DWS, Sunday 31st August to Saturday 6th September 2014

DAWN

WIRE SERVICE

DWS, Sunday 31st August to Saturday 6th September 2014

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National News

Rain wreaks havoc in Punjab and Kashmir

Intikhab Hanif

LAHORE: Fifty-two people, three soldiers among them, were killed and over 90 others injured on Thursday as torrential rain wreaked havoc in north-eastern Punjab and Kashmir, causing a very high flood in river Chenab.

LAHORE: Fifty-two people, three soldiers among them, were killed and over 90 others injured on Thursday as torrential rain wreaked havoc in north-eastern Punjab and Kashmir, causing a very high flood in river Chenab.

A number of cities received over 130mm of rain. The Met department said the current monsoon system was likely to weaken on Friday morning, but till then it would continue to generate torrential rain. The system is likely to persist for another 48 hours.

A peak of 467,000 cusecs passing through the Chenab at Akhnor (India) at midday was to enter Pakistan in the night. The Flood Forecasting Division (FFD) Lahore said it expected a discharge of 600,000 cusecs (very high flood) in the river at Marala at night. The water level in the river is expected to rise further over the next 24 hours, threatening low-lying areas of Sialkot and Gujranwala regions.

There are also chances of spillovers or breaches at vulnerable places and high to very high flood in nullahs of Ravi and Chenab rivers in the Sialkot region.

The system generated very heavy rainfall – 8mm in one hour – in Indian Punjab and upper catchments of Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej rivers.

But the Flood Forecasting Bureau said that two unfilled Indian dams over Ravi and Sutlej and Jhelum-fed Man­gla would absorb much of the rainwater. There was no immediate danger of exceptionally high flood in the three eastern rivers, it added.

The FFD said the flow into Jhelum was 186,000 cusecs and expected to rise to 600,000 over the next 24 hours, but most of the inflow would be absorbed by unfilled Mangla Dam.

DEATHS: Rescue 1122 said that 16 people, three women among them, were killed in Lahore as rain levelled houses in different areas of the city. Five people were killed in Faisalabad, six in Gujranwala, five in Sialkot, four in Kasur, three in Khanewal, two in Okara and one in Sheikhupura when roofs of their houses collapsed. The deaths in Kasur were caused by electrocution.

In Azad Kashmir, three soldiers and seven civilians were killed in landslides and flash floods which ravaged the mountainous region.

According to the ISPR, Captain Fazal Wudood and soldiers Ghulam Mohiyuddin and Mohammad Suleman were killed in a landslide in Kehler Khurshidabad area of Haveli district.

Gulshad Begum, Bashiran Bibi, Nasim Bibi and her daughter Sumayya and Fazal Hussain were killed when roofs of their houses collapsed in Kotli, Mirpur, Bhimber and Dariyan towns.

In Dina, a man was killed and over 20 people were feared dead when a dilapidated bridge over Nullah Kahan collapsed. Over 24 people were on the bridge. Rescue workers saved three men alive and recovered one body.

Several vehicles were washed away in the torrent.

Rain in Lahore started on Wednesday afternoon and continued uninterrupted till Thursday morning. It inundated the entire city and exposed the Punjab government’s claim of having been prepared to meet the monsoon challenge.

The Met office recorded 183mm of rain at its Jail Road office and 171mm at the airport from 8am on Wednesday to 8am on Thursday. The average rainfall was 155mm.

Low-lying areas were totally submerged, disrupting the smooth flow of traffic. Crippled cars and motorcycles were seen everywhere in the city. Attendance in educational institutions and offices remained extremely thin. Business activity resumed in the afternoon after the rainwater was cleared from markets.

The Met office said Palandri in Azad Kashmir was the worst-hit town. It received 313mm of rain in 24 hours.

Mangla received 199mm of rain, Jassar (Narowal) 183mm, Rawalakot 163mm, Jhelum 143mm, Ravi Syphon 131mm, Kasur 129mm, Kotli 141mm, Gujranwala 120mm, Gujrat 164mm, Okara 102mm, Sialkot (Cantt 98mm and airport 96mm), Toba Tek Singh 97mm, Faisalabad 98mm, Mandi Bahauddin 87mm, Okara 70mm, Garhi Dupatta 54mm, Domel 53mm, Muzaffarabad 59mm, Kund 43mm, Dir 39mm, Skardu 37mm, Bahawalnagar 57mm, Islamabad Airport 55mm and Zero Point 47mm, Skardu 38mm, Murree 28mm, Astore 27mm, Sahiwal 18mm, Kakul 17mm and Balakot and Sargodha 13mm each.

The Met office forecast widespread thundershowers with gusty winds and scattered to fairly widespread heavy to very heavy rain over upper catchments of Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi and Sutlej rivers.

Widespread thundershowers with gusty winds are likely to occur over Punjab, with scattered heavy to very heavy falls over Bahawalpur, Sahiwal, Faisalabad, Sargodha, Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi divisions and Islamabad and isolated heavy falls over Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan divisions and heavy to very heavy falls over Kashmir.

Fairly widespread thundershowers with gusty winds may occur over Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with isolated to scattered heavy to very heavy falls over Malakand, Mardan and Hazara divisions and Gilgit-Baltistan.

Scattered thundershowers with gusty winds are expected over Sukkur, Mirpurkhas, Hyderabad and Karachi divisions as well as Fata and eastern Balochistan.

There may be urban inundation in areas of heavy to very heavy downpours and medium to high flooding in nullahs of hill torrents of Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur and their surroundings.

In Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and some other cities of Punjab, rain continued till late in the night.

The highest maximum rainfall of 189.7mm was recorded on Jail Road in Lahore on Aug 23, 1996. The city had received a record 432mm of rain in three days. The record for the heaviest rain in Lahore in one day – 221mm – was made on Aug 13, 2008.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Chinese president’s visit cancelled?

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: Confusion reigned in the capital on Thursday after senior ruling party member Ahsan Iqbal announced that Chinese president Xi Jinping had ‘cancelled’ his upcoming visit to Pakistan, even before Beijing had made its plans regarding the visit public.

ISLAMABAD: Confusion reigned in the capital on Thursday after senior ruling party member Ahsan Iqbal announced that Chinese president Xi Jinping had ‘cancelled’ his upcoming visit to Pakistan, even before Beijing had made its plans regarding the visit public.

In a message on his twitter account @betterpakistan, the planning and development minister said: “Congrats! IK (Imran Khan) & TUQ (Tahirul Qadri) visit of China President is cancelled. Biggest diplomatic blow to Pakistan thanks to them. They have caused shame to us.”

But the development was vehemently denied by the Foreign Office and until late Thursday evening, there was no official word on whether the visit had been cancelled or would proceed as planned.

President Xi was scheduled to arrive in Pakistan for a two-day visit on Sept 15 as part of a trip that would also take him to India and Sri Lanka.

Sartaj Aziz, the Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs, told Dawn that the government was trying its best to salvage the visit and a final decision on the matter was expected soon.

“Pakistan and China are … friends and strategic partners. (Regarding) the Chinese president’s visit to Pakistan, discussions are still going on (and) both sides are closely monitoring the situation in Islamabad,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said during her weekly media briefing.

Her comments echoed exactly what the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs had said about the possibility of the trip being postponed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Qin Gang said: “China and Pakistan are in a very good relationship. We maintain close high-level exchanges. As for what the reports said about President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, I have no information to offer.”

Speculation around the cancellation of President Xi’s visit due to protests by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek began after a Chinese security team arrived in the capital to assess the arrangements for the president’s visit.

In Ms Aslam’s words, the visit by the security team ahead of the presidential trip was “a normal procedure” that usually preceded high-level visits.

The president’s visit was viewed as essential because he was supposed sign investment agreements worth $32 billion.

Talking to Dawn, Ahsan Iqbal called the development “insulting, disgraceful and a big diplomatic and economic blow”, putting the onus of the cancellation squarely on the protesting leaders, Mr Khan and Dr Qadri.

Former president Asif Ali Zardari and Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq also reacted to the news, calling it a “most unfortunate setback” and “very bad news” for Pakistan.

A statement issued by the PPP’s media office said the former president had “expressed deep regret over the inability of all to end the standoff in Islamabad that has resulted in the most unfortunate setback to our relations with China manifested by the postponement of the scheduled visit to Pakistan of the Chinese president”.

He called upon the government to seek an immediate rescheduling of the visit of the Chinese president.

Mr Sirajul Haq, meanwhile, told journalists that he wished the visit may not have been cancelled. “If this has really been cancelled, then it is very bad news for Pakistan. This is great incompetence.”

Mr Iqbal told Dawn that the two sides had finalised everything to sign agreements involving $32bn Chinese investment. He said 14 projects, including power projects that would generate 10,400MW as well as infrastructure projects such as the Karachi-Lahore Motorway, the Karakoram Highway and the Gwadar Airport would now have to be shelved.

Responding to a question, he said the visit might be rescheduled but was quick to add that “it has been cancelled for now”.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Fazlullah has joined hands with killers of Taliban, says splinter group

Bureau Report

PESHAWAR: The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar (JA) are on a collision course as the latter has accused TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah of joining hands with people involved in the killing of militant commanders.

PESHAWAR: The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its splinter group Jamaatul Ahrar (JA) are on a collision course as the latter has accused TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah of joining hands with people involved in the killing of militant commanders.

In a statement on Thursday, JA spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said those who were involved in the killing of TTP commanders Nadeem Abbas, Asmatullah Shaheen Bhittani, Tariq Mansoor and 200 fighters of the Mehsud tribe were now sitting beside Fazlullah.

Ehsan, who earlier served as central spokesman for the TTP, said that being head of his group Fazlullah should bring the killers to “justice”.

He said the TTP chief lacked qualities of a good leader, which had resulted in the killing of many commanders.

The JA spokesman said the Fazlullah-led TTP group “now comprised only a few people”.

He said that Fazlullah had no authority to expel Umar Khalid Khurasani of Mohmand Agency from TTP. Khurasani was now an active member of JA and the group’s leadership had the authority to appoint a leader for Mohmand.

He claimed that a majority of Taliban commanders had joined JA and the families of both Baitullah Mehsud and Hakimullah Mehsud had become associated with it.

He said JA had expressed allegiance to Mullah Umar and had faith in the leadership qualities of the top leader of Afghan Taliban.

Ehsan said some elements in the Fazlullah-led TTP were hatching conspiracies to drive a wedge between JA and the Afghan Taliban.

The JA spokesman said that Fazlullah should reveal the names of people who killed Nadeem Abbas alias Inteqami, who was the TTP leader for Rawalpindi, Asmatullah Shaheen and Tariq Mansoor Afridi.

It is the first time that a Taliban-linked group has acknowledged the death of Nadeem Abbas, who escaped from police custody in Peshawar in August, 2011, and was reportedly involved in several acts of terrorism.

In 2011, Abbas and another TTP leader Zakim Shah were brought to the Khyber College of Dentistry for treatment. They ran away when being moved back to the central jail in Peshawar.

Asmatullah Shaheen, who was an acting chief of TTP, was killed outside his residence in Miramshah, North Waziristan, in February last year.

Ehsan also clarified that JA had no links with the Janud Khurasan group and that Ahrarul Hind had merged with JA. He said a majority of TTP commanders in Malakand division had joined JA.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Govt, PTI trade proposals for electoral reforms

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: The dreaded ‘D’ word was back on Thursday evening when a key member of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) negotiating team dispelled an impression that the party was about to seal a deal with the government and end the political stalemate.

ISLAMABAD: The dreaded ‘D’ word was back on Thursday evening when a key member of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) negotiating team dispelled an impression that the party was about to seal a deal with the government and end the political stalemate.

“The two sides have only agreed broadly to our proposal of electoral reforms and establishing a judicial commission. There is no further progress on the rest of our demands,” Dr Arif Alvi told Dawn.

He made these remarks after the working paper prepared by his party had been made public.

A quick read of the eight-page working paper makes it clear that finding the much hoped middle ground will not be easy.

Also read: Govt, PTI in fresh bid to end deadlock

For instance, the PTI wants new legislation for the setting up of a supreme judicial commission (SJC) with exclusive powers.

The PTI wants the commission to have the power to investigate, prosecute and pass a binding judgment for the contesting parties — the government and PTI.

The primary function of the SJC will be to “undertake an independent investigation into the allegations of PTI regarding rigging or manipulation of the 2013 elections and based on its investigation to submit within 30 days, a legally binding and enforceable final report”.

In order to be able to investigate the party has suggested that the SJC be helped by a joint investigation committee (JIC) comprising officials from FIA, Nadra, ECP, ISI, MI and IB. This committee will work as the investigative arm of the SJC.

Senior lawyers are agreed that these suggestions will require legislation.

“It appears to be a new idea that will require a constitutional amendment,” said S.M. Zafar, former law minister and seasoned constitutional expert and Supreme Court lawyer when told about the proposal.

He explained that at present the investigation of rigging during elections rested with the Election Commission of Pakistan, which too could not entertain pleas on the issue after a certain period of time.

His views were endorsed in a way by Dr Alvi who admitted that the two sides were heading for tough negotiations as they tried to finalise the terms of reference of the proposed SJC.

He said that the PTI was not willing to simply rest the matter after agreeing to a commission as in recent times the findings of commissions on memogate and the media did not provide any conclusive solutions.

However, the PTI’s proposals do not end at ensuring a watertight commission, which according to the paper will investigate 30 constituencies that will be identified by the PTI.

Defining the evidence

They go much further – the party has also explained in detail what would be considered evidence that would be enough to prove rigging.

Here the party has suggested that bias on the party of any ECP official; omissions or malpractices of district returning officers; returning officers; unauthorised transfer or postings of government officials; last-minute changes in location of polling stations; delays in the consolidation or notification of results; stuffing of ballot boxes, eleventh-hour changes in polling schemes; Nadra’s failure to verify voters’ thumb impression can all constitute as proof of rigging.

There is no doubt that if these proposals are accepted and investigations carried out under such stringent rules, it may prove difficult to give a green chit to the result of any controversial constituency.

What comes next?

The working paper adds that if such ‘rigging’ is proven the prime minister will have to recommend the dissolution of the assemblies and new elections held.

In fact, it is because of this set of recommendations relating to the aftermath of the investigations that the PTI has suggested that the rigging issue is examined in two phases.

In first phase, the powerful SJC carries out the investigations and in the second (once the rigging is established) the PM will resign; assemblies will be dissolved; electoral reforms carried out; an impartial caretaker set-up established with the consensus of all parties; resignation of all the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP); and hold all those accountable under Article 6 of the Constitution who allegedly helped rig the 2013 general elections.

In this second phase, the SJC is supposed to ensure that all of the above is carried out.

According to another significant proposal, the PTI wants to have Supreme Monitoring Council (SMC) for the interim period (after the government and assemblies are sent home) which shall act as the primary forum for settlement of any and all disputes, disagreement or deadlocks between the PTI and PML-N or between the PTI or and the executive authorities.

But despite this tall – very tall – order, Dr Alvi insisted that his party had shown flexibility by backtracking on its two key demands – the immediate resignation of the prime minister and the immediate dissolution of the assemblies.

“Instead, we suggested that he go on a month’s leave till the judicial commission completes its election probe and the assemblies stay intact. And the latter will allow the PML-N to remain a majority ruling party of the house.”

Late at night, hours after the proposal of the PTI was made public, the government said it had prepared a detailed reply after taking the parliamentary party leaders into confidence. This reply, the government said, had been sent to the PTI leadership.

The reply was presented by Senator Ishaq Dar to the PTI leadership, said the government. The PTI has asked for a day to respond to it.

Talking to Dawn, Asad Umar, another PTI negotiator, said that the party would discuss the government response on Friday.

PTI General Secretary Jahangir Tareen told a television channel that the two sides would meet on Friday.

When asked, Federal Minister retired Lt Abdul Qadir Baloch didn’t share any details of the response though he said it had been sent to PTI.

Gen Qadir is part of the government team holding negotiations with PTI.

However, a government source, privy to the preparation of the reply told Dawn, “I don’t know how the two sides are going to bridge this gap, because currently they are still poles apart.”

The prime minister continues to solicit support

The prime minister had an hour-long meeting with the heads of parliamentary parties and took them into confidence about the government’s talks with the PTI.

In the morning, he also met the six-member peace Jirga led by Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq.

Siraj’s Mission Impossible

In the evening the JI emir, after meeting the PPP leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, said the two sides (government and PTI) had to move fast as no-one could afford any more delays.

He said that both sides wanted the six-member peace Jirga present when they met on Friday.

Late at night there were some unconfirmed reports of a meeting between PTI Chairman Imran Khan and the JI emir at the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa house. However, it wasn’t possible to confirm this.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

PM, Shahbaz apologise over Nisar’s tirade against Aitzaz

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: In a surprising development, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan stirred up a controversy on Thursday with a frontal attack on PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, accusing him of using the name of the late Benazir Bhutto for business interests and personal gains and being a facilitator of the biggest land mafia in the country.

ISLAMABAD: In a surprising development, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan stirred up a controversy on Thursday with a frontal attack on PPP leader Aitzaz Ahsan, accusing him of using the name of the late Benazir Bhutto for business interests and personal gains and being a facilitator of the biggest land mafia in the country.

The charges levelled at Senator Ahsan at what appears to be an inopportune time for the government immediately prompted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to take damage control measures. They separately called Mr Ahsan and the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Syed Khursheed Shah, to apologise over the remarks.

Mr Shah advised them to ask the interior minister not to create tension at a time when the opposition was trying to end the impasse between the government and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

Senater Ahsan himself said he would come up with a befitting reply in the joint session of Parliament on Friday. A spokesman for Khursheed Shah said the Leader of the Opposition told the Sharif brothers that the PPP could have come up with an appropriate response, but chose not to vitiate the atmosphere.

The interior minister had said that Mr Ahsan treated politics as business.

“I know where he is speaking from. He is a representative and facilitator of the biggest land mafia in the country,” Chaudhry Nisar remarked.

“I have no respect for a person like him. Right from the LPG quota to using planes of a particular mafia, there is a contradiction in his words and deeds,” he said.

In a recent speech in the joint session of Parliament, Mr Ahsan had endorsed the allegations of rigging in last year’s general elections levelled by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf.

He accused the federal and Punjab governments of mishandling the situation in Model Town and said police wanted to remove barriers from outside the residence of Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadir, but they were ordered to block several roads with containers.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Govt, PTI in fresh bid to end deadlock

Kalbe Ali

ISLAMABAD: Hectic efforts by the six-member peace Jirga bore some fruit on Wednesday night but without “a major breakthrough”.

ISLAMABAD: Hectic efforts by the six-member peace Jirga bore some fruit on Wednesday night but without “a major breakthrough”.

As a result of Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq and former interior minister Rehman Malik’s initiative on Tuesday night, the government and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) returned to the proverbial negotiating table.

The last time the two sides had met was on Saturday night when they both depar­ted after some declarations of progress and hope – yet later that night PTI and PAT moved forward towards the Prime Minister House, provoking a bloody clash with the police which resulted in three deaths and numerous injuries to the protesters.

That had put an end to the talks between the two sides till Wednesday night when the two sides came face to face again at the residence of PTI’s secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen.

The government team was led by Senator Ishaq Dar.

After the huddle, the two sides refused to provide any fodder to the media apart from the promise of another meeting on Thursday.

As he left the venue, Asad Umar of PTI said that al­th­o­ugh there was no major dev­elopment during the meeting, he hoped for good news on Thursday. Dr Arif Alvi also expres­sed similarly vag­ue hopes before he too ran off.

The vague statements left the media outside uncertain and confused about the outcome.

Earlier in the day, the discussions between the PTI and the opposition ‘jirga’ proved to be more concrete.

The five-member peace Jirga led by the JI emir met the PTI’s negotiators at the residence of Senator Rehman Malik.

After the meeting, Mr Haq claimed that they had achieved 70 per cent success and that he was hopeful for the rest.

“The Jirga is holding the two sides [government and protesting leaders] and pushing them towards possible reconciliation.” However, he cautioned the government ministers from making incendiary remarks as these didn’t help those who were trying to defuse the situation.

His warning was echoed by Rehman Malik.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi thanked the members of the Jirga for listening to the PTI’s viewpoint, calling the meeting positive.

The jirga team included independent MNA from Fata G.G Jamal; JI General Secretary Liaquat Baloch and Senator Kalsoom Parveen of Balochistan National Party-Awami.

Providing an insight into what transpired at the meeting, a member of the jirga told Dawn that the PTI wanted written guarantees and not just verbal assurance from the PML-N.

In fact, the PTI was especially interested in some concrete commitment – preferably written – that if the proposed judicial commission found evidence of rigging in the 2013 election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will resign.

It is noteworthy that even PML-N leaders have suggested this option in press talks when they explained that the deadlock was due to the PTI’s insistence on the prime minister’s resignation.

The jirga member said on the condition of anonymity that the committee members had suggested that the two sides should first thrash out the rest of the five points on which there is no deadlock.

This, he said, would help the talks progress rather than get stuck to the more controversial issue.

He also said that the committee had suggested that it – and parliamentary parties – “will step in to provide the necessary guarantee sought by the PTI. He added that the opposition parties were willing to be guarantors if the government and PTI could find some middle ground.

His account was partly confirmed by a PTI office-bearer who said that the party wanted a concrete commitment about the prime minister’s resignation in case a judicial commission found that the elections were not fair.

“That guarantee could be in the form of the prime minister’s written resignation submitted to the opposition parties, for instance.” He said the commitment was sought to ensure that the ruling party did not make promises at present and then backtracked.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Countrywide actions avert Zarb-i-Azb backlash: ISPR

Dawn Report

ISLAMABAD / PESHA­WAR: The army carried out over 2,200 counter-terrorism actions across the country to prevent retaliatory action by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants groups after the launching of the Zarb-i-Azb military operation in North Waziristan.

ISLAMABAD / PESHA­WAR: The army carried out over 2,200 counter-terrorism actions across the country to prevent retaliatory action by the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants groups after the launching of the Zarb-i-Azb military operation in North Waziristan.

A total of 910 suspected militants have been killed since the operation was launched in June for eliminating their sanctuaries in the tribal region, while the military’s death toll stands at 82.

“Operation Zarb-i-Azb is progressing as per plan,” a military spokesman said on Wednesday.

He said 2,274 intelligence-led coordinated counter-terrorism operations had been carried out throughout the country to forestall any blowback of Zarb-i-Azb.

ISPR Director General Maj Gen Asim Bajwa said the army had set up an “integrated security mechanism” for carrying out the intelligence-based operations.

Prior to the start of the operation, the government had feared an intense backlash from the militants and their sympathisers. This fear had delayed the operation for years.

However, a sudden decline in terrorist attacks after the start of the operation took everyone by surprise. The only high-profile strike the militants could carry out was an attack on army and air force airbases near Quetta last month.

The spokesman did not provide details about places where these counter-terrorism operations had been carried out due to sensitivity of the information.

However, he said they had broadly focused on areas in south Punjab, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Karachi and Bannu.

He said that backlash had been thwarted because of the pre-emptive actions.

According to him, 42 militants had been killed and 114 ‘hardcore terrorists’ had been apprehended in these operations.

Those detained included militants belonging to the TTP, Al Qaeda and affiliated outfits.

At least 17 soldiers were killed in the countrywide counter-terrorism operations over the past two and a half months, 42 in North Waziristan and 23 in other tribal agencies.

The spokesman said North Waziristan’s main access road had been cleared up to Dattakhel. The alternate Jhallar-Bichi road has also been cleared.

“So far, security forces have cleared major towns of Miramshah, Mirali, Datta­khel, Boya and Degan, which were considered strongholds of terrorists,” he said.

The army claimed that 27 ‘factories’ of improvised explosive devices, a rocket manufacturing unit and an ammunition plant run by terrorists had been destroyed. It said large quantities of arms and ammunition, communication equipment and other logistic facilities used by terrorists had also been destroyed.

According to a statement issued by the military, 269 soldiers were injured.

It said the militants’ ability to carry out attacks as a coherent force had been impaired.

However, the banned TTP’s spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan alleged in a press statement that only 25 to 30 of his companions had been killed, while over 60 civilians had died in bombings. He claimed that the militants had shifted their bomb factories and training centres to safe places.

The claims of the army and militants could not be verified through independent sources.

Meanwhile, the authorities concerned have distributed 19,376 tons of ration among 97,570 displaced families from North Waziristan at six points set up in Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan and Tank. Thousands of patients have been treated at mobile health units and hospitals.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

MQM comes up with threat of resignation

Azfar-ul-Ashfaque

KARACHI: Federal and provincial lawmakers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) submitted their resignations to the party on Wednesday after their leader Altaf Hussain instructed them to do so.

KARACHI: Federal and provincial lawmakers belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) submitted their resignations to the party on Wednesday after their leader Altaf Hussain instructed them to do so.

According to party sources, Mr Hussain had serious reservations over the ongoing joint session of both houses of parliament, which he thought was being used to malign state institutions and those agitating in Islamabad against the government.

They said Mr Hussain had asked all MQM members of the National Assembly and the Senate to leave the session and return to Karachi as soon as possible. He was to address a party workers’ convention in Karachi on Wednesday, but postponed it for a day because of ‘unavoidable circumstances’.

The sources said he would consult the workers in the meeting on whether or not to quit the assemblies.

All 24 members of the National Assembly, 51 of the Sindh Assembly and seven senators belonging to the MQM had submitted their resignation, they said.

An MNA, Syed Ali Raza Abidi, shared on Twitter a photograph of his hand-written resignation letter in which he cited ‘personal reasons’ for resigning from his Karachi seat, NA-251.

An MQM statement quoted Mr Hussain as telling a TV channel that his party would not like to be the part of a ‘stagnant parliament’.

He said he would review the performance of parliament and provincial assemblies for a week and then would ask his party’s lawmakers to tender their resignations if there was no improvement.

Mr Hussain said the prime minister and parliamentarians were elected to participate in parliamentary proceedings to solve people’s problems.

He asked how many times Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had attended the parliament sessions and discussed the real issues of the people.

Referring to suffering of women, children and elders in the sit-ins of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, he said people had to bear mental torture, but no one had stepped forward to resolve the issue.

Terming the joint session of parliament ‘a drama’, he said it was an attempt to fool the nation through rhetoric.

He said there was no use of a National Assembly or Senate where members came only to show their oratorical skills but did nothing to solve people’s problems.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Hope in parliament, but peace afar

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: Some hope for peace arose in a tumultuous joint session of parliament on Wednesday as the parliamentary leader of the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said his party wanted to settle its crisis with the government through talks.

ISLAMABAD: Some hope for peace arose in a tumultuous joint session of parliament on Wednesday as the parliamentary leader of the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said his party wanted to settle its crisis with the government through talks.

The development, in which he also announced his party’s plan to discuss an unexplained working paper, already shared with government negotiators, with a team of opposition peace-seekers later in the day, was immediately hailed by Khursheed Ahmed Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, as a victory for both parliament and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Qureshi had come following a directive from party chief Imran Khan on Tuesday to go to the house to explain his party’s standpoint on its current agitation on demands, including a resignation by the prime minister for at least one month, and confirm to National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq resignations by more than 30 of a total of its 34 members in the house.

But in a long speech, often interrupted by lawmakers of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and some of their allies, he avoided mentioning the resignations at all while defending nearly three weeks of sit-ins in Islamabad by thousands of supporters of the PTI and its ally Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and a siege of the parliament houses and Mr Sharif’s nearby official residence.

He assured the house that his party wanted to protect the Constitution and parliament and would not support any martial law — though calling last year’s general elections as “rejected by the whole nation”. He said the PTI wanted to break the impasse in talks with the government, particularly on its demand that the prime minister resign to allow a judicial commission to hold an impartial probe of allegations of massive rigging in the 2013 elections with PML-N’s involvement.

“We are ready to sit on the negotiating table, we are ready to settle matters,” he said before storming out of the house with an unspecified number of his party’s lawmakers.

It was after some apparent hesitation and a request from Mr Shah that the speaker gave floor to Mr Qureshi after some of his failed attempts and, in an apparent rebuff, the prime minister too stayed out of the house during the PTI leader’s hard-hitting speech both in Urdu and English that left many on the treasury benches and their allies agitated, some of them calling for taking hard line against the protesters.

But after the prime minister returned to a disorderly house, with so many lawmakers wanting to speak, Mr Shah delivered a sobering message, including an embarrassing advice to Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman to “become friends of the prime minister” and avoid “double-stan­dards” after the Maulana had urged the speaker to remove the “ambiguity” about PTI resignations by accepting at least those that were submitted by the signatories themselves.

The opposition leader re­minded the Maulana that he had welcomed and em­braced the PTI’s dissident ceremonial president Javed Hashmi, who too had resigned, on his arrival and speech in the house on Tuesday and wondered how one could talk peace with the protesters after the acceptance of their resignations.

Another government ally, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai, asked the government to hold no dialogue with the PTI unless Mr Qureshi signed what he proposed to be a “well-worded” resolution to condemn the protesters’ entry in parliament’s lawns by breaking through a high boundary wall on Saturday night after a police crackdown.

It was on this point that some hecklers from the PML-N benches questioned Mr Qureshi’s claims about the peaceful nature of the protests but asked where else the protesters could have taken shelter in the face of police baton-charges, tear-gassing and alleged shooting that reportedly killed at least two people.

Mr Khursheed Shah said his call to the prime minister to stand fast to his position had been vindicated by Mr Qureshi’s appearance in the house and calling it his “political Kaaba”.

Addressing his comment to Mr Sharif, he said after what had happened in recent weeks “you must have also done some self-accountability” and realised “mistakes of your colleagues” but told him that “today is the day of your and parliament’s victory” which, he said, should not be wasted.

In an apparent response to an angry query from Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif as to why Mr Qureshi had not been asked about the attack on the parliament’s premises, the speaker told the house he had got a first information report registered by police on the incident and that he had asked the PTI leader to come to his chamber to talk on this issue as well as the resignations of his party members.

Some of the most strident speeches against the protesters came from the lawmakers of small parties like Senator Hasil Bizenjo of the Balochistan-based National Party and Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, chief of the Qaumi Watan Party based in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, about whom Mr Qureshi said he would not comment at this point except saying that one could cite “many skeletons in (their) cupboards”.

The joint sitting’s debate on the prevailing situation will continue on Thursday at 11am.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

SC asks parties to suggest way out of impasse

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed may have come to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to advise the honourable judges to steer clear of the prevailing political quagmire, but he left the court with orders to find a way to end this impasse, after consulting with the leaders of the protesting parties so that key premises such as parliament and the secretariat could be vacated.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf ally Sheikh Rashid Ahmed may have come to the Supreme Court on Wednesday to advise the honourable judges to steer clear of the prevailing political quagmire, but he left the court with orders to find a way to end this impasse, after consulting with the leaders of the protesting parties so that key premises such as parliament and the secretariat could be vacated.

Similar directions were issued to the political parties represented in the parliament, whose representatives appeared following notices issued to them on Tuesday.

The five-member larger bench headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk was hearing identical petitions challenging the continuing anti-government sit-ins.

The political parties were asked to present suggestions and solutions that may help end the over three-week sit-in in their replies to petitions moved by a number of high court bar associations. The case is now expected to be taken up on Friday.

Mian Raza Rabbani, a Pakistan People’s Party senator who appeared on behalf of the Baloch National Party and Awami National Party, told the court that the federal character — a distinct and basic feature of the Constitution after the 18th Amendment — was threatened by the prolonged crisis.

“Keeping in mind the demand for the dissolution of the assemblies, we have to consider how far the concept of federalism could be trampled by doing away with the provincial assemblies’ mandate of five years,” the senator mused.

During the hearing, Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali asked Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt to submit details of the economic, diplomatic and legal losses sustained in this period. He was directed to collect figures from the commerce department, as well as finding out how many FIRs had been registered over deaths and injuries, against the storming of buildings such as PTV and the torching of private vehicles and motorcycles.

But Justice Asif Saeed Khosa asked Mr Rabbani to suggest how the Supreme Court could help find a legal way out of this quagmire, when the constitution seemed to offer no recourse on the rigging controversy.

“Thus far, we have only discussed the fall-out from this sit-in, which is a side issue. But we are not attending to the root cause,” the judge observed.

Mr Rabbani reminded the court that Article 225 of the Constitution stipulated that no-one except an election tribunal could question the results, but agreed that there was a need to legislate on the matter. He hastened to add that he would propose suggestions for a peaceful settlement of the dispute in his reply, expected to be filed on Friday.

At the outset, Aitzaz Ahsan, who appeared on behalf of the PPP, sought an order to vacate the ‘tent village’ that had emerged on the premises of Parliament House.

“The parliament is as sacred and a glorified institution, just like the Supreme Court,” he said.

But the chief justice observed that the speaker of the National Assembly was the competent authority to pass such an order.

Earlier, Sheikh Rashid told the court that the protesters had great respect for the Supreme Court, but that they were adamant in their protest. He also contradicted the contention that parliament was under siege, saying that a joint sitting of both houses was being held in the house.

He said the entire nation trusted the Supreme Court and, therefore, it should not interfere in political matters, adding that the protesters were willing to return to the streets if they were assured that there would be no action against them. He said that the real inconvenience to the people was being caused by the placing of containers at key points, hindering free movement in the capital.

When asked about the body searches being carried out by the protesters, he apologised and said he would do his best to ensure this did not happen again. However, he maintained that this was a precaution to avoid an untoward incident.

Justice Saqib Nisar lamented that despite commitment made to the Supreme Court by the protesting parties that they would abide by the constitution, the secretariat had virtually become non-functional, while the Federal Board of Revenue, Election Commission of Pakistan and Federal Shariat Court had been inaccessible for the past 17 days.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Bouquets and brickbats for PM in parliament

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received both cheer and brickbats on Tuesday as parliament began a discussion over what Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called a “rebellion against the state” by two protesting parties besieging the parliament building to force out the prime minister.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif received both cheer and brickbats on Tuesday as parliament began a discussion over what Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan called a “rebellion against the state” by two protesting parties besieging the parliament building to force out the prime minister.

The joint session of the National Assembly and Senate, which will continue on Wednesday, marked a big show of defiance against two weeks of sit-ins outside the building by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) that they extended on Monday to the nearby Prime Minister’s House.

Mr Sharif, who did not speak during some three and a half hours of the day’s debate, heard some of the most biting criticism of his 18-month-old government as well as words of support from the main opposition speaker, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan.

There was no sympathy for the mode of agitation adopted by the protesting parties by laying siege to the parliament and the prime minister’s official residence, though they received some support over issues like the PTI’s charge of a massive rigging of last year’s general elections and the PAT’s grouse against the government’s hesitation to allow the registration of formal first information report (FIR) of a June 17 police shootout in Lahore that allegedly killed at least 14 PAT activists.

The day was also marked by the PTI’s dissident figurehead president, Javed Hashmi, pleasing treasury benches by his arrival in the house in apparent defiance of his boycotting party, but later pouring cold water on the sentiment by telling National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq, who chaired the sitting, to accept his resignation from the lower house that was sent to him by his party along with those of some 30 other party lawmakers out of a total of 34.

The house will likely see a more spectacular show on Wednesday when, under a directive from PTI Chairman Imran Khan, some 30 remaining party lawmakers are to come and confirm the genuineness of their resignations sent to the National Assembly speaker last week.

On being challenged by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the government-allied Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F), as to why he was not accepting the PTI resignations, the speaker told the house that since the resignations were sent to his office when he was not present there, he wanted to determine whether the members resigned out of their free will, while the possibility of a compromise on the prevailing political crisis was another reason for “some delay”.

The interior minister opened the debate with a hard-hitting tirade against the protesters, asking parliament to guide the government on three points: confronting this “rebellion against the state of Pakistan”, proposing a legal and constitutional way out of the crisis, removing what he called a misconception created by the protesting parties that the army was behind their campaign.

Many eyebrows were raised when the minister specially praised the role played by the Punjab police, along with the Azad Kashmir police and the army, in dealing with the protesters so far, but he offered an “unmitigated apology on behalf of the government and myself” for Sunday’s apparently targeted brutal attacks by the Punjab police against the staff of several private television channels while they were covering the protests in Islamabad.

Senator Ahsan of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), who is Leader of the Opposition in the upper house, said the opposition parties “are standing by democracy and constitution … unconditionally” because a victory for “lashkars” that had landed in Islamabad would be the “darkest day” meaning tearing the Constitution in pieces.

