DWS, Sunday 21st September to Saturday 27th September 2014

DAWN

WIRE SERVICE

DWS, Sunday 21st September to Saturday 27th September 2014

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National News

Blast hits Karachi police convoy

Shazia Hasan

KARACHI: Two passers-by were killed and seven people, including a senior police officer, were injured in a bomb blast here on Thursday.

KARACHI: Two passers-by were killed and seven people, including a senior police officer, were injured in a bomb blast here on Thursday.

The target of the attack was Farooq Awan, SSP, special investigation unit, who had worked against suspected militants in the metropolis, officials said.

He had escaped two attempts on his life in the recent past.

The police officer was on way home in Defence Society from his office in Saddar. When his convoy reached Khayaban-i-Momin, near Saudi Consulate in Phase IV, around 50kg of improvised explosive device planted in a parked vehicle was detonated through remote control, said Karachi South DIG Barrister Abdul Khalique Shaikh.

The SSP’s bullet-proof vehicle and a police mobile were badly damaged in the explosion. Since the blast hit left side of the vehicle and the officer sat on the right, he suffered only minor injuries, the DIG said, adding that Mr Awan himself drove the vehicle.

Two policemen in the accompanying mobile van and four passersby, two women among them, were injured in the incident. There was no gunman in SSP’s vehicle.

The wounded were taken to the Jinnah Post-graduate Medical Centre, where Abdul Ghafoor died, said Dr Seemin Jamali, head of emergency at the JPMC. The victim was travelling in a car and died after splinters hit him.

Another injured, Kaleem­ullah, died during treat­ment. He worked for a fast food restaurant and was going to deliver burgers in the area.

Policemen Syed Rehan and Sartaj and passersby Musarrat, Mehwish, Ishtiaq and Ayub were admitted to the hospital.

Dr Jamali said the condition of Mr Sartaj was critical as he had sustained multiple wounds in his head caused by pellets used in the blast.

SSP Farooq Awan was admitted to a private hospital, where he is stated to be out of danger.

“The senior police officer might have been targeted by suspected militants because he had worked against them,” said DIG Abdul Khalique Shaikh.

The CID police’s counter-terror unit chief, Raja Umer Khattab, believed that the banned Jundullah, which has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, might be involved in it.

He said earlier the murder of Ali Akbar Kumaili, son of prominent Shia scholar and former Senator Allama Abbas Kumaili and a grenade attack on 15-Madadgar police at Nursery on Sharae Faisal in Karachi were also reportedly claimed by Jundullah.

Mr Khattab, who had worked on high-profile terror cases, said Jundullah had been ‘reactivated’ after a gap of about one-and-a-half years in the city.

He said a CCTV camera showed that an obese man wearing Shalwar Kameez, with a cap on his head, had parked a vehicle laden with explosives at the scene of the blast at 9:03pm. As soon as the man, who appeared to be disabled, left the area the blast took place at 9:07pm.

Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebu told reporters at the scene that judging by the crater, it didn’t look like a collision between two vehicles. “And since there are no body parts lying around, this cannot be called a suicide attack,” he pointed out.

Meanwhile, IG Sindh Ghulam Hyder Jamali has set up a team, led by the AIG Karachi, with the DIG South and the DIG CID as its members, to investigate the incident.

Scene of attack: The dark path leading to the blast site was strewn with shards of glass and leaves and branches of a tree.

Police had blocked the road at the Saudi consulate turning, but one could still reach the site by driving ahead on Khayaban-i-Hafiz and reach the water pump near gate five of the Gizri graveyard. There was chaos some 15 minutes after the blast that was also heard from far.

“See these are parts from a car chassis,” one constable with a torch told Dawn. But where was the car? He only shrugged in reply gesturing ahead.

A motorcycle lay on the road with a black food delivery box, with ‘Hanifia Hunter Beef’ printed on it lying nearby. There was blood all around it. Someone said that it belonged to the delivery boy who lost his life in the attack. “Poor man, what had he ever done to anyone?” someone wondered aloud.

Another speculated that the delivery boy might have been a suicide bomber who rammed SSP Farooq Awan’s car. But someone quickly corrected him to point out that he was an innocent victim, just going about his job.

The white double cabin pick-up belonging to the SSP was badly damaged but not destroyed. “It was bullet-proof and armoured so the SSP survived,” said an eye-witness.

Another eye-witness said: “I was close by and my heart almost stopped beating when I heard the blast. It was very loud and I saw one of these,” he pointed towards the two damaged vehicles, “fly in the air and hit the tree here. Look at the billboard outside the graveyard, pieces from the cars hit the billboard too,” he said pointing then to the huge tattered billboard up ahead.

The road and houses were all enveloped in darkness. Someone pointed out that some people in a house at the corner might have sustained minor injuries.

“It was near our place. Yes, we are all fine, thank God!” said another gentleman speaking to someone on his cellphone while getting into his car.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Prison guard shoots blasphemy accused inside Adiala Jail

Aamir Yasin

ISLAMABAD/RAWAL­PINDI: A prison guard at the Adiala Jail shot and injured on Thursday a 71-year-old British-Pakistani man impri­soned over blasphemy charges.

ISLAMABAD/RAWAL­PINDI: A prison guard at the Adiala Jail shot and injured on Thursday a 71-year-old British-Pakistani man impri­soned over blasphemy charges.

The injured man, who is said to have a history of mental illness, is being treated at a hospital in the garrison city and is reportedly out of danger. However, he has been moved to a separate ward to ensure his safety.

Adiala Jail Superinten­dent Malik Mushtaq Awan told Dawn that an internal inquiry had been launched to establish how the guard — who was not deputed at the barracks where the blasphemy accused was kept in solitary confinement — managed to get to the victim.

According to the superintendent, eight prison officials, including four officers, had been suspended following the incident and that the jail administration would present its report on the matter on Friday.

According to a senior officer at the prison, the assailant came to the cell block where the victim was being held and managed to convince the guard at the door to let him in, under false pretenses.

The accused spent some time with another prisoner in the same cell block and then, quite suddenly, pulled a 30-bore handgun from his shoe and shot twice at the victim, who was inside his cell at the time.

Raja Rashid, station house officer (SHO) at the Saddar Bairooni police station, told Dawn that a case had been registered against the shooter, who was originally from Chiniot. He said that in addition to the pistol and two magazines with 17 bullets, a dagger was also recovered from the accused guard.

Police officials deployed on guard duty inside prisons are usually prohibited from carrying any weapons. Police say they are investigating how the attacker brought the weapons into the prison.

The victim was immediately taken to the Rawalpindi District Headquarters Hospital, where he was briefly treated in the Intensive Care Unit. The deputy medical superintendent told Dawn that the victim was hit by one bullet, which broke two of his ribs and punctured his right lung.

According to Superintendent (SP) Karamatullah Malik of Rawal Division, police were wary of keeping the injured man at the DHQ’s ICU, because one of the victims of the recent attack on Darul Uloom Taleemul Quran Khateeb Mufti Amanullah was also being treated in the same ward.

Looking to avoid a clash, law-enforcement agencies shifted the injured man to another hospital in Rawalpindi. The victim’s legal team said that his family was now with him at the hospital. Security has been beefed up at the hospital where the victim is currently being treated.

Hospital sources also told Dawn that the British High Commission (BHC) had also inquired after their citizen. A spokesperson for the BHC told Dawn, “We can confirm that a British national has been injured in prison in Pakistan. We are providing consular assistance (to him) and have raised our concerns with the local authorities at the highest level.”

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has formed a four-member probe committee – which includes the Punjab additional home secretary, the inspector general for prisons, the Rawalpindi commissioner and the Rawalpindi police chief – and asked them to present their report within 24 hours.

According to Rawalpindi Commissioner Zahid Saeed, the committee will visit the jail and interview prisoners and police officials who witnessed the incident. “Apparently, this seems like negligence on part of the jail administration,” he said.

According to his counsel, the victim is a resident of Scotland in the UK and came to Pakistan to settle a property dispute.

His opponents managed to get hold of some unsent letters the man had written, where he had allegedly made blasphemous claims. When the victim was in Saudi Arabia for Umrah in 2010, an FIR was registered against him on blasphemy charges and he was arrested on his return to Pakistan.

The lawyer told Dawn that his client had been diagnosed with a mental disorder and had already undergone treatment for a psychological condition in the UK. He said that he had tried to present his client’s medical records during his trial before a sessions judge, but the court had refused to entertain them.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

PTI leaders ‘miss appointment’ with NA speaker

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq was ‘stood up’ on Thursday by members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) who were supposed to verify their resignations in person.

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq was ‘stood up’ on Thursday by members of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) who were supposed to verify their resignations in person.

PTI’s Deputy Parliamentary Leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Dr Arif Alvi and spokesperson Shireen Mazari had been invited by the speaker.

Know more: Hashmi urges NA speaker to accept PTI resignations

However, in keeping with the party’s stance that all 30 resigning MNAs be called to verify their resignations at the same time, the PTI members informed the speaker’s office they would only appear together.

However, the speaker’s day was not completely wasted, as members of an opposition jirga, seeking to negotiate an end to the prevailing political impasse met him in his office.

Jamaat-i-Islami chief Siraajul Haq, the National Party’s Hasil Bizenjo and the Pakistan People’s Party’s Rehman Malik called on the speaker and spent around 40 minutes with him on Thursday afternoon.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Haq said they had come to the speaker to request him not to accept the resignations of the PTI MNAs, since the jirga was still hopeful of a negotiated solution.

“In case the resignations are accepted, the crisis will only deepen. I personally believe that the doors for talks between the government and protesting parties are still open and they can resume dialogue any time,” he said.

Jirga members appeared concerned over a lack of response from all three sides on its proposals.

“The jirga’s proposals are certainly a test for both sides, but the nation expects them to give up false egos and take decisions in the greater national interest,” Mr Haq said.

Responding to a volley of questions, Mr Sadiq said that while he had great respect for the jirga members, he would follow the rules with regard to the PTI’s resignations. Asked what course of action he would take if the PTI didn’t respond to his notices, the speaker said he would “seek advice from the law ministry”.

When asked about Article 64(1) of the Constitution, which states that there is no need for a parliamentarian to personally confirm his/her resignation to the spea­ker, Mr Sadiq referred to a 1976 Supreme Court judgment, whereby the speaker is bound to establish the veracity of a resignation before its formal acceptance.

Talking about the de-seating of a lawmaker who remains absent for 40 consecutive days without leave, the speaker explained that in such cases a motion must be moved in the house and voted on.

Referring to the PTI MNAs’ request to be treated as one group, the speaker quipped, “You want me to create another D-Chowk inside Parliament House?”

However, PTI leaders maintain that the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz was trying to create divisions within the protesters’ ranks and said they had apprehensions about meeting the speaker separately.

Following his meeting with the speaker, the JI chief telephoned Pakistan Awami Tehreek chief Tahirul Qadri and enquired after his health. The PAT chief reportedly thanked Mr Haq for his efforts towards reconciliation between the opposing sides.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Pakistan, India make peace gestures at UN

Anwar Iqbal

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan and India had two exploratory meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday but discussed issues which did not focus on bilateral relations.

UNITED NATIONS: Pakistan and India had two exploratory meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Thursday but discussed issues which did not focus on bilateral relations.

Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s National Security and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz came face to face at the Saarc and Commonwealth foreign ministers’ meetings, raising hopes that the two seasoned politicians could use these opportunities for reducing tensions between their nations.

They met as planned, and also had “a brief chit-chat” at the Commonwealth meeting, but did not hold formal talks. Diplomatic observers at the United Nations, however, see even this minor gesture as “a step in the right direction”, as one of them said.

Know more: No plans for Nawaz-Modi meeting in New York: FO

Foreign ministers from Saarc and Commonwealth nations meet every year on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss a mutually agreed agenda. This year’s agenda included Commonwealth reforms, the post-2015 development goals and improving cooperation within South Asia.

Both Ms Swaraj and Mr Aziz focused on the agenda in their speeches and did meet each other briefly but only to exchange formal greetings.

Speculations about a separate meeting between the two ministers got a boost earlier this week when India’s permanent representative to the UN Asoke Mukerji told the Indian news agency (PTI) that they might “meet” each other at one of these fora.

“There is a meeting of Saarc Foreign Ministers which is scheduled and I am sure our External Affairs Minister will meet” Aziz in the meeting, Mr Mukerji said in response to a question about the possibility of a meeting between them.

Mr Mukerji said the “second opportunity” for the two leaders to meet would be the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ meeting.

“India and Pakistan are both members of the Commonwealth. So the two ministers will be meeting in that format as well,” he said. Ms Swaraj last met Mr Aziz on Sept 12 at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Dushanbe but like New York, they only exchanged pleasantries during a break.

The UN General Assembly created another opportunity for India-Pakistan talks as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi are both attending the session. But officials on both sides have said that there will be no meeting between the two leaders, which led observers to speculate that Ms Swaraj and Mr Aziz could do the talking on their behalf.

India and Pakistan have been involved in a war of words after New Delhi cancelled a Foreign Secretary-level meeting last month after Pakistan’s envoy in India met Kashmiri leaders ahead of the talks.

