation or penalties actually pronounced upon the conclusion of protracted trials. There­fore, many persons with complaints, despite having suffered on account of medical negligence, choose not to turn to the law for redress.

As can be seen from this situation, although legal remedies are available to address complaints arising from cases of medical negligence, their efficacy and adequacy remain severely in doubt. It is perhaps in light of this that at least two provincial governments have established healthcare commissions, namely, the governments of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, whilst the Sindh government, too, is in the process of establishing one.

The apparent purpose behind creating such commissions is to more fully regulate healthcare establishments and services in Pakistan, and to augment the authority and ability of government authorities to ensure quality medical services for all patients. Moreover, the commissions also seek to examine and regulate those areas of the medical profession which are currently outside the purview of the PMDC.

In light of this, and if potential jurisdictional issues between the PMDC and the commissions are addressed, the move may be welcome. That said, only time will tell whether these modest efforts of the government will prove futile, or whether they will actually be the first steps towards the establishment of an effective regulatory framework to govern medical services in Pakistan.

The writer is an attorney at law.

basil.nabi

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Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2014

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