But he said “we are also worried” that after a survival of the present government, arrogance of its ministers may increase.

Yet he assured the prime minister that “we stand by you out of compulsion” despite what he called repression meted out to PPP workers by the PML-N government in Punjab and said he hoped “your attitude will be different” after coming out of the present crisis.

While expressing his confidence that nobody could force the prime minister to resign against his will, he hoped Mr Sharif would not repeat what he did in 1993 when he resigned a day after saying he would not, though Chaudhry Nisar corrected the dates of the happening.

But Mr Ahsan supported Imran Khan’s complaints of rigging of the 2013 elections as well as of corruption in government, joined voice with PAT at least over the “calamity let loose on Model Town” in Lahore with the June 17 fatal police attack on the PAT headquarters and protested against Sunday’s “repression” on the media in Islamabad that he said had “put our heads to shame”.

Two prominent government allies, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, called for a strong action by the government to remove the protesters from Islamabad while voicing fears of what the Maulana called “some other power” supporting them.

Referring to a call by an army corps commanders’ conference on Sunday for a resolution of the situation “without wasting any time and without recourse to violent means”, the JUI-F chief called it a pressure being put on the government against using force, but asked the prime minister to direct the interior minister to “clear Islamabad of these people”.

Mr Achakzai, speaking earlier, wondered how the protesters were allowed entry into parliament’s premises, which he called a terrorist activity, and urged unspecified quarters to “remove your dear ones from here” as they were removed from the PTV (on Monday).

National Assembly member Khalid Maqbool of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement regretted the interior minister’s praise for the Punjab police as he called for justice to be done in the Lahore Model Town shooting case, but opposed Mr Imran Khan’s call for launching a civil disobedience movement.

Mr Hashmi, coming as the last speaker of the day, seemed less about Imran Khan than he was during a talk to the media on the previous day as he spoke of big honour given to him in the party before lashing out at the prime minister for not going to the Senate for a long time and talked of unexplained “excesses” done to him by the PML-N government over the past 14 months.

Yet Mr Sharif walked to Mr Hashmi to shake his hand as the house was adjourned until 11am on Wednesday.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Opposition takes initiative for resumption of talks

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: It was just before midnight on Tuesday that Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq revealed that both the government and the two protesting leaders had agreed to resume negotiations to end the prevailing political crisis.

ISLAMABAD: It was just before midnight on Tuesday that Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq revealed that both the government and the two protesting leaders had agreed to resume negotiations to end the prevailing political crisis.

But this initiative came separately, outside the joint session of parliament, where parliamentary leaders pou­red scorn on both Dr Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan; some even going as far as to call them “mutineers”.

Throughout the day, it looked like both the government and the protesting lea­ders had taken highly polarised positions, leaving no room for talks, and were hea­ded for a confrontation. This is why Tuesday night’s developments left many scratching their heads in the capital.

But after a six-member ‘peace committee’ — led by the JI chief — held separate meetings with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan, and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leaders in their respective containers, reporters on the scene were given the good news.

In a brief statement, Mr Haq said the two leaders had agreed to resume talks with the government, adding that the six-member committee would separately meet both parties’ representatives later in the night to discuss their demands in detail. He used both words, “committee” and “Jirga” to describe the six-member panel which he said was purely an opposition initiative.

Apart from Mr Haq, the opposition’s negotiating committee includes Fata MNA Ghazi Gulab Jamal, JI Secretary General Liaquat Baloch, BNP-Awami’s Senator Kalsoom Parveen, National Party leader Hasil Bizenjo and former interior minister Rehman Malik.

In categorical terms, Mr Haq gave voice to the protesters’ sentiments when he said that leaders from both parties did not trust the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N and that the opposition was working to allay this concern. “In case the two sides reach an agreement, opposition parties are willing to act as guarantors. Moreover, to ensure that no party backs out, the accord will be finalised in the presence of media.”

Although the JI chief didn’t take any questions, he explained that the committee had already consulted with the government in this regard. “I took the government by the collar and asked them to restart the talks,” Mr Haq said.

In his statement to the media, Rehman Malik – who claimed to be acting on behalf of his party Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, advised the government to release all detained protesters as a goodwill gesture. He also asked that government ministers be restrained from making incendiary statements if the peace process was to be made effective.

He also disclosed that Mr Zardari was due in the capital soon, where he is expected to play a part in working to resolve the prevailing impasse.

The committee members met Mr Khan at his container first, but as the nation watched on TV with bated breath, the meeting ended in a mere 10 minutes. The panel then spent around an hour in Dr Qadri’s container.

Earlier in the day, however, there were no signs of a possible thaw.

Separately, former information minister and Pakistan People’s Party Information Secretary Qamar Zaman Kaira also met the PAT chief. “If the two sides show some flexibility, a political solution is still possible,” Mr Kaira told reporters after his meeting, adding that he was there with the blessing of his party.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Imran, Qadri join hands against govt

Irfan Haider

ISLAMABAD: Responding to political parties’ declarations in the joint session of parliament, both Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri vowed to persevere with the sit-ins until their demands were met and both Sharif brothers resigned from their positions.

ISLAMABAD: Responding to political parties’ declarations in the joint session of parliament, both Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri vowed to persevere with the sit-ins until their demands were met and both Sharif brothers resigned from their positions.

Mr Khan also revealed that he had asked party vice chairman Shah Meh­mood Qureshi to attend Wednesday’s session and, after laying the party’s stance before the house, hand in their party’s resignations.

Following a malfunction in his sound system, Dr Tahirul Qadri joined Imran Khan atop the latter’s container as he addressed “Inqilab marchers” and “Azadi tigers” on Tuesday evening.

This was the first time the two leaders have met publicly since they both arrived in the capital with their respective supporters, on August 16.

Invited over by Mr Khan, Dr Qadri embraced the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief before beginning his speech.

Congratulatory speech

He congratulated the crowds gathered on Constitution Avenue, waving around a copy of the fresh FIR registered over the Model Town killings, saying that big names – like those of Nawaz Sharif, Shahbaz Sharif, Rana Sanaullah and several federal ministers – had been added to the FIR, which now also included the relevant sections of the Anti-Terror Act that had been omitted earlier.

“The Punjab chief minister promised that he would resign if the investigation report held him responsible for any wrongdoing. Their own probe, which we refused to become a part of, has now pointed the finger squarely at him, but he remains in office,” Dr Qadri said.

His speech was also accentuated with the beats of DJ Butt, whose signature style adds popular appeal to most PTI leaders’ speeches.

The Pakistan Awami Tehreek leader distanced himself from the attack on PTV headquarters a day earlier and denied that his party’s leadership was in contact with the military.

He stressed that the government was responsible for providing its citizens with food, healthcare services, education and security under the Constitution of the land.

“But in the last 41 years, governments have failed to implement the first 40 articles of the 1973 Constitution that guarantee the fundamental rights of all Pakistanis,” he thundered.

Referring to the Sharif brothers’ propensity to travel abroad, he alleged, “They prefer to go abroad because that is where kickbacks come from. That is where they get commissions and build their own business empires.”

‘I don’t need lectures’

Later at night, PTI chief Imran Khan took the stage to address his followers and said: “I don’t need lectures on democracy from parliamentarians. The system in Pakistan is kleptocracy, not a democracy.”

Addressing Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as a ‘field marshal’, he asked, “Can you tell me why the police fired live bullets on my supporters?”

Speaking about dissident party leader Javed Hashmi, he said he accorded the leader from Multan more respect than any other political figure. “I was hurt by his allegation that I was being backed by the army and the chief justice in my struggle for naya Pakistan,” Mr Khan said.

He lauded Aitzaz Ahsan for delivering what he called a “balanced speech” in the National Assembly but criticised him for terming the current sit-ins “unconstitutional”.

“Chaudhry Aitzaz, if the (movement) to restore the chief justice was constitutional, then how is this sit-in unconstitutional,” he asked.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Chief justice clarifies his position

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court may have expressed its intention of determining the limits of some of the fundamental rights like freedom of speech and assembly, but the bigger event of the day was the clearing up of his position by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.

ISLAMABAD: On Tuesday, the Supreme Court may have expressed its intention of determining the limits of some of the fundamental rights like freedom of speech and assembly, but the bigger event of the day was the clearing up of his position by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk.

“I want to clarify certain statements appeared in the media that I have some kind of understanding with the leadership (of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf),” the chief justice said, referring to the allegations levelled by Javed Hashmi who quoted Imran Khan as saying that the new chief justice would be a PTI sympathiser and help throw the PML-N government out of power to form a government of technocrats.

Another significant development of the day was issuance of notices to parties on both sides of the political divide, including the PML-N, PPP, PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, Balochistan National Party, APML and Pakistan Awami Tehreek. They are required to submit their suggestions for an amicable way to end the current political impasse.

Although a larger Supreme Court bench resumed the hearing on a set of petitions against sit-ins by the PTI and PAT on the Constitution Avenue, a sort of clarification by the chief justice was expected because the allegations levelled against the superior judiciary created doubts in the minds of many.

“I have met Imran Khan only once and that too along with his counsel Hamid Khan when I was officiating as acting Chief Election Commissioner,” the chief justice said, adding that the two had come to discuss introduction of the biometric system in the local government polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on an election petition. About having an understanding with someone directly or indirectly, he said it was not his position to issue clarifications.

Advocate Hamid Khan, who is senior vice president of the PTI but appeared before the court on his own as a senior member of the bar, also endorsed the chief justice’s statement, but regretted that the office of the chief justice had been dragged unnecessarily.

This made Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja to state that the entire bench and, not a single judge, decided matters in the court.

Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali deplored that it had become a tendency to malign institutions by hurling accusations, disregarding consequences.

The court asked Hamid Khan to explain what he meant by suggesting to the court to initiate a suo motu notice on the current political situation.

The counsel explained that when the court took up a suo motu cognisance it had a wider jurisdiction than the limited scope of a petition before it. Besides, he said, court’s orders were always binding and the court could seek political parties’ views for resolving the standoff.

Citing a book titled “Justice” by Indian writer Chakravarti, Justice Saqib Nisar said time had come when the Supreme Court should determine the parameters of the competing fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution like the freedom of speech. He referred to a Monday night’s TV talk show in which a barrister heaped abuses on the judiciary.

At this Advocate Zulfikar Naqvi, representing the High Court Bar Association Rawalpindi, drew the court’s attention to his petition in which he had named at least 15 political parties respondents.

But he was reminded by the court that he had missed many parties in the list and should include them as well so that notices could also be issued to them.

Advocate Ali Zafar, representing the PAT, said that as a citizen he was extremely depressed over what was going on. A number of people were killed and injured but politicians failed to resolve the issue.

He said he had talked to the PAT leaders who told him to inform the court that they had immense respect for the superior judiciary but would not give any suggestion because the current issue was a political one in which the court should not intervene.

But the court observed that it was not fair and explained that this was not a political dispute, but a constitutional one.

Justice Khawaja said that like members of parliament, judges had also taken oath under the Constitution, but the oath not taken under the Constitution was the oath of allegiance to Queen of England, obliquely referring to the dual nationality of PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri.

“What right any individual has to storm the state television and then congratulate for occupying PTV and the parliament,” Justice Jamali said, adding that the court had been exercising patience and restraint despite double face being shown to it.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Move likely to break deadlock

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: Shortly after Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the besieged PM House, the government ordered inclusion of an anti-terrorism clause in the charges levelled against the prime minister and 20 other accused in the FIR related to the June 17 Lahore Model Town incident.

ISLAMABAD: Shortly after Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the besieged PM House, the government ordered inclusion of an anti-terrorism clause in the charges levelled against the prime minister and 20 other accused in the FIR related to the June 17 Lahore Model Town incident.

The government also took steps towards resumption of dialogue with protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

There were indications that the government would re-start the dialogue with the PAT and PTI through an opposition-led initiative for which back-channel contacts were started.

The government had directed to remove objections relating to the FIR of the Model Town incident as raised by PAT, a government spokesman said.

Importantly the instructions for adding Section 7 of Anti-Terrorism Act to the charges in the Model Town FIR were given before the prime minister’s meeting with parliamentary parties chiefs, which immediately followed the meeting with Gen Sharif.

Neither side said anything about what was discussed at the about two-hour meeting except for denying a news report that PM Sharif was either quitting or going on leave.

The meeting took place a day after the army held an extraordinary meeting of the Corps Commanders and the Prime Minister chaired a ‘high-level’ meeting to devise a strategy for dealing with the protests.

A military source said that Gen Sharif reiterated the need for a political settlement and dialogue with the protesting parties in his meeting with the prime minister.

The prime minister and the army chief reportedly discussed various options for ending the deadlock in dialogue between the protesters and the government — among which was adding the anti-terrorism clause to the Model Town FIR.

Moreover, by late night there were reports of back-channel contacts between the government and the two protesting parties to pave the way for resumption of the stalled negotiations.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Riot zone mob storms PTV

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: A mob of protesters from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) sit-ins stormed the headquarters of Pakistan Television (PTV) and forced its staff to take two of the state broadcaster’s flagship channels — PTV News and PTV World — off the air, on Monday morning.

ISLAMABAD: A mob of protesters from the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek’s (PAT) sit-ins stormed the headquarters of Pakistan Television (PTV) and forced its staff to take two of the state broadcaster’s flagship channels — PTV News and PTV World — off the air, on Monday morning.

According to eyewitnesses, nearly 400 PTI and PAT workers stormed the PTV building, across the road from the main entrance to the Pakistan Secretariat. The attack came soon after demonstrators were repulsed from the secretariat compound.

But the occupying force was dispersed without incident by a contingent of army and Rangers personnel, who arrived on the scene within an hour of the state-TV being taken off-air.

Transmission was restored shortly after noon as the occupying force dispersed peacefully, shouting pro-army slogans and hugging military and paramilitary personnel who arrived at the scene.

This is the first time that PTV’s transmission went blank since October 12, 1999, when former military ruler retired General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup after toppling the government of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Eyewitnesses told Dawn the protesters were carrying PTI and PAT flags and shouting slogans in favour of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. PTV Senior Controller Asmatullah Niazi blamed the district administration for what he called their failure to protect the state broadcaster.

PTV employees had been facing a hard time, as their office was located right on the edge of the red zone and was at the centre of the anti-government protests, which have raged on in the capital for over two weeks now.

“Despite the army’s deployment in aid of civil authorities, how could the administration forget to deploy security around this key national institution,” he said.

Mr Niazi said that PAT workers who stormed the building instructed staff manning the channel’s transmission to stop broadcasting “useless content” and asked them to broadcast speeches by Dr Tahirul Qadri.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Hashmi opens Pandora’s box

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: Hours after PTI’s estranged President Javed Hashmi made explosive claims about a scripted plan to overthrow the government by using violent protests as a pretext, the military rejected assertions that the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were backing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and were behind the current political standoff.

ISLAMABAD: Hours after PTI’s estranged President Javed Hashmi made explosive claims about a scripted plan to overthrow the government by using violent protests as a pretext, the military rejected assertions that the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) were backing the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and were behind the current political standoff.

“Army is an apolitical institution and has expressed its unequivocal support for democracy at numerous occasions,” the Inter-Services Public Relations said in a statement issued here on Monday.

It is unfortunate that the army has been dragged into such controversies. “Integrity and unity of the army is its strength which it upholds with pride,” the ISPR said. The statement followed calls made by leading rights activists that the ISPR should clarify its position. And some analysts suggested an immediate reaction from the ISPR, a debate in parliament and a notice by the Supreme Court.

Talking to reporters at the parliament house, Mr Hashmi quoted PTI Chairman Imran Khan as having told him that “we cannot move forward without the army” and that the ‘badge-bearers’ wanted PTI protesters to move along with those of the PAT and march together on the Prime Minister’s House.

He also dragged the judiciary into the controversy and said that Imran Khan had told him before the long march that a new chief justice would be his sympathiser. Asked to name the judge, he said he was referring to the incumbent chief justice.

He also quoted Imran Khan as saying that the chief justice along with other judges would throw Nawaz Sharif out of power and new elections would be held in September. He said it appeared to him that everything was pre-planned. “A hijacked PTI has come here. We have been made hostage,” he remarked.

According to him, “Imran had told the PTI core committee that the new arrangement would not be called martial law. We will file a petition in the Supreme Court and get a judge of our choice who will say okay. The chief justice will validate the actions which will be taken eventually and this would not be the Bangladesh model.”

He also said that the chief justice had summoned all judges to Islamabad and it appeared to be part of the plan.

Answering a question, Mr Hashmi said he could not say whose plan it was. “Only the planners themselves would know this. But their name is being brought into a bad repute.” He, however, said there was a mention of ISI and the army.

Mr Hashmi said he was still president of the PTI because Imran Khan did not follow the constitution in sacking him. “Imran Khan should have gone through the party’s constitution first.”

He said the PTI’s core committee had warned Imran Khan to beware of Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rashid.

“I am Javed Hashmi and today I am saying this to save the constitution. I know those making statements do not get a chance to live,” he said in response to a question about proof of his allegations.

Mr Hashmi, who was thrown out of the PTI by Imran Khan because of disagreements over marching towards the PM House, said the PTI and PAT had been given a plan, but did not name the script-writer, although pointed finger at the army.

Denying Imran Khan’s claim that he (Mr Hashmi) was the only one opposing the decision to move towards the PM House, he said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jehangir Tareen, Pervaiz Khattak and Arif Alvi had also opposed it.

Mr Hashmi said the entire core committee had warned Mr Khan that Sheikh Rashid would ruin him. The core committee had passed a resolution about the need to keep Sheikh Rashid at a distance. He said Mr Khan had said that “our friends” wanted Sheikh Rashid to be elected to the National Assembly.

Talking about the resignations of PTI members from the assemblies, Mr Hashmi said they had been forced to do that. “No-one submitted his resignation whole-heartedly,” he remarked.

Answering a question about allegations of rigging in the 2013 general elections, he said that there was no harm in getting the matter investigated and that the demand of prime minister’s resignation was not unconstitutional. “I am with parliament and the constitution. You will never find me among cowards,” he said.

PTI Information Secretary Shireen Mazari rejected the allegations and said the PTI had followed the party’s constitution by issuing a show-cause notice to Mr Hashmi.

“If Mr Hashmi thought the PTI was linked to the army he should have immediately resigned. The fact is that there was no such talk in any meeting nor is there any such covert agenda. The chairman had said from day one that if the legal avenues failed to give justice to the PTI against rigging it would come out on the road to protest,” she said.

She said that Mr Hashmi’s unfortunate allegations were baseless. “It is sad indeed that he has chosen this path of levelling unfounded allegations,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the PML-N has said that Imran Khan had lost moral justification to remain chief of PTI after the allegations levelled against him by Javed Hashmi.

PML-N Information Secretary Mushahidullah Khan said the accusations should be investigated at a credible forum. He said what PAT chief Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan had done were tantamount to treason against state institutions.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

SC seeks suggestions from PTI and PAT

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the two protesting parties — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) — on Monday what proposals they had in their mind about the role the court should play in ending the current political impasse.

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court asked the two protesting parties — Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) — on Monday what proposals they had in their mind about the role the court should play in ending the current political impasse.

But when reporters misconstrued it as an offer on part of the court to arbitrate, Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk himself dispelled the impression and explained that the court was not going to mediate or arbitrate in the standoff.

“The Supreme Court is a court of law and adjudicates when something is brought before it and when it gives an order on an issue it is binding on everyone,” he observed.

The chief justice, who heads a five-judge bench hearing a set of petitions against sit-ins by the PTI and the PAT on the Constitution Avenue, made the observation against the backdrop of PTI’s counsel Hamid Khan’s earlier request to the court to take a suo motu cognisance for resolution of the crisis, but was told to highlight issues through a petition.

Both Hamid Khan and Ali Zafar, representing the PAT, who were absent on Monday are required to appear before the court on Tuesday with suggestions after consulting heads of the two parties.

The order was issued after Ahmed Awais, another PTI lawyer, said he needed time because he could not contact the party leadership.

Attorney General Salman Aslam Butt requested the court to invoke Article 190 of the Constitution – a provision which empowers the Supreme Court to summon any executive authority to its aid – but the court explained that the article was used when its directives were not complied with.

The AG then requested the court to at least order the protesters to restrain from attacking public buildings, but the court asked him who had the power to stop the protesters from indulging in unlawful acts.

Referring to the violent protests on the Constitution Avenue, Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja said he wondered how these were different from an insurgency in Fata. He then cited the written commitments made by the protesting parties that they would abide by the Constitution and said time had come when “we have to come out in the open and let the people say that they are against the country, the Constitution and the entire system. There should be no double face. Let them say they are revolutionaries.”

Justice Khawaja said the discord on the Constitution Avenue could not be accepted as if it were in accord with the Constitution. “Whatever is being said today is becoming a part of history and a day will come soon when historians will tell who was telling the truth and who was lying.”

He also took exception to the violence against media personnel and asked whether “we are living in a civilised society or not”.

At the outset of the proceedings, the attorney general informed the court the PTI and the PAT had accepted 24 conditions in agreements with the Islamabad administration, but they violated these.

He read out the conditions in the form of non-objection certificate under which the protesters would not enter the red zone, not storm or damage any private or public property, not bring any infant to the protest, will remain confined to the Parade Ground, not litter the area, restrict the volume of the sound system and avoid sectarian or objectionable speeches.

But, the AG regretted, the protesters came with batons, cutters, hammers, daggers and slingshots and used trucks to damage entrance gates of the Parliament House and even tried to uproot the gates of the Presidency. On Monday, they raided the Pakistan Television building and switched off its transmission for half an hour, he recalled.

Balochistan High Court Bar Association President Sajid Tarin informed the court about a reported statement of Taliban leader Mullah Fazlullah that the protesters had shown them the easiest way of making Islamabad hostage.

He asked why the three federating units – Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh – were being punished when they were not complaining of poll rigging. He regretted that an impression was being created as if the real power lay with the gun and not with the Constitution. He cited the use of a term, “third umpire”, by PTI chief Imran Khan.

“The only neutral umpire under the Constitution is the Supreme Court,” Justice Saqib Nisar said, adding that the court was the only forum for getting political justice because it was the custodian of fundamental rights.

“Tell us how can the court resolve the issue when it is seized with seven petitions highlighting breach of fundamental rights and when the very constitution is under threat,” he said, referring to last night’s attack on his car and his escort.

Justice Anwar Zaheer Jamali wondered why there was a complete failure on part of the government and why the law was not taking its course.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

PM again seeks support of parliamentary parties

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yet again sought on Monday refuge in the unconditional support of parliamentary parties against the twin-marches camped on the Constitution Avenue, but dropped no hint how the government planned to end the political stalemate which has entered third week.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yet again sought on Monday refuge in the unconditional support of parliamentary parties against the twin-marches camped on the Constitution Avenue, but dropped no hint how the government planned to end the political stalemate which has entered third week.

After meeting Army Chief General Raheel Sharif in the early afternoon, the prime minister invited leaders of all parliamentary parties to his office for consultation.

The official communiqué released after the meeting only said that in a four-hour huddle political parties across the board had once again reiterated their support for the continuation of current democratic dispensation and against the resignation of the prime minister.

The official release, however, did not say if at all the government had worked out any strategy to deal with Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan and Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Dr Tahirul Qadri who were demanding resignation of the prime minister.

Talking to Dawn, a participant of the meeting said that despite their (politicians) repeated questions, Mr Sharif refused to share any detail of his recent meetings with the army chief.

“Every time, one of us asks the prime minister if the army is behind the marchers as some of the government ministers have on record pointed fingers towards the GHQ, he will simply say he has no issues with the army.”

Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal has more than once said that all current problems afflicting the government were because of its decision to put former army chief retired Gen Pervez Musharraf on trial under Article 6, making an indirect reference to the military establishment’s unhappiness towards the PML-N.

Refusing to speak on record, the participant said during the entire meeting the prime minister looked out of sorts, showing visible signs of his fast-receding executive authority vis-à-vis leaders of the PTI and PAT.

“Throughout Monday, police were on the defensive and only the presence of the military in the red zone provided some semblance of government control, otherwise, protesters were everywhere,” he said.

Another participant, who too preferred to remain off the record, said the two houses of parliament had already passed separate resolutions in support of the government and Monday’s meeting was all about reaffirmation of their (political parties) earlier positions.

“Although the prime minister throughout his first year in power has ignored parliament, it is good to see him coming back to us.”

According to him, had the government sincerely involved parliamentary parties in the crisis, things would have been different. Even at Monday’s meeting nobody from the government explained how it was going to get out of the crisis, he added.

“The issue at the moment is not of our support to the government, but its own line of action to end the standoff.”

The participants of the meeting again offered their services for mediation between the government and PAT-PTI leaders, but in the end it had to be PM’s call, he said.

The meeting was attended by PML-N leaders Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, retired Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, Pervaiz Rashid, Khawaja Saad Rafiq and Irfan Siddiqui, Syed Khurshid Shah, Aitzaz Ahsan and Rehman Malik of the PPP, Dr Farooq Sattar and Babar Ghouri of the MQM, JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Haji Adeel of the ANP, Sirajul Haq and Liaqat Baloch of Jamaat-i-Islami, Mahmood Khan Achakzai of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, Hasil Bizenjo of the National Party, Aftab Sherpao of the Qaumi Watan Party, Ijazul Haq, Kalsoom Parveen of the Balochistan National Party (Awami), G.G. Jamal from Fata and Prof Sajid Mir of the Jamiat Ahle Hadith.

According to the official statement, the prime minister told the politicians that come what may he would neither resign nor go on leave as being pressed by PAT and PTI leaderships.

The prime minister made it clear that he would not set a tradition of a few people besieging the mandate of millions of people. “We have rule of law in the country and will not allow anybody at any cost to hurt it,” Mr Sharif was quoted as saying.

Talking to a TV channel, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif said the government had decided to constitute a committee comprising representatives of all opposition political parties to approach Mr Khan and Dr Qadri for negotiations.

PTI leader Naeemul Haq told the same TV channel that his party was ready for talks, but there would not be any change in its demands. Moreover, he demanded removal of containers and police from D-Chowk if the government was serious in resuming talks with PTI.

Late in the evening, PTI Chairman Imran left his container for an undisclosed destination. According to PTI officials, he had gone to some friend’s place for physical exercise.

According to rumours, efforts were on for a breakthrough in talks. But nobody from the PTI was available to comment.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Army edict calms explosive situation

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: After a tense Saturday night, Sunday brought a flurry of activity from the government and the military which analysts agreed was intended to signal each other – two leading protagonists in this crisis which has drawn in many a player from the political spectrum.

ISLAMABAD: After a tense Saturday night, Sunday brought a flurry of activity from the government and the military which analysts agreed was intended to signal each other – two leading protagonists in this crisis which has drawn in many a player from the political spectrum.

On a day on which both the government and the military usually take a break from official work was used to hold official meetings at their official seats – Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

While the government used the meeting to once again reiterate its democratic legitimacy, the military asked for the crisis to be resolved and also warned against violence.

The first sign that Sunday was not going to be a day of rest came when it was announced that the military leadership had cancelled the Defence Day event which was to be held on Sunday afternoon.

A little while later, it was announced that a corps commander meeting would be held on Monday.

The last time the corps commanders met on a weekend was in September 2011. The extraordinary meeting then took place amid US allegations about ISI’s links with the Haqqani network.

Shortly after this it came to light that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was returning to Islamabad. Earlier, it was being conjectured that he may prolong his stay in Lahore because of the situation prevailing in the red zone.

This was unusual as prime minister’s routine is to spend his weekend in Lahore, not returning to Islamabad till Monday morning.

However, he cut short his weekend and went into a huddle with his ‘war-cabinet’, a government official told Dawn.

As this meeting was being held, the ISPR released the information that instead of Monday, the military commanders were meeting at six in the evening on Sunday.

The generals were still discussing matters when the prime minister had wrapped up his meeting and the media wing of his office said the government had agreed to the suggestions of the PPP opposition leaders and called a joint sitting of the parliament.

“The prime minister, in agreement with the proposal of Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Syed Khurshid Shah and Leader of Opposition in Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, decided to convene a joint session of parliament on Tuesday, September 2, 2014,” the office said.

Analysts felt that the prime minister was digging in his heels by convening the joint sitting of the parliament.

“Since already all the political parties in the parliament have passed resolutions against his resignation, the government has made a wise move by turning to the forum where he has received unconditional support against the marchers,” commented one analyst.

Undeterred by the government’s announcement, the army’s top brass emerged from a three-hour long session and cautioned the government against using force to quell political protests saying it risked worsening the crisis.

“Further use of force will only aggravate the problem,” the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said.

On the surface the statement appeared mild as many people had wildly predicted that the corps commanders would emerge with a solution to the crisis, which it would impose on the quarrelling political parties including the government.

However, the military did no such thing; in fact it reiterated “support to democracy”.

But there is no doubt that the statement did carry red lines, directed at the government as well as the protesters.

This was the first time the army publicly warned the government against use of force. Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, who presided over the corps commanders’ meeting, had privately conveyed this message to the prime minister during his last two meetings.

The call from the corps commanders to avoid use of force against protesters assumed additional significance because the prime minister’s office had stated that Mr Sharif had commended the police for “defend(ing) and defeat(ing)” the protesters’ advance on Saturday night.

The statement from the prime minister’s house also directed the interior minister to “utilise all resources” to protect state institutions without loss of life.

Analysts were agreed that the ISPR statement was warning the government against this course of action as well as sending a message to the protesters; there were reports that the PTI chief Imran Khan may also announce taking his followers further to the prime minister’s house.

In his speeches on Constitution Avenue on Sunday, he had said at least once that while his party workers were not prepared on Saturday night, they were equipped on Sunday if an onslaught took place. There were also reports that he held a meeting with some of his senior leaders to discuss this option.

But then it appeared that he decided against it, perhaps heeding the military’s message. Before one at night, he told his followers that he was going into his container to sleep.

The commanders also expressed “concern” over the situation especially the violent dimension it has assumed “resulting in large-scale injuries and loss of lives”.

The government too seemed to take steps to defuse the situation. There were no indications that it intended to take any steps to disperse the protesters; a conciliatory statement of a senior police official at the red zone late at night also helped in this regard.

Talking to Dawn about the meeting held by the government, a PML-N office-bearer said that only time would tell if the civil and military leadership was on the same page as far as the twin-marches were concerned.

However, the official’s response was in the affirmative when asked if the current political crisis has put further strain on the already tense civil-military relationship.

“Of course they were looking tense,” said the party official, about the ministers who attended the meeting.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Hungry protesters determined to fight it out

Aamir Yasin

ISLAMABAD: There was no reprieve on Sunday for the red zone, which had turned into a veritable war zone on Saturday night.

ISLAMABAD: There was no reprieve on Sunday for the red zone, which had turned into a veritable war zone on Saturday night.

On Sunday, ground zero witnessed not only continuing clashes and use of teargas but also saw the suffering of the injured and wounded.

The young and old, women and men could be seen in small groups, tending to their wounds and resting.

Exhausted baton-wielding Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) workers were seen here and there, munching on whatever food they had managed to find. Many of them sported bandages.

“I have not been eating anything since yesterday afternoon, because I had severe nausea after the night-long shelling,” said Nida Zehra, who was being helped by her brother, “We went out to get some tea but all shops and hotels are closed.”

The young woman who seemed to be in her 20s had bloodshot eyes.

By noon, the PAT workers who had spent the night within the red zone were short of food and water.

Those in charge of providing food were handing out pieces of naan – it was all they had left from the day before, instructing the PAT workers to eat them along with water.

“Our food trucks have still not been allowed in and this is all we have left from last night,” said Ghulam Mohammad, who manages the food supply for PAT.

Skirmishes still continued in some parts of the long Constitution Avenue where protesters confronted the police with catapults and stones.

The charge on the media had also just ended. TV channels’ damaged DSNG vans were still parked in the area controlled by law-enforcement personnel.

The ruins of the afternoon provided a glimpse of the havoc that was wreaked on the seat of the government the night before but there was no clarity on the series of events that took place.

Oddly, army personnel were stationed there on Saturday night but once the protesters moved in, they moved back, closer to the Parliament House building.

Further to the left was the road that led to the Cabinet Block, which was still sealed off by containers.

It is here that pitched battles first broke out between the protesters and police personnel.

According to police officials, protesters had removed the containers and were moving towards the Presidency. At this point, police used tear gas shells to stop their onward march. Until very late at night, this area witnessed the most shelling and fighting, long after the marchers had broken into the parliament’s grounds.

But in the afternoon, it appeared as if the containers had never been moved. The road had been blocked by placing four containers on top of each other and while the two at the top were topsy-turvy, suggesting a crane had tried to remove them, the ones on the bottom seemed untouched.

All around, however, there were signs of a hard battle having been fought. Shells were scattered all over – on top of the containers as well as the ground around.

In the rest of the city, a tense calm prevailed.

The city was quiet – even for a Sunday in Islamabad.

Rumours, of course, did the rounds – from a brutal crackdown by the government to a military takeover to violence spreading further than the red zone.

But later in the afternoon, somehow, it seemed as if the tension eased as local supporters of the PTI returned to venue.

Breaking the police cordon, they walked in, bringing with them some of the casual fervour one now associates with the PTI workers.

Their appearance also cheered up the weary warriors who had spent the night there and slogans soon filled the air.

By the evening, various other spots in Islamabad and Rawalpindi witnessed protests and roadblocks, by workers of PTI, PAT and Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen, such as the Islamabad Expressway and Faizabad.

By the time night fell, the mood had changed again.

Music returned to the zone that had been filled with shelling on Saturday night. In the midst of stones and tear gas shells and some still wearing their gas marks, a group numbering a few hundreds had gathered in front of Imran Khan’s container to listen his speech.

Small groups of people were carrying the PTI flags and chanting ‘Go Nawaz Go”. Most of them were speaking Pashto.

“I came from G-11 to answer the call of Imran Khan. We will remain here tonight to protect our leaders,” Shahmir Khan, 29, said.

Mohammad Nasir, 26, who said he came from Rawalpindi, also planned to spend the night there.

The speakers were blaring the trademark PTI songs.

The PAT workers however continued to rest in their tents installed at the grounds of the Parliament House.

“It is better to rest as there are reports of some action in the night. We have to be prepared for any untoward situation,” said Sajid Hussain, a member who has been assigned to protect the people. He was carrying a stick, indicating his ‘job’.

Food was being distributed – it had been brought by a few people.

“I came from Rawalpindi with the food. We are PAT supporters and some of our counterparts asked us to arrange food,” said Mohammad Naseem, a resident of Committee Chowk.

Suhail Ahmed, another participant, said that he and the others would not leave till Dr Tahirul Qadri gave the orders.

A little later Imran Khan appeared on the stage to give a short speech.

The evening, it seemed, had just begun for some of red zone ‘residents’.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Imran parts ways with Hashmi

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: Fissures in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf over its decision to march on the Prime Minister House came out in the open on Sunday when PTI Chairman Imran Khan parted ways with the party’s elected President Javed Hashmi.

ISLAMABAD: Fissures in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf over its decision to march on the Prime Minister House came out in the open on Sunday when PTI Chairman Imran Khan parted ways with the party’s elected President Javed Hashmi.

“We have different paths to tread on,” Mr Khan said in a speech from atop his container in the red zone. He also said Mr Hashmi had disappointed him.

The remarks followed Mr Hashmi’s criticism of Mr Khan for going against the unanimous decision of the core committee not to march on the Prime Minister House, allegedly after receiving a message from ‘somewhere’.

Mr Khan’s remarks were seen by many as reflection of his long-held desire of getting rid of Mr Hashmi because of his bluntness. On the same occasion, the PTI chief said his party’s MNAs who had not submitted their resignation would also be expelled.

Under the party’s constitution, the powerful core committee can decide to expel an office-bearer from the party.

Earlier, Mr Hashmi said at a press conference he feared that Imran Khan’s sudden change of heart had brought the country to the verge of martial law.

Mr Hashmi urged Mr Khan not to push the country towards anarchy and asked him to turn back with his supporters. He regretted that the PTI chief did not honour the commitment given to him and other members of the party about supremacy of parliament. He also criticised the Punjab government for dragging its feet on registration of an FIR about the Model Town incident and said the delay had led to the problem.

PTI’s Information Secretary Shireen Mazari said the party’s negotiating committee had decided not to move towards the PM House and the decision had also been endorsed by the chairman.