The Indians say that the resumption of talks depends on Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir. Indian think-tank experts and former diplomats close to the ruling BJP say that if Mr Sharif raised the Kashmir issue in his address to the General Assembly on Friday, India will show no desire to resume the talks.

They argue that by omitting Kashmir from his speech, Mr Sharif can not only reduce tensions but can also raise the possibility of a meeting with Mr Modi, perhaps even during this UN General Assembly.

The Pakistanis, however, argue that Mr Sharif will commit a political suicide if he did so.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Eid on Oct 6

APP

KARACHI: Zilhaj moon was not sighted in any part of the country on Thursday evening. Therefore, Eidul Azha will be celebrated on Oct 6 (Monday), the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee announced on Thursday.

KARACHI: Zilhaj moon was not sighted in any part of the country on Thursday evening. Therefore, Eidul Azha will be celebrated on Oct 6 (Monday), the Central Ruet-i-Hilal Committee announced on Thursday.

A meeting of the committee held here was presided over by its chairman Mufti Muneebur Rehman and attended by its members and experts of the Met Office.

According to Dawn’s Peshawar bureau, people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining Fata areas will celebrate Eid on three different days. Most people in KP will follow the Cen­tral Ruet-i-Hilal Committee.

But Mufti Shahabuddin Popalzai, who heads a controversial private committee in Peshawar, announced that Oct 5 (Sunday) would be the first day of the festival.

On Wednesday night he had said that sub-committees in nine districts of the province had informed the committee that the moon could not be sighted because of cloudy weather.

He, however, said that a committee of Ulema which met at Peshawar’s Masjid Qasim Ali Khan after contacting Ulema in eight districts of the province had decided that Eid would be celebrated on Sunday. Over one million Afghan nationals liv­ing in the province and people in some tribal areas, especially Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, follow Saudi Arabia and they have decided to celebrate the festival from Oct 4 (Saturday).

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Corps commander calls for curbing terror in Punjab, Balochistan

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: A senior military commander called on Wednesday for action against terrorist groups in southern Punjab and Balochistan, saying the successful Zarb-i-Azb operation was not enough to end the terrorist threat in the country.

ISLAMABAD: A senior military commander called on Wednesday for action against terrorist groups in southern Punjab and Balochistan, saying the successful Zarb-i-Azb operation was not enough to end the terrorist threat in the country.

“Terrorism cannot be eliminated without intelligence-based operations throughout the country – particularly in Southern Punjab and Sindh,” Corps Commander Peshawar Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani said while briefing on Zarb-i-Azb at the National Defence University.

The operation in North Waziristan, started in mid-June, is said to be progressing well. The feared blowback that delayed the operation for years, the army says, was pre-empted by about 2,200 intelligence-based operations throughout the country in which about 42 terrorists were killed and another 114 arrested.

Also read: Widening of Zarb-i-Azb operation likely

Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif has already said that these intelligence-led operations would continue.

The Peshawar corps commander appeared to be calling for greater focus of these operations on Southern Punjab and Balochistan and a stronger political backing for these actions.

While extremism is spreading fast in the country, banned organisations have, in collaboration with the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Al Qaeda, established bases in Southern Punjab. The government has turned a blind eye to the problem.

Know more:Jet fighters strike militant hideouts in Tirah

Gen Rabbani hinted that political issues, in addition to capacity problems of civilian law-enforcement agencies, were impeding action against terror groups in Punjab and Balochistan.

He said that although terrorists had so far failed to strike back, the blowback in future could not be ruled out.

The corps commander recalled that political indecisiveness had already delayed Zarb-i-Azb for at least three years.

He said it was agreed in principle that “military means must be politically driven”. This, he maintained, led to delay in start of the operation.

The army, Gen Rabbani said, had been trying to convince the government since 2011 for starting an operation in North Waziristan.

“The nation had wanted to wish away the problem in North Waziristan not realising its gravity,” he said, adding that “had our leaders seen what was coming and taken timely decisions a lot of casualties could have been avoided”.

The corps commander said the military alone had lost over 4,000 men in the fight against terrorism and most of the casualties happened over the past few years.

Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and former military spokesman retired Maj Gen Ather Abbas had earlier blamed ex-army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for the delay in the North Waziristan operation.

Speaking about the country’s diffidence in taking the problem of militancy head on, Gen Rabbani said the army in early years of the war on terror remained undecided about dealing with it.

“For two-three years (at the beginning) the army too remained confused about fighting our own people. Lot of time was wasted then,” he noted.

The army launched the first major operation against the TTP in South Waziristan in 2007.

Talking about the progress in Zarb-i-Azb, the corps commander said a major portion of the tribal agency’s 4,707 square kilometres had been cleared.

He likened the Boya-Degan region of North Waziristan, cleared by military recently, to “Pentagon of Al Qaeda”, which housed the terror group’s communication network and command and control centre.

“Our action has destroyed their system, wherewithal and will to fight,” he added.

He claimed that there was no possibility of return of foreign fighters to the area.

Dispelling a perception that Haqqani network fighters were spared, the general said most of them had left the area before the army went in, but others were targeted and eliminated.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

US drones kill 10 in N. Waziristan attack

Bureau Report

PESHAWAR: US drones struck a hideout in tehsil Dattakhel of North Waziristan Agency in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving 10 people dead.

PESHAWAR: US drones struck a hideout in tehsil Dattakhel of North Waziristan Agency in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving 10 people dead.

Sources said four missiles were fired on the hideout in Lowara Mandi area of Dattakhel along the border with Afghanistan.

The inmates were asleep when the attack happened at around 3.30am and one of the missiles also hit their vehicle laden with arms and ammunition.

They said the hideout was destroyed when the vehicle exploded.

They said US drones kept flying over Lowara Mandi area, 65km west of Miram­shah, long after the attack.

It may be mentioned that most residents of Dhagan, Mohammad Khel, Boya and Manzar Khel have migrated to Afghanistan, apparently because of house-to-house search being carried out in Dattakhel.

The Pakistan Army has been carrying out Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan since June 15.

The sources said that jets and helicopter gunships were pounding suspected hideouts in the area, leaving several militants killed or injured.

Official sources said most of Dattakhel had been cleared of militants and security forces were advancing to other suspected areas.

AFP adds: “US drones fired two missiles each at a compound and a vehicle,” a security official said.

“There are two Uzbeks among the dead militants,” the official said, adding that the vehicle was near the compound when missiles hit it.

Security officials in Bannu and Miramshah confirmed the drone attack and casualties.

The foreign ministry in a statement condemned the drone attack.

“Pakistan regards such strikes as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it said.

“The government of Pakistan also believes that with the decisive action being taken against terrorist elements in North Waziristan, there is no need for such strikes. We, therefore, urge for a cessation of such strikes.”

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Several held in Rangers’ raid on MQM office

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

KARACHI: Rangers raided the MQM office on Abul Hasan Isphahani Road on Wednesday night and picked up several workers, the MQM said.

KARACHI: Rangers raided the MQM office on Abul Hasan Isphahani Road on Wednesday night and picked up several workers, the MQM said.

The incident sparked protest in the area as shops were closed and traffic thinned.

There was no official word about the raid from the paramilitary force.

A police official told Dawn that Rangers had carried out the raid on information about the presence of some suspects at the office and detained some people for interrogation.

MQM’s coordination committee said in a statement that the office of an MPA had been raided and several workers were held.

It condemned the raid and said that about 500 workers, including women, were attending a meeting at the MPA’s office when Rangers raided the place, ransacked the office and detained several activists.

It alleged that the Rangers stopped members of the committee, MNA Muzammil Qureshi and MPA Faisal Subzwari from entering the office.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

PTI, NA speaker stick to their guns over resignations

Khawar Ghumman

But PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi maintains that all 30 members submitted their resignations en masse and, therefore, these should be accepted simultaneously.

But PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi maintains that all 30 members submitted their resignations en masse and, therefore, these should be accepted simultaneously.

Also read: NA speaker to ask PTI members to ‘confirm’ resignations

Meanwhile, media wing of the National Assembly issued on Wednesday a very specific clarification, arguing that under 43(2)b of the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business of the National Assembly, the speaker was bound to personally verify a resigning lawmaker’s intentions.

The rule says: “The speaker receives the letter of resignation by any other means and he, after such inquiry as he thinks fit, either himself or through the National Assembly Secretariat or through any other agency, is satisfied that the resignation is voluntary and genuine, the speaker shall inform the assembly of the resignation: provided that if a member resigns his seat, when the assembly is not in session, the speaker shall direct that intimation of his resignation specifying the date of the resignation be given to every member immediately.”

On Tuesday, the PTI wrote to the speaker asking him to invite them as a group for the verification of their resignations.

In this context, according to the official release from the NA secretariat, the speaker’s office has again asked PTI lawmakers to meet him as per the schedule already agreed upon.

On the other hand, the PTI parliamentary party, following its meeting on Wednesday, has decided not to follow the speaker’s instructions and will stick to its earlier stance, i.e. that no-one will go to the speaker’s office.

However, former law minister and constitutional expert S.M. Zafar told Dawn that there was no need for a personal audience with MNAs, as was being demanded by the speaker’s office. Quoting Article 64(1) of the Constitution, he contended that merely submitting one’s written resignation was more than enough.

Article 64(1) states: “A member of the parliament may by writing under his hand addressed to the speaker resign his seat, and thereupon his seat shall become vacant.” According to the Article 64(2), “a house may declare the seat of a member vacant if, without leave of the house, he remains absent for forty consecutive days of its sittings.”

It is quite obvious, Mr Zafar insists, that the National Assembly speaker can, without any further delay, accept resignations of the PTI lawmakers as per the law.

Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq has urged the speaker to delay accepting the resignations until a mediating opposition has had time to attempt rapprochement between the two opposing sides.

But the PTI leadership claims to have certain apprehensions. “The government lobby is on a mission to create friction within our ranks and are employing every possible tactic to achieve their objective,” PTI chief whip Dr Arif Alvi told Dawn.

“The government has already ‘bought’ three of our MNAs – Gulzar Khan, Nasir Khattak and Mussarrat Zaib – hence, we have every reason to stay on our guard against the PML-N, which has the history of buying people out,” he said when asked if there was a chance that certain party lawmakers could change their decision to resign.

Short of accusing the speaker directly, Dr Alvi said these one-on-one meetings were only meant to put pressure on the PTI lawmakers to change their decision of leaving the National Assembly.

Amjad Mahmood adds from Lahore: The speaker of Punjab Assembly speaker has decided to invite PTI’s MPAs in batches of three and four to verify that they submitted their resignations without any coercion.

In the first stage, Waheed Asghar Dogar, Nabeela Hakim Khan, Malik Taimur Masood and Raja Rashid Hafeez have been asked to meet Speaker Rana Muhammad Iqbal on Monday.

The speaker told journalists on Wednesday that he had received resignations from 29 PTI legislators through the assembly secretary.

Under Article 64(1) of the Constitution, any elected representative may tender his resignation in writing on a plain paper addressed to the speaker.

Citing Section 35 (2-B) of the Punjab Assembly’s Rules of Procedure 1997 and Supreme Court orders, Rana Iqbal said he had been entrusted with the responsibility of satisfying himself that the resignation was not tendered under coercion, particularly if it was sent through some other channel instead of personal appearance before him.

To follow the law and procedure, he argued, he had to invite PTI members to appear before him individually as except a few of them all others had sent their resignations through other channels.

The resignations were handed over by leader of opposition Mian Mahmoodur Rashid, who is also a member of PTI’s core committee, in the presence of media on Aug 27.

MPA Nighat Intisar Bhatti, who recently won a seat from Hafizabad district in a by-election, is yet to tender her resignation. PTI leaders said she was out of the country and would resign after returning home.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Govt calls for debate on poll issue in parliament

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The government has challenged the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to debate the poll-rigging allegations it has levelled against the ruling party, on the floor of the house.

ISLAMABAD: The government has challenged the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to debate the poll-rigging allegations it has levelled against the ruling party, on the floor of the house.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz threw down the gauntlet at a press conference, addressed by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed and Minister of State for Information Technology Anusha Rehman on Wednesday.

The ministers asked the PTI to raise the allegations, one by one, in parliament so the government could respond to them, point by point.

They jeered at the PTI’s claims regarding the recently publicised post-election review report, saying that none of the allegations levelled by the PTI had been endorsed by the report.

The minister said this might be because of their intentions, stubbornness or due to the fact that they had unwittingly become part of an international conspiracy.

Mr Dar, who also heads the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, indicated that the committee’s next meeting would be open to the media. He said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) would respond to the allegations levelled against it on legal and factual bases.

He asserted that isolated cases of irregularities were common in elections held around the world, but the law provided a mechanism to address such complaints.

In addition, the ministerial panel also unveiled their own report against the PTI, much as the protesting party had done days before its march on the capital.

The white paper, entitled ‘Truth behind PTI’s rigging allegations’, was prepared by the PML-N’s election cell and contains point-wise refutations of all the concerns raised by the protesting party.

Talking about the charges of mass rigging in Punjab, the report points out that the PTI left 31 National Assembly seats uncontested and won only 27 seats out of a total 272.

Only 30 losing candidates from the PTI filed election petitions, a mere 11 per cent of the total number of constituencies, of which only 19 were from Punjab.