She said the decision had also been conveyed to the Pakistan Awami Tehreek which assured that the protesters would remain peaceful. After that a larger core committee meeting was convened. She claimed that with the exception of Mr Hashmi, all members of the core committee endorsed chairman’s view that the PTI should move forward to the PM House. The chairman, she said, went ahead with the decision of the committee and the democratic norm. The entire PTI leadership stood by the chairman and the decision taken by him, she added.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad has said he had no role in the decision making process of the PTI. Refuting Mr Hashmi’s claim, he said he had not delivered any message to Imran Khan.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

12 suspects, FC man killed in Kech operation

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: At least 12 suspected militants and a soldier of the Frontier Corps (FC) were killed and four others injured in a clash which took place during a search operation in Kech district on Sunday.

QUETTA: At least 12 suspected militants and a soldier of the Frontier Corps (FC) were killed and four others injured in a clash which took place during a search operation in Kech district on Sunday.

Helicopters and armoured personnel carriers were used and about 600 FC troops took part in the operation.

According to official sources, the operation in Gomazai area near the Iranian border continued for over 12 hours.

“At least 12 armed militants were killed in a gun battle during the search operation,” a spokesman for the FC, Balochistan, said.

According to him, five soldiers were injured in the heavy exchange of fire and one of them died in hospital.

Independent sources said that four people had been killed and four arrested during the operation which continued till 5pm.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Blood, sweat and tears on Constitution Avenue

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: On Saturday night, Constitution Avenue — the seat of power in the nation’s capital — became a battlefield as droves of charged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek supporters marched towards the Prime Minister House.

ISLAMABAD: On Saturday night, Constitution Avenue — the seat of power in the nation’s capital — became a battlefield as droves of charged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek supporters marched towards the Prime Minister House.

The charge was led by Dr Tahirul Qadri and Imran Khan around 9:45pm when both leaders gave supporters their marching orders. But as the protesters rushed towards sensitive buildings, such as the Cabinet Division and the Presidency, they were met with a heavy police contingent, teargas and rubber bullets.

After failing to advance towards the PM House, many protesters gathered in front of the Parliament House and pulled down its gate with the help of a truck.

Some of the workers later entered the lawns of Parliament House.

Leaders of both PAT and PTI, meanwhile, remained confined inside their vehicles as the workers battled the police.

“On top of the container with my people as teargas fired directly at us. Cowardly action by the government,” Imran Khan said.

Dr Qadri was, meanwhile, seen in his black bullet-proof SUV.

The interior ministry used helicopters for monitoring the situation.

Ambulances removed the injured protesters to hospitals that had been put on high alert.

Throughout the night, both leaders remained in their containers and headed steadily towards the PM House, urging supporters on. The fence around the Parliament House was breached around midnight and demonstrators poured into the grounds, with security personnel on their heels.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was not in Islamabad. He had travelled to Lahore a day earlier.

The move to march towards the PM House appeared to be designed to ratchet up pressure on a defiant Nawaz Sharif to step down.

“Today, we will peacefully move this sit-in to in front of the Prime Minister House,” PAT chief Dr Tahirul Qadri said while addressing his workers. In his earlier speech in the evening, he had asked his workers to wind up their tents but didn’t disclose what he planned.

Soon afterwards, PTI Chairman Imran Khan in a speech to his supporters asked them to march towards the PM House. Much like Dr Qadri, he too emphasised on his workers to remain non-violent.

He asked the women to stay behind till the sit-in settled at the new venue.

Both parties had ended their dialogue with the government on Thursday, but began fresh round of talks after the army was involved as a “facilitator” by the government. The stalemate could not, however, be removed despite two additional days of talks as all sides stuck to their guns.

The march towards the PM House was led by PAT workers and PTI marchers followed them. The number of protesters who started marching was estimated to be in thousands.

While there was no immediate word from the government on the marching protesters, a statement issued by the PM House reiterated the government’s stance. “There is no question of resignation or proceeding on leave by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif,” the statement said, quoting an unnamed government spokesman.

Unlike their move into the ‘red zone’ 11 days ago, their march towards the PM House was not uneventful. Led by a crane removing the containers, the baton-wielding marchers covered the first few hundred metres without any obstruction, but were later tear-gassed and baton-charged. Rubber bullets were also fired on the protesters.

The police charge began as some of the protesters tried to break into the Presidency. There were also reports of arrests by police.

Protesters, many of whom were carrying backpacks, retaliated by slinging marbles with their catapults and pelting stones on police.

Fire was seen at a number of places.

Scenes of violent clashes between the protesters and the police were telecast live on television channels.

The security in the area is three-tiered. The police formed the outer cordon followed by the Frontier Constabulary. Army troops have been holding positions inside the buildings.

Talking to a TV channel, PTI chief Imran Khan denounced the police action as “state terrorism” and said “people’s real power would now be shown”.

Defence Minister Khwaja Asif told a TV channel that the army could be directed to act against the protesters.

The army has been stationed in the federal capital since Aug 1 after being requisitioned by the government on the pretext that it was required for security due to ongoing military operation in North Waziristan. Additional troops were deployed on Aug 19 – the day the protesters moved into the red zone from their initial protest site near the city centre.

The defence minister said resolving the issue through negotiations was not possible when violence was taking place.

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan briefly visited the protest site and met police officials. Talking to media, he said the protesters wanted to occupy important buildings and they would not be allowed to do so.

Army remains quiet: There was no statement on the situation. The ISPR had on the previous occasion of the march towards the red zone on Aug 19 warned the protesters against entering the government premises.

“Buildings in red zone are symbol of state and being protected by the army, therefore, sanctity of these national symbols must be respected,” the army had then said. But, this time round there was no such statement.

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

No anti-democracy move to be tolerated, says PM

Zulqernain Tahir

LAHORE: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday that the sit-ins staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek were part of a “conspiracy” against democracy and warned that no move against democracy would be tolerated.

LAHORE: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Saturday that the sit-ins staged by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek were part of a “conspiracy” against democracy and warned that no move against democracy would be tolerated.

He was talking to reporters during a visit to the residence of senior journalist Mujibur Rehman Shami, where he had gone to offer condolences to him on his sister’s death.

He said that he could not accept the protesting parties’ demands about which he had no authority. “They are even asking me to dissolve the provincial assemblies which do not come under my authority,” he said, adding that parliament could not be dissolved on anybody’s demand.

“We have accepted their demands for electoral reforms which are also part of PML-N manifesto,” he said. “We have also proposed a commission comprising Supreme Court judges to probe the rigging allegations.”

But the prime minister did not talk about the PTI and PAT’s demand for his resignation. He also avoided commenting on the controversy about the army chief’s role for resolution of the crisis caused by the protesting parties’ sit-ins in Islamabad which entered the 17th day on Saturday.

He had said in the National Assembly on Friday that he had not sought the army chief’s intervention to break the deadlock in talks with the protesting parties. But, the army’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations, contradicted the premier’s statement and said that the government had asked Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif to ‘facilitate’ negotiations with the PTI and the PAT.

A source in the PML-N told Dawn that the premier had deliberately avoided commenting on the controversy. “As the government has already faced criticism from its allies and the media on the issue, more words from Mr Sharif could have deepened the crisis,” he said.

Mocking the claims about a ‘roaring sea of people’ in the federal capital, the prime minister said: “Everyone is seeing the roaring sea of empty chairs in Islamabad. Everyone is witnessing how many people are in the sit-ins. They are a mini-storm. In fact this is not a storm but a tumultuous situation which will end in a few days. ”

A few thousand people could not take the mandate of millions hostage, he said. The government would not allow the protesters to take parliament hostage.

Smelling a rat in the twin protests of the PTI and the PAT, he said: “I don’t know what made Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to stage sit-ins in Islamabad on the same day. Perhaps they had dreamt about marching on Islamabad together.”

Mr Sharif tried to figure out what went wrong of late. “All was good when I visited Imran Khan in Bani Gala and held a discussion with him on all issues. But suddenly everything changed. The people will soon come to know everything about it,” he said.

Talking about the financial impact of the crisis, he said that economic activity in the country had suffered a lot because of the protests. “Development projects have been adversely affected by the sit-ins. Besides, the presidents of Sri Lanka and Maldives have called off their visits to Pakistan. The Chinese president is coming here to inaugurate energy projects and his visit may also be hampered because of the sit-ins.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister held a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif at their Raiwind residence and discussed the strategy to deal with the crisis.

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

Militants kill Indian soldier in Kashmir

AP

SRINAGAR: Suspected militants clashed with Indian soldiers on Saturday near the Line of Control in India-held Kashmir, killing one soldier and wounding another, an Indian army officer said.

SRINAGAR: Suspected militants clashed with Indian soldiers on Saturday near the Line of Control in India-held Kashmir, killing one soldier and wounding another, an Indian army officer said.

Following the clash, Indian troops mounted a search for holed-up militants, said the officer.

He said at least three Indian soldiers and five Kashmiri militants had been killed in fighting over the past week in the mountainous Kupwara region.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley alleged that incursions were taking place from the Pakistani side which were “extremely serious and provocative”.

There was no immediate statement from any of the groups fighting against Indian rule since 1989.

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

Omar defends resolution about resumption of Pak-India talks

From the Newspaper

SRINAGAR: Under attack for a resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir legislative council on resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Saturday legislators voice the sentiment of the people who elect them.

SRINAGAR: Under attack for a resolution passed by the Jammu and Kashmir legislative council on resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue, chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Saturday legislators voice the sentiment of the people who elect them.

“We don’t talk here of our own (will). We talk for the people who we represent here,” Mr Abdullah said in the state assembly.

“The council passed a resolution for resuming talks and all of us became anti-nationals. If we call for war, we become nationalists and if we call for talks, we become anti-nationals,” he remarked.

Also read: The dice is loaded for Kashmir

The chief minister said, “If we talk about endangering the lives of our army personnel by asking them to fight war and make sacrifices, it becomes big evidence of nationalism. If we want resolution of issues through dialogue, it becomes proof of anti-nationalism.

“No one among us is anti-national. We might have different thinking on different issues. Amongst us, some might talk about revoking Article 370 and some might talk about strengthening it and some might talk about autonomy, but when it comes to the nation, no one among us plays around with it,” he said.

His remarks came against the backdrop of attacks by a section of media which dubbed legislators from the India-held state as anti-nationals for seeking resumption of dialogue with Pakistan.

“Which political party here has not made sacrifices?… We made sacrifices to strengthen this country and to strengthen this state. My party sacrificed 8,000 workers not for being called anti-national in a TV studio and just for seeking (resumption of) talks (with Pakistan),” he said.

When a legislator takes oath, he does it in the name of the country and not in the name of his party. “So when we talk about something, if it is measured by the yardstick of nationalism or anti-nationalism, and it is decided by someone sitting in a TV studio who has never risked his life, it is surprising,” he said.

Advocating resumption of talks, Mr Abdullah said the country had tried other ways of dealing with Pakistan. “For God’s sake, tell me what way we have other than dialogue? Have we not tried the other ways?

“Parliament attack took place, we stopped the dialogue. I was a minister at the centre at that time.

“We formed teams and sent them to capitals of big countries to explain the reasons for stopping the talks. We prepared a list of 20 persons, saying till these people are handed over, we will not resume talks. Where are these people? How many have been handed over? Did we not resume the talks?”

—By arrangement with the Times of India

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

British MP Galloway injured in London attack

Reuters

LONDON: An outspoken lawmaker who declared an “Israel-free zone” in a northern English city suffered a broken jaw in an attack believed to be linked to his support for the Palestinians, his party said on Saturday.

LONDON: An outspoken lawmaker who declared an “Israel-free zone” in a northern English city suffered a broken jaw in an attack believed to be linked to his support for the Palestinians, his party said on Saturday.

George Galloway, who criticised the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, was attacked in west London on Friday night.

“It is thought that the attack is connected to Mr Galloway’s support for the Palestinian cause,” the left-wing Respect Party said in a statement.

The outspoken Scot, dubbed “Gorgeous George” by the British media, recently made headlines when he declared Bradford to be an Israel-free zone and urged people to reject all Israeli goods, services and even tourists.

A Respect spokesman said the incident appeared to be connected to Israel because the attacker had been shouting something about the Holocaust.

Mr Galloway stunned British politicians when he won his West Bradford seat in 2012. The city has a large Muslim minority.

He became one of only a handful of lawmakers from outside the three major parties.

A man was charged with a religiously-motivated “assault by beating” on Mr Galloway, police said.

They said Neil Masterson, 39, had been charged with “assault by beating which is religiously aggravated” and would appear in court on Monday.

Mr Galloway, meanwhile, has been discharged from hospital after treatment for his injuries.

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

Footprints: Prof Ajmal Khan’s years in the wilderness

Aurangzaib Khan

HE saw the two kids every morning, shepherding goats and sheep. They went past the house in the valley where he was detained. One day, he asked the children why they didn’t go to school.

HE saw the two kids every morning, shepherding goats and sheep. They went past the house in the valley where he was detained. One day, he asked the children why they didn’t go to school.

“We used to,” answered one of the boys. “But the schools have been closed since the fighting.”

“Do you still have your books?” he asked them. The kids nodded. “Why don’t you come over with your books and I will teach you.”

They turned up the next day but wanted to leave after ten minutes. “What?” he exclaimed. “You aren’t even finished with your first subject yet.”

Soon, others joined in. The number of children swelled to 32 over the next 10 months. And then it was time to leave, to be moved to another location.

They used to call him Ustad Jee, a title not far off the mark for Ajmal Khan, the academic who spent years in captivity in the mountains of Waziristan, only just to have returned.

Prof Ajmal Khan, vice chancellor of the Islamia College University, was kidnapped by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2010. This August, he returned home after four years.

Know more: Kidnapped VC of Peshawar varsity freed

“When I’d say it is chhutti, they would hop up and run,” he says. “They were like kids in any government school. Except that they had no facilities.”

Lost and found

The house in the Professors’ Colony behind the University of Peshawar had an air of quiet despondency when I visited it four years ago. That was September 2010, the month Ajmal Khan was kidnapped. I had turned up without an appointment; my phone calls had gone unanswered.

His family had been through the worst with negotiations, the captors using the media to cause fear and try and force the government into meeting their demands. The security guards at the gate stopped me. When I asked to see Khan’s family, no one wanted to speak to me.

Down the street lived Lutfullah Kakakhel, vice chancellor of the Kohat University of Science and Technology. Kidnapped in November 2009, he had just been released after six months in captivity. There were rumours of the authorities having paid ransom.

But Khan’s case was complicated. He was a cousin of the Awami National Party’s president Asfandyar Wali Khan, whose party was in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the time. The party’s resistance to the Pakistani Taliban made it the TTP’s bête noire, its activists and politicians regularly threatened and targeted.

“My meeting with Hakeemullah Mehsud was actually pleasant,” says Khan, taking a moment away from the guests pouring in to congratulate the family on his return. “He said, ‘We have nothing against you. But we are running an organisation here. We don’t want your money, it is haram for us. We will be asking the government for ransom.’”

Whether the government paid the ransom or swapped TTP prisoners for Prof Khan is not clear. TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah claimed Prof Khan was swapped for three Taliban commanders. An ISPR release said the security forces ‘safely recovered’ Prof Khan.

A life on hold

The Ajmal Khan kidnapped by the TTP was clean-shaven and heavyset. The one that has returned sports a beard and is lean, fit enough to scale a wall at 65. How have the years in the wilderness changed his outlook?

“I don’t feel any change except, maybe, that I have grown a beard,” he says. “But then I have always wanted to. When they took me to Waziristan, they brought me a big pack of razors. I said I don’t need them. I was no longer required to follow the demands of an urban existence, nor were there any facilities for upkeep. So I just gave in to that life.”

His family speaks of the time without him in terms of days, not years — 1,451 days as opposed to four years — to underscore the anguish of their long wait, of their lives on hold. To him, it was all a long dream, snatches of which keep coming back.

Somewhere along the way, through the routine of waking up early for prayers, listening to the radio and cooking for himself because the TTP members ate greasy food that was bad for his weak heart, through the unchanging landscape and the daily trudge down the mountains to be with the villagers at the shop, their gossip spot, he forgot that he was a man from another place.

“There was a time when I felt that I had been there all my life,” he says now. “It felt like I had been there born there, had grown up among those mountains.”

What kept him connected to his former life was the phone calls to home. And the radio broadcasts he regularly listened to. When the family kept from him the news of losing three family members — his two brothers-in-law and a cousin — in a suicide bombing at a funeral gathering in Mardan, he found out through the radio.

When he had finally grown used to life in captivity, knowing the TTP wouldn’t hurt him, there were other threats to grapple with. He remembers being afraid of drones, the army shelling TTP positions, and the constant lurking fear of whether he would survive or not.

“I missed my family but made friends in the village where we would get together at a local shop in the evening,” he recalls. “They would take me out for lunch or dinner. I would sometimes stay the night with them. They would be my guarantors, convincing the TTP that I wouldn’t escape. In time they grew to trust me. They would let me go around unaccompanied.”

Now that he’s back home safe, how does it feel? “It is a time of joy to be back with my children, brothers and sisters,” says Prof Khan. And then he goes quiet, fighting back tears. “I have no words for it. They never tortured me. They were good to me. But then, it was life in captivity. I wasn’t free. I had to live by their rules. They would tell me, ‘Look at us: when we get caught, we are thrown in cells. We don’t see sunlight for years.’ I told them, ‘Yes, I am not restrained. But where is my family?’”

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Altaf speaks of widespread wrongdoing in his party

Azfar-ul-Ashfaque

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain acknowledged on Thursday widespread corruption and wrongdoing in his party and gave one week to members of its top decision-making forum, the coordination committee, to mend their ways.

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain acknowledged on Thursday widespread corruption and wrongdoing in his party and gave one week to members of its top decision-making forum, the coordination committee, to mend their ways.

Within a period of less than 16 months, Mr Hussain was ‘charge-sheeting’ his own party for a second time, as his speech made it clear that the ‘cleansing’ exercise’ carried out in May last year to purge the party of ‘corrupt elements’ did not go smoothly.

The charges he hurled at party leaders included ‘selling’ of government jobs. However, he preferred not to name anyone.

Speaking from London by phone to a workers’ convention held here at the Lal Qila ground, he announced that MQM’s Karachi Tanzeemi Committee, responsible for organising activities in the city, had been dissolved.

Without naming any individual, Mr Hussain told his emotionally charged workers, including women, that he had come to know that members of the coordination committee did not bother to come out of their offices. They often took Rs100,000 as “commission for giving a grade-17 or -18 job”.

He said that corruption and nepotism had spread to the extent that heads and joint heads of MQM sectors, MNAs, MPAs, town and union nazims and councillors were being selected and appointed on the “basis of favouritism”.

He said that MQM leader Aamir Khan had carried out a probe and told him that elected representatives of the party were not even donating money to the party’s ‘Shuhada Fund’.

Several workers complained to Mr Hussain that MQM leaders did not want to come out of their air-conditioned offices or they had become “addicted to luxurious lifestyle”.

Mr Hussain said that he did not want to lead them anymore and the party should allow him to turn his attention to his health problems instead.

The workers assured him that they would protect him when Mr Hussain asked the army and the civilian government to allow him to return to Pakistan for just 15 days.

“I will eliminate the land mafia in Karachi within 15 days. Allow me to come to Pakistan for only six months, I will cleanse Sindh, Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan [of corruption].”

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

India sounds alert over Zawahiri video

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

Reports said the government was taking the Al Qaeda announcement with “all requisite seriousness”. Senior officials in the Home Ministry said a high-level meeting was convened by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and attended by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau.

Reports said the government was taking the Al Qaeda announcement with “all requisite seriousness”. Senior officials in the Home Ministry said a high-level meeting was convened by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and attended by the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, and the Director of the Intelligence Bureau.

Also read: Al Qaeda announces India wing, renews loyalty to Taliban chief

PTI quoted intelligence sources as saying the government was treating the video as “genuine” and had issued “an alert across several states”. The Home Ministry has directed state police forces to formulate action plans to guard against “recruitment” for the international group.

In a 55-minutes video Mr Al Zawahiri, was seen focussing on a map of the Indian peninsula. “A new branch of Al Qaeda was established called Qaedat Al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, seeking to raise the flag of jihad, return to Islamic rule, and empowering the Shariah of Allah across the Indian subcontinent,”Mr Al Zawahiri said in his opening remarks, which were in Arabic.

The Al Qaeda chief, believed to be struggling in a propaganda war against the equally ruthless Islamic State (formerly called ISIS) that operates out of Syria and Iraq, says in the video that the new branch would “rescue the vulnerable in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujarat, Ahmedabad, and Kashmir”. The Indian Home Ministry will focus on the states in its efforts to guard against any recruitment.

Home Minister Singh, sources told The Indian Express, was informed by the Intelligence Bureau at an emergency meeting on Thursday morning that the development would have direct consequences for India. He was also told that persistent capacity deficits have made monitoring social-media based jihadi recruitment and propaganda operations difficult.

In the video, released on Twitter and jihadi websites, Mr Al Zawahiri promised the expansion of Al Qaeda operations throughout the region.

“A new branch of Al Qaeda was established and is Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, seeking to raise the flag of jihad, bring back Islamic rule, and empower the shari’a of Allah across the Indian subcontinent,” he says.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Rains kill 65 in India-held Kashmir

Reuters

SRINAGAR: Sixty-five people were killed after heavy rains caused flash floods in India-held Kashmir, including a wedding party on a bus that was swept away, officials said on Thursday.

SRINAGAR: Sixty-five people were killed after heavy rains caused flash floods in India-held Kashmir, including a wedding party on a bus that was swept away, officials said on Thursday.

Authorities declared a disaster alert in the disputed region after two days of heavy rains hit villages across the Kashmir valley, causing the worst flooding in two decades.

“At least 40 members of a marriage party are feared dead when their bus was washed away due to flash floods,” senior police superintendent Mubassir Latifi said.

The bus accident occurred in Rajouri, 170km south of Srinagar. Mr Latifi, who was monitoring the rescue operation, said five passengers swam to safety.

“The administration has a rescue team and helicopters ready to evacuate villagers and move them to safer ground, but heavy rain is making the rescue process very difficult,” he said.

Heavy rain is expected for the next 48 hours. The state’s main river, the Jhelum, and its tributaries are flowing several feet above the danger mark.

At least 15 people, including a border guard, were killed in separate rain-related incidents. All schools and colleges were closed and exams postponed.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting in New Delhi to review the flood situation and dispatched members of the National Disaster Response Force to assist the state government. Mr Singh had been due to visit the Himalayan region on Friday but had to cancel his trip due to the bad weather.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Taliban attack offices of police, spy agency; 18 killed

Reuters

GHAZNI: Taliban militants detonated truck bombs and fired rocket-propelled grenades outside the office of Afghanistan’s spy agency and a police compound in the central town of Ghazni on Thursday, killing 18 people, the provincial governor said.

GHAZNI: Taliban militants detonated truck bombs and fired rocket-propelled grenades outside the office of Afghanistan’s spy agency and a police compound in the central town of Ghazni on Thursday, killing 18 people, the provincial governor said.

More than 150 people were wounded in the attack, the biggest in recent weeks, as Afghanistan’s leadership grapples with a political crisis and a security vacuum as most foreign troops prepare to leave the country.

Ghazni Governor Musa Khan Akbarzada said a group of 19 militants was involved in the simultaneous attacks on the local office of the National Directorate of Security and a quick-response team housed in the police building.

The men armed with light machineguns drew up in trucks at a back gate of the NDS, the crack US-trained agency leading the fight against the insurgency, and the police building early on Thursday and exploded their bombs.

“The bombs were so powerful that many civilians were wounded because of falling roofs and shattering of windows in their homes,” Mr Akbarzada said. Soon after, several of the attackers entered the NDS compound and fought a gun battle with Afghan forces.

Dozens of the wounded were taken to a lone hospital in Ghazni where doctors were forced to treat many of them outside.

The attack in Ghazni, one of the provinces that surround the capital city, is the latest in a series of offensives launched by the Taliban in the summer fighting season.

Militants have carried out complex attacks on government installations, including in Logar and Wardak provinces which are the gateways to the heavily guarded national capital.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack and said dozens of Afghan soldiers were killed.

“It is a success for us and failure to our enemies that they didn’t even notice how our fighters in big numbers reached the intelligence agency with explosive-laden cars and carried out attacks,” Mujahid said.

The attack on the NDS was the second in less than a week after a similar bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

One person commits suicide every 40 seconds, says WHO

AFP

GENEVA: One person commits suicide every 40 seconds — more than all the yearly victims of wars and natural disasters — with the highest toll among the elderly, the United Nations said on Thursday.

GENEVA: One person commits suicide every 40 seconds — more than all the yearly victims of wars and natural disasters — with the highest toll among the elderly, the United Nations said on Thursday.

In its first report on suicide, the UN’s World Health Organisation blamed intense media coverage when celebrities kill themselves, for fuelling the problem.

“Suicide is an amazing public health problem. There is one suicide every 40 seconds — it is a huge number,” said Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s mental health department, at the presentation of the report in Geneva.

“Suicide kills more than conflicts, wars and natural catastrophes,” he said.

“There are 1.5 million violent deaths every year in the world, of which 800,000 are suicides.” Some of the highest rates of suicide are found in central and eastern Europe and in Asia, with 25 per cent occurring in rich countries, the report says.

Men are almost twice as likely as women to take their own lives. Common methods are hanging, gunshots, and in rural areas the use of poisonous insecticides.

“Globally, suicide rates are highest in people aged 70 years and over. In some countries, however, the highest rates are found among the young,” WHO said.

“Notably, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year-olds globally.”

Alexandra Fleischmann, one of the report’s co-authors, said part of the blame lay with the publicity given to suicides by famous people, such as Hollywood actor Robin Williams.

The Oscar-winning star, who had suffered from depression, was found dead at his home on August 1, prompting an outpouring of emotion from the public and widespread media coverage.

Ella Arensman, president of the International Association for Suicide Prevention, said that after news broke of Mr Williams’ death she received “five emails of people who had recovered (from a) suicide crisis and saying that they are thinking again about suicide”.

“These overwhelming reports can have a contagion effect on vulnerable people,” she said, referring also to the “sharp increase” in suicides after German football player Robert Enke killed himself in 2009.

“Suicide should not be glamorised or sensationalised,” Ms Fleischmann said, urging news outlets not to mention suicide as the cause of death at the start of reports, but only at the end, “with a mention of where (the reader) can find help”.

WHO, which called suicide a major public health problem that must be confronted and stemmed, studied 172 countries to produce the report, which took a decade to research.

It said that in 2012 high-income countries had a slightly higher suicide rate — 12.7 per 100,000 people, versus 11.2 in low- and middle-income nations. But given the latter category’s far higher population, they accounted for three-quarters of the global total.

Southeast Asia, including North Korea, India, Indonesia and Nepal, made up over a third of the annual figure.

WHO cautioned that suicide figures are often incomplete, with many countries failing to maintain proper tallies.

In addition, “there are many suicide attempts for each death”, WHO chief Margaret Chan said. “The impact on families, friends and communities is devastating and far-reaching, even long after persons dear to them have taken their own lives,” she added.

Suicide and attempted suicide are considered a crime in 25 countries, mostly in Africa, South America and Asia.

The most suicide-prone countries were Guyana (44.2 per 100,000), followed by North and South Korea (38.5 and 28.9 respectively).

Next came Sri Lanka (28.8), Lithuania (28.2), Suriname (27.8), Mozambique (27.4), Nepal and Tanzania (24.9 each), Burundi (23.1), India (21.1), and South Sudan (19.8).

Next were Russia and Uganda (both with 19.5), Hungary (19.1), Japan (18.5), and Belarus (18.3).

The UN agency said its goal was to cut national suicide rates by 10 per cent by 2020.

A major challenge, it said, was that suicide victims were often from marginalised groups of the population, many of them poor and vulnerable.

However, “suicides are preventable”, Ms Chan said.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Australia hopes to sign civil nuclear deal with India

Reuters

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday he hoped to sign a deal this week to sell uranium to India for power generation, but halted uranium exports to Russia over Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday he hoped to sign a deal this week to sell uranium to India for power generation, but halted uranium exports to Russia over Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

Work on an India-Australia agreement has been underway since Australia, which has 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, lifted a longstanding ban on selling uranium to energy-starved India in 2012.

Nuclear-armed India and Australia have been working on a safeguards agreement since then to ensure any uranium exports from Australia are used purely for peaceful purposes.

“I am hoping to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will enable uranium sales by Australia to India,” Mr Abbott, who will visit India this week, told parliament in Canberra.

India faces chronic shortages of electricity, and a quarter of its billion-plus population has little or no access to power.

Two-thirds of India’s power supplies come from burning coal, and it is keen to shift the balance towards nuclear technology over the next few years.

Canberra had previously refused to sell nuclear material to India because it had not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Asked what steps had been taken to ensure there were appropriate safeguards, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the government had “satisfied ourselves that the steps are in place”.

“The negotiations and work that’s gone on between authorities in India and Australia have gone on for some years to develop a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement which meets the international requirements and we are satisfied, our officials are satisfied, that all the requirements have been met,” Mr Robb told ABC radio.

Meanwhile, Australia imposed a ban on uranium sales to Russia, two days after Canberra unveiled fresh sanctions against Russia over what Mr Abbott called its “bullying” of neighbouring Ukraine.

“There will be no uranium sales to Russia until further notice and Australia has no intention of selling uranium to a country which is so obviously in breach of international law as Russia currently is,” Mr Abbot told parliament.

Australia and Russia signed a bilateral agreement in 2007 enabling uranium exports. Only a small trial shipment of less than a hundred tonnes uranium has been shipped to Russia.

Australia’s decision to overturn its longstanding ban on uranium sales to India followed a landmark US agreement to support the civil nuclear programme in India, seen by Washington as an economic and geopolitical counterweight to China.

Washington signed the deal with New Delhi in 2008 allowing India to import US nuclear fuel and technology without giving up its military nuclear programme. India is seeking a similar agreement with Japan.

Critics accused the United States of undermining the global non-proliferation regime.

India has refused to sign the nuclear NPT, arguing it is discriminatory and flawed in allowing only countries which had tested nuclear weapons before 1967 to legally possess them.

Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are the only other non-signatories to the treaty which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons as well as foster peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

India’s status as a nuclear power features highly among new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s priorities.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Obama calls for international coalition against IS as France, UK weigh strikes

AFP

BAGHDAD: US President Barack Obama called on Wednesday for an international front against militants in Iraq and Syria after they beheaded a second American reporter, as Britain and France weighed military action.

BAGHDAD: US President Barack Obama called on Wednesday for an international front against militants in Iraq and Syria after they beheaded a second American reporter, as Britain and France weighed military action.

“We know that if we are joined by the international community, we can continue to shrink ISIL’s sphere of influence, its effectiveness, its financing, its military capabilities,” said Mr Obama, referring to the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham.

“And the question is going to be making sure we’ve got the right strategy, but also making sure that we’ve got the international will to do it,” he said in Estonia’s capital Tallinn.

Britain, with one of its nationals also under threat of beheading, said it would not rule out taking part in air strikes if necessary.

“I can assure you that we will look at every possible option to protect this person,” Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.

French President Francois Hollande also raised the prospect of a military response to the threat posed by IS.

“The head of state underlined the importance of a political, humanitarian and if necessary military response in accordance with international law” to fight against IS, the presidency said.

Mr Obama pledged that justice would be done to the killers of 31-year-old reporter Steven Sotloff, wherever they hid and however long it took.

IS on Tuesday posted video footage on the internet of Mr Sotloff’s beheading, confirmed as authentic by Washington, sparking outrage around the world.

It said the journalist’s killing, which comes on the heels of the beheading last month of another US reporter, James Foley, was in retaliation for expanded US air strikes against its fighters in Iraq during the past week.

It warned that a British hostage would be next unless London backed off from its support for Washington’s air campaign.

President Obama said Washington was determined to halt the IS threat but warned it would depend on close cooperation with partners in the region.

Mr Hammond said British air strikes were now an option. “We will look very carefully at the options available to us to support the legitimate government of Iraq and Kurdistan in defending themselves.

“If we judge that air strikes could be beneficial, could be the best way to do that, then we will certainly consider them but we have made no decision to do so at the moment.”

A top US intelligence official, meanwhile, said IS militants in Iraq and Syria posed a genuine threat to the West but were “not invincible” as demonstrated by American air strikes.

And there was no “credible” evidence that IS fighters were plotting an imminent attack on the United States, said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre.

In violence on the ground on Wednesday, 10 children were among 16 people killed in an IS-controlled area of eastern Syria, a monitoring group said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a regime air raid hit a bus, but state television blamed the militants.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the beheading video depicted an “absolutely disgusting, despicable act” and chaired a meeting of security chiefs to discuss how to tackle the IS threat.

The masked executioner in the video spoke with a London accent and claimed to be the same man, confirmed by UK security services as a Briton, who beheaded Mr Foley.

“I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State,” the black-clad militant says, wielding a combat knife.

“So just as your missiles continue to strike the necks of our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” he declares.

At the end of the five-minute recording, the militant threatens another captive, identified as Briton David Cawthorne Haines.

London has maintained a media silence about the kidnapping of aid worker Cawthorne Haines and there were few immediate details about when or how he was abducted.

Britain has so far only carried out reconnaissance flights in support of the US air campaign from its base in Cyprus.

In a statement, the Sotloff family said: “The family knows of this horrific tragedy and is grieving privately. There will be no public comment from the family during this difficult time.” Israeli media reported that the family was Jewish and that Sotloff himself held joint US-Israeli nationality but IS made no mention of either in its video.

Sotloff’s former employers at Time and Foreign Policy paid tribute to a man widely respected for his intrepid reporting in Syria and the wider region, including a previous stint in Libya.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

PAT-govt talks resume

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The government and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) on Wednesday resumed their dialogue after days of impasse through an initiative brokered by the opposition parliamentary parties.

ISLAMABAD: The government and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) on Wednesday resumed their dialogue after days of impasse through an initiative brokered by the opposition parliamentary parties.

Both sides at the conclusion of the first round at the residence of a PPP senator agreed to continue the talks.

“The deadlock has ended and both sides have agreed to continue the talks,” PPP Senator Rehman Malik, who hosted the talks, said after the meeting. Even as both sides committed to continue the dialogue, optimism was in short supply with none of the sides ready to back down from their positions.

According to a source at the meeting, the discussions focused on PAT’s demand for resignation of Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif for his alleged involvement in the Model Town firing incident. Shahbaz Sharif has been named by PAT in the FIR along with 20 others, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Fourteen PAT workers were killed on June 14 when police fired on them. Eighty others were injured.

Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal, speaking on behalf of the government delegation after the talks, appreciated the role of opposition parties and said that both sides would work towards a solution at the next meeting on Thursday.

PAT president Raheeq Abbasi said his party wanted a negotiated solution to the issue. However, he insisted that the dialogue should be “meaningful and result-oriented”.

He regretted that about 10 rounds of talks held so far had failed to produce any result.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Airlines warned against violating ‘male guardian’ rule

Syed Rashid Husain

RIYADH: The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation has warned airlines against transporting female pilgrims under the age of 45 without a legal guardian (mahram), daily Saudi Gazette reported.

RIYADH: The Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation has warned airlines against transporting female pilgrims under the age of 45 without a legal guardian (mahram), daily Saudi Gazette reported.

According to a report in the daily, women violating the rule will be sent back and the airlines concerned will be fined SR50,000 ($13,331).

Such airlines will also have to bear the expenses for any violating passenger’s stay at the airport’s transit area until they are sent home.

An official of a Haj company told the Gazette that the problem was created by Haj agencies in other countries.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Somali govt offers amnesty to extremists

AP

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s government on Wednesday offered an amnesty to fighters with al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group whose leader was targeted on Monday night in a US air strike.

MOGADISHU: Somalia’s government on Wednesday offered an amnesty to fighters with al-Shabab, the Islamic extremist group whose leader was targeted on Monday night in a US air strike.

Following a cabinet-level security meeting, Somali authorities were giving al-Shabab militants 45 days to take up the offer, Security Minister Khalif Ahmed Ereg told reporters in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

He said the government “will create a better livelihood to build their future for those who meet the deadline.”

The offer of amnesty comes after a US air strike that targeted al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, whose fate remains unclear as US and Somali officials assess the outcome of the attack.

Somali forces, backed by African Union troops, last week launched an offensive on al-Shabab’s last strongholds in southern Somalia, where the militants are believed to plot attacks across Somalia that have left scores dead this year. Al-Shabab is believed to have thousands of fighters in its ranks, fighting to impose Islamic law on Somalia, but the group faces increasing military pressure from African Union forces that helped to oust the militants from Mogadishu in 2011.

Al-Shabab has since resorted to tactics that include suicide bombings and assassinations of government officials.

Godane, the group’s spiritual leader, claimed responsibility for a deadly attack a year ago on an upscale mall in neighbouring Kenya, whose government has sent its army troops to fight al-Shabab in Somalia.

Somali authorities are trying to verify whether Godane, 37, was killed or wounded in the US strike, government spokesman Ridwaan Abdiwali said on Wednesday.

Somalia’s government is certain that the strike hit “a gathering” of leaders of the Islamic extremist al-Shabab group and they are “in the process” of confirming who was hit in the attack on Monday night, he said.

Abdiwali praised US support in the war on the militant group, saying close military collaboration had helped to weaken al-Shabab.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Turkish policeman jailed for seven years over protester’s killing

AFP

ANKARA: A Turkish policeman was jailed for seven years and nine months on Wednesday after being convicted of shooting dead a protester during anti-government protests last year, in a verdict denounced as lenient by relatives of the victim.

ANKARA: A Turkish policeman was jailed for seven years and nine months on Wednesday after being convicted of shooting dead a protester during anti-government protests last year, in a verdict denounced as lenient by relatives of the victim.

With several similar cases pending, the trial of Ahmet Sahbaz was seen as a crucial test of the authorities’ willingness to prosecute police brutality under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The court found Sahbaz guilty of killing 26-year-old Ethem Sarisuluk in Ankara last year at the start of three weeks of clashes between police and protesters that convulsed the country.

The verdict sparked tumultuous scenes in the courtroom, with supporters of the victim shouting “murderer state” and slamming the judge for being too lenient.

“There is nothing more to say. The justice system bolstered the murder. This proves it is legitimate to kill people on the street,” Sarisuluk’s brother Mustafa said.

“The murderer will be among us five years later,” he said, anticipating an early release for Sahbaz. He said the family would appeal the verdict.

The victims’ supporters initially applauded the verdict when the court announced a life sentence for murder.

However, as is customary under Turkish law, Sahbaz received reductions to his sentence due to attenuating circumstances, as the court agreed he was provoked by the protesters.

Sarisuluk’s supporters showed their derision by throwing bottles across the courtroom in Ankara.

Kerem Altiparmak, professor of law at Ankara University, slammed the verdict saying it was “a method of impunity the same as an acquittal.”

Sarisuluk was one of at least eight protesters killed nationwide in the bloody police crackdown during 2013 protests against Erdogan’s government.

At an emotionally-charged verdict hearing earlier, Sahbaz described how he had been pelted with stones by protesters and said he had been going through emotional turmoil since the killing.

Sahbaz, who has been in jail for one year pending trial, disguised himself by wearing a wig and a fake moustache in the initial hearing last year.

“You cannot understand the fear, panic inside me since the trial began in September 2013,” he told the court.

“I am a 28-year-old man trying to make a living. There can be no device that measures the storm inside me,” he said. His defence sparked uproar in the courtroom with the victim’s sister shouting: “Do you remember you killed my brother, dog?”

Sahbaz said he fired two shots in the air and the third hit the protester because of the chaos at the scene.

The protests began as a grass roots movement against plans to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park on Taksim Square in Istanbul, one of the rare green spaces in the centre of the city.

But they quickly snowballed into mass demonstrations nationwide by mainly secular Turks angry at the “authoritarian tendencies of Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government”.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Ukrainian premier rejects Putin ceasefire plan

AFP

KIEV: Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday rejected a ceasefire plan unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin as an attempt to deceive the West about Moscow’s real intentions.

KIEV: Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday rejected a ceasefire plan unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin as an attempt to deceive the West about Moscow’s real intentions.

“This latest plan is another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community ahead of the Nato summit and an attempt to avert the EU’s inevitable decision to unleash a new wave of sanctions against Russia,” he said in a statement.

“The best plan for ending Russia’s war against Ukraine has only one single element — for Russia to withdraw its troops, its mercenaries and its terrorists from Ukrainian territory.”

His comments come despite Ukrainian Pre­sident Petro Poroshenko saying he and Mr Putin had agreed on the peace plan aimed at ending the near five-month conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The proposal, detailed by President Putin on the eve of opening of the Nato summit in Wales on Thursday, is due to be discussed on Friday by the so-called Ukraine Contact Group, which includes representatives of Kiev, separatist rebels, Moscow and the pan-European security body the OSCE.

Nato is planning a rapid reaction force of thousands of troops to reinforce its eastern flank, a move Russia says is evidence of the alliance’s desire to aggravate tensions with Moscow.

Mr Putin, meanwhile, called on both Ukrainian rebels and government forces to cease fire and agree to the broad terms of a truce ending their four-month war.

His first direct appeal to the insurgents to lay down their weapons came hours after President Poroshenko said he and the Russian president had agreed on a ceasefire deal.

The announcements raised hopes of an end to fighting that has killed at least 2,600 people and driven relations between Russia and the West to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.

Mr Putin outlined a seven-point peace plan that included the end “of active offensive operations by the (Ukrainian) armed forces and armed rebel units in the southeast of Ukraine”.

The Russian leader added that he expected a final agreement to be announced by the insurgents and Kiev representatives during European-mediated negotiations on Friday in the Belarussian capital Minsk.

Mr Poroshenko’s office said the two presidents agreed by telephone on “a permanent ceasefire in Donbass (eastern Ukraine)”. “An understanding was reached concerning steps that will help to establish peace,” a statement said.

The Kremlin denies giving more than moral support to the insurgents who began their uprising against Kiev’s new Western-backed leaders in April.

But Western powers say Moscow has been orchestrating the war as part of a land grab that started with the annexing by Russian troops of Crimea, a strategic region on the Black Sea, in March.

US President Barack Obama, on a highly symbolic visit to former Soviet republic and new Nato member Estonia, reacted cautiously to initial reports of a ceasefire deal, saying it was “too early to early to tell”.

“There is an opportunity here. Let’s see if there is a follow up,” Mr Obama said.

There was also still doubt over whether pro-Russia rebel commanders who have been routing Ukraine’s army in recent fighting would comply.

One rebel representative of the eastern district of Donetsk said the rebels would halt fire only if government forces retreated from eastern cities they had been shelling in recent weeks.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Putin says Russia ‘can conquer Kiev in a fortnight’

Ian Traynor

BRUSSELS: Vladimir Putin has said Russian forces could conquer the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in a fortnight if he so ordered, the Kremlin has confirmed.

BRUSSELS: Vladimir Putin has said Russian forces could conquer the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in a fortnight if he so ordered, the Kremlin has confirmed.

Moscow declined to deny that the president had spoken of taking Kiev in a phone conversation on Friday with Jose Manuel Barroso, the outgoing president of the European Commission.

Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser, said on Tuesday the Barroso leak had taken Mr Putin’s remarks out of context.

“This is incorrect, and is outside all the normal framework of diplomatic practice, if he did say it. This is simply not appropriate for a serious political figure,” he said of the Barroso leak, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

EU leaders held a summit on Saturday to decide who should run the union for the next five years, but the session was quickly preoccupied by Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and how to respond.

Mr Barroso told the closed meeting that Mr Putin had told him Kiev would be an easy conquest for Russia, according to the Italian newspaper, La Repubblica.

According to the account, Mr Barroso asked President Putin about the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Nato says there are at least 1,000 Russian forces on the wrong side of the border. The Ukrainians put the figure at 1,600.

“The problem is not this, but that if I want I’ll take Kiev in two weeks,” Mr Putin said, according to La Repubblica.

The Kremlin did not deny Mr Putin had spoken of taking Kiev, but instead complained about the leak of the Barroso remarks.

Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian President, attended the EU summit and painted an apocalyptic picture of the conflict, with EU leaders dropping their usual public poise in a heated debate.

Dalia Grybauskaite, the Lithuanian President, declared Russia was “at war with Europe”. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the main mediator with Mr Putin, was said to be furious with the Russian leader, warning that he was “irrational and unpredictable”, while British Prime Minister David Cameron was said to have raised the issue of Britain discussing policy options regarding Mr Putin.

Mr Cameron likened the West’s dilemma with Mr Putin to relations between the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, and Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, when Anglo-French appeasement encouraged the Nazi leader to launch the Second World War the following year.

“We run the risk of repeating the mistakes made in Munich in 1938. We cannot know what will happen next,” Mr Cameron was reported as saying. “This time we cannot meet (Mr) Putin’s demands. He has already taken Crimea and we cannot allow him to take the whole country.”

Ms Merkel pointed to the dangers for the Baltic states on Russia’s western borders, home to large ethnic Russian minorities. She said Estonia and Latvia could be Mr Putin’s next targets, according to La Repubblica.

The defence of the two countries — both of which are Nato and EU members and part of the euro single currency zone — is the centrepiece of this week’s Nato summit in Wales and the alliance is said to view that defence as a red line which Mr Putin dare not cross.

The US President, Barack Obama, is to deliver a speech in Estonia on Wednesday repeating that message.

The main decisions facing the Nato summit in Newport include deploying rapid response Nato spearhead units to the Baltic and Poland if necessary, stockpiling arms and equipment in the region, and strengthening the Nato presence in the east.

The plans call for units of up to 5,000 forces to be deployed within two to five days, according to a senior military official at Nato.

To try to avoid a bigger legal dispute with Russia, the Nato presence in the east will not be called permanent — proscribed under a Nato-Russia pact from 1997 — but back-to-back rotation of alliance forces will mean there is a persistent presence, according to a senior Nato diplomat.

If the Baltic and Polish are reassured by Nato, there will be little short-term comfort for Ukraine at the summit, which Mr Poroshenko will also attend.

“It’s not actually Nato’s job to be the police officer of Europe. Nato is not the first responder on this,” the diplomat said. “Nato’s planning is all about how to defend allies, not partners like Ukraine.”

At the weekend, Ms Grybauskaite demanded that the west arm Ukraine. That is unlikely.

“Nato is not going to launch a defence capacity-building mission in Ukraine,” said the diplomat.

The summit is also expected to take Nato membership bids by four former Soviet states off the table in order to not antagonise Mr Putin.

Russia is certain to respond to the Nato moves in eastern Europe, though it is not yet clear how.

“Nato’s planned action… is evidence of the desire of the US and Nato leaders to continue their policy of aggravating tensions with Russia,” said Mikhail Popov, a Kremlin military official.

Russia’s military posture would be adapted appropriately.

By arrangement with The Guardian

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Militants claim beheading another US journalist

Reuters

DUBAI: The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS, released a video purporting to show the beheading of American hostage Steven Sotloff, a monitoring service said on Tuesday, as the militant group raised the stakes in its confrontation with Washington over US air strikes on its fighters in Iraq.

DUBAI: The Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS, released a video purporting to show the beheading of American hostage Steven Sotloff, a monitoring service said on Tuesday, as the militant group raised the stakes in its confrontation with Washington over US air strikes on its fighters in Iraq.

A masked figure in the video also issued a threat against a British hostage, a man the group named as David Haines, and warned governments to back off “this evil alliance of America against the IS”, the SITE monitoring service said.

The purported executioner appeared to be the same British-accented man who appeared in an Aug 19 video showing the killing of American journalist James Foley, and it showed a similar desert setting. In both videos, the captives wore orange jumpsuits.

“I’m back, Obama, and I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the IS, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings and … on Mosul Dam, despite our serious warnings,” the man said.

“So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.”

In the video, Mr Sotloff describes himself as “paying the price” for the US intervention in Iraq with his life.

A freelance journalist, Sotloff was kidnapped in Syria in August 2013. His mother Shirley appealed on Aug 27 in a videotaped message to IS’s self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for her son’s release.

In the video it released last month, IS said Mr Foley’s death was in retaliation for US air strikes on its fighters in Iraq.

The United States resumed air strikes in Iraq in August for the first time since the end of the US occupation in 2011.

The raids followed major gains by IS, which has declared an Islamic ‘caliphate’ in areas it controls in Syria and Iraq.

In Washington, the White House said it could not immediately confirm that IS had released a video of Mr Sotloff’s beheading.

State Dept spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US intelligence services would “work as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity”.

“If the video is genuine we are sickened by this brutal act taking the life of another innocent American citizen. Our hearts go out to the Sotloff family.”

A source familiar with the matter said that while US officials were trying to confirm the validity of the video, it appeared to be authentic.

The United States is taking the IS militants far more seriously now than it did six months ago, when Mr Obama told the New Yorker magazine that they were the “JV team”, which is short for “junior varsity” and means they are not the best players on the field.

On Aug 24 Al Qaeda-linked militants from the Nusra Front armed group in Syria freed an American writer, Peter Theo Curtis, who had been missing since 2012 following what officials said were efforts by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar to win his release.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Relatives of missing Iraqi soldiers storm parliament

AFP

AMERLI (Iraq): Iraqi forces made more progress on Tuesday in their campaign against militants, even as anger boiled over in Baghdad where protesters stormed parliament over the fate of missing soldiers who surrendered in June.

AMERLI (Iraq): Iraqi forces made more progress on Tuesday in their campaign against militants, even as anger boiled over in Baghdad where protesters stormed parliament over the fate of missing soldiers who surrendered in June.

After breaking a months-long siege of the Shia Turkmen-majority town of Amerli by fighters of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS), troops also regained control of part of a key highway linking Baghdad to the north.

Two towns north of Amerli were taken from the militants on Monday as Iraqi forces — backed by US air strikes — won their first major victories since the army’s collapse across much of the north in June.

That collapse left some 1,700 soldiers who surrendered in militant hands, with many believed to have been executed.

Demanding to know their fate, hundreds of angry relatives stormed parliament, attacked MPs and began a sit-in in its main chamber, an official said.

Anti-riot police were deployed to try to evict the protesters, who were also calling for some officers to be held accountable, said the official, who was present in parliament.

The militants have reportedly carried out widespread atrocities, with Amnesty International on Tuesday accusing them of war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

The Sunni extremist IS declared an Islamic “caliphate” in regions under its control in Iraq and Syria after it swept through much of the Sunni Arab heartland north of Baghdad in June and then stormed minority Christian and Yazidi Kurdish areas.

IS has carried out beheadings, crucifixions and public stonings, and Amnesty accused it of “war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions” in areas it controls.

“The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” said Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, Donatella Rovera.

Assistance is now arriving in Amerli, brought in both by fighters and the United Nations, which said it had “delivered 45 metric tonnes of life-saving supplies”.

As an aid truck entered the town, one man who had fought to defend Amerli said it was the first time he had seen grapes in months.

The siege took a heavy toll on residents, including Umm Ahmed, who lost her husband and 10-year-old son to a mortar round, leaving her alone to raise their three daughters, the oldest of whom is eight.

There was “no food and no water to drink, and the children and the elderly were dying”, she said.

A day after seizing Amerli, troops and Shia militiamen on Monday retook Sulaiman Bek and Yankaja, two towns to its north that had been important militant strongholds.

Army Staff Lieutenant General Abdulamir al-Zaidi said they continued the advance on Tuesday, regaining control of a stretch of the main highway to northern Iraq that had been closed by the militants for almost three months.

“The way from Baghdad to Kirkuk has become secure,” said the commander of the Badr militia, Transport Minister Hadi al-Ameri.

The United States said it launched four air strikes in the Amerli area, meaning that it effectively supported operations involving militia forces that previously fought against US troops in Iraq.

The government’s reliance on Shia militiamen in this and other operations risks entrenching groups which themselves have a history of brutal sectarian killings.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

S. Arabia arrests 88 suspected members of Al Qaeda cell

AP

RIYADH: A top Saudi security official said on Tuesday that police had arrested 88 men suspected of being part of an Al Qaeda cell that was plotting attacks both inside and outside the kingdom.

RIYADH: A top Saudi security official said on Tuesday that police had arrested 88 men suspected of being part of an Al Qaeda cell that was plotting attacks both inside and outside the kingdom.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki did not give details about the alleged plots, but said 59 of the men arrested had previously served prison sentences for similar offenses.

He said that Saudi security forces had monitored the group for months and learned about their plans. He said the arrests were made over the past several days and that Saudi forces “are serious in tracking down” anyone who joined a terrorist group.

“It is unfortunate that some of those who had completed their sentences and were released by court orders returned to their previous ways,” Mr al-Turki told reporters.

The police said three of the men were Yemeni nationals, one was still being identified and the rest were Saudis.

The announcement comes amid the advances made in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, which has prompted Saudi Arabia to take harsher measures against sympathisers who could threaten the kingdom’s stability.

The kingdom made it illegal this year for its citizens to fight as militants abroad and for anyone to incite youth to fight in foreign countries.

Over the weekend, Saudi King Abdullah warned that extremists could attack Europe and the US if there was not a strong international response to terrorism. His remarks were believed to be in reference to the IS group’s offensive.

Saudi security officials began battling Al Qaeda militants around a decade ago when extremists launched a string of attacks in the kingdom aimed at toppling the monarchy. Saudi officials responded with a massive crackdown that saw many flee to neighbouring Yemen.

In the time since, the kingdom has not seen any massive attacks, though it has imprisoned suspected militants and sentenced others to death.

On Monday, a court in Riyadh ordered 17 people to serve sentences ranging from just under three years to 26 years in prison. The group was allegedly part of a 67-member cell whose members either fought in Iraq, facilitated travel for militants to fight there or helped finance terrorism. All have 30 days to appeal their sentences.

Also on Monday, the same court sentenced a Saudi preacher to five years in prison for allegedly praising and supporting the IS group and Al Qaeda during a recent sermon.

The Arab News reported that the preacher also called for attacks on Egypt’s security forces and on Saudis to release a woman Al Qaeda operative.

The defendant was banned from delivering sermons and from travelling abroad for five years after his release from prison. His lawyers plan to appeal.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Sri Lankan Muslim Council calls for protection of Buddhist sites threatened by IS

Frances Bulathsinghala

COLOMBO: In the wake of a call given by the radical Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena, that Muslim organisations should clarify their stand on the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the ISIS, the Sri Lankan Muslim Council has issued a statement denouncing the militant group as a terrorist organisation.

COLOMBO: In the wake of a call given by the radical Sri Lankan Buddhist clergy organisation, the Bodu Bala Sena, that Muslim organisations should clarify their stand on the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the ISIS, the Sri Lankan Muslim Council has issued a statement denouncing the militant group as a terrorist organisation.

Calling for the protection of the ancient and historical Buddhist wonder of Borobudur in Indonesia after IS extremists threatened to attack it, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka said that IS and a number of other terrorist groups had been funded and armed by vested interests to destabilise the Arab and Muslim regions.

“We have repeatedly made our stance clear, such as when the Bamiyan Buddha statues were destroyed in Afghanistan. We were the first to protest,” N.M. Ameen, president of the council told Dawn in an interview.

In a letter to the President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the council said that it was with great shock and disbelief that the Sri Lankan Muslim community received reports of the threat posed by the IS to Borobudur.

“The architectural wonder of Borobudur is not only the largest Buddhist Temple in the world, but is aptly declared a Unesco heritage site for its architectural, cultural and religious value. Its religious and historical significance for Buddhists around the world is unparalleled.”

The threat posed by the IS with the sole intention of targeting places of religious significance is to create turmoil across the world in the name of Islam, the council said.

The Muslim Council noted that “Islam is a religion of peace and there is no space for terrorism or violence in Islam”. It added that entities with political interests had continued to arm some Muslims and create violence in a number of countries across the world, which is causing chaos in Muslim countries and threatening peace in the world.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

3 Kashmiri militants killed

AFP

SRINAGAR: Government forces killed three suspected militants during a lengthy gunfight in India-held Kashmir on Tuesday, police said, in the latest flare-up ahead of tense local elections later this year.

SRINAGAR: Government forces killed three suspected militants during a lengthy gunfight in India-held Kashmir on Tuesday, police said, in the latest flare-up ahead of tense local elections later this year.

Soldiers cordoned off a house in Hanjan village, some 40km south of Srinagar, on Monday evening after receiving a tip-off that militants were inside, a police officer said.

The militants then opened fire, sparking armed exchan­ges which went on till early morning, the officer said.

“All the three militants died during the gun battle,” he added. Another police officer, Vijay Kumar, told reporters that all the three militants were local men.

The fighting took place after multiple clashes between suspected militants and government forces last week left eight people from the two sides dead in the north of the disputed territory near the de facto border with Pakistan known as the Line of Control or LoC.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Footprints: Living In Fear

Nasir Jamal

THE guns have fallen silent across the working boundary along Sialkot after over two weeks of the nightly exchange of heavy artillery fire and mortar shelling between the border guards of India and Pakistan. Yet the fear of re-escalation remains and residents of the border areas, who had evacuated their villages for safe places, are still reluctant to return home.

THE guns have fallen silent across the working boundary along Sialkot after over two weeks of the nightly exchange of heavy artillery fire and mortar shelling between the border guards of India and Pakistan. Yet the fear of re-escalation remains and residents of the border areas, who had evacuated their villages for safe places, are still reluctant to return home.

“You never know when they [Indians] will resume firing and shelling. No one is ready to risk their life even if it means spending their nights in the fields, away from the comfort of their homes,” Ali Shan, a 20-year-old college student, told Dawn. “There has been no firing and shelling for the past three days, but people are scared.”

Most residents of his village, Joyian, almost a kilometre from the working boundary and 12 kilometres from Sialkot, left their homes when cross-border firing intensified in the middle of August. His own family had shifted to a relative’s place a day before a shell fired by India’s border forces struck their home on the night between Aug 23 and 24, badly damaging the roof.

Also read: Two Pakistanis killed, four Indians wounded in exchange of fire along border

“We, along with many other men from the village, were sleeping in the nearby fields when a loud explosion woke us up; there was smoke all over. Then there was a series of explosions. None of us dared go back near our houses,” Ali recalled as he showed us around several houses in the village with broken roofs and pock-marked walls.

The village was mostly deserted, the houses locked up, and shops and schools closed when this reporter visited Joyian on Saturday afternoon. A woman, who showed us how shrapnel had hit a photo frame on the cornice after piercing through her bedroom’s metal door, said her family had to evacuate in the night amidst intense artillery fire.

“Only a few villagers who don’t have any relatives living nearby return home during the day — when the firing and shelling ceases, albeit temporarily — to prepare food,” she explained. “Who would want to risk life in the middle of a full-blown war?”

The border residents say firing from the Indian side after every few months is “routine” and they’ve grown accustomed to it. “But this mortar shelling is new and destructive and it is scary; even a concrete roof cannot protect you from mortar shells directly targeting the villagers living along the border,” said Talawat Hussain, a farmer.

Many of the settlements affected by the ceasefire violations near Sialkot are hardly a few yards from the boundary. Standing anywhere in Harpal sector, you can see an Indian border guard watching over the village residents from his watchtower across the paddy fields. Until the border authorities of the two countries decided late last week to end hostilities and re-enforce the ceasefire agreed upon in 2003, the Pakistani border security force did not let any resident return to the village even during the day because that “could be dangerous”.

At least five Pakistani civilians are said to have died and scores injured because of the Indian firing and shelling that started in the middle of July and intensified in the third week of last month. Each side blames the other for the ceasefire violations.

Pakistan dismisses the Indian claim that the sniper fire from the Pakistani side to “provide cover for militants crossing the border” triggered the deadly exchange of fire. Pakistan says its border security force merely retaliated against the unprovoked firing from across the border.

“The trigger-happy Indians are very nervous for God knows what reason,” contended an officer of the Punjab Rangers. “Even the movement of a wild boar near the fence they’ve erected is enough to unnerve them, making them open fire.”

“The allegations of us helping militants cross the border are silly,” he continued. “No one can creep into their side through this flat terrain; they have built a fence along the entire length of the working boundary, which is illuminated after sunset, and have watchtowers and bunkers every 100 yards.” He added that the ceasefire doesn’t hold for more than five or six months at a stretch despite the 2003 agreement. “Now we have peace on the border. How long it lasts depends on the Indians.”

Ceasefire violations aren’t surprising for border residents. “This is a disputed line. We have to live with firing [from across the boundary] as long as the Kashmir dispute remains unresolved,” argued Attaullah, in his early 70s and a resident of Bajra Garhi. Yet he was surprised by the length and ferociousness this time around. “I haven’t seen such intense exchange of fire since the 1971 war,” he said. “There’s not a single border village where Indian shelling hasn’t damaged houses and made their poor residents flee for safety.”

Among the ones that fled, some families were provided shelter and food by local politicians, but others are stranded in the open fields. “Nobody has come to our help,” said the widow of Imdad Hussain, 55, who died when mortar-shell shrapnel hit him outside his home in Bajra Garhi a week ago.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Sri Lanka court allows deportation

Reuters

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court gave permission to authorities on Monday to send back scores of Pakistani asylum seekers, after the government said they were a threat to the island’s security and public health.

COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan court gave permission to authorities on Monday to send back scores of Pakistani asylum seekers, after the government said they were a threat to the island’s security and public health.

Deputy Solicitor General Janak de Silva asked the Appeal court to lift an earlier suspension of deportations, saying there was evidence Pakistanis were committing crimes and bringing malaria into the country, which was otherwise virtually free of the disease.

“Interim relief was vacated and the court has dismissed the application. Now all asylum seekers are exposed to deportation if government wants,” said Lakshan Dias, lawyer of a 38-year-old Pakistani woman who complained after her husband, brother and father were detained pending deportation.

The court on Aug 15 ordered authorities to temporarily stop deporting Pakistanis, after the woman said her family was being forcibly sent home without having their claims properly assessed.

The United Nations refugee agency says 88 Pakistanis have been deported since Aug 1 in what is called a breach of international law.

The agency has called for an end to deportations and demanded access to another 75 detained people who are awaiting deportation.

The Sri Lankan government says the Pakistanis are part of an influx of economic immigrants in the past year who have become a burden on the country’s resources and potentially compromised state and regional security.

Sri Lankan authorities deny violating any international laws, saying the country is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Japan, India agree to boost defence ties

Reuters

TOKYO: Japan and India agreed on Monday to strengthen defence relations as Asia’s second and third biggest economies keep a wary eye on a rising China, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashing out at the “expansionism” of some nations.

TOKYO: Japan and India agreed on Monday to strengthen defence relations as Asia’s second and third biggest economies keep a wary eye on a rising China, with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashing out at the “expansionism” of some nations.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi also agreed to speed up talks on a so-far elusive deal on nuclear energy cooperation, welcoming what they called “significant progress” in the negotiations.

“From this day on, Prime Minister Modi and I will work hand-in-hand to dramatically strengthen relations in every field and elevate ties to a special, strategic global partnership,” Abe told a joint media event after a summit with Modi.

They also agreed to accelerate talks on the possible sale of an amphibious aircraft to India’s navy – likely to become Japan’s first overseas military sale in nearly 50 years and a result of Abe’s more muscular approach to defence in the face of an assertive China.

Modi, on his first major foreign visit since election win in May, arrived on Saturday for a five-day trip aimed at capitalising on his personal affinity with Abe to bolster security and business ties.

“We intend to give a new thrust and direction to our defence cooperation, including collaboration in defence technology and equipment, given our shared interest in peace and stability and maritime security,” Modi said.

“The 21st century belongs to Asia … but how the 21st century will be depends on how strong and progressive India-Japan ties are,” Modi told Japanese and Indian business executives.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Israel appropriates West Bank land for ‘settlement use’

Reuters

JERUSALEM: Israel announced on Sunday a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

JERUSALEM: Israel announced on Sunday a land appropriation in the occupied West Bank that an anti-settlement group termed the biggest in 30 years and a Palestinian official said would cause only more friction after the Gaza war.

Some 988 acres in the Etzion settlement bloc near Bethlehem were declared “state land, on the instructions of the political echelon” by the military-run Civil Administration.

The notice published by the military gave no reason for the decision.

Peace Now, which opposes Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank — territory Palestinians seek for a state — said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement.

Construction of a major settlement at the location, known as “Gevaot”, has been mooted by Israel since 2000. Last year, the government invited bids for the building of 1,000 housing units at the site.

Peace Now said the land seizure was the largest announced by Israel in the West Bank since the 1980s and that anyone with ownership claims had 45 days to appeal.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts and harvested olive trees on them.

Israel has come under intense international criticism over its settlement activities, which most countries regard as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the creation of a viable Palestinian state in any future peace deal.

“This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off peace talks with Mr Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip.

In a series of remarks after an open-ended ceasefire halted a seven-week-old Gaza war with Hamas on Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu repeated his position that President Abbas would have to sever his alliance with Hamas for a peace process with Israel to resume.

Israel has said construction at Gevaot would not constitute the establishment of a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighbourhood of an existing one, Alon Shvut, several kilometres down the road.

Some 500,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that the Jewish state captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Study says new heart drug reduces deaths by 20pc

AFP

WASHINGTON: An experimental drug from a Swiss pharma giant reduced deaths from chronic heart failure by 20 per cent when compared to an existing treatment, according to the results of a vast new study.

WASHINGTON: An experimental drug from a Swiss pharma giant reduced deaths from chronic heart failure by 20 per cent when compared to an existing treatment, according to the results of a vast new study.

The new drug, called LCZ696, has been labelled a potential “blockbuster” with sales in the billions of dollars, say analysts.

Cardiovascular failure, in which the heart does not pump blood effectively, kills at least 26 million people a year worldwide.

Novartis unveiled the highly anticipated results on Saturday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona, Spain, and simultaneously in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study — conducted with more than 8,400 patients in 47 countries over 27 months — compared the safety and effectiveness of the drug on patients with heart failure to the current gold standard, Enalapril.

At the end of the observation period, 21.8 per cent of participants taking LCZ696 died from heart failure, one-fifth lower than the 26.5 per cent who died taking Enalapril.

Novartis plans to request authorisation to bring the medication to market from the US drug regulator by the end of the year, and from the European Union equivalent in early 2015.

It said in a statement that the results were “highly significant and clinically important”.

The drug also reduced hospitalisations by 21 per cent, the study showed.

“I think that when physicians see these data, they will find it compelling, and what we will see is a paradigm shift,” said Milton Packer, a clinical sciences professor at the University of Texas and a co-author of the study.

The condition leads to shortness of breath, fatigue, and fluid retention in the arms and legs.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Putin calls for talks on east Ukraine ‘statehood’

Reuters

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, although his spokesman said it did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory seized by them.

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, although his spokesman said it did not mean Moscow now endorsed rebel calls for independence for territory seized by them.

The Kremlin leader’s remarks, which followed a feisty public appearance in which he compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”, came with Europe and the United States preparing new sanctions to halt what they said was direct Russian military involvement in the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops and local residents were reinforcing on Sunday the port of Mariupol, the next big city in the path of pro-Russia fighters who pushed back government forces along the Azov Sea this past week in an offensive on a new front.

Ukraine and Russia swapped soldiers who had entered each other’s territory near the battlefield, where Kiev said Moscow’s forces had come to the aid of pro-Russia insurgents, tipping the balance on the battlefield in the rebels’ favour.

Talks should be held immediately “and not just on technical issues but on the political organisation of society and statehood in south-eastern Ukraine,” Mr Putin said in an interview with Channel 1 state television, his hair tousled by wind on the shore of a lake.

He said Moscow, for its part, could not stand aside while people were being shot “almost at point blank”.

President Putin’s use of the word “statehood” was interpreted in Western media as implying backing for the rebels’ demand for independence, something Moscow had earlier stopped short of endorsing publicly.

However, Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no new endorsement from Moscow for rebels’ independence. Asked if “New Russia”, a term pro-Moscow rebels used for their territory, should still be part of Ukraine, Mr Peskov said: “Of course.

“Only Ukraine can reach an agreement with New Russia, taking into account the interests of New Russia, and this is the only way to reach a political settlement.”

Rebels have rallied behind the term “New Russia” since Mr Putin first used it in a public appearance in April. He called it a tsarist-era term for land that now formed southern and eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainians consider the term deeply offensive and say it reveals Moscow’s imperial designs on their territory.

Moscow has long called for Kiev to hold direct political talks with the rebels. Kiev says it is willing to open talks on more rights for the south and east, but will not talk directly to armed fighters it describes as Russian puppets and “international terrorists” who can only be reined in by Moscow.

The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the face of a new rebel advance, drawing concern from Ukraine’s Western allies, who say armoured columns of Russian troops came to the aid of a rebellion that would otherwise have been near collapse.

European Union leaders agreed on Saturday to draw up new economic sanctions against Moscow, a move hailed by the United States, which is planning tighter sanctions of its own and wants to act jointly with Europe.

Some residents of Mariupol have taken to the streets to show support for the Ukrainian government as pro-Russia forces gain ground. Many others have fled from the prospect of an all-out assault on the city of nearly 500,000 people.

“We will dig trenches. We will throw petrol bombs at them, the occupiers,” she said.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Jamaat convenes multi-party conference today

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) has decided to hold a national consultation conference of political parties in Islamabad on Monday in a bid to find a negotiated settlement of the ongoing political crisis in the country.

ISLAMABAD: Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) has decided to hold a national consultation conference of political parties in Islamabad on Monday in a bid to find a negotiated settlement of the ongoing political crisis in the country.

The conference will be presided over by JI emir Sirajul Haq, Participants of the conference will be requested to play their role in bringing the government, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) back to the negotiating table.

Senior JI leader Mian Aslam told Dawn that all political parties except the PML-N had been invited to the conference, to ensure the PTI’s representation.

Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah and Qamar Zaman Kaira of PPP, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, National Party leader Mir Hasil Khan Bizenjo, Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao and former president of Supreme Court Bar Association Asma Jahangir had confirmed their participation in the conference, he said.

He said he was trying to contact PTI chief Imran Khan and Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Farooq Sattar to invite them to the conference.

Mr Aslam said the agenda of the conference was to find a way to end the political crisis and save democracy. The JI was making efforts to unite opposition parties so that they could convince the PTI to restart negotiations with the government.

“I hope the conference will find a way to end the political crisis in the country,” he added.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

‘Great escape’ for UN troops trapped on Golan Heights

Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: All the Philippine peacekeepers trapped by Islamist militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights have been moved to a secure place, according to the United Nations and the Philippines.

UNITED NATIONS: All the Philippine peacekeepers trapped by Islamist militants on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights have been moved to a secure place, according to the United Nations and the Philippines.

The United Nations said on Sunday the 40 peacekeepers left during a ceasefire agreed with “armed elements” in the area shortly after midnight local time and were moved to a safe place.

Gen Gre­gorio Catapang, the Philip­pines’ armed forces chief, told reporters that Israel and Syria helped in what was the “greatest esc­ape” of Filipino troops after engaging about 100 Islamist militants surrounding them in a seven-hour firefight.

The UN peacekeepers escaped in the middle of the night while the rebels were sleeping, he said.

“This attack prompted UNDOF to reposition our troops to a more secure position within the mission area,” Gen Catapang said, referring to the UN peacekeeping force that has monitored the disengagement zone between Israel and Syria since 1974.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

It’s time to end enforced disappearances: UN chief

Masood Haider

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that enforced disappearances of people by states constitute an unacceptable violation of human rights and the time has come for the end to this abhorrent practice.

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that enforced disappearances of people by states constitute an unacceptable violation of human rights and the time has come for the end to this abhorrent practice.

“Enforced disappearance is a practice that cannot be tolerated in the 21st century,” Mr Ban said in a message to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

“This abhorrent practice places people outside the protection of the law and thus, potentially in great danger of physical violence and sometimes barbaric execution. In addition to causing unimaginable worry and anguish for the victims and their loved ones, this creates a generalised climate of fear and terror across entire societies,” he said.

Mr Ban noted that enforced disappearance was once employed mainly by military dictatorships.

“Increasingly, it has become a tool of many states around the world, some operating under counter-terror strategies, or fighting organised crime, and others seeking to quash dissent and human rights activism.

“On this solemn Day, I reiterate in the strongest possible terms that under international law, no-one should be kept in secret detention. Any person deprived of his or her liberty must be held safely in officially recognised and supervised locations that observe the rule of law.”

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Footprints: Drought Forces ‘Mass Migration’

Saher Baloch

SITTING beside the dirt road leading out of Chhachhro taluka, Tharparkar, 28-year-old Sukho is ready to migrate for eight months.

SITTING beside the dirt road leading out of Chhachhro taluka, Tharparkar, 28-year-old Sukho is ready to migrate for eight months.