The report castigates Imran Khan for his demand of reopening four constituencies as a test case, saying that it was purely the PTI chief’s “ignorance of the law” that makes him insist that the government should interfere in the existing mechanism for resolution of election disputes.

The report also clarifies that each vote cast, if not challenged as per the prescribed procedure, was legally valid regardless of whether or not the thumb impression on it could be matched fully for the purpose of authentication with the Nadra database.

It notes that there is no provision in the law that states that an unreadable thumb impression renders a vote bogus or fake.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Five killed in Peshawar suicide attack on FC convoy

Ali Hazrat Bacha

PESHAWAR: A suicide attack targeting a senior military official killed at least five people in a Peshawar Cantonment area on Tuesday.

PESHAWAR: A suicide attack targeting a senior military official killed at least five people in a Peshawar Cantonment area on Tuesday.

The suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden vehicle on Sher Shah Suri Road, not far from the Governor House, Frontier Constabulary headquarters, the Cantonment railway station and the Peshawar Press Club.

“The moving vehicle targeted the convoy of Frontier Corps DIG Brigadier Khalid Javaid who narrowly escaped with a few injuries. An FC soldier, a woman and a passerby were killed on the spot,” the Capital City Police Officer of Peshawar, Ijaz Ahmed Khan said. Two others died in hospital.

The blast destroyed three military vehicles, a rickshaw and a motorcycle and damaged several cars on the busy thoroughfare.

Part of boundary wall of the railways station and windows of nearby houses and Press Club were also damaged. The blast caused suspension of power supply in the area for several hours.

The CCPO said the law and order situation had been under control in the city for several months, adding that the attack was in reaction to the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan.

He said police would further tighten security at the cantonment’s entry points. Cantonment Circle SP Faisal Shehzad said the bomber was driving a white Suzuki car and attacked the FC convoy which was going to Balahisar Fort from Sadar area.

AIG Shafqat Malik, head of the bomb disposal unit, confirmed that it was a suicide attack in which about 45kg explosives had been used.

Artillery shells were also used to add to the impact of the blast.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Information Mushtaq Ghani said the assault was aimed at destabilising the city, adding that the government would deal with the miscreants with an iron hand.

A witness said the blast was followed by firings by FC personnel.

“We tried to help injured people but were prevented from doing so. In the meantime police and security forces arrived there and forced us to lock the gates of our homes on the inside,” some residents of the area said.

Four of the deceased were identified as FC soldier Zareen Afridi of Bara; Saba Gul, resident of Kotla Mohsin Khan; Tahir Khan of Nowshera and Sufyan of Pandu Chowk, Peshawar. The body of the fifth victim was mutilated beyond recognition.

The injured were taken to the Combined Military Hospital and Lady Reading Hospital.

They included Brigadier Javaid, Sharif, Farid, Amin, Sohail, Zarmash, Jamil Shah, Qaiser, Noor Anwar, Alam Zaib, Imdad, Shakil, Bakht Nawaz, Fazl-i-Subhan, Anwar, Zar Khan, Sajjad Hussain, Rizwanullah, Noor Alam, Mohammad Rizwan, Lal Zada, Inayatullah and Imdadullah.

Six of them, who had suffered multiple injuries and undergone surgery, were said to be in critical condition.

According to AFP, the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

NA speaker to ask PTI members to ‘confirm’ resignations

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq will invite Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers in groups of three to verify their resignations and confirm that they are willing to quit the lower house of their own free will.

ISLAMABAD: National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq will invite Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) lawmakers in groups of three to verify their resignations and confirm that they are willing to quit the lower house of their own free will.

The speaker is expected to begin meeting PTI MNAs from Thursday. He is scheduled to meet the party chief, Imran Khan, on Oct 13 to verify his intent to resign.

In response, the PTI wrote to the speaker on Tuesday and requested him “to call us on a single date to verify our resignations” instead of different dates.

Talking to reporters at his office on Tuesday, Mr Sadiq said that for the sake of reconciliation, he had already delayed processing the resignations, which the PTI submitted en masse on Aug 22.

“I again ask PTI Chairman Imran Khan to play his due role and come to parliament which is the real forum to resolve the issues he has been highlighting in his speeches,” the speaker said, adding that he was bound by the rules to accept or reject resignations and could not wait any longer.

During his interaction with the media, the speaker said that he had met the chiefs of various parliamentary parties more than once to discuss the matter of the PTI’s resignations.

To another question, he said the verification process would be completed by Oct 15 and the resignations, if confirmed, would be accepted from the day of their submission, Aug 22.

“Of course, a final decision on whether to accept the resignations will be taken with the consent of the chiefs of parliamentary parties and the speaker is just completing official procedures,” a source in the PML-N told Dawn when asked if the government had made up its mind to de-seat PTI MNAs.

When asked, a senior PTI leader accused the speaker of playing politics. “We in the party believe the speaker just wants to know if some of us are unhappy with their resignations and might stop him from going ahead with the process.” It seemed the government was taking media reports regarding unhappy PTI MNAs seriously, he said.

The PTI leader also said there were chances the speaker would announce the acceptance of resignations on different dates, allowing the Election Commission to conduct by-elections accordingly. This is why the PTI has asked the speaker’s office to invite all party lawmakers on the same date.

Of the 33 PTI MNAs, 30 have submitted their resignations.

Soon after learning of the speaker’s plan to process the PTI’s resignations, Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Emir Sirajul Haq telephoned Mr Sadiq and asked him to delay the acceptance of the resignations to allow an opposition jirga to continue its efforts for reconciliation.

Hoping against hope, the JI chief is leading a six-member team, consisting of opposition parliamentarians, in a bid to defuse the political impasse.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Ordinance planned for recovery of Rs100bn gas cess

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: The government decided on Tuesday to promulgate an ordinance which would legalise recovery of over Rs100 billion in gas development infrastructure cess (GIDC) from consumers after the Supreme Court had held illegal its recovery through the finance bill.

ISLAMABAD: The government decided on Tuesday to promulgate an ordinance which would legalise recovery of over Rs100 billion in gas development infrastructure cess (GIDC) from consumers after the Supreme Court had held illegal its recovery through the finance bill.

Speaking at a press conference, Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said a review petition had been filed against the judgement.

In reply to a question on the occasion, Petroleum Secretary Abid Saeed said that in a nutshell, the apex court had ruled that the GIDC was a fee and not tax and, therefore, it should not have been imposed through the money bill.

Know more: Cess on gas consumers revived

He said the court had not rejected the cess but ruled against it on technical grounds.

Mr Saeed said the government had the power to continue to collect the GIDC as usual under the new ordinance till a final decision by the court on the government’s review petition. If the final verdict is against the government, it will consider protecting the cess through an act of parliament.

The secretary said the law ministry had given its legal opinion to promulgate the ordinance after the court rejected the cess. The government has made a commitment to the Interna­tional Monetary Fund to collect Rs145bn through GIDC this fiscal year.

The petroleum minister said the government had collected Rs84bn GIDC from consumers since 2011 and an amount of Rs22bn was outstanding against the CNG and fertiliser sectors. The total outstanding amount stands at about Rs100bn.

Mr Abbasi said the cess money would be used to lay Iran-Pakistan and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipelines and for LNG imports, LPG price regulation and gas infrastructure.

He said the finance ministry had kept money collected as GIDC under a separate head and would provide to the petroleum ministry on cash call.

“We are moving a summary for disbursement of funds out of the GIDC head for laying gas pipelines, tugs at Gwadar and LNG handling,” he said, adding that a pipeline to transport LNG would be laid from Karachi to the north at a cost of Rs100bn to enhance the pipeline capacity.

The current system can transport an additional 280mmcfd.

IRAN-PAKISTAN PIPELINE: The minister said talks with Tehran on the Iran-Pakistan pipeline project were in progress and dates for the next round of talks were being finalised by the Iranian side.

He said Pakistan could face penalties under the bilateral gas agreement beyond Dec 31 because of its failure to implement the project, but Islamabad had issued a notice of force majeure to Iran because of circumstances that were beyond Pakistan’s control, citing US sanctions on Tehran as an example.

Khaqan Abbasi said a summary was being moved to the Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet for laying an LNG pipeline from Gwader to Nawabshah in Sindh (about 710 kilometres) as an alternative plan. This will leave about 70km of pipeline segment between Gwadar and the Iranian border, which can be constructed immediately whenever international sanctions on Iran are lifted.

He said the plan was commercially viable and Japan, Russia and China had shown keen interest in the project.

GAS THEFT: He said SNGPL was suffering a loss of Rs10bn (4pc) because of gas theft. Out of it, 2.5pc was being lost in bulk in Karak area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said, adding that KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had given in writing that his government had no writ in the area and, therefore, could not extend any help.

“We have planned to launch a Rs8bn project on a cost sharing basis with KP to legalise gas connections in Karak area,” he said, adding that the province had agreed to share the cost.

The minister said a consultant appointed by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) had recommended allowing 7.5pc unaccounted for gas (UFG) but the regulator had rejected it and appointed a new consultant for the purpose.

“We will issue policy guidelines to the regulator to bail out gas utilities,” he said, adding that technology was required to check gas theft because even the law had failed to check the theft.

He said the government wanted to regulate LPG prices and a proposal would be submitted to the Council of Common Interests soon.

Mr Abbasi said that like last year the country would also face loadshedding in winter this year. “If we are able to bring LNG, the situation may be better.”

He said the government would appoint heads of oil and gas companies on the recommendations of their boards of directors.

He said action would be taken against officials of the Oil and Gas Development Company Limited involved in delaying contracts for Nashpa and KPD fields.

He said the government was working on a plan to install separate gas meters at industrial units to have separate rates and another for power generation because textile mills were enjoying windfalls because of cheap electricity generation.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

US, allies open new front against IS, bomb Syria

From the Newspaper

WASHINGTON: The United States and its Arab allies bombed Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of Islamic State (IS) fighters and members of a separate Al Qaeda-linked group, opening a new front against militants by joining Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

WASHINGTON: The United States and its Arab allies bombed Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of Islamic State (IS) fighters and members of a separate Al Qaeda-linked group, opening a new front against militants by joining Syria’s three-year-old civil war.

In a remarkable sign of shifting Middle East alliances, the attacks encountered no objection from President Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government, which said Washington had notified it in advance.

Warplanes and ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles struck dozens of targets including fighters, training compounds, headquarters and command and control facilities, storage sites, a finance centre, trucks and armed vehicles, CENTCOM said.

“I can tell you that last night’s strikes were only the beginning,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, a US Defence Department spokesman, told reporters. The overnight attacks had been “very successful”, he said, but gave few details and would not discuss casualties.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said at least 70 IS fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in the provinces of Raqqa, Deir al-Zor and Hasakah.

It said at least 50 fighters and eight civilians were killed in strikes targeting Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, in northern Aleppo and Idlib provinces.—Reuters

Anwar Iqbal adds: President Barack Obama informed Congress on Tuesday that the United States had started a series of air strikes on Al Qaeda factions in Syria, particularly the group known as Al Khorasan.

US officials say that most Al Khorasan fighters were foreigners and came from the Taliban-controlled areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal region.

In a brief address from the White House, President Obama said that five Middle East countries also participated in attacks in Syria: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Mr Obama also met the leaders and senior officials from these five countries.

In separate letters to the House Speaker and president of the US Senate, Mr Obama said the strikes were “necessary to defend the United States and our partners and allies against the threat posed by these elements”.

Also on Tuesday, the White House National Security Council released a statement from the president of the Syrian opposition coalition Hadi Al-Bahra, saying that since the air strikes alone could not defeat the militants, the US and its allies would continue to train his forces.

The statement reinforces President Obama’s determination to use opposition forces for defeating the extremists, instead of coordinating the air strikes with the Syrian government, which had offered to cooperate with the United States and its allies. The United States had rejected the offer.

In his brief address, President Obama told his nation that US strikes were aimed at eliminating potential terrorist bases in Syria. He also vowed to launch more strikes if needed.

“We will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people.” Mr Obama said before leaving for New York City for three days of meetings at the United Nations, where military action in both Iraq and Syria will be prominent topics.

“The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this is not America’s fight alone,” Mr Obama said. The Arab world and the West faced terrorist threats from the Islamic State and other organisations, he said.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Recruitment ban for federal jobs lifted

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Amid the prevailing political unrest, the federal cabinet moved to pacify the general public on Monday, deciding to lift a ban on government jobs, disburse Rs25,000 to each family affected by floods before Eidul Azha and provide temporary relief to power consumers over-billed last month.

ISLAMABAD: Amid the prevailing political unrest, the federal cabinet moved to pacify the general public on Monday, deciding to lift a ban on government jobs, disburse Rs25,000 to each family affected by floods before Eidul Azha and provide temporary relief to power consumers over-billed last month.

After a meeting of the cabinet, Information Minister Pervez Rashid said at a news conference that the PML-N had banned recruitment against federal jobs because previously government jobs were doled out on political basis and the present government wanted to open employment opportunities on the basis of merit irrespective of political affiliations.

He said the prime minister had decided that all government departments would be free to fill vacant posts independently and a cabinet committee would see to it that the recruitments were made on merit after providing an equal and fair opportunity to all candidates.

The PML-N had followed the same principle in Punjab for induction of educators and policemen and even its worst enemies now camping outside the parliament could not pick an issue with these recruitments, the minister claimed.

FLOOD COMPENSATION: He said a survey for assessment of damage caused by floods to houses, cattle and crops was in progress and the prime minister had ordered completion at the earliest.

He said the cabinet decided to disburse first instalment of Rs25,000 to each family before Eidul Azha. The amount would be equally shared by the federal and provincial governments.

OVER-BILLING: Mr Rashid said the cabinet discussed the over-billing complaints and considered a preliminary report submitted by the prime minister’s special assistant, Dr Mussadik Malik.

He said the cabinet decided to verify the complaints and appoint three reputable audit firms to independently investigate the matter.

He said the prime minister had directed the water and power secretary to appoint three auditors in three days to separately investigate the record of 22 million power electricity consumers for the past one year and submit a report in three weeks.

The cabinet decided to provide relief to consumers who used up to 200 units last month in case their consumption of the same month last year was lower. They would be given adjustment in bills according to consumption of last year. If the bills had already been paid, these would be adjusted next month. The number of such consumers is more than 67 per cent of the total.

Likewise, consumers with more than 200 units, if billed for more than 5pc additional units in July, as compared to same month of last year, will pay for only 5pc additional units at the current tariff.

In both cases, if the additional consumption is verified on physical inspection of meters, the amount would be adjusted in three equal instalments.

The Minister of State for Water and Power, Abid Sher Ali, said the prime minister expressed resentment, anger and disappointment over over-billing. He conceded that in many cases the consumers were billed for 32-33 days instead of normal 30 days due to Eidul Fitr holidays. Electricity theft by the powerful was not possible without involvement of electricity staff, he added.

He said the involvement of lower level officials, like meter readers, in mismanagement was evident. The prime minister ordered an investigation into the matter from top to bottom and hold accountable all involved, he said.

He said the cabinet noted that electricity thieves were being granted bail and directed law departments to pursue the cases in courts.

He said only three thieves had been punished by courts and more than Rs52bn was outstanding against them.

Dr Mussadik Malik admitted having received evidence of over-billing, but said three other factors also contributed to higher billing and public unrest.

He said it had to be accepted that the electricity tariff had increased substantially over the past one year and simultaneously the government had withdrawn the benefit of all slabs.

Moreover, Mr Malik added, the government generated 5-6pc more electricity and brought down loadshedding this year, resulting in a proportionate increase in consumption. “People consumed more electricity and moved to the higher slab.”

He said the staff over-billed the poor in some areas to offset electricity theft by the rich to hide their own involvement.

Mr Malik said he had completed this exercise in seven days and used data pertaining to all distribution companies to reach these cautious findings which obviously had limitations.

Hence it required a complete examination of entire data of all companies over the past one year by independent auditors to conclusively hold how much over-billing was done, in what manner, to whom and how to compensate the affected people.

He said the entire power sector required structural reforms to overcome problems in the long run to generate electricity at cheap rates. He said a programme had been finalised to be implemented within three months in three distribution companies to improve technological meter reading which would be extended all the companies within six months.

He said the government was also considering outsourcing meter reading and billing and at the same time looking into possibilities of installing pre-paid meters.

Mr Pervez Rashid said the cabinet had decided to introduce an ordinance to ensure a minimum wage of Rs12,000 per month.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar new ISI chief

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: The government appointed on Monday Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar as next chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelli­gence (ISI). He will take charge when his predecessor Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam retires on Nov 7.

ISLAMABAD: The government appointed on Monday Lt Gen Rizwan Akhtar as next chief of the powerful Inter-Services Intelli­gence (ISI). He will take charge when his predecessor Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam retires on Nov 7.

“Lt Gen Rizwan will move to directorate general of ISI,” said a brief ISPR statement on the appointment of the new spy chief.

The new ISI director general was named by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on the recommendation of Chief of the Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif in accordance with a set procedure for appointment to this position.

The prime minister and the army chief met following the announcement of the new ISI chief.

Lt Gen Rizwan’s posting didn’t come as a surprise because he was long tipped for this position. Prior to the appointment, he was promoted as a three-star general. Lt Gen Rizwan was previously heading Sindh Rangers as a two-star general.

He was posted as director general of Sindh Rangers in March 2012 and during his tenure he oversaw the Karachi operation that met with mixed results.

Maj Gen Bilal Akbar will replace him as DG Rangers.

Gen Rizwan’s parent regiment is Frontier Force. He remained General Officer Commanding in South Waziristan from 2010 to 2012. His postings in Karachi and South Waziristan provide him a good background in counter-terrorism which is currently the focus of the agency.

Although Gen Sharif picked a relatively younger general to head the premier intelligence agency, he was the most senior among the batch of six two-star generals promoted on Monday.

With Gen Rizwan’s appointment as the next ISI chief and other promotions/postings — most of which were crucial — Gen Sharif is said to be consolidating his position.

But former military spokesman retired Maj Gen Ather Abbas believes otherwise. “It will be wrong to assume that all of the promoted generals were chief’s men, it’s rather an indication of a functioning system. The promotions show that they were made on the basis of merit and performance,” he said.

Other major generals who have been promoted to the next rank are: Maj Gen Mian Muhammad Hilal Hussain, Maj Gen Ghayur Mahmood, Maj Gen Nazir Ahmed Butt, Maj Gen Naveed Mukhtar and Maj Gen Hidayatur Rehman.

Importantly, new postings of the promoted officers were announced the same day to avoid speculations.

Gen Hidayat, the first general officer from Northern Areas, was posted as Corps Commander Peshawar, Gen Naveed Mukhtar as Corps Commander Karachi, Gen Hilal Hussain as Corps Commander Mangla, Gen Ghayur as Corps Commander Gujranwala and Gen Nazir Butt as Inspector General of C&IT Branch at the GHQ.

Most of the newly posted generals will assume their positions upon retirement of their predecessors in October.

This was the second but most significant reshuffle by Gen Sharif after he became the army chief late last year. He looked to be making a fresh start by posting the newly promoted generals to all positions falling vacant in October/November instead of moving some of the senior lieutenant generals in the ranks.

The second aspect of the promotions is that most of the generals bring with them fresh experience of fighting terrorism.

Gen Hidayat has previously commanded brigades in Khyber Agency and North Waziristan. He will take over from Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani who retires on Oct 2.

Gen Naveed Mukhtar was heading the ISI’s counter-terrorism wing. His appointment reflects the army’s desire to concentrate on fighting terrorism in Karachi which is rapidly getting entangled in Taliban and Al Qaeda tentacles.

Gen Mukhtar, before his ISI posting, commanded brigade in South Waziristan and remained posted in operations directorate. He will take over from Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani who retires on Oct 25.

Gen Hilal Hussain will succeed Lt Gen Tariq Khan at Mangla Corps, which is the strike corps. Gen Khan, well known for his contributions in the war on terror, retires on Oct 2.

Gen Ghayur, who as General Officer Commanding in North Waziristan stirred a controversy in 2011 for publicly acknowledging effectiveness of US drones in the fight against militants when the official policy was to condemn the drone strikes, will replace Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz upon his retirement on Nov 20. Gen Ghayur was currently posted as vice chief of general staff.

Gen Nazir Butt has earlier served as commandant Pakistan Military Academy.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

23 killed in air attacks on militant hideouts

Bureau Report

PESHAWAR: Twenty-three suspected militants were killed when military planes bombed their hideouts near Afghan border in North Waziristan Agency on Monday, Inter-Services Public Relations said.

PESHAWAR: Twenty-three suspected militants were killed when military planes bombed their hideouts near Afghan border in North Waziristan Agency on Monday, Inter-Services Public Relations said.

The air strike was carried out at Bangidar in tehsil Ghulam Khan and several hideouts were bombed, said the ISPR statement.

The claim could not be verified from independent sources in the area.

“Twenty-three militants were killed in precise aerial strikes on terrorist hideouts in Bangidar area of Ghulam Khan in North Waziristan,” a security official told AFP in a text message.

The military says the major towns of Miramshah and Mirali have now been cleared of insurgents, along with a strategically important 90km road through North Waziristan.

But scattered attacks on forces in the area continue.

Three constables and a civilian were killed when gunmen attacked a checkpost on Thall road in Hangu on Monday.

An official told Dawn on phone from Hangu that an investigation had been launched into the attack, that took place at around 8.25am.

He said several people were present near the checkpost when it was attacked but they did not provide any information to investigators.

The slain policemen were Shahid Umar, Haji Rehman and Khurram Shehzad and the passerby was identified as Najeebullah.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Sunday, a local leader of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, Maulana Sher Alam Farooqi, was shot dead outside his house in Hangu.

A tense calm prevailed in town.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

PTI suspends Hashmi

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: The Pakis­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) formally charged its president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi on Monday with violating the party’s constitution and sought his personal appearance before its disciplinary committee on Sept 29.

ISLAMABAD: The Pakis­tan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) formally charged its president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi on Monday with violating the party’s constitution and sought his personal appearance before its disciplinary committee on Sept 29.

“This is to notify that in view of your repeated statements regarding the PTI, the chairman has suspended you in accordance with the constitution of the party,” PTI General Secretary Jahangir Khan Tareen said in a letter sent to Mr Hashmi at his home address in Multan Cantonment.

This is the first instance in the country’s chequered political history that the elected president of a party has been suspended and asked to appear before the disciplinary committee.

Stirring up the already polarised national politics, Mr Hashmi had on Aug 30 distanced himself from the PTI ‘Azadi march’ and accused Imran Khan of following the script written by the powers that be. Since then he has launched a relentless diatribe against the party and claims that he is still its president.

According to Mr Hashmi, PTI’s protest movement, which he had supported till Aug 30 and addressed the participants of its sit-ins from the top of a container, has been morphed into an anti-democracy march which he could not support.

Mr Hashmi could not be contacted for his comment on the suspension.

During his 40-year political career, the veteran politician remained associated with democratic parties as well as military dictators but couldn’t develop lasting relationship with any of his patrons. Before joining the PTI, he was a senior member of the now ruling PML-N.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Tareen said Mr Hashmi had ceased to be part of the PTI the day he left the Azadi march. “His formal removal from the party is just a procedural requirement which will be completed in due time.”

RESIGNATIONS: Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq has formally invited for personal hearing 25 PTI lawmakers who had submitted their resignations.

According to a National Assembly spokesperson, six legislators – Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Eng Ali Mohammad Khan, Asad Umar, Arif Alvi, Shireen Mazari and Munazza Hassan – have been asked in the first phase to personally visit the speaker’s office on Sept 25 and 26 for confirmation of their resignations. The five PTI lawmakers whose resignations needed corrections have been asked to submit fresh ones.

Under the Constitution, mere submission of a written resignation is sufficient for the speaker’s office to forward the notification to the Election Commission for further processing. But under the National Assembly rules, the speaker may ask such an MNA to personally confirm his resignation.

The PTI earlier issued show-cause notices to three MNAs who refused to submit their resignations.

The speaker accepted Mr Hashmi’s resignation after he himself announced it on the floor of the house.

At the request of leaders of opposition parties who are trying to negotiate a peace accord between the government and PTI, the speaker has delayed the acceptance of their resignations.

Does this mean the government has now changed its mind?

A source in the PML-N said a decision on the matter would be taken after consultations with the heads of parliamentary parties, adding that most of the parties were in favour of giving the opposition jirga, headed by Jamaat-i-Islami Emir Sirajul Haq, sufficient time to end the impasse between the two sides.

PTI leader Shafqat Mehmood said they had submitted their resignations to the speaker’s office.

The PTI wants the prime minister to go on leave for one month so that a proposed judicial commission could investigate the allegations of rigging in 2013 general elections without any pressure or influence.

But the government insists that under Article 225 of the Constitution, only the ECP can decide on an election petition.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

ECP blames ROs for election mess

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has tacitly held returning officers (ROs) responsible for the mess created in various constituencies in the general elections held last year.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has tacitly held returning officers (ROs) responsible for the mess created in various constituencies in the general elections held last year.

According to a post-election report issued by the ECP, the officers taken from the lower judiciary amended the polling scheme during the last few days before the general elections, causing confusion among polling staff, voters and other stakeholders. They also changed polling staff at the last minute, replacing trained staff with inexperienced personnel.

The ROs were legally responsible to identify and select polling stations. But, the report added, they did not conduct this task themselves.

Know more: ECP official admitted ROs took orders from ex-CJ: Mushahid

District committees which comprised representatives of ECP, civil administration and the education department, identified, selected and verified the list of polling stations.

The ROs, in coordination with district administrations, were responsible to arrange transport for dispatching election material from their offices to polling stations. The report said the transportation facility was not adequate. Since the number of buses hired to deliver material to polling staff did not match the number of stations, delivery was many hours behind schedule.

There was the same problem at the end of polling. Polling staff had to wait for buses, even after completion of their polling duty until the staff at nearby polling stations completed their job. There was not enough space in buses for both polling staff and the material.

Presiding officers were not aware of shortage of election material as they did not check the quantity of material against invoices and came to know about the shortage on the polling day. Most of the polling staff knew nothing about magnetised ink and its purpose, and so used normal inkpads instead of magnetised ones.