Surrounded by his family, he says: “Migration was earlier a way for men to sell newly cut crops and wait for the cotton-picking months of June and July. Now, it’s our only option to stay alive.”

As a result, men are now shifting their entire families to various talukas and villages across Sindh. “My biggest fear when I’m out making a living is, what if my family dies while I’m gone,” he says.

“Because I know for a fact that there’s nothing to eat in my village any more.”

Sukho and his family walked for two days from Naharo Bheel village to get to Chhachhro and are now on their way out of here, too. His mother speaks up: “I’ve seen three droughts in the past 50 years but this is the worst.” Sukho’s wife has already been shifted to a village in Sanghar district named Bhairani. “Only 50 people are left in my village,” he says. “So far, 450 families have left.”

Tharparkar was recently in the news after a policy on the drought was finally passed in the provincial assembly. Its main features were disclosed during a press conference in Karachi by Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Sharjeel Memon.

According to data shared by the medical superintendent at the rural health centre in Chhachhro, up until March, the number of dead — mostly children — stood at seven. But NGOs say the number is much higher. Ali Nawaz, the social mobiliser with an NGO named Aware in Chhachhro, says, “Government-run hospitals only quote deaths that occur on their premises. They don’t count the children who die in basic health facilities and dispensaries. According to our data, 112 deaths had occurred till March.”

On the main road leading towards Chhachhro, which is the most affected among the six talukas in Tharparkar, signs of drought are hard to ignore. There have been ‘mass migrations’ in the recent past and present, officials say. Families can be seen on the main highway leading to Umerkot and Mithi, some walking, some huddled together on camels or on top of Suzuki pickups. Carcasses of dead livestock can be seen lying on the roadside.

“This year has been the worst in terms of rains,” says the senior programme manager at Thardeep, Dr Ashok Bakhtani.

This time around, news channel vans are not parked outside the only rural health centre in Chhachhro. The medical superintendent terms the lack of rain first “hype created by the media” and later “a fact which scares us because of the impact it will have in the coming months.”

Removing a white skullcap from his head, he lights a cigarette while explaining how “drought and malnutrition are not connected. I’ll tell you what it is,” he says. “It’s a way of earning extra resources for NGOs or readership for a struggling newspaper. The facts on the ground are different. Till March this year, only one death was reported in our hospital.”

Explaining that the data for the remaining months is in the process of being compiled, he adds that most deaths that occur in Thar are because of a host of problems the area is faced with. “These include multiple pregnancies, premature deliveries and the lack of proper nutritional intake by residents, resulting in various diseases. Malnutrition is not the only cause of death here.”

Back in Umerkot, Mohammad Siddiq, representing Aware, insists the situation is very different from what it was before. “It took countless meetings to convince the provincial officials that there is a problem in Thar. Chhachhro and a newly made taluka, Dahali, are among the worst affected when it comes to malnutrition and drought. Thirty-one people committed suicide this year, the reasons being the lack of financial resources as well as food shortages.”

Dr Ashok links the present situation in Chhachhro in particular and Thar in general to the need for introducing “long-term solutions on an emergency basis”.

“If it doesn’t rain the crop won’t grow,” he explains. “If the crop is not sold, how will a family that relies financially on livestock continue to feed it? Even livestock that survives the drought is useless for a farmer, because it won’t be able to breed and will eventually die. This situation won’t go away by itself.”

He adds that “the situation is critical, more than it was before, even though facts were indeed exaggerated earlier. By the end of last year, it hadn’t rained in five out of 17 union councils in Chhachhro. A hue and cry was made. This time around, it didn’t rain in any of the 17 union councils of Chhachhro, and yet there is no hue and cry.”

Dr Ashok says that in the long term, it might cause an irreparable damage to the land and the people. “The situation requires us to listen to a hari or a kisaan for a change.”

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

13 killed in Taliban assault on Afghan intelligence agency’s office

Reuters

JALALABAD: Taliban suicide bombers hit an office of the Afghan intelligence agency in an eastern city on Saturday, killing six people, and militants shot dead another 11 in the west.

JALALABAD: Taliban suicide bombers hit an office of the Afghan intelligence agency in an eastern city on Saturday, killing six people, and militants shot dead another 11 in the west.

Seven militants were also killed during several hours of heavy fighting with Afghan security forces at the Jalalabad headquarters of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), said Ahmad Zeya Abdulzai, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar province.

Mr Abdulzai said four NDS agents and two civilians were killed when a truck and a smaller car, both loaded with explosives, were driven into the compound and a gunfight broke out between Afghan forces and the militants.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, in which dozens were wounded.

A pattern of bold offensives by militants has emerged across Afghanistan in recent weeks during the summer “fighting season”.

The militants also struck in the western province of Farah, stopping a truck carrying workers to a construction site near the Iranian border and killing 11 of them. Authorities were trying to find out why the workers were targeted.

“They were innocent Afghan workers. They did not have any connection to the government, so we don’t know the reason for the attack,” said Jawad Afghan, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

Afghan forces have struggled to fight off large numbers of militants in provinces to the east, north and south of Kabul.

Published in Dawn, August 31th, 2014

Editorial News

Generosity of spirit required

Editorial

WHETHER the de-escalation of the political crisis is a temporary phenomenon or a permanent one only the days ahead will reveal.

WHETHER the de-escalation of the political crisis is a temporary phenomenon or a permanent one only the days ahead will reveal.

There is certainly pressure building on Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to end their protest and seek some kind of deal on electoral reforms with the government, but the PTI and PAT chiefs have so far displayed fickle behaviour. Consider how last Saturday, in the space of a couple of hours, the situation along Constitution Avenue changed from optimism that a deal may be imminent to dark violence after Mr Khan and Mr Qadri teamed up and unleashed their supporters.

Yet, there is a sense that the protesters are running out of options. A steady rain in the capital yesterday added to the problems facing the PTI and PAT because the focus remained on the joint session of parliament instead of what Mr Khan and Mr Qadri said or did.

If the de-escalation is to be permanent, however, the PML-N will have to demonstrate magnanimity of spirit that has been lacking for the most part. To be sure, Mr Khan, Mr Qadri and their respective protesters have appeared undeserving of sympathy. But the onus on the government is greater — Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government are the custodians of the democratic project and must do whatever they can to bring all political forces, even implacable foes, closer into the political mainstream.

Contradictory as some of the PTI rhetoric has been — contrast what Imran Khan has routinely said from atop his shipping container with what Shah Mehmood Qureshi said inside parliament — the PML-N should focus on the pro-democracy and pro-parliamentary words of PTI leaders and find some common cause. Even now, it would make much sense to offer some generous concessions to the PTI and PAT in return for the withdrawal of their demand for the prime minister’s resignation and a quick end to the protests, thereby allowing the country to move on from this most damaging of episodes.

The PML-N ought to pay heed to what has made the present de-escalation possible: activating parliament in defence of democracy and widespread revulsion at the PTI’s and PAT’s aggressive, violent tactics over the weekend. The anti-democratic forces in the country are still strong, but they no longer have carte blanche. To achieve their goals, the anti-democratic forces need a political foil, a government that makes repeated mistakes and is low on public goodwill.

For much of this crisis, the PML-N has been that political foil, a bumbling opponent that has compounded virtually every problem it has had to contend with. Now that life is flowing out of the anti-government protests and flowing back into a government that had seemingly been clinging to survival, the PML-N must take advantage of the opening to build bridges in the larger interest of democracy.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Military’s figures

Editorial

AFTER a considerable silence, the military has spoken about the ongoing operation against TTP militants in North Waziristan.

AFTER a considerable silence, the military has spoken about the ongoing operation against TTP militants in North Waziristan.

Going by the statistics released by the army on Wednesday, it appears that a significant number of militants have been killed in Operation Zarb-i-Azb, while the terrorist infrastructure has also been neutralised.

The army says 910 suspected militants have been killed since the operation commenced in June while 27 ‘factories’ used to produce IEDs and other munitions have been destroyed. Over 80 troops have also died in the line of duty. The army says it has carried out over 2,200 counter terrorism operations countrywide in the wake of the action in the tribal belt, which is why, it believes, there has been minimal backlash. Indeed, the latter observation is valid — before the operation was launched there were fears that there would be a vicious terrorist backlash against any state action deemed hostile by the militants.

Thankfully, the only major terrorist attack witnessed since Zarb-i-Azb began was the assault on two airbases in Quetta last month. However, the operation will only be judged a success in the long term if the militant infrastructure is permanently dismantled and those with blood on their hands brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the banned TTP has contested the military’s claims, saying only 25 to 30 of its fighters have been killed, adding that its bomb factories had been shifted to ‘safe places’. The militants may be on the run, but a clear victory against them can only be achieved if they are put out of business altogether. For example, despite counter terrorism operations conducted in Bajaur and Swat in the past, these areas have yet to return to complete normalcy.

In a related vein, the US military leadership has offered its own view of the operation in North Waziristan. Senior US generals have said it is “too soon” to evaluate the action in the tribal areas. They have observed that Pakistan will have to “clear, hold and build” the territory that has been taken back from militants.

They have a point. But what the Americans in Afghanistan and the government in Kabul can do on their part is to prevent militants on the run from taking refuge in the areas bordering Pakistan, while the latter must challenge those using its territory to fight Kabul. Most importantly, the US can help Pakistan rebuild North Waziristan in order to help bring the troubled area into the national mainstream.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

The ‘vulgarity’ argument

Editorial

WOMEN young and old, some with heads bare and others covered, swaying to the music, singing, cheering or with eyes moist with emotion, the definitive female presence at the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad has been quite remarkable, and life-affirming.

WOMEN young and old, some with heads bare and others covered, swaying to the music, singing, cheering or with eyes moist with emotion, the definitive female presence at the PTI and PAT protests in Islamabad has been quite remarkable, and life-affirming.

After all, this is a country where grotesque depredations against women to deprive them of their agency make regular headlines. Moreover, these women — particularly those who have arrived from other cities — have persevered through the daily discomforts and indignities that are inevitable in a society where the norms of public space are geared to men’s convenience. It was perhaps inevitable then, that the bogey of ‘vulgarity’, which is conveniently dredged up not only to shame women but also the men associated with them, would be repeatedly raised during the course of the protests by some of the august personalities that populate our political sphere.

Among those who have voiced their outrage that our culture is being ‘undermined’ by the women’s assertive visibility in the public domain and that ‘indecency’ is being promoted by those ‘dancing’ to music, are Hamza Sharif and, at the joint session of parliament currently under way, Maulana Fazlur Rehman as well as —surprisingly — Aftab Sherpao.

The topic has also agitated the minds of many a participant at television talk shows and generated debate on social media. It is extremely unfortunate that despite the political discourse having broadened considerably over the course of democracy taking root in Pakistan, a process in which the extent of women’s participation is an important marker of success, the urge to define their behavioural parameters in the political sphere remains as robust as ever.

It springs from the same mindset that prevents women from casting their vote in some parts of the country on the excuse of ‘cultural constraints’. Pakistan is not a homogenous society with a uniform culture, and the attempt to score political points through specious arguments suggesting otherwise is an affront to all women in the country.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Parliament’s hour

Editorial

After too many days of the spotlight being on scenes of violence and extra-constitutional demands, there is reason now to let the attention be captured by a legitimate, sovereign body: parliament.

After too many days of the spotlight being on scenes of violence and extra-constitutional demands, there is reason now to let the attention be captured by a legitimate, sovereign body: parliament.

Nevertheless, the members of the assembly debating and drafting the resolution to address the crisis would be served well by a little humility and reflection.

Also read: Focus shifts from protesters as nation tunes into NA session

As a strong counter-narrative emerges from the debates at the joint session of parliament — and as the protesters grow weary of the fight — there will be a strong temptation to be dismissive of the protesters and their demands.

Certainly, the methods and rhetoric employed by the PTI and PAT should be rejected.

The use of insurrectionary language and imagery, and the clashes in the streets, might to some give the protests the look or feel of a popular uprising of some sort, an effect that was clearly intentional.

But despite the sound and fury, it’s also true that with or without a ‘scriptwriter’, this is ultimately a political conflict and must be resolved using political means.

And there is no forum better than parliament for the resolution of political conflicts.

The PTI has provided the government, and more generally parliament, with an opening in Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s speech before the joint session.

He specifically said that they “wish to resolve this crisis” and spoke at length about the sanctity of parliament. More importantly, he referred to continuing talks and said nothing about the resignations his party’s MNAs have already submitted.

The government needs to acknowledge this opening and find a way to build on it rather than get into a point-by-point debate on all the other issues that he also raised. Most importantly, parliament should resist casting this affair in ‘them vs. us’ terms.

The PTI and PAT have created this binary distinction, but a sustainable compromise depends on parliament rising above it.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s absence while Mr Qureshi spoke sent the wrong signal — of disinterest, for example.

The prime minister has a right to be offended by some of the rhetoric the PTI has hurled in his direction in the last couple of weeks, but taking personal umbrage at the theatric stunts of politics is not — let’s face it — good politics.

What would make for good politics at this time would be to respond to the signal that the PTI has just sent: that it is willing to return to talks and seek a negotiated path out of this situation.

Parliament needs now to show further maturity, and advance a concrete package of suggestions that go beyond what has been put on the table thus far.

On the government’s side, it can give a pledge to parliament: if, after appropriately defining the terms, the judicial commission does indeed find evidence of “massive rigging” as alleged, the government will call for midterm elections.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

War against education

Editorial

The political turmoil in Islamabad seems to have eclipsed all other crises in the country.

The political turmoil in Islamabad seems to have eclipsed all other crises in the country.

Amongst these is the religious extremists’ assault on education in Balochistan, which is gaining ground.

A school in Turbat, district Kech, was torched by an outfit calling itself ‘Al Jihad’ late on Monday.

Also Read: School set on fire in Kech district

The militants left pamphlets in the area warning people not to send their children to English-medium schools and to only educate them at madressahs.

The principal of the targeted school has said he had been receiving threats from unknown individuals for several months. This is far from the first incident of its kind in Balochistan.

A school was set on fire by unknown assailants in Panjgur a few days ago while a number of educational institutions were attacked in the same district in May.

At that time, a group calling itself Al Furqan al Islami had claimed responsibility for the violence; then, too, the militants had issues with the teaching of English, while they also railed against coeducation.

The attacks led to the lengthy closure of schools in the area while a number of parents reportedly relocated to Quetta and Karachi so as to continue their children’s education.

Due to the conflict between the state and separatists in Balochistan, other critical issues — such as the attacks targeting schools — are not getting the requisite attention. But what is particularly disturbing is that some Baloch activists have said that religious extremists opposed to women’s education, who they allege are supported by the state, are responsible for the terror campaign against schools.

They have also said that the same extremist elements are trying to spark sectarian conflict within Baloch society. While sectarian violence against Balochistan’s Hazara Shia population has continued for quite a few years, members of the Zikri community were targeted in Awaran last week after a considerable length of time.

As it is, the state of education in Balochistan is miserable.

One figure suggests that over two million children are out of school, while the separatist insurgency has resulted in many non-Baloch educators leaving the troubled region. Unless action is taken against those organising violent forays targeting schools, religious extremists will only be emboldened.

We have witnessed militants turn hundreds of schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata to rubble.

The Balochistan government must act now while the security agencies, which have a heavy footprint in the province, must help the administration bring to justice the militants involved.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Asylum seekers’ plight

Editorial

The anguish of the Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka can only be imagined.

The anguish of the Pakistani asylum seekers in Sri Lanka can only be imagined.

After several weeks of uncertainty, a court in that country has allowed the authorities to deport a number of individuals, comprising Ahmadis, Christians and Hazara Shias, who were seeking refugee status on the grounds of religious persecution in Pakistan.

They are among a group of around 150 Pakistanis rounded up in June by the Sri Lankan government and kept in detention camps while their fate was deliberated upon.

Also read: Sri Lanka court gives green light to deport Pakistani asylum seekers

According to the UNHCR, which has complained it was not allowed access to the asylum seekers to assess their claims, 128 of them have already been deported since then, after the Sri Lankan government dismissively categorised the group as ‘economic migrants’.

The process was halted when human rights groups criticised the haste with which the authorities had seemingly washed their hands of the issue.

The case was turned over to the court which has by its decision validated Sri Lanka’s official stance that these individuals were a threat to the country’s security and public health.

Given the asylum-seekers’ religious affiliations, the veracity of their claims can scarcely be overstated. Sri Lanka would have done well to take a humane view of their quest for refuge; its indifference to their plight goes against the spirit of legal and moral obligations towards vulnerable groups.

In any case, now that avenues of escape for them appear to be closed, it is incumbent upon Pakistan to ensure their misery is not further compounded when they return by them being dragged into legal tangles based upon the deportation reports issued by Sri Lanka.

Already, the Pakistan Foreign Office has done them a disservice by saying they have ‘badmouthed’ Pakistan in Sri Lanka, a statement that dispenses with logic (for why would they seek asylum had they not been driven away by intolerable injustice here?) and compassion, for it has tarred them as ‘unpatriotic’ — a dangerous label in a milieu where minorities are anyway seen as second-class citizens.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Economic impact of street politics

Editorial

ISLAMABAD may be shut, but Pakistan is open for business.

ISLAMABAD may be shut, but Pakistan is open for business.

Factories are humming, raw materials are moving freely on the roads, people are commuting to and from work, cellular communications remain uninterrupted.

The rupee has seen some declines, more likely due to developments intrinsic to the markets themselves rather than the crisis.

Forex reserves are broadly stable, the stock market has seen good days and bad throughout this affair, and there have been only marginal declines.

Also Read: Stocks fall as political strife continues

Even the collection of taxes and recovery of bills in the power sector are normal, despite calls for ‘civil disobedience’.

Attempts to spread the rallies to Lahore and Karachi and other cities have floundered and there has been little disruption in day-to-day life anywhere else in Pakistan, with no general strikes, no closures of roads and petrol pumps, schools or offices, no halt in public transport.

Beyond this, however, the damage is huge, difficult to quantify, and of a lasting nature.

Those looking in from the outside are asking how sturdy the political system in Pakistan really is.

Talks with the IMF are at a standstill, and it is likely that the next tranche will be delayed. The World Bank is worried about the future of its massive Country Partnership Strategy, worth $11bn and announced just this April.

Meanwhile, government work has ground to a halt, and although the machinery continues to function in the rest of the country, the ministries and secretariats and committees are all on standby.

In short, whereas daily life is largely untouched, the strategic outlook for the country has suffered a considerable blow.

This is the exact opposite of what street politics is meant to do.

Crippling everyday life yields maximum political dividends and leaves no lasting damage, but harming the strategic outlook brings no political rewards and causes lasting damage to the economy.

This is why street politics usually targets the operation of daily life in the cities rather than fighting in the streets of the capital. In this case, however, the reverse has happened — we saw fighting in the streets of the capital while it was business as usual everywhere else.

It is disheartening to note that this confrontational strategy was used by the PTI, a party that drew ample support from professional and corporate circles — precisely those who are heavily invested in the strategic outlook — and a party that prided itself for its focus on the economy.

They should have reconsidered the decision to resort to street politics if they lacked the capacity to credibly wage the fight. Once the passions wane and the rallies disperse, perhaps the party leadership should reflect on the consequences of their actions.

There are some amongst them who were hailed as exemplars of professional excellence, and those people will now need to explain the merits of their decisions to a very sceptical audience.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Continuing impunity

Editorial

Though civil society and all those in Pakistan who favour the rule of law have been campaigning hard for an end to enforced disappearances, little has changed on the ground.

Though civil society and all those in Pakistan who favour the rule of law have been campaigning hard for an end to enforced disappearances, little has changed on the ground.

The state is believed to be either complicit as elements within the security establishment allegedly abduct citizens, or it is powerless to stop the forces involved in this atrocious practice.

If such impunity continues, it will severely affect efforts to build a state that operates within the parameters of the law.

To mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances observed last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon remarked that the practice “cannot be tolerated in the 21st century”.

He added that numerous states worldwide had started secretly detaining people as part of counterterrorism efforts.

Also Read : It’s time to end enforced disappearances: UN chief

In a related statement, the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were critical of Pakistan’s lack of efforts at ending such abductions.

The rights bodies said the state had failed to: establish the facts about the missing persons; to bring those involved in their abduction to justice; and to compensate victims and families.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has also observed that while such disappearances have decreased in Balochistan, the number of incidents in KP and Sindh have gone up.

Despite the international and local outrage, it appears as if the practice is far from being stamped out.

Recently, missing persons’ campaigner Amina Janjua claimed that 91 people had been killed in different detention centres in KP.

She said there were over 40 such facilities in the province in which around 2,000 people were being held.

On the other hand, the bodies of three missing Baloch men were discovered on the outskirts of Karachi last week.

Activist Abdul Qadeer Baloch said the names of the men were on the list of the missing persons. And we must remember that the mystery of mass graves discovered earlier this year in Balochistan’s Khuzdar district remains unsolved.

The missing persons’ issue has persisted despite the intervention of the Supreme Court; this shows an utter contempt for the law by those responsible.

If the state suspects a certain individual is involved in militancy or terrorism of any kind — whether of the separatist or Islamist variety — a case must be lodged and due process followed, giving the accused the right to defend himself.

Abducting people and thereafter dumping their corpses is a completely unacceptable counterterrorism tactic.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Thar drought

Editorial

The Thar region is once again in the news for the drought and starvation that are taking their toll on the inhabitants.

The Thar region is once again in the news for the drought and starvation that are taking their toll on the inhabitants.

Though its geography and harsh climate make this arid corner of Sindh more vulnerable to disaster than other regions of the province, the absence of timely state intervention has aggravated the situation.

As reported, a drought-like situation is persisting in Thar as the area has hardly seen any rainfall during the monsoon season, which is nearing its end.

Difficult climatic conditions have added to the people’s woes as a number of suicides — many said to be triggered by poverty related to the drought — have been reported.

What is equally worrisome is that there is not enough fodder for livestock.

Also Read: Poverty causing people to kill themselves in drought-hit Thar

For Thar’s desert dwellers, livestock is an essential part of their existence and can mean the difference between life and death.

And while Tharis do migrate to other parts of Sindh to find seasonal work, reports indicate that some families are leaving their native areas permanently.

Drought-like conditions were also experienced earlier this year, with a number of children reportedly dying from malnutrition.

Though there was some controversy over the exact number of deaths, this time locals say that unless steps are taken, the effects of the drought may be even more severe.

Also Read: Thar drought situation termed alarming

A similar lack of water and fodder has been reported from parts of Jamshoro and Dadu districts.

The Sindh government has said it is taking steps to address the situation in the affected areas, and is providing wheat to the population.

While the provision of food and water will temporarily stave off starvation, a plan needs to be put in place to save the area’s livestock as well.

Hence supplying fodder to the people’s animals must also be a priority.

And as drought is not uncommon in Thar, for the long term policies need to be framed so that the people and livestock in the area are protected from the devastating effects of natural disasters.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Army’s questionable decisions

Editorial

The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis instigated by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri has been torn apart.

The carefully constructed veneer of neutrality that the army leadership had constructed through much of the national political crisis instigated by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri has been torn apart.

Also Read: ISPR statement reactions: Balanced, ominous – hedged?

First, came the army’s statement on Sunday, the third in a series of statements in recent days on the political crisis, which quite astonishingly elevated the legitimacy and credibility of the demands of Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and their violent protesters above that of the choices and actions of an elected government dealing with a political crisis.

Consider the sequence of events so far. When the army first publicly waded into the political crisis, it counselled restraint on all sides — as though it was the government that fundamentally still had some questions hanging over its legitimacy simply because Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri alleged so.

Next, the army crept towards the Khan/Qadri camp by urging the government to facilitate negotiations — as though it was the government that was being unreasonable, and not Mr Khan and Mr Qadri.

Now, staggeringly, the army has ‘advised’ the government not to use force against violent protesters and essentially told it to make whatever concessions necessary to placate Mr Khan and Mr Qadri.

It is simply extraordinary that it is the PAT and PTI supporters who want to break into and occupy state buildings, but it is the government that has been rebuked.

It’s as if the army is unaware — rather, unwilling — to acknowledge the constitutional scheme of things: it is the government that is supposed to give orders to the army, not the other way around.

The government has already issued its order: invoking Article 245.

On Saturday, as violent thugs attacked parliament, it was surely the army’s duty to repel them.

But the soldiers stationed there did nothing and the army leadership the next day warned the government instead of the protesters — which largely explains why the protesters were able to continue their pitched battles with the police and attacked the PTV headquarters yesterday.

If that were not enough, yesterday also brought another thunderbolt: this time from within the PTI with party president Javed Hashmi indicating that Mr Khan is essentially doing what he has been asked and encouraged to do by the army leadership.

It took the ISPR a few hours to respond with the inevitable denial, but a mere denial is inadequate at this point. The functioning of the state stands paralysed because a few thousand protesters and their leaders have laid siege to state institutions.

Where is the army condemnation of that?

Would the army allow even a handful of peaceful protesters to gather outside GHQ for a few hours?

The army is hardly being ‘neutral’. It is making a choice.

And, it is disappointing that choice is doing little to strengthen the constitutional, democratic and legitimate scheme of things.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Rock and a hard place

Editorial

Reprehensible as it is, the reason why the police turned their ire on journalists as Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue descended into chaos over the weekend is not hard to understand.

Reprehensible as it is, the reason why the police turned their ire on journalists as Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue descended into chaos over the weekend is not hard to understand.

Amid stone-pelting, tear-gassing and with a baton-charge under way, the knowledge that footage of these scenes would shortly be splashed across television screens across the country would sit like a canker.

Pakistan’s police aren’t averse to using brutal methods when they feel the situation requires it, and few would welcome incontrovertible proof of it.

Also Read: On Constitution Avenue, journalism is a crime

One cameraman says that he heard someone shout “beat up the media people”, and he was thereafter chased down and beaten severely.

All in all, at least 28 media persons were beaten up and injured, several despite having identified themselves with their press cards.

This episode is a sad reminder that journalists in Pakistan face a unique set of challenges while executing their jobs; the norms that have been developed to protect men and women in the media around the world are routinely flouted with shameless impunity here.

Were that not the case, how would it be possible to understand the fact that the two personalities at the centre of the scenes of destruction and unconstitutionality, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, felt that it was acceptable for them to hurl threats against journalists, media houses and their owners, and incite violence against them?

That said, media persons are also left vulnerable to attack by the actions and inactions of their employers and managers.

The question to be asked is, why were they so near the scene of action, as police and protesters fought it out, that they ended up becoming involved?

Why were they not at a safe distance, where neither side could mistake them for being part of the other?

Sadly enough, in the thirst for ratings and the lust for footage that is thought to increase viewership, Pakistan’s news channels tend to put pressure on those out in the field to get as close as possible to the action — regardless of the dangers.

Then, they all too frequently fail to provide the gear that is essential in situations where conflict might develop: flak jackets, protective head-gear, and so on.

Why this neglect? Should journalists not have the right to expect that the organisations that employ them will look out for their safety and welfare, and not expect them to put themselves in danger?

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Endangered temple

Editorial

THE discrimination, often outright victimisation, suffered by religious minorities in Pakistan is well documented, and the violence that breaks out in this connection regrettably frequent.

THE discrimination, often outright victimisation, suffered by religious minorities in Pakistan is well documented, and the violence that breaks out in this connection regrettably frequent.

It is not just the growing narrow-mindedness in society that leads to prejudice, what is of equal concern is that we have on our law books clauses — such as the so-called blasphemy law — that allow discrimination and harassment.

The white stripe on the national flag designed to represent Pakistan’s numerous minority-religion groups is ignored by both state and society.

But there are also other, less obvious, ways in which the country’s lack of ownership of and concern for such sections of the citizenry plays out.

Also Read : Historic temple’s days may be numbered

Consider, for example, the prospect faced by the Maharishi Valmik Swamiji Mandir in Chaklala Cantonment, Rawalpindi, and the Hindu residents that live in the Gracy Lines area.

The 79-year-old temple is in active use and the only place of worship for Hindus in the vicinity. But the authorities want to build an educational and housing complex, and the demolishing of several Hindu residences is imminent.

While as yet no written notice has been issued concerning its demolition, devotees and others have reason to believe that the worst may happen.

There can be no argument that the temple must not be touched, given its importance to the Hindu community of the area as well as its historical significance.

Development is necessary, but not at the cost of citizens’ rights and the country’s heritage.

More than that, the authorities need to take heed of the signals being sent out by their uncaring attitude towards threatened structures that are dear to members of minority religions.

For, this is not the first time or the only place where such a move has been contemplated, or even executed. Would Muslim places of worship impeding ‘development’ be treated with similar nonchalance? All places revered by the country’s various religious communities must be treated equally.

The state must think of all faiths as equally sacrosanct.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Hard choices for the PML-N

Editorial

Having survived a tumultuous, disastrous weekend, the PML-N government somehow still has the opportunity to try and salvage the situation and save the democratic system from collapse.

Having survived a tumultuous, disastrous weekend, the PML-N government somehow still has the opportunity to try and salvage the situation and save the democratic system from collapse.

Whether it will be able to do so will in large part depend on whether Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is willing to lead from the front and act decisively and quickly.

There are at least two things Mr Sharif needs to do: rally the democratic forces in the country to save the democratic system; and approach Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri to bring them back to the negotiating table.

In calling a joint session of parliament for Tuesday, the PML-N will be hoping to once again demonstrate that the political class is emphatically and solidly on the side of democracy – and that the unconstitutional and unjust demands of the anti-government protesters should not be given in to.

While the mainstream political parties in the country are largely in agreement with the government on the need to protect the democratic system, there is a great deal of unease at the PML-N’s continuing mishandling of the political crisis.

Rather than grab the initiative and control the evolving political narrative, the PML-N strategy is a defensive one: the government continues to insist it is open to talks with the PTI and Mr Qadri but, especially when the possibility of a negotiated settlement recedes, seems far too comfortable relying on heavy-handed tactics by the law-enforcement agencies to repel street pressure.

Right or wrong, the time has passed when the PML-N could escape the present situation without making any concessions.

The PML-N will now have to make some big concessions – so why not approach the PTI and Mr Qadri with the big concessions that could entice them back to the negotiating table?

Despite their maximalist positions, both Mr Khan and Mr Qadri surely have various pressures that may make them amenable to a negotiated exit.

As the falling out between Mr Khan and PTI president Javed Hashmi yesterday demonstrated, Mr Khan cannot simply keep increasing the pressure on the government in any way possible without experiencing some kind of backlash from his base.

As if to underline that the PML-N leadership can and should do better, the army leadership put out a statement late last evening deploring the violence that occurred over the weekend and encouraging the government to seek a negotiated settlement.

If anything, it indicates that the army leadership is willing to give the prime minister a little more time before imposing a solution of its own.

Perhaps what the prime minister and his team need to absorb is that the country has witnessed scenes far worse than what occurred on Saturday and yet seasoned and mature politicians have eventually found a way to resolve many past political crises.

Where there’s a will there’s usually a way.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Violence must be probed

Editorial

EVEN as the stand-off between the government and its opponents continues, the shocking, terrible events of Saturday evening as anti-government protesters and a brutal police force fought it out on Constitution Avenue need to be urgently investigated to prevent a repeat in the hours and days ahead.

EVEN as the stand-off between the government and its opponents continues, the shocking, terrible events of Saturday evening as anti-government protesters and a brutal police force fought it out on Constitution Avenue need to be urgently investigated to prevent a repeat in the hours and days ahead.

Several confirmed deaths, hundreds injured, many more bruised and battered – whatever the legality or otherwise of what the protesters were attempting, they should not have been met with the kind of violent force that the civilian-run police of Islamabad and Punjab used against them.

The PML-N governments at the centre and in Punjab almost seem determined to make police violence a defining aspect of their rule.

Also Read: Battleground Islamabad: Imran vows to advance as clashes continue

Surely, having had weeks to prepare for any eventuality and having already experienced the disaster that was the Model Town incident in June, whoever was managing the police response on Saturday ought to be sacked, and worse.

Yet, as with so much else in the terrible morass that has become the PTI/PAT siege of Islamabad, it was also the two anti-government leaders, Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri, who proved to be reckless in the extreme with the lives of their supporters on Saturday evening.

Mr Khan’s inflammatory rhetoric was specifically designed to whip his supporters into a frenzy – and for the so-called PTI tigers to take on the law-enforcement personnel and defeat them, as Mr Khan had vowed would happen.

But whatever Mr Khan did, he was comprehensively outdone by the premeditated and deliberate violence unleashed on the signal of Mr Qadri to his supporters.

If anything, it appeared that a naive Mr Khan had been lured into escalating an already dangerous situation into outright violence by a conniving Mr Qadri.

While both the PTI and PAT supporters marched towards the police lines, it was really the male PAT workers who appeared determined to trigger violence.

Organised, armed with non-lethal weapons, working in unison and to a plan, it was the PAT workers who lured women, children and helpless PTI supporters into the line of fire and from there it was the PAT workers who fought most of the pitched battles with the police through the night.

Mr Qadri and his PAT workers have much to answer for.

Dealing with Mr Qadri’s violent agenda though is the government’s responsibility. While guns were not used, deaths and injuries still occurred on Saturday.

That is simply a terrible performance by the police yet again.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Cricket flop in Sri Lanka

Editorial

BRITTLE nerves, sketchy techniques and a dispensable old guard. That’s how one should describe the current Pakistan cricket team which crashed to a seven-wicket defeat at Dambulla on Saturday to hand the three-match ODI series 2-1 to Sri Lanka.

BRITTLE nerves, sketchy techniques and a dispensable old guard. That’s how one should describe the current Pakistan cricket team which crashed to a seven-wicket defeat at Dambulla on Saturday to hand the three-match ODI series 2-1 to Sri Lanka.

The ODI loss follows the 2-0 whitewash in Test matches earlier this month where Misbah-ul-Haq and his team were comprehensively beaten by the hosts in all departments of the game.

Also Read : Sri Lanka hammer Pakistan in 3rd ODI to take series

Although this Pakistan team has experienced more defeats compared to wins in recent years, what has been really appalling about the defeats in Sri Lanka is the cavalier attitude of players and their inability to shoulder responsibility on most occasions.

The series proved a sort of watershed for talented youngsters such as Ahmed Shahzad, Khurram Manzoor, Umar Akmal, Sharjeel Khan and Mohammad Talha — all of whom are supposed to form the nucleus of Pakistan’s campaign at next year’s World Cup that is to be played in Australia-New Zealand.

They not only failed to show any spine when the chips were down but also lacked the technique to counter Sri Lanka’s bowling attack which, at best, can be described as mediocre with wily left-armer Rangana Herath being the only exception.

The defeats have also brutally exposed Pakistan’s old guard comprising Misbah and senior pros Younis Khan, Shahid Afridi, Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rahman who struggled to measure up as their team got thrashed left, right and centre.

Questions are bound to be raised on team selection and about the ultra-defensive approach of skipper Misbah who will have to bear the brunt of the blame for not inspiring the team enough to put up a decent fight.

In the aftermath of the matches, one does not see a bright future for the 10-man support staff that accompanied the team and that includes illustrious names like Moin Khan, Waqar Younis, Mushtaq Ahmed and Grant Flower.

The onus must be on the newly elected chairman Shahryar Khan to put things back on track by carrying out a thorough post-mortem.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

A disastrous turn of events

Editorial

LAST evening the political crisis that has captivated this country for three weeks boiled over.

LAST evening the political crisis that has captivated this country for three weeks boiled over.

First, there were indications that somehow the government had acceded to the most extraordinary and wretched of capitulations: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was, according to feverish rumour, to go on a month-long enforced vacation while a senior minister ran the government and the Supreme Court-led judicial commission investigated the allegations of so-called widespread fraud in last year’s election.

If the allegations were found to be true, again according to the mooted deal, the National Assembly would be dissolved and fresh elections would be held. That the deal was rumoured to have been reached just hours after Mr Sharif had spoken scornfully of the protesters and their number and impact in Islamabad suggests that the government had already lost all control of the situation.

Then, late into the evening, came another spectacular, shocking turn of events. Imran Khan, Tahirul Qadri and their respective protesting camps decided to move from their venue outside parliament towards Prime Minister House.

Know more: PTI, PAT protesters clash with security forces

That suggested a deal – any kind of deal – was off and that the government’s foes were going for the political kill. In retaliation, the government bared its teeth against the protesters and mayhem ensued as tear gas shells were fired and the civilian-run police – not the military – were used to repulse the protesters onwards movement. Never – never – has the capital witnessed such scenes in its history and events, at the time of writing these lines, could well end up as a disaster.