In what appeared to be an admission of its failure, the ECP said the election material like voting screens, ballot paper, scissors and pens was of bad quality. The usual practice observed was that electoral block codes with serial number had not been pasted on each polling booth. This created confusion among voters as they had to search for their booths.

Most polling stations were very congested and two to three booths were set up in one small room. The efficiency of polling staff was suffered to high number of voters, cramped space, extremely hot weather and loadshedding of electricity.

Envelopes for packing ballot papers were fewer and smaller than the number and size of papers. Moreover, there was shortage of tamper-evident bags.

According to the report, most of the presiding officers did not properly pack tamper-evident bags and other material. District election commissioner offices did not have adequate storage facility for the election material.

The report said ROs did not take the responsibility for retrieval of election material and DROs and ROs did not take responsibility of missing material.

UNTRAINED STAFF: The report said untrained staff was engaged for tabulation. Mistakes in the Form XIV negatively influenced the result tabulation. ROs used the manual system and result management system (RMS) as secondary mechanism.

The ECP said the introduction of RMS was really a good idea, but there were several flaws in it. Due to certain flaws in the system no result was received from Sindh during the first night after the polls.

The ROs had full authority to accept or reject nomination papers of contesting candidates, but the ECP did not issue specific instructions for undertaking this process. It had been left to the ROs’ discretion. Provisions of Article 62 and 63 of the Constitution were subjective and the application of these clauses varied from one RO to another, causing inconsistencies in the scrutiny process.

The report discloses that many candidates had been cleared without proper verification as a scrutiny cell established in the ECP headquarters did not perform effectively. Many ROs did not receive candidates’ data from NAB, SBP and FBR, or were provided information after the scrutiny process was over.

The handbook for DROs and ROs covered most of the necessary information and guidance for the polling day, but they had been provided with these books very late.

The ROs received their appointment notifications 15 days before the elections and the deadline given for finalisation of the polling scheme had abruptly been shortened.

According to the report, ROs did not have adequate transport to inspect polling stations. Some polling personnel nominated by their departments were not available for duty at the last moment and some of the polling staff who received training did not turn up on the day.

The ECP said some influential candidates managed to get shifted the polling stations of their opponents’ voters to far-flung areas so that they could not cast their vote.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Power-sharing deal signed by Afghan rivals

AFP

KABUL: Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared Afghanistan’s next president on Sunday, hours after signing a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah that ended a prolonged standoff over the disputed result.

KABUL: Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani was declared Afghanistan’s next president on Sunday, hours after signing a power-sharing deal with his rival Abdullah Abdullah that ended a prolonged standoff over the disputed result.

Allegations of massive fraud in the June 14 vote sparked a political crisis as both candidates claimed victory, paralysing the country at a key moment, with US-led troops winding down their 13-year war against the Taliban.

When the long-awaited “unity government” deal was finally signed, Mr Ghani embraced Mr Abdullah briefly at a low-key ceremony in the presidential palace that lasted less than 10 minutes.

Mr Abdullah will become “chief executive officer” (CEO), a role similar to prime minister — setting up a tricky balance of power as Afghanistan enters a new era.

Neither candidate spoke at the ceremony, and it remained unclear when they would address the nation or when the unity agreement would be officially published.

“The Independent Elec­tion Commission declares Dr Ashraf Ghani as the president, and thus announces the end of election process,” commission chief Ahmad Yousaf Nuristani later told reporters.

“During the election process fraud was committed from all sides. That has concerned people.”

In a move likely to trigger complaints over transparency, Mr Nuristani gave no figures for the winning margin, turnout or the number of fraudulent ballot papers thrown out in a UN-super­vised audit that checked every individual vote.

Mr Ghani was widely acknowledged to be on the brink of the presidency after coming well ahead in preliminary results released before the audit began.

Under the constitution, the president wields almost total control, and the new government structure will face a major test as the security and economic outlook worsens.

“Hamid Karzai wishes the elected president Dr Ashraf Ghani and the CEO Dr Abdullah Abdullah success based on the agreement between them,” said a statement from the outgoing president.

The vote count has been plagued by setbacks amid allegations of massive fraud, emboldening the Taliban militants and further weakening the aid-dependent economy.

As tensions rose in Kabul, the United Nations and United States pushed hard for a “unity government” to avoid a return to the ethnic divisions of the 1990s civil war, which ended with the Taliban taking power in 1996.

A ruling coalition between opposing camps is likely to be uneasy.

Mr Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter and foreign minister, draws his support from Tajiks and other northern ethnic groups. Mr Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, is backed by Pashtun tribes of the south and east.

“There will be two powers in the government, and it will be very difficult for them to work together,” Sediq Mansoor Ansari, an analyst and director of the Civil Societies Federation, said.

“I think the people of Afghanistan will wonder about their votes, and how their votes have been played with.”

The future of Afghanis­tan’s relationship with the US-led Nato alliance will also be high on the agenda.

According to a copy of the unity government document, the CEO could become the official prime minister in two years’ time — a major change to the strongly presidential style of government forged by Mr Karzai since 2001.

Dividing up other government posts could also create friction after the long and mercurial reign of Mr Karzai, who built up a nationwide network of patronage.

The UN’s country director Jan Kubis lauded the announcements, but warned that “for the sake of the country, it is time to quickly implement the agreement”.

After the June run-off election was engulfed in fraud allegations, the US brokered a deal in which the two candidates agreed to abide by the outcome of the audit and then form a national unity government.

Mr Abdullah later abandoned the audit, saying it was failing to clean out fraud.

He had won April’s first round, only to see Mr Ghani come from well behind and win in June.

The new administration will have to stabilise the dire economy as international aid falls, and deal with worsening unrest.

About 41,000 Nato troops remain in Afghanistan fighting the fierce Taliban insurgency alongside Afghan soldiers and police. Nato’s combat mission will end in December.

Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: The White House welcomed the power-sharing deal in Kabul, hoping that it would end Afghanistan’s political crisis.

“We support this agreement and stand ready to work with the next administration to ensure its success,” the White House said.

“Signing this political agreement helps bring closure to Afghanistan’s political crisis, and restores confidence in the way forward,” the White House said in a statement.

In a separate statement, US Secretary of State John Kerry hoped that the inauguration of the new president and the appointment of his chief executive, would “open a new chapter in (in America’s) enduring partnership with Afghanistan.”

Secretary Kerry also hoped that the new Afghan government would sign the proposed bilateral security agreement with the United States and Nato.

The outgoing president, Mr Karzai, refused to sign the agreement saying that it should be signed by the country’s next leader.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd , 2014

Imran calls upon ethnic communities to unite

Azfar-ul-Ashfaque

KARACHI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has reiterated that he will continue his movement till the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

KARACHI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has reiterated that he will continue his movement till the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Mr Khan arrived in Karachi in a private plane from Islamabad on Sunday to address a public meeting outside the Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum. A large number of PTI workers and supporters, including women and children, had gathered at the venue to welcome their leader. They were carrying national and PTI flags and chanting slogans against the government.

Amid the slogan of ‘Go Nawaz Go’, the cricketer-turned-politician repeated for the umpteenth time that the prime minister would have to resign because neither Saudi Arabia nor ‘Gullu Butt’ could save him. “Time has come for the two parties taking turns to go…Nawaz Sharif, you will have to go,” he said.

Mr Khan said he had come to Karachi to unite its people divided on ethnic lines. “We want to make a new Pakistan to end injustices, where those who commit crimes and are involved in target killings will be taken to task.”

He claimed that all elections, except the one held in 1970, had been heavily rigged. “It is our fundamental right to elect our leader through votes and not through rigging.”

While he criticised the country’s two major parties, PML-N and PPP, and JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, he spared his nemesis, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, although it held a sit-in on Saturday in protest against a statement of two PTI leaders who had rejected new administrative units in Sindh.

It appears that Mr Khan was returning a favour as MQM chief Altaf Hussain had congratulated him in advance on the success of his public meeting and said that he would be a guest of the MQM in Karachi.

People attending the rally raised their hands when Mr Khan asked them to give him a pledge that they would not tolerate injustice and never bow down before oppressors. “The oppressors take advantage of our division…they [oppressors] are united but the people are divided.”

He said target killings in Karachi could not take place without the support of people in government, adding that his party would make the police force apolitical and bring peace to Lyari by eliminating the elements involved in gang warfare. “We will eliminate water and land mafias.”

He said the PTI was not a party of one province; it was a party of the common people of Pakistan. “We will end the politics of dynasty. My sons will never enter politics.”

Mr Khan said his party would give top priority to education, police and judiciary. The PTI will introduce the best local government system in the country. “In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police are apolitical. We will expel Gullu Butts from the Punjab police,” he said.

He said the people of Sindh had been deceived in the name of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. “Be ready Sindhis, I am coming to you.”

He asked the people of Karachi to give him a pledge that they would not allow any VIP to close roads. “The people of Karachi are more politically aware than others…you will not allow anyone to rig elections.”

He announced that his next destination would be Lahore.

Earlier, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi said the party’s sit-in in Islamabad had changed the landscape of Pakistani politics.

He criticised veteran politician Javed Hashmi, who recently parted ways with the PTI, and said he had stabbed him in the back. “The nation will not forgive those who try to stab Imran Khan in the back.”

He said Mr Hashmi had been welcomed with the slogan of ‘Baghi’ when he announced joining the PTI. “But now Baghi has become ‘Daghi’ and is sitting in the lap of Nawaz Sharif.”

Mr Qureshi said the PTI chief would give peace to the people of Karachi, adding that the people of Sindh were fed up with politics of corruption. “PPP is no more a party of Bhutto; it has become a party of Zardari.”

Awami Muslim League president Shaikh Rashid said Imran Khan would eliminate the menace of target killings and extortion from Karachi. This huge gathering on a short notice proved that the people of Karachi had awakened.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd , 2014

PIA crew accused of smuggling iPhones

Khalid Hasnain

LAHORE: The customs authorities detained at the airport here on Sunday most of the cabin crew members of a London-Lahore PIA flight, including its captain, for allegedly carrying unlawfully 24 iPhones worth about Rs2.5 million and also foreign currency.

LAHORE: The customs authorities detained at the airport here on Sunday most of the cabin crew members of a London-Lahore PIA flight, including its captain, for allegedly carrying unlawfully 24 iPhones worth about Rs2.5 million and also foreign currency.

The situation caused panic at the airport, besides delaying a Manchester-bound PIA flight for a couple of hours, after the crew staged a sit-in against the detention of their colleagues.

Know more: PIA suspends staff over delay in take-off

Sources in PIA told Dawn that the customs authorities had information that 11 of the 14 crew members of PK-758 flight, including the captain and a purser, brought over 20 iPhones-5S (worth over Rs105,000 each) from London on Friday during its launch.

“The accused are office-bearers of the PIA staff union (CBA) and they did it under a plan. They first managed to get their duties changed by requesting the actual crew members for the flight in connivance with the relevant admin staff,” a senior PIA official told Dawn.

He said the accused left for London to purchase iPhones at cheap rates to sell them in Pakistan at higher prices. He said some of their rivals in the union informed the customs officials about the plan before their return.

“As soon as the crew members reported in the lounge after landing of the plane, the authorities searched them. But they did not find iPhones. Later, they learnt that the accused had handed over the phones to a passenger,” the official said. The phones were later recovered from the passenger.

The authorities also reportedly recovered 5,000 British pounds from the captain and some other crew.

The official said then the accused called their fellow crew members who were about to depart for Manchester. The crew members, along with some other union staff, staged a sit-in and chanted slogans against the authorities for harassing them. The protesters, however, ended the protest after their colleagues were released.

A PIA spokesman said an inquiry had been launched. “Since it is a serious matter, an inquiry is under way. We will be able to tell who is responsible for the incident after the inquiry.”

Published in Dawn, September 22nd , 2014

Electoral reforms committee sees problems in 2013 polls

Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, which met on Friday for the first time since the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) descended on the capital, observed that there were “complications, confusions, and an absence of coordination” in the 2013 general elections, sources privy to what was discussed in the meeting told Dawn on Sunday.

ISLAMABAD: The Parliamentary Committee on Electoral Reforms, which met on Friday for the first time since the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) descended on the capital, observed that there were “complications, confusions, and an absence of coordination” in the 2013 general elections, sources privy to what was discussed in the meeting told Dawn on Sunday.

The committee, chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and consisting of nearly all the parties represented in parliament – with the exception of the boycotting PTI – examined a host of issues in its last meeting.

In the recently concluded joint session of parliament, legislators from several parties in the house admitted that there were apparent irregularities in the 2013 elections.

Know more: The way forward

These included allegations of improper use of magnetic ink, the printing of additional ballot papers and vote verification, most of which have been raised by the PTI.

The committee was shocked to learn that the Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) used 66-year-old machines to print the ballot papers for the 2013 general elections. “It was quite astonishing for all of us that the outdated machines used by PCP had caused several problems and led to errors in ballot papers,” Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, a member of the committee, told Dawn on Sunday.

On Friday, the committee was briefed by officials from several key departments involved in the electoral process, including the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the PCP and the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

During the briefings, the committee raised questions around the use of magnetic ink. They inquired why Nadra and ECP insisted that voters only use the expensive ink to stamp ballot papers.

“We said that if such expensive ink did not serve the purpose, then why it was used in the first place? We have also asked (the departments) to explain what is special about this ink and how it was used to ensure transparency in the elections,” Mr Hussain said.

The committee will now be briefed on these points in its next meeting, expected to be held on September 29.

The meeting also found that there were complications in the election process and that staff deputed at polling stations was often not properly trained. “Election Commission staff at the polling stations did not know how to properly guide voters or address their complaints,” Mr Hussain said.

An ECP source also said that staff inefficiency had caused several problems and errors at polling stations during the elections.

The source said the meeting gave serious consideration to the allegations and concerns raised by the PTI and decided to review them thoroughly. All departments concerned have been asked to submit a point-by-point response to the allegations at the next meeting, which may also be open to the media.

The committee also asked the ECP to explain whether ballot papers were printed from a private printing press in Urdu Bazaar, Lahore, as claimed by the PTI.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd , 2014

Pakistan to get 160 mine-proof US vehicles

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration informed Congress on Friday that it planned to sell 160 ambush-proof vehicles to Pakistan at a total cost of $198 million.

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration informed Congress on Friday that it planned to sell 160 ambush-proof vehicles to Pakistan at a total cost of $198 million.

Pakistani troops in North Waziristan are using over 20 such vehicles, known as MRAPs (Mine Resistance Ambush Protected), in operations against the Taliban and Al Qaeda militants, defence sources in Washington told Dawn.

The vehicles “have been very useful in preventing terrorist attacks on the troops operating in North Waziristan,” the sources said.

However, they added, the sale announced on Friday was separate from “the arrangement for North Waziristan”.

Pakistan will also get spare and repair parts for the vehicles.

Pakistan had requested expedited delivery of a limited number of MRAPs before Operation Zarb-i-Azb and the United States obliged with about two dozen vehicles from their stock, they added.

US troops also use these vehicles in Afghanistan, where the MRAPs “have proven very effective in preventing ambushes using improvised explosive devices (IEDs),” a defence source said.

Hundreds of US soldiers were killed in IED attacks in Afghanistan before the introduction of these vehicles.

“They also saved hundreds of lives in North Waziristan,” the source said.

The US is in the process of moving out its weapons from Afghanistan as it prepares for a complete withdrawal by the end of 2016. But the vehicles delivered to Pakistan did not come from Afghanistan.

MIXED PACKAGE: The deal notified to Congress on Friday is a mixed package, including vehicles that are already in stock and can be delivered in a month or two and those that will have to be built and delivered, which may take a year. None of these will come from Afghanistan.

The US State Department, which has already approved the sale, informed Congress that the proposed sale would contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the US “by helping to improve the security of a country vital of US foreign policy and national security goals in South Asia”.

The notification also clarified that the sale would have no adverse effect on US defence readiness nor will it disturb the basic military balance in South Asia.

Diplomatic sources in Washington noted that the State Department’s nod comes as Pakistan is engaged in Operation Zarb-i-Azb, and has also launched a similar action in Khyber Agency.

In a statement issued in Washington, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency said Pakistan had requested a possible sale of 160 Navistar MRAP vehicles to include field ambulances and recovery vehicles with protection kits.

The deal also includes support and test equipment, personnel training and equipment training, US government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistical and programme support.

“The proposed sale of MRAPs will ensure that Pakistan can effectively operate in hazardous areas in a safe, enhanced survivability vehicle, and improves Pakistan’s interoperability with US forces,” the US defence agency informed Congress.

By acquiring this capability, “Pakistan will be able to provide the same level of protection for its own forces as the United States provides for its forces.”

The statement also noted that Pakistan, which currently possesses MRAPs, has successfully demonstrated the ability to operate and maintain the vehicles in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations, and will have no difficulty absorbing these additional vehicles into its armed forces.

The principal contractor will be Navistar Defence Corporation in Madison Heights, Michigan. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of the proposed sale will require approximately two US government and 24 contractor representatives in Pakistan for 18 months to perform inspections and de-processing of vehicles upon delivery.

They will also provide assistance in installation of vehicle accessory kits; provide fault diagnosis and repairs; perform corrective maintenance, to include accident and battle damage assessment and repairs.

During their stay in Pakistan, these contract representatives will also conduct operator and maintainer training; and conduct inventories and maintain accountability of US provided material.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

TTP concedes senior leader’s death in clash

Sailab Mehsud

LADHA: The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) confirmed on Satur­day that one of its senior leaders, Mohammad Hassan, was killed in a clash with security forces in Boya area in North Waziristan Agency two days ago.

LADHA: The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) confirmed on Satur­day that one of its senior leaders, Mohammad Hassan, was killed in a clash with security forces in Boya area in North Waziristan Agency two days ago.

TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a statement that Mohammad Hassan hailed from Kabul and, after his release from a prison in Afghanistan, had “rejoined jihad” in Pakistan along with his friends.

The military’s media wing, Inter-Services Public Relations, said in a statement that three terrorists were killed in an encounter between security forces and militants during a clearance operation in Boya area. A soldier, Naib Subedar Muzammil, also lost his life.

With the statement, the TTP also released 12 photographs of the funeral prayer of Mohammad Hassan. The pictures showed TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah leading the prayer in a forest area dominated by oak trees.

In one photograph, he is seen speaking to a small group of militants who attended the funeral.

Said Khan Sajna, who leads his own faction of the TTP in the Mehsud area of South Waziristan, stood behind Fazlullah during the prayer.

According to unconfirmed reports, Mohammad Hassan’s last rites were offered across the border in Afghanistan. The government claims that Fazlullah has taken refuge in that country.

Warring factions bury the hatchet: Two rival factions of the TTP comprising Mehsud tribesmen, led by Sajna and Sheheryar Mehsud, haved reconciled due to efforts made by Mullah Fazlullah, according to sources.

They said that on the directives of Mullah Fazlullah, the two factions had held a meeting in Dattakhel area of North Waziristan and appointed Sajna the interim head of the TTP in the Mehsud area for two months.

After Eidul Azha, Mullah Fazlullah will convene another meeting of the two groups to select a permanent chief of the TTP’s Mehsud branch.

Sources said that the reconciliation between the two groups would complicate matters for security forces engaged in the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan as the Sajna group had joined the fight against them after the reunion.

Earlier after clashes with the Sheheryar group, Sajna had established back-channel contacts with the government and was expected to quit the TTP.

The infighting between the two factions, which took place before the operation was launched in June, left over 150 militants dead.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Policy rate unchanged at 10pc

From the Newspaper

KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan has kept its policy rate unchanged at 10 per cent for the next two months.

KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan has kept its policy rate unchanged at 10 per cent for the next two months.

The central bank in its monetary policy announcement on Saturday gave a number of reasons for maintaining the status quo, including a possible increase in inflation because of flood damage, cut in subsidy on electricity, development cess on gas and the ongoing political impasse.

“Although actual low inflation might weigh positively on market sentiments, it is the future path of inflation that matters for monetary policy decision,” the SBP said.

The interest rate was last changed in November last year.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Imran met Qadri in UK, admits Qureshi

Irfan Haider

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan told his supporters in Karachi to prepare for his arrival in the city on Sunday.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief Imran Khan told his supporters in Karachi to prepare for his arrival in the city on Sunday.

Addressing his followers from atop his container at the D-Chowk in front of Parliament House, he said: “Be ready, my dear people in Karachi. I am coming to address a public gathering in your city, but I will be back in Islamabad tomorrow night so I can participate in the sit-in at D-Chowk.”

In a rare show of vulnerability, the PTI chief also admitted that he and his party were learning the game of politics with the passage of time.

“The PTI is running a provincial government this time around, but we will show you a major change in the administration of government business when we come to power,” Mr Khan said.

In addition, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi finally confirmed on Saturday that Mr Khan had indeed met Dr Tahirul Qadri in London before the two leaders’ march on the capital on Independence Day last month.

Shireen Mazari, the party’s spokesperson, had earlier denied the report. But speaking to a TV channel on Saturday, Mr Qureshi said Shireen Mazari was not aware about the meeting.

However, he claimed that the two leaders had only discussed the political situation in the country and no joint strategy was thrashed out for their long marches.

Mr Qureshi’s admission comes just three days after Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid alleged that a plan to “remove the elected government” and destabilise the country was prepared during a secret meeting between Mr Khan and Dr Qadri in London.

The minister wondered why Imran Khan was trying to conceal this information from the nation.

When the same question was put to Mr Qureshi, he said the timing of the release of such information was the discretion of any political leader.

“Today, I know many things which cannot be disclosed at this point in time.”

Mr Qureshi said that he did not know if any other person was also present in the London meeting.

Also on Saturday, Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) leader Dr Tahirul Qadri claimed that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had managed to exonerate himself in 143 corruption cases after coming to power 15 months ago with the help of the chairman of the National Accountability Bureau.

“The prime minister appointed his close aide, retired Major Qamar Zaman Chaudhry, as NAB chairman in connivance with the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly,” the PAT chief alleged.

He said that he was not ready to accept such a system where the poor could not survive due to rampant inequality.

“The government has failed to provide relief to the common man. Sixty per cent of Pakistanis cannot make both ends meet,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Shah asks Imran to prove allegations or face court

Waseem Shamsi

SUKKUR: Khursheed Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, has asked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan to prove allegations he had levelled against him within three days or get ready to face court.

SUKKUR: Khursheed Shah, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, has asked Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan to prove allegations he had levelled against him within three days or get ready to face court.

Talking to journalists here on Saturday, the PPP leader said if the PTI chief failed to prove the allegations, he should apologise to the nation. “Otherwise I will move the court.”

Mr Shah said he would not ask Mr Khan to quit politics because “one day he says something and the next day he contradicts himself”.

The PPP leader said the PTI chairman had wrongly claimed that two corruption cases had been pending against him.

Mr Shah said he would not say anything about the personal life of Mr Khan because it would disappoint PTI workers.

In reply to a question, he said, “we are trying to save the system because we have always struggled for democracy.”

He said it would be dangerous for the country to threaten the Constitution and parliament through sit-ins.

He urged the PTI chief not to stage sit-ins in Sindh because his protest in Islamabad had already ruined the country’s economy.

He said there was no threat of high flood in Sindh because the provincial government had made arrangements to handle the situation.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Two more polio cases confirmed

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: Two new cases of polio have been confirmed by Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

ISLAMABAD: Two new cases of polio have been confirmed by Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services said that one case was reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the other from Fata. The number of reported cases this year has now risen to 166.

Salma, a 16-month-old daughter of Abdul Wajid, has been diagnosed with an early stage of paralysis. The child is a resident of Sheen Kamar Village in tehsil Tirah of Khyber Agency.

The other child is eight month-old Habiba, daughter of Subhanallah. She is a resident of Gharibabad Batatal village in tehsil Peshawar.

“Salma did not receive any dose of polio vaccine as no polio campaign has been undertaken in Fata since the ban imposed by Taliban in June 2012. However, parents of the Pehawar-based girl refused to get her vaccinated,” an official said.

He said 119 cases had been reported from Fata this year, 28 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 14 from Sindh, three from Balochistan and two from Punjab.

“Every year count of polio cases is increasing. In 2012, as many as 58 polio cases were recorded. In 2013, the number of cases reported was 93. We are in ninth month of this year but the count of polio cases has already touched 166.”

Because of increasing polio cases, Pakistan is likely to face embarrassment at the meeting of the Independent Monitoring Board for Polio scheduled to be held in London on Sept 30.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Footprints: Norway in Pakistan

Mirza Khurram Shahzad

IT’S just a leisurely drive from Islamabad, some 140 kilometres on the Grand Trunk road.

IT’S just a leisurely drive from Islamabad, some 140 kilometres on the Grand Trunk road.

Leave the GT road in the middle of Kharian town in Gujrat district and pass through a narrow road that winds through a busy bazaar and eventually comes out in a welcoming landscape of acres and acres of lush green wilderness. Pass behind a military base as the road takes you deeper into the rural area. Here, tractors and trailers run with noisy engines and Attaullah Essakhelvi’s Punjabi and Seraiki songs blare from their speakers.

One expects to end up in a traditional Punjab village with smoke curling up from the earthen hearths, buffaloes grazing, and goats and sheep running around. But there is a surprise in store. There is no village here.

Instead, there are sprawling villas as you enter the main street. Teenage boys are in fine trousers and T-shirts and have spiky hairstyle. Luxury cars are parked in and outside the villas, air conditioners are installed on the top storeys and generators are running to provide electricity during loadshedding hours.

This is a mini Norway in Pakistan.

Out of around the 2,000 people who officially live in Aalam Pur Gondlan village, 400 are settled in Norway. Others have gone to the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Canada, Italy and the Gulf to earn a living.

Having graduated in agriculture from the University of Pune (India) and having served as deputy director in Punjab’s agricultural department after the partition of the subcontinent, Aalam developed sympathy for the small farmers and labourers working around him. His sympathy turned into a mission to eradicate poverty from the area. He decided to contest elections from the platform of his own political party, Musawat (Equality), against his classmate and later president of Pakistan, Fazal Ilahi Chaudhry, in 1956, and lost.

“In those elections, Fazal Ilahi defeated him by mustering the support of all the heavyweights and big landowners of the area while Aalam was supported only by a few labourers and the poor,” explains Naseem, who is also a nephew of Aalam.