Surely though the events of Saturday evening were highly choreographed and scripted by some power other than Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri.

The very idea that a few thousand baton-wielding protesters can march towards Prime Minister House without some explicit assurances behind the scenes is absurd. Quite what those assurances are and what the endgame ultimately is will be known soon, perhaps overnight or in a day or two.

The biggest question: can Nawaz Sharif survive? The answer, in these frantic hours, must surely be a miserable, despondent no.

If that is in fact the case – if Mr Sharif’s third term as prime minister is at or near an end – what does that say about the PML-N supremo? Is he a failed leader or a political martyr? Piecing together the events over the last year and especially over the past few months, the answer seems to be Mr Sharif is a failed leader.

This was a political crisis that was mishandled from the outset. Too much confidence, too much scorn, too much arrogance – and very little nous. For five years, from 2008 to 2013, Mr Sharif mostly said and did the right things.

The democratic project had apparently – and thankfully – become larger than Mr Sharif’s whims. But one year into his term, in his handling of the forces determined to undo the project, Mr Sharif has proved himself a leader very much out of his depth.

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

Modi’s PR exercise?

Editorial

SURPRISED by the strong domestic and foreign criticism of his government’s unfortunate decision to cancel India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks which were fixed for Aug 25, Narendra Modi seems to be having second thoughts.

SURPRISED by the strong domestic and foreign criticism of his government’s unfortunate decision to cancel India-Pakistan foreign secretary-level talks which were fixed for Aug 25, Narendra Modi seems to be having second thoughts.

On the eve of his departure for Japan, which wants to see friendly relations between India and Pakistan, the Indian prime minister said he would have “no hesitation” in having discussions with Pakistan on all “outstanding issues”.

His foreign ministry spokesman had said a day earlier that the talks could be held on all issues, including Kashmir, within the bilateral framework agreed upon at Shimla and Lahore.

Talking to Japanese journalists, Mr Modi said he had a “very good meeting” with Nawaz Sharif during the latter’s visit to New Delhi and the two agreed that the foreign secretaries should meet to “explore how to take relations forward”. He added that his government would continue to make efforts to build “peaceful, friendly and cooperative ties with Pakistan”.

That was all fine. But he did not let the occasion go without a dig at his western neighbour, alleging Islamabad had tried to make “a spectacle” of the Pakistan high commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leaders. That was a poor excuse.

Pakistan’s position has always been that Kashmir is not a piece of real estate, that Islamabad and New Delhi could not alone resolve the dispute and that, to be lasting, a solution must enjoy the support of the Kashmiri people. For this reason, Pakistan mission chiefs in New Delhi have regularly met Hurriyat leaders to keep them informed about the state of talks.

Shortly after India called off the secretary-level talks, Hurriyat leader Shabir Shah said the Kashmir issue could not be resolved without the inclusion of the “true leadership” of the people of Jammu and Kashmir in the resolution process, because, as he put it, “we are the basic party.

Also read: India calls off foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan

What is wrong if one party meets the other party?” The Indian stand was that the high commissioner’s meeting with the Kashmiri leaders constituted “unacceptable interference” in Indian affairs. Mr Modi’s latest remarks constitute an admission that the decision to cancel the secretaries’ talks was wrong, because it had torpedoed the attempt to revive the process that hasn’t really recovered from the Mumbai attacks.

Only the future will tell whether Mr Modi’s intentions declared at the media talk constituted an exercise in PR, the target audience being Mr Modi’s critics abroad, or if he meant what he said.

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

Ajmal Khan’s release

Editorial

“THANK God it is a happy ending for the family,” said one well-wisher of Islamia College vice chancellor Ajmal Khan.

“THANK God it is a happy ending for the family,” said one well-wisher of Islamia College vice chancellor Ajmal Khan.

There are many other families who are praying for their ordeal to end soon and for their dear ones to return. Mr Khan, who arrived home on Thursday, had been held in captivity by the Taliban for four years.

There is no word on where he had been kept all this time — he told the media that he was unable to identify the area. There is little information on how the release was secured.

Such details do not matter to him or to those around him when their entire focus is on celebrating the long-awaited homecoming. Much as it is a desperate situation for others held hostage by the militants, Mr Khan’s return is a sign of hope.

Know more: Prof Ajmal recovered after four years

The biggest positive is that he is free, even when the passage of so much time had led to the projection of the gloomiest of scenarios. Moreover, for someone who went through the trauma of being held hostage for such a long period, he has come out of it remarkably composed.

Some of those who are still held were mentioned in a report in this paper on Saturday — a Swiss couple and a son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was abducted by militants in Multan on the eve of the general election last year. Lest he is forgotten and treated under the head of ‘collateral damage’ as a result of the fight against militancy, a few days ago the family of Shahbaz Taseer, son of the slain Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer, reminded everyone that it has been three years since he was kidnapped from Lahore.

There are others missing and said to be in the militants’ custody. Because of the sensitivity of the matter, not much information is available on any effort being made for securing their release. That lack of information can be ignored so long as the promise of return is there.

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

Columns and Articles

Unintended consequences

Sakib Sherani

PAKISTAN’S ‘unsettled questions’ are on full display, playing out on the streets of Islamabad and inside the hallowed halls of parliament. The witches’ cookbook has been taken out and dusted off, and another potion is brewing. A handful of protesters and their alleged sponsors are trying to wrest the centre of gravity back from the civilians, who have since 2008 managed to re-wire the system to ensure the perpetuation of their rule and the continuation of benefits accruing from the ‘system of spoils’.

PAKISTAN’S ‘unsettled questions’ are on full display, playing out on the streets of Islamabad and inside the hallowed halls of parliament. The witches’ cookbook has been taken out and dusted off, and another potion is brewing. A handful of protesters and their alleged sponsors are trying to wrest the centre of gravity back from the civilians, who have since 2008 managed to re-wire the system to ensure the perpetuation of their rule and the continuation of benefits accruing from the ‘system of spoils’.

An increasingly unaccountable and collusive elected kleptocracy is being challenged, albeit unconstitutionally, by those who have not shown any inclination to clean the stables when they had numerous chances in the past. In fact, the establishment’s book of potions follows a well-tested recipe, which has invariably left an unwanted toxic residue each time in the past.

It begins by a sprinkling of the most compromised politicians, who are coerced and cajoled to shape a ‘coalition of the willing’. The members of this alliance are promised a share of the power loot — but more importantly, and most damagingly from Pakistan’s perspective, an exemption from accountability and a clean ‘bill of health’ in terms of their past misdeeds. Malleable judges are the next required ingredient. The threat of across-the-board accountability is the next move on the chess board, after which all the pieces fall in place.

Gen Musharraf followed the exact same script — and derailed a historic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put Pakistan on the right path when he compromised and struck deals with the most corrupt politicians to cling on to power. The beneficiaries of his regime included the Chaudhrys of Gujrat and the MQM in Karachi. His final turn of the sword in the accountability framework was the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) which gave those who were accused of plundering Pakistan through the 1990s — such as Benazir Bhutto, Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif — a lifetime reprieve for their acts.

In doing so, Musharraf established what economists call a ‘moral hazard’. If for no other sin, he deserves to be tried under Article 6 for forever making a mockery of accountability and rule of law in this country by making them instruments of the power game and deal-making.

This time around, of course, there has been some innovation: the most compromised politicians have banded together under parliament’s roof and only a handful have so far joined the ‘other’ side.

On the civilian side, there is a witches’ cookbook too, of course. The recipe here involves ‘rigging’ the system through constitutional amendments to remove any challenges to the two-party game of thrones, seeking support from external actors, and undermining the army. For the PML-N, it also includes relying on a small coterie of family loyalists and hawks, setting up a collision course with the military, relying on a ‘friendly’ judiciary, and throwing in a motorway or two.

The two different recipes both have serious consequences for the economy.

Economic consequences

However noble the objectives of PTI and PAT, which is moot depending on which side of the fence one is on in this highly polarised situation, some long-lasting damage has been wreaked on the economy. Beyond the loss of production and output, the delay of export shipments and diversion of new export orders, the national loss of productivity , the logistics logjam with shipping containers and heavy transport being requisitioned etc., there have been three important, possibly long term, economic casualties.

The first casualty is the perception of political — and policy — stability, which is the bedrock of many long-term investment decisions. After a decade of volatility in the 1990s, Pakistan’s perception as a politically stable country was gradually being re-established. In fact, many investors, in particular foreign ones, had noted one ‘positive’ outcome of the May 2013 elections: the fact that almost all major political parties had a stake in the political system.

As a result of the strengthening perception of political stability in Pakistan among investors, more ‘investment scoping’ of potential projects appeared to be in progress — while political risk premiums for investing in or lending to Pakistani companies had also declined materially. With the latest turmoil surprising most observers with its timing, form as well as intensity, the political risk perception of the country is likely to have taken a significant battering, especially if the crisis does not wind down quickly. This is likely to drive away investment. Pakistan is already facing a serious issue of not only being unable to attract new foreign direct investment, but seeing outflows of existing investment.

The other hugely positive outcome of last year’s elections — without prejudice to the issue of rigging and PTI’s stance — was the spirit of competition that had been introduced between different provinces and political parties in the delivery of public services. I can’t speak for Sindh (the poster child of incompetence and corruption under the PPP) and Balochistan, but having interacted with the provincial governments in Punjab and KP, the sense of healthy competition among the different provinces was clear. For all its faults, democracy in Pakistan appeared to be delivering some fruit, however delayed and unripe.

The second casualty of the ongoing political crisis is likely to be economic reform. Even though the government’s reform plan is quite conservative and of limited ambition, it may be forced to scale it back even further and become overly cautious. In the longer run, a resort to confrontational politics may permanently stymie efforts to initiate wide-ranging and meaningful structural as well as institutional reforms — reforms that Pakistan’s economy so desperately needs.

Related to the foregoing point, an interesting change in PTI’s language on its economic deliverables is becoming discernible. Possibly reflecting a changing composition of its political support base with the disillusionment of many educated middle-class voters, and the attraction of a ‘new’ voter base from lower income stratum, Imran Khan has started talking about unemployment benefits, subsidies and entitlement programmes. If it signals more than a transient shift related to attracting people to its protest rally, it would mean that the ‘third option’ representing a movement for genuine change is now looking increasingly like a recycled version of the mainstream parties. If so, that would be a genuine setback for economic reform.

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Within shouting distance

Asha’ar Rehman

THOSE who knew him back then would recall a young communist raring to unleash his reforms on this poor Third World country. He has since come a long way to land in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dharna in Islamabad. In between, life has been a mixed bag of things freaky, plain odd and repulsively routine, and the desire to change has intensified with an increasing sense of isolation.

THOSE who knew him back then would recall a young communist raring to unleash his reforms on this poor Third World country. He has since come a long way to land in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) dharna in Islamabad. In between, life has been a mixed bag of things freaky, plain odd and repulsively routine, and the desire to change has intensified with an increasing sense of isolation.

The young communist who was so irredeemably disillusioned by the system he was confronted with in the Soviet Union is your candidate for the most insulting titles that are thrown the way of today’s ‘mob’ for change.

What has not changed, however, is his terminology as he divides his presence in the sit-in into two parts. The first part had him as bourgeois; he stayed with a friend and his family at a rest house in Islamabad. The second was purer. He slept at the venue listening to Imran Khan in the evenings and praying with men from the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT).

He says he lived every moment of the revolution which “is still in the making”. His hopes, regardless of the outcome of the dharna, are pinned on Imran’s ability to mobilise the core that has made him a serious contender in the election of May 2013.

The distinction between left and right, the taunts about his crossover, are dismissed as he maintains the system he has been fighting against remains the same. He says he is standing where he was 25 years ago, in a group that is asserting itself more strongly than anyone else for change and reform.

His camp and companions are dictated by his present choices. There is no other alternative for challenging the status quo and as he didn’t mind being called an agent then, he is using the essential training in aloofness he underwent as a comrade to stay unaffected by the anti-democrat’s titles that are generously lavished on him now.

At an angry shout away from parliament that must establish its supremacy for better democracy there are many out there whose endeavours and hopes are tied immediately to Imran Khan’s survival. A few of them are desperate to somehow stop their leader lest he slip from the precipice he has placed himself on.

Speaking from the point of view of a political party with power ambitions, these PTI supporters are not gloomy about the prospects of Imran surviving and undergoing a revival of sorts. They believe that the problems that have formed the relentless PTI and PAT remain as unaddressed as they were before the start of the marches on Aug 14.

Their logic is simple. The show of unity in parliament, a breath of fresh air in the context of a past beset with intrigue and bickering, does offer an opportunity for the PTI. The grand joint display by the parties of the system leaves wide open spaces for the PTI to work in. There is Imran Khan and there are the rest. This reality will persist for some time, whatever the outcome of the dharna and whatever ridicule the PTI and its leader are subjected to as the defeated side.

Obviously, this is a hazardous line given the ecstasy generated by the country’s victory over whoever had planned the two dharnas in Islamabad. It does, however, have merits not only for the PTI but also for the Pakistani people by and large.

Some of those who had advised Imran to shun ‘adventurism’ had done so for fear of losing an opposition that had shown so much promise in influencing those in power or authority — not only in and around Takht-i-Lahore but in areas away from this, a verification of which the Muttahida Qaumi Movement can best provide.

The only way these wide open spaces can be filled is if those coming to the rescue of the order also appear to be addressing the problems of those struggling at the tail end of the system.

It is understandable that the focus of the debate around the dharnas has remained on whether or not it was a sponsored protest or whether those believed to be behind have been soundly defeated.

Once it was loosely established that the believed backers of the marches were not going to, or could not, cross the line where others could be dictated to at gunpoint, the affair was seen to be as good as settled. The issues at the centre of the protest are yet to be probed not in the interest of the PTI but all others. In the narrow context of power politics, these need to be addressed to stem the PTI’s potential support.

For instance, the PTI demands that the election 2013 should be investigated, but when, under pressure, the government did agree to form a Supreme Court commission to scrutinise the vote, the commitment it thus made was not only to Imran Khan but to the whole of Pakistan. There were some legal hurdles, but the point remains that little progress has been made towards its fulfilment in the more than three weeks since the PML-N made this promise.

Any attempt to go back on this will trigger speculations similar to the ones surrounding the 2013 polls where many forces of the status quo were accused of coming together, bound by their common fear of Imran Khan as an untrustworthy and naïve if not new politician.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Rebels needed

Syed Saadat

ADDRESSING the ongoing joint session of the National Assembly, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan recently warned the prime minister that he suspected that once the crisis was over, his ministers would become more vainglorious and conceited.

ADDRESSING the ongoing joint session of the National Assembly, Senator Aitzaz Ahsan recently warned the prime minister that he suspected that once the crisis was over, his ministers would become more vainglorious and conceited.

I was sitting in the gallery, wondering how such a strong government — in terms of the number of seats the ruling party has in the National Assembly — got into this mess. I had my answer when I saw PML-N MNAs congratulating Ahsan when the session was adjourned for delivering a speech that echoed their sentiments towards their party leader Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

This is the level of indifference the prime minister demonstrates towards his MNAs, barring a few whom he holds dear either because of family ties or personal preference.

The current political crisis will be resolved sooner or later. But the attitude of those in power, if not checked, is bound to create another crisis — sooner rather than later. The style of governance, both politically and administratively, in Pakistan needs to change. Parliamentarians and protesters such as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri will take care of the political side; but I wonder when and how the administrative problems will be addressed.

The kingly attitude of the Sharif brothers has pushed most of the bureaucracy towards alienation. And the impact of this attitude is felt nationwide as the governments in Punjab and the centre pretty much dictate the fate of Pakistan. Such alienation may seem innocuous as compared to hooligans trying to take over parliament, but it is far more damaging to the cause of a better-governed Pakistan as it causes systemic failures.

An octogenarian former civil servant and a few others camped at Raiwind should not be the ones calling the shots for administrative changes in the civil service. It is good to have advisers, but it is better to have advisers who are inclusive in approach and do not take sides or favour certain individuals. Otherwise, the rest of the bureaucracy remains alienated.

Ask a secretariat group officer, a teacher, a doctor or an engineer in government service whether he is happy with the affairs of the civil service. He will present a very long charge sheet against the government’s biases. The Punjab police service, for one, was on the verge of revolt earlier this year when an anti-terrorism squad was created under the home department rather than the inspector-general of the police. On March 18, 2011, 76 PCS officers were arrested and cases registered against them under the anti-terrorism act. Their ‘crime’ had been to peacefully protest against what they saw as prejudiced promotions and postings.

Doesn’t it make sense to promptly hold a provincial chief minister responsible for not registering an FIR in the Model Town killings, when the same regime was so quick about registering a case against the protesting officers? Further, images of doctors being beaten last year by the Punjab police for similar demands are still fresh.

A general trend, in Punjab in particular, is that of appointing junior officers to senior positions, not because of competence but because a junior officer in a position disproportionate to his credentials will be in awe of the person patronising him and thus much less likely to defy orders. No wonder, then, that district police officers and district coordination officers in Punjab look to Chief Minister House for directions all the time.

To cut a long story short, it is an open secret that the current regime disapproves of even highly competent civil servants who do not exhibit the kind of humility becoming of a courtier.

Prime Minister Sharif’s listening to his advisers may not be necessarily a good thing, as his choice of advisers leaves a lot to be desired. The affairs of the civil service should not be meddled with on the recommendations of advisers with political loyalties, because political inclinations only cloud their judgement and the focus shifts from the building of institutions. If the efforts of the PML-N to breed a DMG-N (District Management Group) and PSP-N (Police Service of Pakistan) are not halted, the country will lurch from one crisis to the next.

As a group, civil servants should be politically neutral. But at the same time, their affiliation with the state should not diminish. The present regime has failed to give civil servants a sense of ownership over the affairs of government.

Lastly, I’d like to put a question to the prime minister: When Javed Hashmi walked into parliament in the ongoing session, were you thumping the desk because he stood for a certain principle, or was it because he stood for a principle that was benefiting you?

This country needs rebels like Mr Hashmi, not just in politics but in bureaucracy as well.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Holier than thou

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

AMONGST the very many talking points generated by the never-ending PTI and PAT shows in Islamabad, arguably the most intriguing one is the hypothesis that they have provided an opportunity for women to enter public space and occupy it without fear of censure or attack. Given that ours is a deeply patriarchal society in which women cannot hope to even walk down a street anonymously, such small victories, goes the argument, cannot be understated.

AMONGST the very many talking points generated by the never-ending PTI and PAT shows in Islamabad, arguably the most intriguing one is the hypothesis that they have provided an opportunity for women to enter public space and occupy it without fear of censure or attack. Given that ours is a deeply patriarchal society in which women cannot hope to even walk down a street anonymously, such small victories, goes the argument, cannot be understated.

I think this is a classic case of perception triumphing over reality. While it is important not to dismiss perceptions as irrelevant, especially in the realm of politics, we overstate the significance of the images that we see on TV screens at the cost of comprehending actually existing reality.

Many commentators have already noted the varying class backgrounds of PTI and PAT supporters. The PTI’s gatherings have attra­cted a fairly affluent segment of society, quite obvious when one surveys the crowds at the nightly gathering (read: concert) in Islamabad, as well as the choice of DHA and Clifton for protests in Lahore and Karachi respectively.

Tahirul Qadri’s supporters, on the other hand, are of more humble origin. Yet that does not necessarily make his whole shebang more representative of the Pakistani public at large.

Serious observers are aware that Qadri’s relatively staple support base owes a great deal to the comprehensive infrastructure of the networks of schools known as Tehreek-i-Minhajul Quran. As such, I do not consider Qadri’s to be a genuine political move­ment and therefore believe there is no utility in discussing the significance of women participants of his stage-managed ‘revolution’.

The PTI phenomenon, however, deserves more attention. As a general rule, the affluent upper middle class based in Pakistani cities has garnered relatively little scholarly attention. While there are many treatises on political power in which the ‘elite’ occupies a distinct polemical position, as well as regular reporting by foreign and local journalists alike on the whims of the upper orders of society, insightful sociological studies on the urbanised elite are few and far between.

Karachi-based planner Arif Hasan wrote an incisive piece on what he called the Roots of Elite Alienation back in 2002 in which he argued that the urban elite had gradually retreated from the public domain through the 1980s and 1990s and established private ghettoes in which it sustained its preferred cultural practices.

In related vein he noted that the elite had completely relinquished responsibility for public services and increasingly met its everyday needs through the market in accordance with its ability to pay for the best services available. In short, he confirmed that the elite had completely alienated itself from the public spaces occupied by the majority of ordinary people.

Over the past decade, one episode of ‘religious extremism’ after another has provoked growing alarmism on the part of the elite. Unending concern about the impending ‘Taliban’ takeover has precipitated repeated calls for a military ‘solution’ to what is absurdly conceived of as a static ‘problem’.

Hasan argues that the elite dug its own grave. Its hate of the leftist politics which had reached a crescendo in the mid-1970s meant that it was a silent supporter of the military coup that toppled the first PPP government. It stayed quiet through the horrors of the Zia dictatorship — including the so-called ‘Islamisation’ policy — simply be­cause the spectre of a resurgence of left populism continued to hang over the country.

The self-inflicted cultural and political alienation of the elite has not necessarily meant a rollback of its privileges. It has maintained its links to the centres of power even while it has decried the destruction of the country variously by ‘corruption’, ‘terrorism’ and so on.

In recent times, the elite has discovered a new saviour, a politician with a difference. Imran Khan’s appeal to the elite is obvious; he offers a somewhat typical commitment to a conservative state nationalism alongside the freedom to maintain a lifestyle that is distinctly liberal. He talks up his World Cup-winning exploits and unmatched philanthropic achievements while lambasting the country’s political leadership for its underachievement and nepotism. Finally, he reminisces about the days when the civil bureaucracy was honest and politicians were under the thumb of a purportedly people-oriented permanent state apparatus.

A significant proportion of the PTI participants in the epic march that has brought the country to a standstill hail from the cultural and politically alienated elite that is as responsible for the current state of Pakistani society as any other social or political constituency.

That it maintains a holier-than-thou attitude is hardly inconsistent with its historic posture. More than anyone else, I want to see women from across the class divide break the social taboos that imprison them. But this does not mean cheering on the forces of reaction.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2014

Sanity amidst anarchy

I.A. Rehman

A NEW definition of sanity in Pakistan today is one’s ability not to be distracted by the Islamabad anarchists’ lectures on principles of governance and political propriety and keep doing what needs to be done, as advised by Voltaire.

A NEW definition of sanity in Pakistan today is one’s ability not to be distracted by the Islamabad anarchists’ lectures on principles of governance and political propriety and keep doing what needs to be done, as advised by Voltaire.

There is no mystery in the riot zone melodrama, in fact has never been. Those claiming to disclose secrets are not disclosing anything. They are not adding to a conscious citizen’s knowledge. The wise ones who have got stuck inside the idiot box and are offering counsel to one party or the other know their words will have no effect on disasters foretold.

Yet most people find it impossible to drag themselves away from the TV screen and the screams of anchorpersons because they are afraid of what appears to be in store for them and for their children. What is at stake is surely much more than is realised by the contending parties and their promoters.

In such a situation it is not easy to stay normal. Thus one is happy to learn that the country’s football team has returned home after winning laurels in India and Bahrain and that this experience has inspired them to make serious preparations for the Asia Cup.

These sportsmen deserve credit for giving their time and energies to a sport that has suffered greatly as a result of the state’s criminal negligence. It has been dismissed with contempt because it is the poor man’s diversion and its patrons in Balochistan and Karachi (Lyari) have hardly ever been treated as equal citizens of Pakistan.

These footballers have raised themselves higher than the officials of the Pakistan Hockey Federation who have rewarded themselves for their team’s miserable performance on the field by securing offices in the international body.

But perhaps the best demonstration of sanity amidst anarchy has been offered by the Balochistan Assembly which has passed a bill designed to protect the people against exploitation by private moneylenders. For once, the government and opposition parties got together to clear the ground for a legal assault on the institution of private moneylending that has rightly been denounced as a curse.

Balochistan has become the second province after Punjab to ban private moneylending. It has followed the Punjab Prohibition of Private Money Lending Act 2007 in prescribing imprisonment for 10 years as punishment for offenders but has provided for a higher fine — Rs1 million, twice the amount mentioned in the Punjab law.

The private moneylenders’ network is operating in all parts of the country and its victims constitute a sizeable number. An idea of the enormous suffering of the families caught in the debt trap can be had from a collection of case studies published by Dr Amjad Saqib of Akhuwat, an organisation reputed (like the Orangi Pilot Project) for reducing overhead charges on micro-credit facilities.

The poor take loans from private moneylenders to meet emergencies — such as sickness or a marriage in the family. Only six out of the 25 cases analysed needed money to cover business losses. Their demands were meagre — 17 out of the 25 victims borrowed Rs5,000 to Rs25,000. The highest loan amount was Rs50,000 sought by two families — one for meeting medical bills and the other for saving a youth from the bribe-hungry police.

The rates of interest charged by the moneylenders vary from 120 to 440 per cent per annum. A petty contractor who borrowed Rs35,000, payable in a monthly instalment of Rs3,000 (equal to interest per month), paid Rs468,000 over a period of 13 years and the principal amount was still outstanding against him.

The state’s obligation to help the victims of private moneylenders is manifest. The latter are running a usurious racket that no civilised authority can permit. Besides, more often than not, the poor are driven towards disaster by lack of state care in certain critical areas.

Most of the poor families have no means to deal with emergencies, such as sudden illness, accident and collapse of enterprise. They cannot enter a decent hospital without coughing up cash and the small entrepreneur is entitled to neither credit nor insurance. In most cases, families fall into the moneylenders’ trap out of sheer despair.

Thus, neither Balochistan nor Punjab — and there is no reason why Sindh and KP should not join them — can expect that their legal instruments alone can free the people of a usury-like evil. A lot more will need to be done. The state must guarantee all its citizens affordable health facilities and insurance cover to all economic operations. At the same time, credit-supply institutions must be created to meet the needs of less resourceful people. The absence of such facilities is a principal reason for the poor to go to moneylenders or join the hordes of bonded labour.

Tailpiece: Down with parliament. The people should be gratified to learn that parliaments have caused greater havoc in Pakistan than dictators. This message should be spread throughout the length and breadth of the country with appropriate examples of parliaments’ sins and dictatorship’s blessings.

It is impossible to forgive parliaments for their horrible misdeeds, such as granting voting right to all adults including women and slave-labourers and the creation of writ jurisdiction in high courts in the 1950s to the acceptance of some of the federating units’ demands for autonomy and recognition of the right to education and fair trial in 2010. Down with parliament for all this mischief.

At the same time, the dictators are wrongly blamed for destroying democracy repeatedly (1958, 1969, 1977 and 1999), for the country’s disintegration in 1971, and for the war to promote the Kalashnikov-drug culture. These are canards spread by unpatriotic elements. A dictator could do no wrong and that is what Pakistan needs above everything else. Hail the new dictators, stupid.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Winding up

Khurram Husain

FOR this whole affair to become the sort of crisis that brings down governments, it has to spread beyond the capital. Residents of Islamabad may be aghast that their lovely little world has been invaded by a scraggly mob, but the rest of the country chugs — albeit anxiously. After all, history teaches us that the misfortunes of planet Islamabad have a way of trickling down into our lives.

FOR this whole affair to become the sort of crisis that brings down governments, it has to spread beyond the capital. Residents of Islamabad may be aghast that their lovely little world has been invaded by a scraggly mob, but the rest of the country chugs — albeit anxiously. After all, history teaches us that the misfortunes of planet Islamabad have a way of trickling down into our lives.

A string of newspaper articles is spreading the idea that an economic crisis has descended upon the country, but in fact no such thing has happened, thus far. I emphasise, thus far, because it could be the next act.

Consider the facts. A leading business daily says, in its editorial of all places, that “[i]ndustrial activity has almost come to a halt, transport and communication sector has been badly hit and there are signs of flight of capital from the country”.

At best, this is a gross exaggeration. Where are factories shut because of the political situation in Islamabad? Faisalabad businesses are reporting a dip in exports of about 8pc for the month of August, an appreciable decline. But no shutdowns are being reported anywhere.

Transport was “badly hit” in the days when containers were being intercepted, but much of that has eased away now. How exactly have communications been affected, I have no idea. And where do we see these “signs of flight of capital”?

Reserves have not dipped in any significant way, large ads for housing investments in Dubai are not appearing on a daily basis in our papers, carriers of exchange companies are not being caught at the airports attempting to smuggle large quantities of undeclared foreign exchange out of the country. All of these are “signs of flight of capital”.

Of course, this doesn’t mean all is well. Product launches have been disrupted due to the noise generated by the crisis. Many board meetings were scheduled in the month of August to approve six-month results of large listed companies, and foreign members of the board couldn’t come and had to be video-linked into the meetings from Dubai instead. Transporters are still angry about the interception of containers in Punjab in the early days of the march, and are reporting some stray interceptions even now.

Small savers in the stock market are jittery, but don’t know what to do given that the market falls today but rises tomorrow. The rupee has seen some declines, leading to speculation in the money markets that the IMF has been given some sort of commitment that the ‘overvalued’ rupee will be corrected soon. Some flight into the dollar is taking place, in anticipation of further devaluations, and the greenback is tight in the market. Large investment decisions have been put on hold.

All these are a fact, and at the top levels of the economy, the damage is severe, particularly to confidence. But to suggest that the whole economy has ground to a halt is an exaggeration.

Here’s another example. A wire service report carried by a number of local papers has a quote from an auto dealer in Islamabad saying he’s lost 90pc of his business, and goes on to say that people are not buying cars, clothes or going to the cinema.

Really? I checked with every automaker and none are seeing a significant dip in sales during August. Of course auto sales have been going down since January, but thus far nothing extraordinary in August, other than a natural dip consistent with the declines all year coupled perhaps with a dip due to disruption of marketing plans. And if people aren’t buying clothes or going to the cinema, that too might be an Islamabad-specific perception, because malls and bazaars and cinemas here in Karachi are packed.

And that’s actually the problem. The conductors of this whole affair have laid siege to the government with a small mob clashing in the streets of the capital, but this hasn’t been enough to topple the government. And why should it? Battling a government in the streets is never a small proposition. The lawyers had to fight hard in the streets of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for months — braving tear gas and water cannon and baton charges — before getting what they wanted, and their demand was far humbler than bringing down the prime minister.

Fact is, if you want to oust the government by fighting in the streets you should know it takes months and months to build any kind of pressure through this route, something the two parties leading this show have not been able to mount. So the game now is to wind up or wind down.

Winding up means the rallies have to land in Karachi, and there is only one party that can shut down Karachi — the MQM. If an escalation is afoot, the scriptwriters will need the MQM to join the fray. Lahore is a different ballgame altogether. Ask yourself this: when was the last time a party managed to shut down Lahore? It’s hard to remember, isn’t it?

The fact that Islamabad is under siege whereas the rest of the country is moving along, albeit with all the anxiety and uncertainty that the moment is throwing up, is the problem here for those seeking the downfall of the Nawaz Sharif government. Unless the Supreme Court throws a curve ball, or a twist is introduced in the plot via a spectacular new disclosure or some other development coming in from the far left field, the path of the protesters is now a long one, stretching the length of the country. It would be folly of unspeakable proportions to actually seek to walk this path.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

Housing challenges

Dr Noman Ahmed

URBANISATION in Pakistan is rising exponentially. Studies by the Planning Commission of Pakistan show that by 2030, about half of the population shall be living in cities and other urban settlements.

URBANISATION in Pakistan is rising exponentially. Studies by the Planning Commission of Pakistan show that by 2030, about half of the population shall be living in cities and other urban settlements.

Among the fundamental needs that emanate from this demographical change, the need for housing deserves foremost mention. It is obvious that housing options for various cross sections of the urban (and even rural) society are very limited. Creation of slums, squatter settlements, peri-urban hutments and an unending sprawl are some visible indicators that can be commonly observed across the country.

The changing sociological dynamics in the urban areas directly cause an increase in housing needs. The demand for housing, especially apartments, in large cities such as Karachi and single-unit villas in other urban locations, is intensifying. An important contributor to the swelling housing demand is the expanding housing backlog.

According to some studies, a backlog of nine million housing units exists as per current estimates. About 300,000 formally built units are constructed annually with a predominant focus in urban areas. Therefore, the backlog continues to mount. The large urban clusters which are experiencing a population growth due to in-migration and natural factors experience a sharper rise in backlog on an annual basis. Katchi abadis and shanty towns then serve the un-served.

The housing demand is also affected by migration to cities for better healthcare and educational opportunities, employment and entrepreneurial options and for security reasons. The social dislocations caused due to geopolitical factors, disasters and terrorist and anti-terrorist campaigns in Pakistan during the past three decades also need to be studied in order to evaluate their impact on cities.

Replacement of housing stock is an important demand factor in the context of urban Pakistan. Housing studies based on the 1998 census reveal that a visible demand for housing repairs, replacement and redevelopment remains in urban areas across the country.

In the past, land was considered a social asset. Now it is traded as a saleable commodity. Urban land has become a product attracting investments in exponential proportions. Therefore, its prices rise to such high limits that its availability and access become impossible for housing, especially for low- and middle-income clientele.

The large metropolitan centres face en­­croach­­ment of public land, which limits chances of its availability for housing. Political interests define and determine land supply and distribution, while social and development-related demands such as housing become a low priority.

The allocations of land to various political favourites at less than the market price in Karachi, large real estate developments in the peri-urban locations, unapproved land subdivisions and development of housing schemes by realtors in Lahore and Islamabad are cases in point.

Housing for the urban poor is the most vital area of intervention for policymakers and planning and development agencies in cities and towns. The Karachi Strategic Deve­lop­ment Plan 2020 informs us that urban poor households — whose members mostly reside in informal settlements of various kinds — came to 941,968 in 2010. More than 100,000 new households in this category are added yearly, which require a corresponding number of housing units and allied facilities.

The emergence of katchi abadis in Islam­a­bad also reflects the fact that better controlled and managed cities have not been able to extend affordable options to the urban poor. As per Capital De­­velopment Au­­th­ority records, more than 15 katchi abadis have evolved in different locations in Islamabad comprising a varying number of households and profiles. Once created, katchi abadis pose the tough question of regularisation or eviction for city administrators.

Housing finance is an important sub-sector as it acts as a vital catalyst in the facilitation of a vast clientele. It is affected by various considerations. Studies indicate that at present, not more than two per cent of funds are arranged through formal housing finance institutions. High risks in transactions, poor governance and a breakdown of law and order on a routine basis impacts the scenario.

Many steps need to be taken to enhance the options and choices of housing for ordinary citizens. The provincial governments must consider establishing housing resource centres at the district levels. These institutions may be empowered to gather and package up-to-date information about public and private sector housing options.

Pilot projects may be undertaken for developing housing on a cooperative basis for low-grade employees of government and public organisations and formal private organisations. Also, the House Building Finance Corporation must undertake innovatively designed packages to enhance clientele and expand housing access to needy groups.

The writer is professor and chairman, Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

116 and counting

Sharjil Kharal

WITH the killing of Inspector Ghazanfar Kazmi last month, Karachi Police lost one of its finest. The slain officer had risen through the ranks the hard way, and lost his life in what has unfortunately become a commonplace tragedy for cops in this city. Some 116 policemen have already been killed this year, a truly alarming state of affairs.

WITH the killing of Inspector Ghazanfar Kazmi last month, Karachi Police lost one of its finest. The slain officer had risen through the ranks the hard way, and lost his life in what has unfortunately become a commonplace tragedy for cops in this city. Some 116 policemen have already been killed this year, a truly alarming state of affairs.

The police in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, have been relentlessly targeted ever since the proactive policing operation was launched in the city a year ago. The campaign against the force has been orchestrated by non-state actors/militants because their dens and criminal activities have been hard hit by law-enforcement agencies spearheaded by the police in an operation seen by many as having achieved some success.

Karachi is a megacity with multiple problems; land-grabbing, vice dens, human smuggling rackets, extortion, street crime, kidnapping for ransom — the city has seen it all. While the performance of police personnel has no doubt left much to be desired with regard to eliminating this menace, the Karachi police deserve kudos for the operation against the terrorist elements in the city.