But Aalam was not deterred by the defeat. He kept contesting every election until 1977 but was never able to fulfil his ambition of reaching parliament. But this failure motivated him to help the deprived and he started pondering on finding a way.

In 1960, he asked his son Ijaz Aalam, a Pakistan Air Force flight lieutenant, to resign from his job and go to the UK to look for work opportunities. Ijaz reported from London that conditions were favourable.

Aalam started sending people to the UK. Soon he discovered that Norway had more opportunities, so he diverted his focus and now the destination was Norway.

“At that time, travel to Europe cost Rs2,000,” Naseem recalls. “People used to go via buses through Kabul, Iran and Turkey.”

But the problem for Aalam was that most of his village people didn’t have even that money. So, he arranged loans from the cooperative bank on his own personal and financial guarantees.

“Around 35,000 Pakistanis live over there now. Of them around 10,000 were sent by Aalam. Everybody paid back his debt,” explains Naseem, who has documented Aalam Pur Gondlan’s history.

Aalam transformed his Musawat party into the Bhook Kadh (Remove Hunger) party at the time of the 1970 elections. He contested the last elections of his life in 1977 and lost that, too. He died in 1981.

Today, the majority of people in his village are very rich. They have built huge palaces in the vicinity, but many of them don’t live there. They have employed caretakers to look after these houses, creating jobs for the poor of the surrounding localities. They also contribute funds for development and social welfare projects in the village.

Meanwhile, an association of the migrants of Aalam Pur Gondlan in Norway commemorates Aalam’s anniversary in Oslo every year. Aalam’s children and grandchildren all are in Norway.

But the man who changed the lives of thousands of people and opened paths for them to the world never left his country himself. He was born and buried on his own soil.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Hamas and Fatah agree on unity govt for Gaza

AFP

CAIRO: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah said they reached an agreement on Thursday for the return of their unity government to Gaza ahead of crucial negotiations with Israel next month.

CAIRO: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah said they reached an agreement on Thursday for the return of their unity government to Gaza ahead of crucial negotiations with Israel next month.

The Palestinian rivals had set up a ‘unity government of independents’ in June but it never took hold, with Pales­tinian president Mahmud Abbas accusing Hamas of running a “parallel” administration as de facto ruler in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas in turn accused Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Autho­rity, headquartered in Ramallah, of not paying its 45,000 employees in Gaza.

“Fatah and Hamas have reached a comprehensive agreement for the unity government to return to the Gaza Strip,” Jibril Rajoub of Fatah said.

Senior Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk and Fatah’s head of delegation, Azzam al-Ahmad, confirmed that an agreement had been reached after two days of talks in Cairo.

The talks were crucial for internal Palestinian divisions to be set aside and to agree on a unified strategy during talks with Israeli negotiators in October.

The October talks, under Egyptian mediation, are aimed at reaching a durable ceasefire after the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas.

The war killed more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side.

It ended on August 26 when the two sides agreed in Cairo on a ceasefire and to hold future talks on Pales­tinian demands to end an eight-year blockade of Gaza and exchange prisoners in Israeli jails for the remains of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza.

The success of the Hamas-Fatah talks was also crucial ahead of an international donor conference on October 12, to be hosted by Cairo, on the reconstruction of Gaza.

The July-August war caused a vast amount of destruction to homes and infrastructure in densely populated Gaza, leaving more than 100,000 Pales­tinians homeless, according to the United Nations.

“The unity government will supervise the crossings (into Gaza)… to facilitate the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip,” Abu Marzuk said.

He said the two factions agreed to create a mechanism for construction material to pass into Gaza.

The two movements have also found a “solution .. to the problem of employees”, Abu Marzuk said, referring to the Hamas accusations that the Palestinian Authority had not paid Gaza government employees.

“This meeting was essential because it tackled all the issues and hindrances that obstructed reaching an agreement,” he said, referring to a reconciliation deal inked in April.

The April deal was signed to end years of bitter rivalry between the Fatah faction of Mr Abbas, which dominates the West Bank-based Pales­tinian Authority, and the Islamist movement Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for the past seven years.

Following the deal, the rivals set up a government of independents, the first united administration in seven years, which took office in June. But sharp divisions quickly emerged over the con­trol of Gaza, where the Hamas government stepped down on June 2 but remained the de facto power.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Coalition hits oil sites operated by IS in Syria

AFP

DAMASCUS: The United States and its Arab allies bombed oil facilities operated by militants in Syria to choke off their funding, killing more than a dozen militants and several civilians.

DAMASCUS: The United States and its Arab allies bombed oil facilities operated by militants in Syria to choke off their funding, killing more than a dozen militants and several civilians.

France meanwhile launched new air strikes on Thursday in neighbouring Iraq and pledged more support for Syrian opposition forces, upping its fight against extremists following the beheading of a French hostage.

American, Saudi and Emirati warplanes hit oil installations in eastern Syria controlled by the Islamic State (IS) militant group, broadening the campaign they launched this week beyond military targets to economic assets.

IS, which has imposed its brutal rule over large parts of Syria and Iraq, has been using such small-scale mobile refineries to generate up to $2 million in revenues per day, Washington said.

Militants seized and set fire to a cement factory in Syria owned by French construction giant Lafarge near the Turkish border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday.

The strikes against the oil refineries killed 14 militants but also left five civilians dead, including a child, according to the Britain-based monitoring group.

It said foreigners from Europe, Arab nations, Chechnya and Turkey made up the vast majority of the more than 140 militants killed since the US-led raids began in Syria.

The latest strikes came as US President Barack Obama urged leaders gathered at the UN General Assembly to join the coalition and convinced the Security Council to back a resolution aimed at stemming the flow of foreign fighters joining IS.

Belgium and The Netherlands committed warplanes to Iraq and Britain said its parliament would vote on Friday on following suit.

“The United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death,” Mr Obama told the UN. “Today I ask the world to join in this effort.”

The IS group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a “caliphate” and imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

It has committed widespread atrocities including mass executions of captured Iraqi soldiers, forced conversions of non-Muslims and the on-camera beheadings of Western hostages including two US journalists and a British aid worker.

The raids in Syria have hit IS positions, command centres, training compounds and vehicles, in their regional stronghold of Raqa and near the Syria-Iraq border.

More than 50 nations have joined the US-led coalition against IS, including key Arab states, and in recent days more countries have promised concrete military support.

Belgium and the Netherlands said they would each send six F-16 fighter bombers to take part in the air campaign in Iraq.

The Netherlands will also deploy 250 military personnel and 130 trainers for the Iraqi military, and Greece said on Thursday it would send arms to Kurdish forces battling the militants.

There had been fears the strikes could inadvertently help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is locked in a three-and-a-half-year civil war with rebels that the UN says has left more than 190,000 dead.

The militants have posed the most serious threat to his regime, though Washington has vowed to arm and equip moderate rebels as part of the anti-IS campaign.

On Thursday, a Syrian security source said regime troops had managed to recapture the strategically important town of Adra near the capital that was seized by rebels in December.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Pakistan wants to build more N-power plants, IAEA told

The Newspaper’s Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it needs to build more nuclear power plants to ease its severe energy crisis.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it needs to build more nuclear power plants to ease its severe energy crisis.

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) Chairman Dr Ansar Parvez told the annual general conference of the IAEA in Vienna on Thursday that Pakistan was committed to synergising its efforts with those of the agency to harness the vast potential of nuclear technology.

Pakistan had the experience, credentials and potential to become a recipient as well as a supplier of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, Dr Parvez said.

The country wanted to play its part at the international level as a mainstream partner, including as full member of the export control regimes, particularly the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The PAEC chairman said that Pakistan was committed to keeping all its current and future civilian nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards and controls. But as the nuclear power programme expanded, so must the emphasis on safety and security of the installations.

The Fukushima Response Action Plan to assess and upgrade the safety of power plants, he said, was initiated immediately after the Fukushima accident and some immediate and mid-term steps had already been implemented.

Pakistan set up its first nuclear power plant, Kanupp, in 1972 and more than 40 years of its safe operation had provided confidence to the PAEC to pursue further the option of nuclear power plants, he said.

The PAEC chairman said the Chashma Nuclear Power Plant’s two units, built with Chinese assistance, were running smoothly.

The performance of the two units had made policymakers realise that the cost of electricity produced by nuclear plants was lower than that from all other means of power generation, except hydropower projects, Dr Parvez said.

Another two units were being built in Karachi and with the completion of these two units the PAEC would begin to make a sizeable contribution to electricity generation in the country, he said.

He said that Pakistan had firm regulatory infrastructure in place, adding the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority had based its regulations on the IAEA safety standards.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

IS plotting to attack US metro: Iraqi PM

Dawn Report

UNITED NATIONS: Iraqi Prime Minis­ter Haider al-Abadi warned the United States on Thursday that his intelligence agencies had uncovered a plot to target an underground railways system in America.

UNITED NATIONS: Iraqi Prime Minis­ter Haider al-Abadi warned the United States on Thursday that his intelligence agencies had uncovered a plot to target an underground railways system in America.

Talking to reporters at the United Nations, Mr Abadi said the Islamic State group was behind the plot.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, Caitlin Hayden, said that US intelligence agencies were still trying to confirm the report.

Know more: ISIS will ‘soon’ pose threat to US, says general

“We’ve seen the reports of Prime Minister Abadi’s comments. We have not confirmed such a plot, and would have to review any information from our Iraqi partners before making further determinations,” she said in a statement issued by her office.

“We take any threat seriously and always work to corroborate information we receive from our partners. We’re obviously very focused on the issue of foreign fighters”, she added.

Mr Abadi, who became Iraq’s prime minister only two weeks ago, said his government had alerted US officials, because the attack appeared to be ‘imminent’.

Mr Abadi claimed that the IS group was also working on a plan to attack the Paris Metro.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

British preacher arrested

AFP

LONDON: British police on Thursday arrested nine men including leading radical preacher Anjem Choudary in London on suspicion of links to the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun.

LONDON: British police on Thursday arrested nine men including leading radical preacher Anjem Choudary in London on suspicion of links to the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun.

The arrests “are part of an ongoing investigation into Islamist-related terrorism and are not in response to any immediate public safety risk,” the Scotland Yard said. Police said they were also searching 18 residential and commercial properties in London and one in Stoke-on-Trent, central England.

Al-Muhajiroun aims to overthrow the British government and replace it with an Islamic state before establishing a global ‘caliphate’, according to the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.

The organisation was last banned in Britain under the Terrorism Act in 2010 although it has been proscribed in the past only to re-appear again under different names — as in the wake of the bombings in London on July 7, 2005.

Mr Choudary, who is of Pakistani descent, is a co-founder of the group along with Omar Bakri Mohammed, who is serving a prison sentence in Lebanon for terrorism.

A 47-year-old former lawyer, Mr Choudary regularly makes controversial statements on sensitive issues of national security that are picked up by British tabloids but he has been careful to stay on the right side of criminal law.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

FO declines to comment on Karzai’s allegations

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office avoided on Thursday giving its reaction to allegations levelled by outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai against Pakistan and said the government looked forward to working with new President Ashraf Ghani.

ISLAMABAD: The Foreign Office avoided on Thursday giving its reaction to allegations levelled by outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai against Pakistan and said the government looked forward to working with new President Ashraf Ghani.

“There will be a new government in Afghanistan shortly and we look forward to working with them closely,” spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said at FO’s weekly news briefing.

The comment appeared to be an attempt to put the acrimonious past behind in ties with Afghanistan as the political transition in Kabul gets under way.

Know more: Karzai slams US, Pakistan in farewell speech

In his farewell speech, Mr Karzai said he had visited Pakistan 20 times in an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with Taliban, but his efforts were thwarted. He accused Pakistan of trying to control Afghanistan’s foreign policy.

Allegations and counter-allegations, because of deep-rooted mistrust between the two countries, are not new.

However, with new government taking office on Monday Pakistan intends to use the opportunity to turn the page in ties.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan are neighbours. We face common challenges and we have to confront them and find solutions for them jointly through collaboration,” the spokesperson said.

Pakistan will use its contacts with the new government to attempt to rebuild the frayed “bilateral relations and resolve the issues of sanctuaries of terrorists inside Afghanistan and cross-border attacks”.

INDIA: The FO spokesperson confirmed that there was no planned meeting between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York. “We have not sought a meeting and we have not received any request,” she added.

The two countries looked close to a rapprochement after a year and half of border tensions, which badly strained their tense relationship, when Prime Minister Sharif visited Delhi for attending the oath-taking ceremony of Mr Modi.

About any proposal for reconvening the cancelled meeting, the spokesperson said: “We did not cancel the talks so it is up to India now to indicate how it wants to proceed.”

She said Pakistan would focus on disputes between the two countries, including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir, so that a peaceful solution could be found through dialogue. “Our efforts are not lacking in any way.”

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Terrorists understand only language of force, says Obama

Anwar Iqbal

UNITED NATIONS: US President Barack Obama told a gathering of world leaders on Wednesday that the terrorists only understood the language of force and that’s why he would work with the rest of the world to “dismantle this network of death”.