However, the police force have paid a heavy price for their role in this intelligence-led operation with a number of personnel losing their lives in the line of duty and, even more so, off duty. Areas in the west of Karachi, as well as parts of Korangi, and Malir districts have proved particularly dangerous in this respect. Although authorities have had some success in countering such attacks by arresting the suspects and busting the gangs they belong to, the situation is still far from satisfactory.

There are a number of reasons for this. Our constabulary, unlike our counterparts in the army and Rangers, lives amongst the community, depending largely upon its goodwill. Our personnel are clearly distinguishable from their appearance, they do not have secure means of commuting to and from work.

Off duty they have a life whereby they need to go to open markets for shopping, drop their children to schools, take their spouses to hospitals, etc which renders them extremely vulnerable. On duty, they have the onerous tasks of guarding important places, keeping an eye on criminal elements in the area, and also investigating sensitive cases. The latter function of the police has been a factor in some investigators losing their lives.

Late officer Kazmi had also been receiving threats for a few years now. He was killed by a group of hired assassins, freely roaming the city.

The Sindh Police have taken certain measures to enhance safety for those among the force that are most at risk. Apart from launching crackdowns in areas where potential attackers find refuge, the department has issued a standard operating procedure (SOP) that outlines security precautions for working policemen. However, in the view of many, the officers themselves are ultimately responsible for ensuring their personal safety.

Some other initiatives include relocation of the majority of police families from the city’s troubled areas to comparatively safer locations. Providing smaller arms to on-duty cops so that they can react more effectively to attacks against them has also been under discussion.

Countless police personnel have fallen since Karachi witnessed a surge in violence dating back to the mid 1980s. In the last four decades or so, this megacity has had its share of problems. Be it communal and ethnic violence, turf wars amongst different mafia, or political tussles over control of the city, the populace of this beleaguered city has been at the mercy of an assortment of rival groups with varied agendas.

The Sindh Police also offers a posthumous package for its slain policemen whereby the department looks after the needs of the heirs. This includes a job in the department for the son/brother, a compensatory amount and continuation of the victim’s salary until he or she would have reached the age of superannuation. Nevertheless, there is a lot more that can be done.

The loss of a policeman is irreparable for any police force, in terms of manpower, experience and the resources invested in training him. To be sure, the force’s sacrifices have not gone unnoticed and the authorities have acknowledged this. But what the culture of law enforcement truly needs at this point is a morale-boosting injection through enhanced technological support and better staffing.

The police have always been trained to fight and detect conventional crime rather than terrorism. The rise of terrorism presents a new challenge for which the force was never traditionally trained. This new challenge calls for new training methods. We therefore have a monumental task at hand if we wish to counter this rising threat. For the moment though, the situation as it exists is a very demoralising one for the force.

The writer is an officer in the Police Service of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2014

The real battle

Zahid Hussain

IT seems that a perfectly choreographed political show is being unfolded in Islamabad. The drop scene has yet to be decided; perhaps no ending has been envisaged at all. The siege of the Red Zone and the storming of the Prime Minister House were supposed to be the endgame. But new twists and turns have caused the plot to thicken, and the nation has been gripped by the spectacle of a violent mob rampaging through Constitution Avenue.

IT seems that a perfectly choreographed political show is being unfolded in Islamabad. The drop scene has yet to be decided; perhaps no ending has been envisaged at all. The siege of the Red Zone and the storming of the Prime Minister House were supposed to be the endgame. But new twists and turns have caused the plot to thicken, and the nation has been gripped by the spectacle of a violent mob rampaging through Constitution Avenue.

New characters keep coming on stage, creating more suspense — first, parliament, then the army and now the Supreme Court in the act of playing arbiter. But can they force a decision and break the stalemate? It will certainly not be easy to get a negotiated political settlement as the situation becomes more and more complex. While efforts by the army were stalled after the prime minister reneged on his request for facilitation, the offer by the Supreme Court still awaits the consent of the parties in the conflict.

There now exists a deep ambivalence about whether the army can play the role of an honest broker or whether it is also a party to the conflict. While analysing the stand-off one must not miss the elephant in the room. The conflict between the civil and military leadership is surely a major source of the present impasse. Political tension and uncertainty cannot be removed without relations between Sharif and the military leadership being straightened out.

Whether there is a nexus between Imran Khan/Tahirul Qadri and the military remains to be proven. But the revelation by Javed Hashmi, the senior-most Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leader, lends credence to the speculation about some tacit understanding between these two protest leaders and elements within the army.

It also seems quite plausible that the decision to march on Islamabad and demand the resignation of the prime minister may have been strongly influenced by reports of increasing tension between the civil and military leadership. Qadri in particular has been flaunting his love for the army. Huge banners in his camp pledging allegiance to the forces have fed into the conspiracy theories.

The excitement witnessed when the two leaders rushed to meet Gen Raheel Sharif and accepted his mediation indicates their expectation of the army coming to their support. It is very obvious that the attempt to storm the Prime Minister House and widespread vandalism was aimed at getting the army to intervene. The cheering for the army soldiers by the protesters was certainly not spontaneous.

Surely there is no love lost between the prime minister and the military given the bitter memories of the past. The generals accepted Sharif’s return to power though with some reservations. And it did not take much time for an uneasy relationship to flare up. Sharif’s decision to put retired Gen Musharraf on trial for treason provided the spark. The trust deficit further widened after the prime minister reportedly reneged on the agreement to allow the former military ruler to leave the country after his indictment.

There were other issues too that intensified the conflict. Sharif’s ambivalent position on the battle against the Taliban and the anti-army rhetoric of some of the cabinet ministers further fuelled the tension. But it was the Geo incident that brought relations to a boiling point. The reluctance to take action against the Geo administration after it had accused the ISI chief of plotting the attack on Hamid Mir was perceived by the army as a tacit support of the government for the TV network. Some of the statements by ministers in support of Geo further fuelled the fire.

As hostilities grew, the prime minister reportedly thought of sacking Lt-Gen Zaheerul Islam, the ISI chief, for allegedly trying to destabilise the civilian government. That apparently brought the confrontation to a head. Sharif was forced to back down. But the damage was done.

Unsurprisingly, many senior cabinet ministers smelled conspiracy when Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri joined hands and descended on Islamabad. The alliance was described as a marriage of convenience. Highly committed and fanatically dedicated, Qadri’s supporters were to provide the muscle power, which the PTI lacked despite its widespread support among the urban educated middle class and youth. It was apparent that the PTI on its own could not have sustained the campaign for long.

Surely, the government itself has contributed to the imbroglio. It is the ineptness and inertia in the government that helped the duo hold the city hostage for so long. Sharif’s decision to call in the army in aid of the civilian authorities under Article 245 of the Constitution on the eve of the march does not seem to have helped his government much. In fact, it has empowered the army more.

Sharif seems to have lost further credibility by misinforming the National Assembly that the army chief was not asked to mediate. A statement by the ISPR contradicting the prime minister’s claim put Sharif into an embarrassing position. It was also a loss of face with the army.

Indeed, the army is much empowered now as the situation is fast slipping out of the government’s control. The latest warning by the generals to the political leadership to expeditiously resolve the crisis politically and without the use of force, shows that the centre of gravity of political power is being shifted to GHQ. It was the second such warning by the army in the past two weeks. As parliament has now rallied to save the system, one is not sure whether there will be a third time. But the battle is far from over.

Whatever the endgame may be — whether it fizzles away or ends with a bang — the current political crisis will have serious ramifications for the nascent democratic process in the country. While the political forces are now seriously undermined the military has emerged as the sole arbiter of the power thus far.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Marriage and migration

Rafia Zakaria

IN the old days, it was negotiations about dowries that took up the bulk of time when a marriage was being arranged. Would there be a car or cash, would the groom be set up in business, would the women of his family be laden with gold, would the bride arrive with roomfuls of furniture or handfuls of gold?

IN the old days, it was negotiations about dowries that took up the bulk of time when a marriage was being arranged. Would there be a car or cash, would the groom be set up in business, would the women of his family be laden with gold, would the bride arrive with roomfuls of furniture or handfuls of gold?

These considerations may still take up time, but in middle-class Pakistan’s migration-based marriage market, a new and crucial factor has become the nationality of the prospective bride or groom.

The possession of a foreign passport, the ability to leave and pursue employment elsewhere, has monetary value and consequently now a marital one. Considerations about immigration regulations of various countries, their sundry requirements and their various idiosyncrasies then dangle in drawing rooms.

Tradition and culture, religion and romance must all thus conform to rules made elsewhere, with considerations other than the marriage at hand. Among Pakistan’s middle class, built as it is increasingly around remittances from abroad, this has changed not only the process of choosing spouses but also the process of courtship and the timing and location of marriages.

The possession of foreign citizenship can bring together unlikely couples, unite families that would not otherwise consider marriage outside sect or social status. In the carefully choreographed processes of matchmaking, visas are wild cards that can make a plain bride beautiful and render a dumb and dour groom suddenly intelligent and charismatic. If leaving soon is on the cards, annoying mothers-in-law grate less on the nerves and overbearing fathers-in-law can seem much less agonising.

Individual cases reveal particular comedies exerted by foreign countries on the mating habits of those marrying in the developing world. Depending on the length of the queues at the embassy in question, the nikah or legal marriage ceremony can be held much before the rukhsati, or the giving away of the bride. This new practice, now quite common in Pakistan, is borne in no small way by the many brides (and grooms) left behind, awaiting pending immigration applications long after the mirth of marriage festivities have faded away.

The nikah thus happens almost immediately, so that it can be used as legal proof of marriage, starting the arduous process of proving the authenticity of the union to the officials responsible for allowing a husband or wife to proceed to the land promised by the passport. It is a carefully wrought compromise, allowing all other wedding arrangements to be in place.

All would be well if the foreign embassies, the ultimate arbiters of the authenticity of the marriage, had not caught on to the practice and questioned the possibility of fraud within it.

In the Western world, marriage is a deal between two people, with families playing an optional rather than crucial role. In the requirements of proof of courtship prior to marriage and then a marital relationship, they therefore require examples of the sort of intimacy that would be routine among couples elsewhere.

In one case, at a certain foreign embassy, an applicant carting her nikah papers and piles of photographs from the ceremony was questioned whether she still maintained residence at her parents’ house (she did).

In another, an embassy interviewer asked whether the nikah had just been arranged as a formality for immigration purposes, while the actual marriage ceremony (rukhsati) was still to take place, making the marriage in their opinion ‘incomplete’. In yet another case, a male applicant was asked why there was no evidence of the couple having spent their birthdays together, no cards or flowers, no evidence of ‘routine’ romantic gestures.

Among the middle class, then, with so many forced to look for jobs elsewhere and consequently for spouses that can make this possible, marriage and migration have become inextricably intertwined.

The safeguards against fraud imposed by foreign embassies can try the fragility of such would-be relationships: how central is the desire to leave and does it outshine the possibility of love? Is it really a good idea to consider passports as central to future happiness?

Does this in turn displace considerations of compatibility, character or even attraction? Are families, traditionally so central, no longer really relevant to the calculations of marital cohabitation?

The insecurities are many, and all of them imply the increasingly transformed landscape of marriage and courtship in cultures where matches are made. Inequalities between the sponsoring spouse and the one being sponsored replicates the power dynamic between the Western countries where residence is being sought and the developing countries which produce workers that cannot be accommodated within their own job markets.

The one granting residence and citizenship thus often gets to decide what a real marriage is, or at least, what it must look like in the photographs, papers, documents and other pieces of life that must be attached to the visa application.

In global discourse, a lot of space is devoted to the inequalities between the West and the rest; the portion of the world that guards its borders and entitlements and the rest sentenced to finding the nooks and crannies through which to squeeze.

The lie would-be migrants tell themselves, to elude the dislocation and pain of leaving the loved and the familiar, is that economic accomplishment will heal all; that cherished possibilities of return, carefully cultivated subcultures, will all somehow equal the best of both worlds.

While the lie is a necessary one, it evades the truth that is already culturally transformative: that relationships, bonds, marriages and ultimately future generations are all now different and changed by the reality that many, if not most, will or must marry to migrate.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

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Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

New splinter group

Khadim Hussain

A SPLINTER group, named Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), has recently been formed by the former commanders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Most of them belong to Mohmand and Bajaur, although some commanders from Orakzai, Swat, Charsadda, and Peshawar have also joined the new group.

A SPLINTER group, named Jamaatul Ahrar (JuA), has recently been formed by the former commanders of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Most of them belong to Mohmand and Bajaur, although some commanders from Orakzai, Swat, Charsadda, and Peshawar have also joined the new group.

The news was announced on Twitter by Omar Khalid Khorasani as well as through media channels by the JuA spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan.

The phenomenon of breakaway splinter groups in militant organisations is an interesting one. Looking at the militant landscape closely, one can discern some recurrent patterns in the splintering of such syndicates.

The first pattern observed around the globe and in the region is that the splintering is precipitated by a strategic and tactical retreat by the parent militant network. When state security forces build pressure on the network, it splinters into several groups and melts away, resurrecting itself as soon as the pressure dissipates.

We have observed this in several countries in the region, including Pakistan. Al Qaeda has been splintering into active groups and passive sleeper cells over the past several years. This strategy enhances the life cycle of the militant syndicate and also gives space to splinter groups to build alliances with like-minded local militant and sectarian groups to advance common goals.

The formation of the JuA might be a strategic move by the TTP high command to offset the pressure reportedly built by the military during the operation in North Waziristan. This assumption gains credence when one keeps in mind that so far no powerful commander has been either eliminated or arrested during the current operation.

The second pattern is that of division along ideological lines. The interpretation of ‘jihad’ in specific circumstances for specific purposes can become a trigger for splintering. Interestingly, most splinter groups justify their breaking away on the basis of ideological differences.

In the case of the JuA, the group has accused the TTP of diverging from the main objective of bringing about the imposition of their version of Sharia in the country, and has vowed to continue its struggle to convert Pakistan into an imarat-i-Islami on the pattern of Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan.

The JuA has declared Mullah Omar its patron-in-chief, much as the TTP had done earlier. The question thus arises: if the JuA and TTP both swear allegiance to Mullah Omar, where can one draw the ideological dividing line? Particularly so given that Mullah Omar has not so far refused to accept either the TTP’s or JuA’s declaration of faith in his leadership?

Having said that, one must keep in mind that most of the commanders in the JuA, including its emir, Maulana Qasim, and Omar Khalid from Mohmand, write ‘Khorasani’ with their names. The term has semantic implications. Ideologues of the militant network in Pakistan and elsewhere refer to ‘Khorasan’ in the context of the resurrection of the ‘mahdi’ who would, in their view, be instrumental in establishing the Sharia globally.

Some groups interpret the mahdi as coming from Khorasan, the historical name for the area comprising present-day Iran, Afghanistan and parts of the Middle East.

The third pattern that manifests itself in the splintering of the militant syndicate is when turf and kitty become the bone of contention. In the case of Pakistan, the spoils of a war economy featuring kidnapping for ransom, extortion, gun-running, drug trafficking, car lifting and human trafficking that keeps the militant machinery well oiled, is also a major cause of splintering. This is seen in how the militant network in Pakistan has either allied itself with criminal syndicates or co-opted criminal gangs, a fact clearly observed from Waziristan to Malakand.

Insiders in the TTP report that after Hakeemullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike, several commanders had an eye on the booty collected through the war economy and that was one of the major reasons for the difference of opinion in the TTP Shura over the election of the TTP’s new emir.

It is possible that the resources amassed through the war economy machine were not handed over to the new TTP leadership following Hakeemullah’s death. This might have incentivised powerful commanders to carry out militant activities on their own, as in the case of Omar Khalid Khorasani. Then, the likeminded commanders might have thought it convenient to form the new group.

Moreover, it is important to note that the splinter group commanders have by now acquired some insight into the situation after the Nato drawdown from Afghanistan. Perhaps according to their reading, Mullah Omar might be able to make substantial gains following the drawdown. It is also in the light of this that they may have declared Mullah Omar as the leader of their ‘Islamic emarat’ in Pakistan.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

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Twitter: khadimhussain4

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Armageddon can wait

Mahir Ali

BARACK Obama’s recent confession that his country did not so far have a strategy as far as the so-called Islamic State (IS) is concerned has been pilloried as a gaffe. It could, however, also be seen as the plain truth.

BARACK Obama’s recent confession that his country did not so far have a strategy as far as the so-called Islamic State (IS) is concerned has been pilloried as a gaffe. It could, however, also be seen as the plain truth.

The United States did not really have a strategy a decade or so ago either, when the administration of George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq, evidently expecting that the various pieces would magically fall into place once Saddam Hussein was toppled. The tactic represented a disastrous combination of hubris and ignorance.

The extent to which the subsequent implosions and explosions in the region are a direct consequence of that particular debacle is arguable, but there can be little doubt that the big picture would have been less unpleasant in the absence of that neoconservative folly.

Of course, what’s done cannot be undone, and the present crisis demands a resolute response. It’s by no means undesirable, however, for that response to take account of all that has gone wrong in the recent past.

Obama has come under attack, for instance, for hesitating to strike Syria in the early days of the revolt against the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship, thereby purportedly facilitating the expansion of Islamist outfits such as IS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Too many critics are inclined, however, to ignore in this context the consequences of Nato’s role in Libya.

Washington allowed itself to be catapulted into that conflict, partly on the basis of Paris and London’s aggressive enthusiasm, and Nato’s mission was a success in terms of achieving the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi’s regime. But Libya today is being torn apart by rival militias, many of them distinguishable not so much by ideology as by tribal affiliations.

Under similar circumstances, would the out­­come the Syria have been remarkably different?

The US has lately been thinking aloud about launching air strikes in Syria with the ostensible aim of undermining IS rather than Assad, based on the assumption that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s troops cannot be quelled by focusing on Iraq alone. That may be so, but there is the wider question of whether they can effectively be tackled at all mainly through air assaults.

There have evidently been some tactical successes in Iraq in this respect, beginning with the besieged Yazidis stranded on Sinjar mountain. Then there was the recapture of Mosul Dam, and most recently the apparent rescue of Amerli.

In the latter instance, the US air strikes were effectively in aid of Shia militias spearheading the assault against IS — the same militias, with links to Iran, that not many years ago were dedicated to undermining the American occupation of Iraq. “Should such military actions continue,” The New York Times noted on Monday, “they could signal a dramatic shift for the United States and Iran, which have long vied for control in Iraq.”

Naturally, neither Washington nor Tehran is keen to emphasise this aspect of the emerging situation. Matters are further complicated by the fact that some of the Shia militias betray a penchant for sectarian brutality that, although no match for the revolting atrocities that IS is so keen to broadcast, nonetheless provides cause for concern.

It is widely accepted that the IS project, which it calls a caliphate, can effectively be foiled only with the cooperation of Iraqi Sunnis. While some of them may already be regretting their half-hearted embrace of IS as an alternative to the sectarian discrimination dished out by Baghdad under former prime minister Nouri Maliki, it’s hard to imagine them praying for the ascendancy of the Shia militias either.

The UN this week decided to investigate “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale” by IS, as well as atrocities by Iraqi government forces. Whether or not such an investigation ser­ves any purpose in the unfolding circumstances, the ost­en­­sible even-handedness of the app­­­­­roach is interesting.

Meanwhile there has been considerable concern across several nations in Europe as well as in the US and Australia over young Muslim citizens’ tendency towards jihadist adventurism, with thousands — the numbers are again uncertain — travelling to Syria or Iraq as Islamist volunteers.

This is hardly a novel trend and can be traced back at least to Afghanistan in the 1980s. The worries over it are understandable, although there is no clear evidence of returnees planning domestic acts of terrorism. It is also difficult to altogether dispense with the notion that projecting IS as an unprecedented global threat helps some Western governments to deflect attention from domestic woes.

The IS threat should not be underestimated, but exaggerations can have the perverse effect of increasing its cachet both within and outside the region. Nobody has a clear idea of precisely how this story will unfold, let alone end. But there’s not much value in pretending it portends some kind of Armageddon.

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Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2014

Political economy of reforms

Shahid Kardar

THERE is a perceptible gap between the recognition of the need for reforms and their actual implementation. Hence the feeling that ‘verbal reforms’ outnumber actual reforms. Why is there this chasm between the rhetoric on policy reform and what is eventually implemented?

THERE is a perceptible gap between the recognition of the need for reforms and their actual implementation. Hence the feeling that ‘verbal reforms’ outnumber actual reforms. Why is there this chasm between the rhetoric on policy reform and what is eventually implemented?

Part of the explanation lies in the lack of competence of the administrative machinery to design and implement reforms and the slow and steady deterioration of governance systems.

There has been a long and continuing erosion of standards and practices in the institutions of governance. In an increasingly complex society, the reasons are not just the rising tide of corruption and bureaucrats individually or collectively benefiting from maladministration. Modern governance systems require greater technical and global knowledge, this being the age of specialisation. Our administrative structures have yet to adapt to this reality. Resultantly, the capacity to conceptualise, design and implement reforms is inadequate.

However, a key explanation for the gap between policy pronouncements and their implementation is that the decision-making leadership is required to talk to two different audiences. The first are private domestic, foreign investors and the international community of multilateral and bilateral donors from whom investment funds and loans have to be raised. The other audience is the ‘political’ constituency whose interests have to be protected and concerns addressed.

The process of reform gets stalled, or even scuttled, when a set of policy reforms accepted by decision-makers runs counter to the interests of their constituency, especially one which is vocal — even though it may not be large in absolute numbers.

Reforms mean different things to different people — ie, they have different connotations for bureaucrats or technocrats in international financial institutions who design or formulate them and for those, especially politicians, who are tasked to implement them.

The critical factors that undermine the acceptability of a reform package are its credibility and that of the implementers. This is largely because the deterioration in the governance systems has adversely affected the ability of governments to improve people’s lives compared with its capability to impose upon them greater harm through its coercive apparatus comprising the police, the judiciary, revenue authorities, etc.

Bureaucratic inertia, the tendency of government officials and legislators to exaggerate the political resistance likely to be encountered in the field, and the opposition, if not active resistance, of stakeholders who have a vested interest in the continuation of the structures and systems identified for reform are an issue. They will all either block the reforms or make it exceedingly difficult for their objectives to be achieved.

The deficit of credibility renders it difficult to convince people of the necessity or need for reforms. This is so especially if the benefits of reforms are not quick in coming, are not immediately visible, and the gains are either smaller than the cost of reform (say, involving the withdrawal of a subsidy) or the beneficiaries are uncertain about the quantum and timing of their benefits. Or even if they are unsure whether they will benefit from the reforms or be compensated for the loss incurred.

In such a case, it makes little sense for anyone to willingly give up existing benefits, systems and structures.

A significant proportion of taxpayers or consumers of a service do not generally believe that reforms are designed to benefit them and are unconvinced that the eventual gains from reforms will be those being promised.

Therefore, unless these beliefs and perceptions are changed, it will not be possible to create and nurture constituencies for reform. The task is compounded by Pakistan not being homogeneous in language and culture and not having a particularly assertive civil society. All this requires better designs of reforms, a sensible sequencing, full government ownership of the proposed reforms and a strategy for managing expectations.

The purpose of this discussion is not to suggest that the implementation of reforms in Pakistan has been a failure. Although implementation has been half-hearted and both the pace and political resolve could have been better, much has been achieved since 1991 and some far-reaching reforms have been made in external trade and in the financial and telecommunication sectors, etc.

Reforms have, understandably, proceeded at a quicker pace in the relatively ‘easier’ areas and sectors. Moreover, reform implementation has tended to be faster and more effective where most of the costs had to be borne by the less organised groups while the benefits accrued to those better organised. The obvious examples are that of the RPPs and K-Electric.

Decision-makers and the global power industry were touting these initiatives with no input from consumers (through their parliamentarians) and the regulator which had little competence and teeth. Not surprisingly, the constituency for reform tends to be narrowly based.

As it is, fundamental reforms will be resisted, and successfully, by the elites while implementation of even other reforms is a slow and painful process, requiring a change of mindsets and attitudes. And technocratic solutions generally cannot carve out a reform programme that can be marketed politically.

This is not only because of the opposition of powerful interest groups but also because the implementation period (and the benefits that will flow from it) is out of sync with the time cycle of political governments, or the legitimate concerns of those affected by them are not appropriately addressed in a transparent, consultative manner.

Therefore, gradual and incremental reform by stealth and the adoption of the path of compromise and least resistance will continue to be the hallmark of the future process of reform implementation in the country, especially a government weakened by dharnas.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Keeping our eyes peeled for Ebola

Jawed Naqvi

A FEW years ago in San Francisco, I picked up Germs from a secondhand bookshop. Three New York Times journalists, including a Pulitzer-winning science writer, William Broad, wrote the quaintly titled 380-page research. The other authors were senior correspondents Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg.

A FEW years ago in San Francisco, I picked up Germs from a secondhand bookshop. Three New York Times journalists, including a Pulitzer-winning science writer, William Broad, wrote the quaintly titled 380-page research. The other authors were senior correspondents Judith Miller and Stephen Engelberg.

Published in 2001, its stated purpose was to investigate and hold forth on the burning topic of the days: Biological weapons and America’s secret war. With the current Ebola outbreak in western Africa, I finally remembered to open the book. There are some interesting observations on the deadly virus.

Apart from references to Ebola it has other topics of riveting interest, all bullet-pointed with a sense of purpose. How the CIA secretly built and tested germ bomblets, alarming American officials who felt the work violated the treaty banning biological weapons. How the Pentagon embarked on a secret effort to make a superbug.

The book also has ‘details’ about the Soviet Union’s massive hidden programme to produce biological weapons, including charges at the time that germs were tested on humans, how Moscow’s scientists made an untraceable germ that instructs the body to destroy itself. A plan by the US military in the 1960s to attack Cuba with germ weapons is as good a topic as any to catch the reader’s eye. President Clinton is among hundreds of officials and scientists interviewed.

Let me, however, stay with Ebola, not least because of concern for South Asia: what if the virus travelled to our overpopulated cities and/or mutated into something more readily contagious? What if one of the Khan-Qadri ‘revolutionaries’ in the Islamabad melee carried the virus from, say, Liberia?

Rumours and viruses travel at breakneck speed in South Asia. Occasionally they splice into a single formidable entity and it becomes difficult to divine one from the other. In the first week of August 1994, health officials reported unusually large numbers of deaths of domestic rats in an Indian village 150 kilometers southeast of Surat city in Gujarat.

On Sept 21, 1994, the medical watchdog in Surat city received a report that a patient had died seemingly due to pneumonic plague. Then someone informed the authorities about 10 deaths in a residential area the same day.

Around 50 seriously ill patients were admitted to the Surat hospital. This triggered the biggest post-independence migration of people in India with around 300,000 people leaving Surat city in two days. In the rest of India, antibiotics such as tetracycline and medical masks disappeared into the black market.

In a country where rumours of a benign deity guzzling milk for an entire day could trigger a nationwide race to the temples, it must be a miracle of sorts that the poliovirus could be successfully weeded out. It took dollops of native genius of tenacious caregivers, however, to overcome local resistance to the vaccine, which came chiefly from the backward Muslim communities of western Uttar Pradesh.

On the other hand, there is this story about a determined Unicef scout from the affected state whose wit matched her persistence to win the polio battle. She administered the suspicious drops to a hen at the behest of a wary housewife. If the hen laid an egg the next morning, the entire community of Muslim women would take their babies to the polio clinic. The terrifying gamble paid off, but it was a hugely calculated risk. The scout hailed from the local community and she was certain about the egg-laying season for the hens.

Regarding the Ebola virus, on the other hand, the mystery seems to be wrapped in enigma for the opposite reason. People are dying because mysteriously enough there is no vaccine. It was in 1976 when a Belgian scientist began to study Ebola. That was more than four decades ago, and we still have not been given an antidote to the scourge.

Could the apparent frustration of the world community with the current Ebola menace be linked with a 1988 research by investigative journalist Charles Piller and a University of California microbiologist Keith R. Yamamoto? With material acquired through the Freedom of Information Act they wrote Gene Wars: Military Control over the New Genetic Technologies. The study cautioned vociferously against America’s quest to create a superbug. The writers compelled the Congress to investigate the matter.

“We knew the Russians had sent people to Africa trying to collect Ebola and Marburg viruses,” reacted Philip K. Russell, the then head of the US army’s medical research and development command at Fort Detrick. Russell had ordered studies of the exotic viruses after reading intelligence reports that the Soviets were aggressively pursuing them. “That was good enough for us,” he said.

At Fort Detrick, a specially designed ventilation system kept the air pressure slightly lower than the outside air. If any microbes were accidentally released, they would be sucked back into the lab. Only “hot” agents like Ebola, “for which there is no treatment, are handled more carefully”.

Unfortunately, for Africa, the Big Power rivalries that led to the perverse drive to harm its people and others with natural or manufactured germs did not end with the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, the trauma of colonialism has mutated into a renewed hunt for natural resources and related conquests across the continent.

Delhi’s respected Down To Earth journal, which deals with the environment, including its commercial depredation through the politics of patents, recently raised pointed questions on the Ebola-related research.

“Curious reports are emerging of the patents the US holds on a certain strain of the virus and the interest of its Department of Defence in developing a vaccine with a Canadian biotech firm. The details are sketchy but indicate an overwhelming American interest in Ebola,” the journal cautioned. We are keeping our fingers crossed.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

jawednaqvi

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

A way out

Salahuddin Ahmed

LET us finally call a spade a spade. Let’s not pretend that all parties to the crisis in Islamabad genuinely desire to work their way out of the impasse. Let’s not pretend that the calls from every corner to solve the matter through peaceful negotiations shall eventually bear fruit — everything that could be peacefully negotiated already has been. Let’s not pretend this is only a dispute about rigged elections or the Model Town incident. Only after abandoning these pretences can we actually organise a coherent defence of democracy.

LET us finally call a spade a spade. Let’s not pretend that all parties to the crisis in Islamabad genuinely desire to work their way out of the impasse. Let’s not pretend that the calls from every corner to solve the matter through peaceful negotiations shall eventually bear fruit — everything that could be peacefully negotiated already has been. Let’s not pretend this is only a dispute about rigged elections or the Model Town incident. Only after abandoning these pretences can we actually organise a coherent defence of democracy.

We must start by recognising that neither the Constitution nor any democratic tradition allows for indefinite protest — no matter how peaceful. Article 16 of our Constitution states “Every citizen shall have the right to assemble peacefully and without arms, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order”.

The dharnas are no longer peaceful. Protesters have carried arms from the outset — nail-studded sticks and slingshot. A sit-in lasting 17 days and nights on a main thoroughfare that paralyses life in the nation’s capital is surely past the limits of reasonableness. Public order is in a shambles. Leaders of the dharnas openly call upon their followers to resist the police. One speaks of insurrection; the other of civil disobedience. They incite violence by crying out for martyrdom, donning burial shrouds and digging graves.

So why is the government powerless to enforce the law? Why are loudspeakers not disconnected, containers not removed, and the top leaders restrained from further incitement through use of preventive detention laws? Why is the Supreme Court so sanguine about the non-enforcement of its orders to clear the Constitution Avenue? Why does the government step aside when a handful of protesters take over the PTV building?

Because everyone is terrified of the unnamed elephant in the room. The elephant who decreed that the matter must be settled through peaceful negotiations and who forbade, on Sunday, use of force against the protesters. The one who historically decides when the nation’s affairs are unstable enough to justify wrapping up the democratic system.

The PAT and PTI relationship with the army has raised some eyebrows. It is rare, after all, for participants of a revolutionary march against the status quo to raise slogans in favour of the army. Equally rare, to see preachers of civil disobedience rushing off obediently to GHQ — a wide grin on their faces — minutes after receiving a call from the COAS.

“Outraged and uncontrollable” marchers bent upon taking over parliament and PTV buildings slink off quietly when requested by army officers. With that level of influence over the marchers and given the army’s concern about the present state of civil unrest, one wonders why it does not simply request Qadri and Khan to leave the capital for a few days and allow things to cool down?

But let us assume that the army is unable or unwilling, presently, to make such a request. What options are left to parliamentary parties and the rest of civil society — including bar associations — that wish to defend democracy?

One option could be to request the prime minister to resign to save the democratic system. But would such a sacrifice truly save the system? Does it not actually condemn parliament to continual subservience to non-democratic forces? This parliament elected the prime minister. He still enjoys its confidence. If he resigns — even for a single day — under compulsion of a few thousand determined protesters backed by invisible forces, what kind of precedent would it set?

All pro-democratic forces in Pakistan must unite to defend parliament and its elected prime minister. The Supreme Court has already directed the Constitution Avenue to be cleared. All parties in parliament should move a resolution to move the Supreme Court for implementation of such directives in conjunction with other civil society actors including bar associations.

And if PTI and PAT continue to disobey, and if the civil administration is unable to execute such orders for fear of provoking violence, then the Supreme Court must invoke its powers under Article 190 of the Constitution and direct the army to act in aid of its orders. Simultaneously, the government and parliament should take concrete steps towards implementation of the other PAT and PTI demands that have already been accepted.

Hopefully, this would allow the dharnas to be cleared without resort to further violence. It would also allow PAT and PTI to save face. More importantly, it would give the army (and the Supreme Court) an opportunity to show their commitment to the democratic system and clear their reputation that is unfortunately — once again — being besmirched. Finally, and in any event, it would at least let everybody know where everyone stands.

The writer is the president of the Karachi Bar Association.

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

Water challenge

Mohammad Hussain Khan

EFFECTIVE governance is the key to success in any state department or sector. This ensures efficient service delivery. Yet governance in Sindh has been found wanting for a long time and water governance is no exception.

EFFECTIVE governance is the key to success in any state department or sector. This ensures efficient service delivery. Yet governance in Sindh has been found wanting for a long time and water governance is no exception.

Sindh’s farmers again experienced acute water shortage this summer. The problem results from the absence of strong governance. While shortage of irrigation water during the kharif season is not a new phenomenon in Sindh, the disturbing thing is that its severity is increasing every year as no immediate solution seems in sight.

Where inter-provincial water distribution is concerned, Sindh’s reservations over releases from national reservoirs are justified, considering the water requirement in early summer and flows for Kotri downstream. Sindh needs water in April when Punjab doesn’t, for its lower region has early sowing trends where cultivation of crops begins two to three weeks before the upper parts of Sindh.

Though the Mangla Dam is a national asset, it is apparently meant for meeting Punjab’s water needs primarily. Sindh doesn’t get a drop of water from it because the dam is filled at that point of time, even when flows in the Indus are insufficient to meet requirements. Perhaps that’s why a committee on water resources had questioned the criteria of filling Mangla in its report, outlining guiding principles for operational criteria of the dam.

In the absence of flows water shortage eventually hits the tail end of the Sukkur and Kotri barrages. A 62pc shortage was recorded at Kotri against 24pc and 23pc at Guddu and Sukkur respectively in June.

But the story doesn’t end here. We create a mess by mismanaging whatever flows are available. There is greater need of introspection if requirements of the lower riparian and judicious water distribution within Sindh are to be met. We must seriously ponder over facts like why water losses between Sindh’s barrages are unusual. Losses should be more between Guddu-Sukkur than Sukkur-Kotri given their distances, but the situation is otherwise.

This indicates water theft, incorrect measurement, mismanagement in water distribution between Guddu-Sukkur and illegal pumping of water. Officials and informed growers agree water is diverted between Guddu-Sukkur. Rice cultivation is increasing fast in areas where it is banned. Being a high-delta crop it consumes more water than cotton. Has anyone checked why its cultivation in the cotton zone goes unnoticed, without punitive measures? It’s a dangerous trend. Sindh, with an impressive per acre cotton yield, will lose out if it’s not controlled.

Secondly, water provision has become exploitative in nature for small growers. Small farmers who can’t manage their lands for want of water are now selling them to big/political landowners, who then get direct outlets (DOs) sanctioned from the government for the same land. According to a veteran grower, Abdul Majeed Nizamani, a watercourse with one cusec flow irrigates 350 acres of land of multiple water users on average while a DO irrigates the land of an individual/family alone with no withdrawal limits.

Unabated sanctioning of DOs with fake reports is a chronic problem. In layman’s terms, a DO is a source of water allowed by the government from the main canal to favour an individual/family. DOs break water velocity and destroy the entire water regime of the canal. Such outlets are in the hundreds. This phenomenon is a major cause of water shortage.

The mismanagement is so ubiquitous that even Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had to visit areas like Badin to assess water shortage, conceding that water regulation is unjust. He criticised the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority. Sida was created to promote a participatory system in Sindh but it could not achieve its goals.

The people of Sindh suffer whether there is plenty of water on account of rains and floods or a shortage in the system. Experiences of the 2010 ‘super flood’ and 2011’s heavy rains are still fresh in their memory. Our irrigation system’s infrastructure is in bad shape. Canals are heavily silted and unable to carry water as per their designed capacity. Great technological advancements have been made in the water sector but the province has not benefited from these. We don’t even have the advantage of the telemetry system that provides accurate information about flows as it remains almost dysfunctional.

Weak water governance remains the fundamental issue. Efficient use of available water resources, solution of structural flaws and strict regulation are perhaps not amongst the priorities of the government, regardless of the fact that we are a water-stressed country.

Water resources will shrink if climate change warnings are anything to go by. Do we want to remain in a state of denial? It is depressing that water is released downstream Kotri and still cries of water shortage are heard. It’s time for Sindh to put its own house in order.

The writer is a senior reporter of Dawn.

dawnhussein

Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2014

An obituary of change

Babar Sattar

IF it comes down to individuals here are the choices: revolutionary leaders who incite violence, provoke disciples to attack symbols of the state’s civilian authority, scramble to seek the army chief’s patronage in the thick of night, beaming; a prime minister who seeks his army chief’s protection but lacks the courage to acknowledge it and whose inability to govern and lead stands exposed by protesters holding Islamabad hostage; and the reluctant arbiter, the guardian angel, saviour-in-chief and responsible statesman, our army chief.

IF it comes down to individuals here are the choices: revolutionary leaders who incite violence, provoke disciples to attack symbols of the state’s civilian authority, scramble to seek the army chief’s patronage in the thick of night, beaming; a prime minister who seeks his army chief’s protection but lacks the courage to acknowledge it and whose inability to govern and lead stands exposed by protesters holding Islamabad hostage; and the reluctant arbiter, the guardian angel, saviour-in-chief and responsible statesman, our army chief.

Who wins and who loses? Infighting politicos stand discredited and the khakis empowered. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri joined hands to suck all legitimacy out of vital civilian institutions: the executive, judiciary, parliament and Election Commission. These institutions can proffer no solutions to Pakistan’s problems, we are told. The solution? Throw out the PM, then let these institutions initiate reform and begin to perform under able khaki oversight.

Why is democracy on the ventilator yet again? Because the second choice of every politico eager to grab power is still the army, the first being obvious.

Within PML-N’s question as to why revolutionaries have suddenly shown up in Islamabad and demanded the PM’s head is the insinuation that strings are being pulled from behind. If the khakis orchestrated the marches to teach Nawaz Sharif a lesson for trying Musharraf and relishing disparagement of the ISI’s good name by traitor Geo, they could want one of three things: rendering Sharif impotent, then letting him subsist at their mercy; installing a friendly set-up amenable to khaki control; or bringing things to a boil and intervening directly.

If the khakis were prompting the ‘revolution’, would you seek their chief’s help to dissipate it? You could, only if you believed that the ultimate aim of the prompting is to bleed you to impairment but not death, and had made your peace with remaining PM in a debilitated state under khaki protection. Or because you have learnt nothing from history, your own spat with Musharraf or the exhibition of khaki power these past few months, and still believe that you can rely on the military to subdue political opponents.

During the 1990s, PML-N relied on the khakis to fix everything from reviving Wapda and cleaning up canals to establishing military courts. It seemed at it again when it reached out to the army chief to pull Khan’s and Qadri’s ears. If the khakis were the scriptwriters of the current mayhem, would a sane government seek their help and in the process alienate parliament whose support was keeping the government afloat?

Then there is Khan holding forth on his container narrating how he pleaded with the army chief that Sharif, who accepted money from the ISI to win an election back in the early 1990s, was completely untrustworthy. The irony of an ex-army chief having reportedly put together the IJI and the Supreme Court having indicted him and an ex-ISI chief in the Asghar Khan case for their role in distributing money to get IJI elected seemed completely lost on Khan.

If Khan is the revolutionary who will destroy the status quo and instil change, what in his model of pure democracy is the conceived role of the army chief? Should he have rushed to place his demands before our chief security officer if he believes that khakis have no business intervening in politics? Or has he also made his peace with the fact that khaki patronage is the real game-changer without which his revolution would have remained suspended on a container.

How different will the political culture of a revolutionised Pakistan be? Sharif introduced the 14th Amendment under which a party member who disagreed with the party head would stand disqualified. Khan, proud of PTI’s internal party democracy, has threatened to chuck out parliamentarians who disagree with the mighty Khan and are loath to resign. Nawaz Sharif allegedly buys anyone who stands in his way. Khan paints as black and impugns the integrity and reputation of anyone who disagrees with him.

Khan’s prime contribution so far was that he brought an apolitical middle class out of their smug cocoons into mainstream politics and bred hope for change. Now he’s throwing it all away. Over the last month, he has led the core of his loyalists into a frenzied intolerant zone where all civilian state institutions stand delegitimized, where there is no room for disagreement, no patience for due process, no need to back allegations with proof and no value attached to the dignity and reputation of others.

Khan’s recent politics has polarised this despondent nation along partisan lines to breaking point. So effective is the revolutionary hypnosis that even PTI leaders as gifted as Asad Umar have suggested that with testimonies as weighty as those of Afzal Khan presented during media trial, what is left to prove. While reasons for removing the evil Nawaz are on repeat every evening, not a word is uttered about how Pakistan is to be reconstructed post-revolution.

The revolutionaries did not have the numbers to overwhelm Islamabad. The dharna couldn’t continue forever. Relying on the government to make mistakes under pressure, the breakthrough came when Sharif handed the reins to the army chief. The revolutionaries then created a spectacle, with full knowledge that use of force will deliver what their obdurate demands failed to: public sympathy. Mobs can certainly overthrow governments. But they can’t instal desirable ones. It will be a miracle if Sharif survives. But even bigger miracle will be if the no-holds-barred Imran Khan is allowed to rule by the khakis.

This is what return of praetorianism looks like. Gen Raheel Sharif is in charge now. With the khakis having emerged yet again as arbiters of last resort and the ultimate saviours, the subservience of the de jure system to the de facto system is complete. As Khan and Qadri fell over one another excited at being granted an audience with the chief, someone perceptively quipped on Twitter, “funny, how closely this ‘Naya Pakistan’ resembles purana Pakistan”.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

An early post-mortem

Umair Javed

BY the time this piece goes into print, we may or may not be closer to a resolution of this multi-week long crisis in Islamabad. Barring further twists — in what’s been a truly sordid tale — now is as good a time as any to pick up the carcass of Pakistan’s politics for a dispassionate post-mortem.

BY the time this piece goes into print, we may or may not be closer to a resolution of this multi-week long crisis in Islamabad. Barring further twists — in what’s been a truly sordid tale — now is as good a time as any to pick up the carcass of Pakistan’s politics for a dispassionate post-mortem.

PML-N-Nawaz Sharif: As the ruling party, and one with a comfortable majority, a portion of the blame has to fall on their shoulders for their mismanagement and long-term (non)strategy. Some mistakes were made very early on in their term — chief amongst these was their continuous indifference to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s allegations of electoral malpractice.

Legally, the government was, and still continues to be on solid ground. They had no authority to ‘open’ the four constituencies. The most they could have done was amend the relevant piece of legislation that expanded the role of the Election Commission of Pakistan vis-à-vis the election tribunals. However, this was not done, and Imran Khan’s ire eventually culminated in street engagement.

A large part about being in government means going over and above what is formalistic and legal, and exhibiting the requisite amount of political nous. This could have been done by setting up committees and commissions six months earlier in an act of magnanimity, rather than as a way of staving off protesters besieging parliament.

The second mistake made was overreacting in front of Tahirul Qadri, and his scripted threats. By launching an anti-encroachment drive at 2 am, just a short time before his impending arrival, and then using live ammo in broad daylight, the government left itself totally vulnerable. In this process, they lost not just moral authority, but also legal standing. The FIR should have been registered long ago, and Shahbaz Sharif should have done the politically wise thing of offering himself up for investigation.

Finally, the third mistake was invoking the army for arbitration without taking the rest of the Assembly into confidence, and then appearing to lie about it on the floor. It doesn’t matter if the protesting parties requested the army, or whether it was a forced in-house manoeuvre. Not only did this make for bad optics for the government, it also made parliament look inconsequential in front of the military establishment.

PTI/Imran Khan: Irrational brinkmanship, maximalist positions, unnecessary posturing, derogatory language, continuous shifting of goal posts. The charge sheet against Imran Khan is considerably longer, and it remains to be seen whether he achieves his goal of becoming electorally relevant in Punjab again. The price for all this was a secession of civilian executive space to the military, widespread mud on the faces of the civilian leadership in general, and most of all, delegitimisation of an electoral process, and a sitting prime minister, with no concrete evidence.

The disinformation campaign run by PTI on the rigging issue, and its claims of what the government ‘could’ do, will go down in history as one of the most successful PR stunts of all times. There was no attempt to build any parliamentary support for electoral reforms; no attempt to rope in other aggrieved parties into a more united front. It was a one-man, one-cult show, carried out through the only route familiar to them — street politics, faux-bravado, and open-air concerts.

For all his talk of improving democracy, Imran and his party have shown a phenomenal disregard for the parliamentary system. No one will disagree that street agitation makes for good strategy when those in charge aren’t listening. But once they’re forced to listen, once when you have their attention, that’s the time to come across as someone invested in the system. Not someone who’s out to settle a personal score through ridiculous, legally untenable positions.

PAT/Qadri: A part played out to perfection. Just enough turmoil was created, helped in no small part by the government’s use of indiscriminate violence. Their demands for an FIR were completely legitimate and enough cause for protest. Everything else, though — the disregard for the electoral system, the over-the-top speeches, and the many deadlines and ultimatums — made Qadri look like the imported, remote-controlled revolutionary that he is. Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but if the future is kind to those fighting for democracy and civilian supremacy, his role in this should be recorded as a particularly nasty footnote.

The military: Some say the entire fracas in Islamabad was done at the behest of an annoyed military. While there is merit in the argument — given how an overreaching Nawaz had to be cut down to size over India, Musharraf and Geo — there is also a great deal of ‘confluence of interest’ between all those against the government. Imran Khan’s invocation of the army as an umpire or leverage over the government was fairly strong proof of this convergence.

The fact of the matter is that what will come out of this is the same old discourse around civilian politicians — that they’re corrupt, venal, and prone to conflicts that destabilise the country. Scant attention will be paid to how much of this may have been provoked, and how, in reality, the military and its clients cultivate the narrative of civilian failure as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The government will be blamed for a lapse in civil-military relations, and for failing to retain the democratic gains made (by them and others) over the past six years. However, this is a realist position, which assumes no space for what is morally correct and what is legal. It only has room for crass power politics between de facto hierarchies. What many here want though is the time when what is constitutionally mandated is finally accepted not as contingent charity, but as a protected right.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

umairjaved

Twitter: @umairjav

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Targeting journalists

Huma Yusuf

THANKS to political events, in recent months, the narrative about the media in Pakistan has come to resemble the one about politicians: corrupt, compromised and not worth championing. Too much is said about the media’s role in supporting vested interests or furthering various political agendas in exchange for bribes. Not enough is said about the good work journalists are doing to improve accountability.

THANKS to political events, in recent months, the narrative about the media in Pakistan has come to resemble the one about politicians: corrupt, compromised and not worth championing. Too much is said about the media’s role in supporting vested interests or furthering various political agendas in exchange for bribes. Not enough is said about the good work journalists are doing to improve accountability.

The killing last week of journalists Irshad Mastoi and Ghulam Rasool Khattak of the Online International News Network in Quetta, along with their network’s accountant Muhammad Younis, should be a reminder that journalists are working enough towards increasing transparency to lose their lives for the effort.

The situation for journalists in Balochistan is particularly extreme: they are targeted from all sides — by the security forces, intelligence agencies, violent extremist organisations, separatist groups, local tribes and even political parties. More than 30 journalists have been killed for doing their job in the province in the past five years.

These killings have a chilling effect. Most journalists do little more than publish the press releases of different organisations and write about apolitical issues such as healthcare service delivery and the weather, avoiding the province’s real issues. But in Balochistan’s complex and hostile environment, even such a benign approach to the profession proves fatal as rival groups use violence as a way to ensure greater access to column inches and the airwaves.

The impact of the brutal slaughter with impunity of journalists in Balochistan — and elsewhere — is felt nationwide. Members of the media community remain cautious, and are forced to take each threat seriously, whether it is issued by a violent group or a prankster, because the potential for it to be realised is so high.

Many colleagues have confessed to taking a break from reporting or toning down their rhetoric after receiving a threat. It doesn’t help that these are more easily and callously delivered than ever before thanks to the ubiquity of social media and email. And because of this long tradition among journalists of self-censorship for the purposes of self-preservation, much remains unsaid, unexplored.

Each time a journalist is killed, the media reacts hysterically, demanding justice and protection. The Balochistan Union of Journalists (of which Mastoi was secretary-general) last week demanded that a commission investigate the two journalists’ killings and suspend police officers connected with the case. But no one actually expects anything to happen — we all know the sad truth that journalists in Pakistan can be killed with impunity.

Not a single person has been put on trial for killing a journalist in Balochistan. And nothing has come from Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch’s announcement in January that his government would launch a judicial inquiry into journalists’ killings in the province. The national picture is no better: hardly anyone has been convicted of killing a journalist, and the one high-level inquiry into Saleem Shahzad’s killing that did take place identified no culprits, and was widely dismissed by the media community as a cover-up.

Journalists under threat are left with little recourse. The best many can do is make the threats they receive public by sharing them with colleagues and on social media — just last week, I received such a message from a friend at a news organisation that has been targeted by the TTP. But this is not a protective measure. It is a terrifying form of fatalism, akin to saying ‘I can do little to protect myself, but in the event something happens perhaps you can help uncover who did it, and try and advocate for justice’.

The government’s repeated failure to properly investigate journalists’ killings or provide protection for media groups is not merely another example of poor governance. It is a scathing indictment of the political elite’s commitment to democracy.

There have been so many histrionics about the sanctity of democracy in recent days, and following military intervention in the Islamabad impasse, our political leaders have outdone themselves bemoaning the betrayal of the civilian consensus to uphold democracy. But the persistent issue of impunity for journalists’ killing reveals all this sound and fury as signifying nothing. Media freedom is a fundamental tenet of a functioning democracy, and those who make no effort to guarantee it should not pretend to have democratic credentials.

When the dust settles in Islamabad and the military brokers some form of political agreement — supposedly in the name of protecting democracy — perhaps the powers that emerge from the fracas can show that we didn’t listen to shrill speeches about democracy for more than a fortnight to no avail. They can start by launching an investigation into the murders of Mastoi and Khattak, and all those who have come before.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

huma.yusuf

Twitter: @humayusuf

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Rules of debate

Hajrah Mumtaz

IN the slippery fish that is the politics of Pakistan, the one thing that is evident is that not enough of the players think before they speak, or bother to weigh the merits of the course of action they are considering. Several veneers have been stripped away over the past fortnight, and several half-hidden realities have become obvious — none of which are pleasant.

IN the slippery fish that is the politics of Pakistan, the one thing that is evident is that not enough of the players think before they speak, or bother to weigh the merits of the course of action they are considering. Several veneers have been stripped away over the past fortnight, and several half-hidden realities have become obvious — none of which are pleasant.

Over and above the very many distasteful spectacles that we’ve had to suffer over the past couple of weeks, since the marches of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri descended on Islamabad, consider just that of language.

Rhetoric for the sake of playing to the gallery is one thing, but there has been no shortage of occasions when these two men have descended into idioms of speech and behaviour that cannot be called anything other than downright crass. Where one gentleman spoke of losing his temper and threatened to start punching a police official, the other had children decked out in burial shrouds. And that is not even to bring in some of the worst transgressions against parliamentary debate.

Over this fortnight past, a great many very distasteful insults and accusations have been hurled about: A is corrupt, B is craven, C is a liar; X is a boot-licker, Y a traitor, Z a paid-for tout. And, shamefully, this sort of behaviour has been indulged in by members of several political parties. True, tensions have been extremely high. But is that any reason for people — leaders and would-be leaders, no less — in the public eye to so grossly forget the most basic norms of civilised behaviour?

Yet why should we single this fortnight out as the time when the rules of public debate were thrown to the winds? It’s true that the language and behaviour put on display recently has been quite shocking. But it cannot be denied that the game of politics in Pakistan has for a very long time, if not always, resembled more closely a bar-fight than a group of men and women working out the future course of a country.

Even so, there is reason to reflect that it is not just political figures that have been speaking irresponsibly. In the journalists’ community, for example, it is saddening to see professionals taking sides in the social media, which is a public sphere, and bad-mouthing (even name-calling) the men and women on whom they report as part of their jobs.

In terms of certain sections of the media, it was already suspected that the veneer of impartiality and objectivity was exactly that: a veneer. Now, it is so much more obvious that political influences and ideologies may well be compromising reportage and commentary.

This adds to the cloud that already hangs heavily over certain sections of the media. For many years now, it has become routine — particularly on television — to see shows allowing themselves to be used as platforms from which political personalities hurl allegations at each other, almost always unsubstantiated. Anchor-persons watch as mud is slung about, sometimes even participating, since the greater the drama, it is felt, the greater the viewership.

Such behaviour on part of people who shape public debate — the political classes and the media — is more than just distasteful or unprofessional: it is dangerous. With every clod of mud and with every instance of partisanship, the quality of discourse in the country about deeply crucial matters deteriorates and, worse, the citizenry at large becomes that much more used to not bothering to look beyond the smokescreen, to not making an assessment based on analysis and facts, and to taking an allegation as proven evidence.

These are just the most evident aspects of irresponsible discourse and behaviour that are generally an unsavoury and increasingly en­­trenched characteristic of society as a whole. For good reason are there laws and norms in much of the world, Pakistan included, pertaining to slander and defamation. Why aren’t these norms followed here?

To my mind, it is because politics in Pakistan — much like the traffic on the roads — has been allowed to become such a free-for-all that the most basic of regulations of civility and civilisation have been forgotten.

But in doing that, the risk of further freefall becomes greater. No society can flourish without agreed-upon parameters that must not be breached. The one on which everything else depends is responsible speech and action.

A righting of the course has to come from the same place as that where it is most evident: the top. Can those in positions of power, whether politically or because of their role in fuelling public debate, be induced to behave with more maturity? Unhappily, no one can achieve this other than the personalities themselves, driven by their own conscience.

The writer is a member of staff.

hajrahmumtaz

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2014

Enemy at the gate

Munir Akram

WHILE Pakistan’s squabbling politicians have paralysed the nation’s capital in a naked power struggle, the emerging threat to the country from across the border has been almost completely ignored.

WHILE Pakistan’s squabbling politicians have paralysed the nation’s capital in a naked power struggle, the emerging threat to the country from across the border has been almost completely ignored.

The peremptory cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks by New Delhi — on the flimsy excuse that Pakistan’s high commissioner met the Kashmiri Hurriyat leaders — is but one danger signal.

This was preceded by the belligerent remarks against Pakistan by the incoming Indian army chief; the statements by Prime Minister Modi in Jammu and Leh (in India-held Kashmir) that Pakistan has lost the ability to fight India conventionally and is thus resorting to terrorism; and the simultaneous outbreak of ceasefire violations along the Line of Control in Kashmir. Even India’s past enthusiasm for trade and ‘people-to-people’ exchanges with Pakistan has waned in recent weeks.

It is now clear that Modi’s invitation to Pakistan and other South Asian leaders to attend his ‘inauguration’ was mostly a public relations exercise rather than a shift in India’s strategic thinking.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in Modi’s swearing-in ceremony and the honeyed sentiments exchanged on that occasion created the illusion in Islamabad that the prospects for normalisation with India had been enhanced by Modi’s election. The long-standing ‘tradition’ of Pakistani leaders meeting Kashmiri leaders while in New Delhi was broken, creating a new ‘benchmark’ for India’s conditions for talks with Pakistan.

Some naïve officials in Pakistan’s foreign ministry — drawing comparisons with Nixon’s opening to China — even opined that a hard-liner like Modi was more capable than the then outgoing Indian Congress government of making the compromises required to resolve outstanding issues with Pakistan.

Hopefully, realisation has dawned on these officials that peace is not about to break out with India. On the contrary, the danger of confrontation and conflict is now clear and present. India’s aim remains to neutralise Pakistan as a regional military and political rival at the negotiating table or by other means.

There are several reasons why the gloves have come off now in New Delhi.

First, Modi’s promise of Indian economic revival is proving difficult to deliver. His first budget failed to curtail India’s crippling subsidies, raise revenues or introduce the economic reforms required to attract investment. Government finance is unavailable for essential infrastructure projects. Populist and nationalist barriers to trade and investment have not been dismantled.

In the absence of instant economic nirvana, the Bharatiya Janata Party government has fallen back on its fundamentalist Hindu stance to retain the support of its core constituencies. An aggressive posture towards Pakistan is an integral part of the BJP’s ideology.

Unfortunately, Western pandering also appears to have encouraged the Modi government to adopt a more belligerent policy towards Pakistan. The communiqué issued after US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to India contained American endorsements of several Indian foreign policy objectives, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and the equation of the pro-Kashmir Lashkar-e-Taiba — which is also banned in Pakistan — with Al Qaeda.

India has been offered access to the entire American arsenal; and is also encouraged to assume a larger role in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean. The West studiously refrains mentioning the Kashmir dispute or India’s well-catalogued human rights violations.

New Delhi’s revived hard line is also linked to the current political turmoil in Pakistan. On the one hand, India does not want to invest politically in a beleaguered Islamabad government whose shelf life may be short. On the other, it sees the internal turmoil as an opportunity to intensify pressure on a divided and rudderless Pakistan

Having taken the turn towards a hard line, India’s belligerence is likely to be manifested across a broader front. While Pakistan can live without talks with India, three areas of possible Indian action deserve special attention.

The first among them is, of course, Kashmir. Apart from putting down any remnants of the Kashmiri insurgency, the BJP’s strategic aim is to neutralise Kashmir’s Muslim-majority status. The principal purpose of abrogating Article 370 of the Indian constitution will be to enable Hindu ‘migration’ to Kashmir. Pakistan and the Kashmiris must mobilise to prevent this.

India’s military build-up and deployments are also cause for serious concern. Will these enable it to execute its Cold Start doctrine or to intervene against Pakistan? How will it respond to Pakistan’s larger deployment of theatre nuclear weapons? What is implied by the proposed ‘update’ of India’s nuclear doctrine?

Pakistan will also need to monitor India’s desire for a larger role in Afghanistan and neutralise the threat of a two-front conflict or enhanced subversion fomented from Afghan territory. The recent ‘declaration of independence’ by Brahmdagh Bugti and a couple of other Baloch tribal leaders just as Indo-Pakistan tensions were escalating was not accidental.

The Pakistan government is obviously ill prepared to respond to the present or putative threats from India. The shenanigans of Pakistan’s political leaders have intensified the external threat.

Recent events in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine illustrate how easily states can be destabilised and divided if their domestic schisms are allowed to spin out of control. Pakistanis should remember how in 1970 the political ambitions of rival political leaders led eventually to civil war and India’s military intervention to break Pakistan. As is oft stated, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

Democracy is no doubt the most desirable form of government. But, as so widely witnessed across the developing world, elections do not a democracy make. True democracy is more about building consensus among diverse interests and groups within a nation. Obviously, Pakistan’s political leaders have not yet learned the art of accommodation, compromise and consensus.

Despite the fears expressed about a military takeover, the Pakistan Army has been called on by the civilian leaders to mediate between them. Simultaneously, it must combat an internal and externally sponsored insurgency, and defend Pakistan’s frontiers from the enemy at the gate.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

When failure is victory

Cyril Almeida

TO understand them, there’s just two dates you need to know: 1971 and 1977.

TO understand them, there’s just two dates you need to know: 1971 and 1977.

In 1971, the Pakistan Army contrived to lose half of Pakistan. In 1977, the Pakistan Army was back running Pakistan.

Six years was all it took. And if 1971-1977 happened, what’s 2008-2014? Nawaz didn’t stand a chance.

But Nawaz has also helped write his political obituary. Twice now he’s been called a liar.

First, it was the Musharraf promise: the boys let it be known that Nawaz had reneged on his government’s promise to indict and then allow Musharraf to leave the country.

Maybe the Musharraf promise had been made or maybe it hadn’t. What was alarming was that the boys were quietly letting it be known that they thought they had a deal and the PM double-crossed them.

In essence, the boys were accusing the PM of being a dishonourable man. That’s a perception — correct or incorrect, right or wrong — that you don’t want the boys to have.

It explains what came this week. Briefly, Nawaz himself tried to shift perceptions, to collar Imran and Qadri and stick them in next to the boys.

Immediately, the boys hit back. This time there were no leaks, no background chatter, no carefully sown doubts.

Sorry, Prime Minister, you’re a liar — it was direct, it was blunt and it’s devastating. You have to wonder if a third time will be necessary.

Why would Nawaz do it? Even if he’s right — he hasn’t lied — and they’re wrong, why would he so casually let such poison flow so freely in so vital a relationship?

Take your pick. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t know better. Or he thinks it will work. None of them really make sense. It also doesn’t matter. The mandate was already dead. Now, Nawaz will survive on sufferance — their sufferance.

You don’t make them out to be liars and stay in control of your destiny. The other thing you don’t do is call them out on their lies.

Nawaz knows plenty of their lies. As does anyone who’s dealt with the boys and dealt with people who’ve had to suffer the boys.

Stories, apocryphal and true, suffice. Just this term, Nawaz has caught them twice. Once, he was told the Taliban were lying, that there were no non-combatant captives.

Then the Achakzai line to Karzai was opened to get the real story from the other side. Nawaz knew he was being dissembled with.

How strong are they? Nawaz knows. He once told the story of the other Pakistan, the one they contrived to lose in 1971.

Nawaz went there, some years ago, and met all the big guns, the fearsome political rivals and the boys in charge there. Each one of them complained about interference and those three letters: I.S.I.

Isn’t it extraordinary? Bitter rivals they are over there, opposing camps, fiercely divided — and yet all speak about our boys and all say the same thing.

Playing all sides against each other in faraway Bangladesh? You’d think everyone has forgotten about Bangladesh, or would like to forget. But that’s our boys: they never forget.

It doesn’t take much to figure out what they can do with home advantage. So many sides, so many angles, so many games, so many Qadris and Imrans — always one bottom line: they stay strong; everyone else stays weak.

But Nawaz keeps quiet. As did Zardari. As do all the civilians. Because to call them out is to invoke a wrath that can bring all your skeletons tumbling out.

And you don’t want your skeletons to come tumbling out.

Where to now? The transition has ruptured. If that wasn’t dismal enough, there’s no one on the horizon who can help put it back on track.

So now we have to go big, to look at epochs and what makes them. There’s two that matter so far.

The boys and their system were forged in the first decade of this country’s existence. Ayesha Jalal in The State of Martial Rule has explained it more convincingly and eloquently than anyone else: in the shadow of the Cold War and in combination with regional and domestic factors, the structure of the Pakistani state was forged.

That’s the edifice, that’s the system, that’s the boys and what makes the boys the boys.

But the boys are in denial. There is a second epoch.

Fast forward to the late 1970s. Three events in quick succession, the meaning and combined effects of which the country has yet to figure out: Zia and his Islamisation; the Shia-Sunni schism reignited by revolution just when petro-dollars were coming into their own; and the Soviets wading into Afghanistan.

The civilians haven’t been allowed to grow, but events — blessed, cursed, events — have grown. Everything the boys are contending with, the big changes they have been forced into stem from those events.

See, one hundred and seventy five thousand troops in Fata fighting Islamist militants.

So change is here, we’re already living it and the boys are struggling to cope. Which means, eventually, either they’ll have to make choices or events will make the choice for them.

When the rupture does come though — when things break apart — it may not be the civilians who will get to collect the pieces and put Pakistan back together; it could be something far uglier.

But that’s the risk. Because Zardari failed, Nawaz is failing and Imran is a failure. But, most of all, because the boys think failure is victory.

That’s what got them from 1971 to 1977. And that’s what’s got them from 2008 to 2014.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, August 31, 2014

Military justice?

Reema Omer

AS the world observed the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Supreme Court faced questions of law that will have far-reaching consequences for whether the hundreds of ‘missing persons’ in Pakistan and their families have a chance to get justice.

AS the world observed the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the Supreme Court faced questions of law that will have far-reaching consequences for whether the hundreds of ‘missing persons’ in Pakistan and their families have a chance to get justice.

Do civilian courts have jurisdiction to try serving members of the military for crimes under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), including human rights violations? If so, once regular criminal courts have assumed jurisdiction, are they obliged to accede to requests by the armed forces to transfer jurisdiction to military courts? These questions before the Supreme Court have roots in the Muhabbat Shah case, which relates to the unacknowledged removal of 35 detainees from a Mala­kand internment centre by security forces.

In December 2013, the Supreme Court held that their removal amounted to enforced disappearance; no law provided cover for the un­­lawful conduct of the armed forces; and the government should act “strictly in accordance with law” against the army personnel responsible. In March 2014, the defence minister lodged FIRs under the PPC for wrongful confinement against army officers suspected of ‘disappearing’ the 35 individuals.

A few days later, however, reportedly on the request of military authorities, the KP administration referred the matter to the military for further investigation and possible trial under the Army Act, 1952.

In response, the Supreme Court constituted a five-member larger bench to consider the scope of civilian courts’ jurisdiction to try serving members of the military for crimes committed under the penal code, including rights violations.

Since Pakistan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2010, all branches of state are bound to implement its provisions. Correspondingly, the court has stressed the importance of incorporating international human rights law and standards into domestic law through judicial pronouncements.

We must therefore look at whether, under international standards, military officials should be tried by military courts when they are accused of perpetrating enforced disappearances.

In light of international law guarantees of trial before independent and impartial courts and the right of victims of human rights violations to an effective remedy, including under the ICCPR, there is growing acceptance that military tribunals are not competent to try gross rights violations or other crimes under international law.

In fact, in enforced disappearances, some international standards prohibit trials of those accused of ordering or participating in enforced disappearances in military or special courts. For example, the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Dis­ap­­pearance stipulates that those responsible for enforced disappearance shall only be tried by ordinary civilian courts, not by any other special tribunal, in particular military courts.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has repeatedly noted that trials in military courts significantly contribute to impunity for enforced disappearances. Following a 2012 visit to Pakistan, the WGEID recommended that suspected perpetrators, including security forces’ members, should only be tried by ordinary courts.

Three key factors must be considered here.

First, where members of the military are implicated, there exists a conflict of interest, as the military acts both as defendant and judge. Military courts, therefore, typically do not satisfy the requirement, including under Article 14 of the ICCPR, that cases must be heard before courts that are independent and impartial, and perceived to be so.

Second, witnesses and victims are often reluctant to testify or participate in proceedings before military tribunals, as they fear possible consequences for speaking about military abuses in front of military officials.

This especially resonates in Pakistan, where witnesses, victims, including family members of forcibly disappeared persons, and their lawyers are frequently subjected to threats, harassment and other victimisation, allegedly by military personnel. If witnesses and victims are reluctant to testify truthfully in such a climate of fear this has an impact on the fairness and effectiveness of the trial.

Third, fair trials before independent, im­partial civilian courts, in which rights of victims, witnesses, and the accused are protected, are more likely to ensure those responsible for enforced disappearances are held to account.

Pakistan’s culture of impunity for rights violations is well documented. Despite credible allegations that hundreds of people have been forcibly disappeared by the security forces, not a single perpetrator has so far been brought to justice.

The Supreme Court has an opportunity to remove a key impediment in holding perpetrators of ‘disappearances’ accountable. One hopes it will make the opportunity count.

The writer is a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists.

reema.omer

Twitter: reema_omer

Hidden curriculum

Mariam Chughtai

IN education, the term ‘hidden curriculum’ refers to indoctrination that occurs implicitly or through outright omission. National ideology, alienating narratives about the ‘other,’ and socio-political attitudes are cemented through hidden curricula. But beyond the educational triad of ‘textbooks, teaching, and testing’, the civic area where the hidden curriculum operates most effectively is national holidays when, regardless of participation, every citizen understands what is being celebrated and why.

IN education, the term ‘hidden curriculum’ refers to indoctrination that occurs implicitly or through outright omission. National ideology, alienating narratives about the ‘other,’ and socio-political attitudes are cemented through hidden curricula. But beyond the educational triad of ‘textbooks, teaching, and testing’, the civic area where the hidden curriculum operates most effectively is national holidays when, regardless of participation, every citizen understands what is being celebrated and why.

Most recently, in the United States, the hidden curriculum of Columbus Day has come under scrutiny as people have begun to question whether American schoolchildren should be celebrating a man who is supposed to have plundered, maimed and enslaved innocent men and women, as a ‘hero’.

The very debate over the glorification of Christopher Columbus through a national holiday that subverts and conceals the uglier side of history teaches schoolchildren to critically examine tradition, and to realise that history is, at the very least, controversial.

On the other end of the spectrum are societies like North Korea where the death of their ‘Dear Leader’ produced reports of wailing bears and mourning birds to underscore the narrative of Kim Jong-il’s divinity. His son, the ‘great successor,’ Kim Jong-un’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Called the ‘day of shining star’, gift bags are distributed among schoolchildren glorifying their leader’s ‘accomplishments’. Thus, North Korean schoolchildren learn to associate patriotism, citizenship and reward with a celebration of authoritarian rule and conformity.

The hidden curriculum of Pakistan’s Independence Day celebration has changed drastically over the past three decades. The 14th Augusts of the Zia generation are nothing like the Independence Days of the millennials ie children born in the 21st century.

During PTV’s monopoly of the 1980s, a mere extension of transmission hours was a public gift even though the content was simple and the messaging uniform: war anthems celebrating Pakistan’s glory amidst annual remembrances of the bloodshed of Muslims at the vengeful hands of Hindus. In short, there was a single, unchallenged survival narrative constructed around external existential threats as perceived by the guardians of the state.

This Independence Day, however, the singular message transmitted under the military dictatorship of the 1980s is unrecognisable in the dizzying yet refreshing fray of political struggles. Millennials hear terms like haqeeqi jamhoriat, jamhoori haq, aeeni baladasti, pur-aman ehtijaj, and civil nafarmani — true democracy, democratic right, constitutional supremacy, peaceful protest and civil disobedience — words that were barely whispered in the singular, stagnant narrative that characterised the 1980s.

Moreover, a state that has historically defined itself in the negative, ie what we are not (for instance, Hindus, Western etc) as opposed to what we are, finds no mention of India, the US or Zionism in a 24/7 multi-channel media debate over what kind of Pakistan we are striving for. The hidden curriculum this Independence Day is less about the enemies that have defined us in the past and more about the values which will define us in the future.

Despite the absence of a debating culture in the classroom, our children are auditioning arguments, disagreements, and deliberation on politics on a daily basis. At the very least, they are exposed to the differences between belligerence and reason, hyperbole and logic, violence and dialogue.

They witness how certain personalities employ humour and charisma, as opposed to brute force and authority, to make a point; and all this, across a variety of shows on basic cable. Until 1990, many of us couldn’t even change the channel.

Today, the government and opposition alike are investing in their vote bank; the inherent messaging, the hidden curriculum, is that the power is with us, the people. It is this hidden and, perhaps, inadvertent curriculum that ensures the norms of citizenship and political participation of the millennials will be radically different from that of the Zia generation.

Some might argue for a simpler time, when the risk of ‘confusing’ our young was mitigated in exchange for a safer, more stable Pakistan. But there’s a fine line between superficial stability and slavish subservience. When concerned parents rallied against the teaching of comparative religion in an elite private school, for fear of their children going astray or converting to another religion, they short-changed their children’s potential scholarly courage, an inherently Islamic value, for the highly debauched comfort of ignorance.

Pakistani youth are rejecting overprotective and superficial notions of stability, and redefining the state as a political entity worth saving and celebrating outside the framework of cosmic wars. While religious terms remain inherent to the discourse of change and progress, religion itself is not the headline; corruption, accountability and political legitimacy, are.

The writer is pursuing a doctorate in education at Harvard University.

Twitter: @MariamChughtai

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 31, 2014

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