UNITED NATIONS: US President Barack Obama told a gathering of world leaders on Wednesday that the terrorists only understood the language of force and that’s why he would work with the rest of the world to “dismantle this network of death”.

The US leader appeared before the UN General Assembly a day after ordering air strikes on the headquarters and bases of Al Qaeda affiliated terrorist groups in Syria, killing dozens of militants.

Know more: US led strikes kill 30 Al Qaeda fighters in Syria

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness … the only language understood by killers like this is the language of force,” Mr Obama told the 69th assembly of world leaders at the UN headquarters.

“So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death.”

President Obama walked into the General Assembly hall to a polite applause. The leaders did not applaud during the speech. When he addressed the issue of Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kept his head down while reading a piece of paper. Later in the speech, he flipped through a small booklet and then briefly texted on his smartphone.

Iranian representatives also showed no reaction.

Representatives of the Syrian government, which opposes the US-led military offensive because Washington rejected its offer to coordinate the attack with its force, also watched quietly, as Mr Obama spoke.

The 40-minute speech was broadcast live from the hall.

Mr Obama said that the “cancer of violent extremism” in the Muslim world could derail the progress the world had experienced since the World War II.

Urging the international community to meet this challenge, the US leader told them that they must first deal with the terrorist ground known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), which must be degraded, and ultimately destroyed.

The group, he said, had terrorised both Iraq and Syria, using rape as a weapon to subdue civilians, beheading journalists and killing children.

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning — no negotiation — with this brand of evil,” Mr Obama declared.

“In this effort, we do not act alone. Nor do we intend to send US troops to occupy foreign lands,” said the president, adding that 40 nations, including Arab and Muslim states, were supporting the US-led fight against the militants.

Mr Obama warned those who have joined ISIL to “leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build — not those who destroy.’’

The president said he also had a “simple” message for the countries of the Arab and Muslim world: They “must focus on the extraordinary potential of their people — especially the youth”.

Speaking directly to young people across the Muslim world, Mr Obama said: “You come from a great tradition that stands for education, not ignorance; innovation, not destruction; the dignity of life, not murder. Those who call you away from this path are betraying this tradition, not defending it.”

Mr Obama said that he would lift the sanctions imposed on Russia in case it chooses a peaceful course in Ukraine.

“A different path is available. It is the path of diplomacy and peace. The recent ceasefire agreement in Ukraine offers this path,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

UNSC adopts anti-terror resolution

Dawn Report

WASHINGTON: The UN Security Council, at a meeting presided over by President Barack Obama, unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday, calling for a crackdown on the flow of foreign fighters to militant organisations such as ISIS.

WASHINGTON: The UN Security Council, at a meeting presided over by President Barack Obama, unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday, calling for a crackdown on the flow of foreign fighters to militant organisations such as ISIS.

The council voted 15-0 to compel countries to make it a crime for their citizens to travel abroad to fight with militants or recruit other people to do it.

President Obama is the only American president to chair a Security Council mee­ting. He also did so in 2009.

“Resolutions alone will not be enough. Promises on paper can’t keep us safe,” Mr Obama said. “Lofty rhetoric and good intentions will not stop a single terrorist attack. The words spoken here today must be matched and translated into action, into deeds.”

As representatives from the Security Council government took their turns speaking, President Francois Hollande of France made mention of a countryman who was beheaded by an Al Qaeda splinter group.

France has faced terrorism before, Mr Hollande said, and “we have never given in. Every time, we come out of these things more robust with solidarity”.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

India over the moon as its spacecraft enters Mars orbit

AFP

BANGALORE: India won Asia’s race to Mars on Wednesday when its unmanned Mangalyaan spacecraft successfully entered the planet’s orbit after a 10-month journey on a tiny budget.

BANGALORE: India won Asia’s race to Mars on Wednesday when its unmanned Mangalyaan spacecraft successfully entered the planet’s orbit after a 10-month journey on a tiny budget.

Scientists at mission control let out wild cheers and applause after the gold-coloured craft fired its main engine and slipped into the Red Planet’s orbit following a 660-million kilometre voyage.

“History has been made. We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible,” a jubilant Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) base near Bangalore.

“The success of our space programme is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation,” Mr Modi said, grinning broadly and embracing the ISRO’s chairman.

The success of the mission, which is designed to search for evidence of life on the Red Planet, is a huge source of national pride for India as it competes with its Asian rivals for success in space.

Indians from ministers to students and office workers took to Twitter to express pride, with the Hindi slogan “JaiHind” or “Hail India” trending on the microblogging site.

India has been trying to keep up with neighbouring giant China, which has poured billions of dollars into its programme and plans to build a manned space station by the end of the decade.

At just $74 million, the mission cost is less than the estimated $100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster “Gravity”.

It also represents just a fraction of the cost of Nasa’s $671 million MAVEN spacecraft, which successfully began orbiting the fourth planet from the sun on Sunday.

India now joins an elite club of the United States, Russia and Europe who can boast of reaching Mars. More than half of all missions to the planet have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.

No single nation had previously succeeded at its first go, although the European Space Agency, which represents a consortium of countries, pulled off the feat at its first attempt.

Scientists announced at 8:02am that Mangalyaan had entered the orbit. The probe is expected to study the planet’s surface and scan its atmosphere for methane, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Snowden, Asma bag ‘alternative Nobel’

AP

STOCKHOLM: Edward Snowden was among the winners on Wednesday of a Swedish human rights award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel”, for his disclosures of top secret surveillance programmes.

STOCKHOLM: Edward Snowden was among the winners on Wednesday of a Swedish human rights award, sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel”, for his disclosures of top secret surveillance programmes.

The former National Security Agency contractor split the honorary portion of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award with Alan Rusbridger, editor of British newspaper The Guardian, which has published a series of articles on government surveillance based on documents leaked by Mr Snowden.

The 1.5 million kronor ($210,000) cash award was shared by human rights activist Asma Jahangir, Basil Fernando of the Asian Human Rights Commission and US environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Created in 1980, the annual Right Livelihood Award honours efforts that prize founder Jacob von Uexkull felt were being ignored by the Nobel Prizes.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Moon sighted in S. Arabia

From the Newspaper

KARACHI: Saturday, October 4, will be the first day of Eidul Azha, as the Zilhaj moon was sighted on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, the website of Dubai-based newspaper Khaleej Times said.

KARACHI: Saturday, October 4, will be the first day of Eidul Azha, as the Zilhaj moon was sighted on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia, the website of Dubai-based newspaper Khaleej Times said.

It quoted the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia as saying the lunar month would begin on Thursday in the kingdom.

According to the Saudi statement, the Day of Arafat will be October 3.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

No plan to increase power tariff, says finance minister

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said that the electricity tariff will not be increased in the near future and the government will expeditiously complete transactions to the tune of $2.4 billion, which have been put on hold because of the political crisis, and a review with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month.

ISLAMABAD: Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has said that the electricity tariff will not be increased in the near future and the government will expeditiously complete transactions to the tune of $2.4 billion, which have been put on hold because of the political crisis, and a review with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month.

Speaking to reporters, he said the government had no plan to make a seven per cent increase in the tariff, as required under the IMF programme.

Know more: Continuation of power subsidies will hamper growth, court told

Earlier, the government had agreed with the IMF to revise the electricity tariff in October as loadshedding would ease with a fall in temperatures.

The fourth review with the IMF of the $6.8 billion programme could not be completed in Dubai because the political tension in Islamabad increased on Aug 19.

As a consequence, the IMF did not hold a meeting of its executive board in the second week of this month as earlier planned, resulting in postponement of disbursement of a $550m instalment.

In the meanwhile, the launching of $850m global depository shares (GDS) of the Oil and Gas Development Company (OGDCL) and about $1bn Islamic Sukuk bonds was delayed.

Mr Dar said the IMF and the government had agreed to hold the review meetings and the fund’s executive board meeting in the third and fourth week of October.

He accused the PTI and PAT of acting on a conspiracy of some external forces, which had been projecting Pakistan’s default in 2014, to delay the transactions.

The minister said the government was planning to improve the foreign excha­nge reserves beyond $15bn to qualify for the Interna­tional Bank for Reconstruc­tion and Development’s facilities for development projects. The reserves now stand at $13.3bn.

“We have decided to proactively go ahead with these transactions. We are not going to wait for these spectacles to end which is not difficult to do with state power, but the government will not use force,” he said.

Mr Dar said the protesters were responsible for cancellation of visits of the presidents of three friendly countries, including China.

He said the government had finalised $32bn agreements for signing with China during President Xi Jinp­ing’s visit.

He said China had signed $20bn agreements in Pakis­tan’s neighbourhood and major regional powers and developing nations were finalising a $100bn New Development Bank, but the political crisis threatened to deprive “us of the benefits of these developments”.

The finance minister said the government would gradually increase funding for health and education to four per cent of the GDP during its tenure, but now the provinces had a greater role in financing the sectors.

He said the government would pay Rs25,000 to each family affected by recent floods through ‘smart cards’, using the network of the income support programme, and continue funding security expenditures of the police and other law enforcement agencies as and when required by the interior ministry.

“We have excellent relations with the armed forces and will together take the Zarb-i-Azb campaign against terrorism to its conclusion with success,” Mr Dar said in reply to a question. Unlike the past, conspiracies would not succeed and the government and the military would take the country forward as a team, he said.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Chinese and Indian troops in Himalayan standoff

Reuters

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops have dug into positions on a high Himalayan plateau, leading India’s army chief to cancel a foreign trip and monitor a standoff that underscores deep differences between the Asian giants as they seek closer ties.

NEW DELHI: Hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops have dug into positions on a high Himalayan plateau, leading India’s army chief to cancel a foreign trip and monitor a standoff that underscores deep differences between the Asian giants as they seek closer ties.

Military officials in New Delhi and India-held Kashmir alleged on Tuesday that Chinese troops had set up a camp about 3km into territory claimed by India in the Chumar region of the Ladakh plateau more than a week ago.

Know more: Indian, Chinese troops in new standoff

Indian soldiers had set up their own base nearby and had been told not to back down, the officials said.

Asked about the standoff, China’s Ministry of Defence said the two sides’ understanding of the line of the border was not the same.

“The two countries’ border, to this day, has not been designated,” the ministry said in a faxed statement, adding that the Chinese military respected pacts signed by both countries.

“Both sides, if problems occur in the border area, can reach an appropriate resolution through dialogue and consultation.”

India has deployed about 1,500 troops in the Chumar area and there are about 800 Chinese soldiers, according to an Indian government official.

The two sides are not in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation and are well separated from each other.

The alleged incursion by Chinese troops into territory claimed by India dominated a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, overshadowing his pledges to invest $20 billion over five years and a bid to warm personal ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After a summit between Mr Modi and Mr Xi on Friday, the soldiers pulled back from a face-to-face confrontation to take up more distant positions.

India’s army chief, General Dalbir Singh, cancelled a three-day visit to Bhutan on Monday in order to monitor the border situation, a government official in New Delhi said.

Mr Modi has promised to take a tougher stance in border dispute with China, joining other Asian nations, including Japan and the Philippines, which have pushed back against Beijing.

China must be combat ready to win a “regional war”, Chinese President Xi Jinping told senior military leaders, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

Mr Xi’s comments were widely reported in Indian media and came days after a speech in New Delhi in which he said China was not a warlike nation.

During Mr Xi’s visit Mr Modi urged an early border settlement with China.

Both sides have held 17 rounds of border talks since the early 1990s, with little progress.

Small incursions are common across the Line of Actual Control between the nations, the de facto border that runs some 4,000 km across the Himalayas, but it is rare for either country to set up camp deep within disputed territory.

“As both sides have increased their forces on the border it has led to more confrontations like this,” said Dipankar Banerjee, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in New Delhi.

“These sorts of events are par for the course when you have a long un-demarcated border.”

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Rouhani says ties with Saudi Arabia deserve to be warmer

Reuters

NEW YORK: The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia deserves to be better, though differences between the two oil-producing countries appear to be narrowing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

NEW YORK: The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia deserves to be better, though differences between the two oil-producing countries appear to be narrowing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are enmeshed in a struggle for influence across the Middle East and have supported opposing sides in wars and political disputes in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen.

“Our relationship with Saudi Arabia … deserves to be warmer,” Mr Rouhani told a group of senior editors in New York ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.

“Saudi Arabia’s positions are getting closer and closer to us.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Rouhani added that if the two nations’ differences were truly narrowing, “relations with Saudi Arabia will grow closer”.

The Iranian president reacted cautiously to the US-led air strikes on Islamic State militants in Syria. He neither condemned nor endorsed the military action by the United States and Arab allies.

“The bombardment must have a certain framework that is needed to take place in a third country.” He said that without a UN mandate or a request from the government of the affected country, military interventions “don’t have any legal standing”.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari said he was personally informed by US Ambassador Samantha Power of imminent US and Arab air strikes against Islamic State targets on Syrian territory hours ahead of time.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a close ally of Iran, which has provided military support to his government during its ‘civil war’, now in its fourth year.

Mr Rouhani said he had no plans to meet US President Barack Obama while in New York for the UN General Assembly.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

ECP report: lessons learned or a damning indictment?

Hassan Belal Zaidi

ISLAMABAD: The Post-Election Review Report of the General Elections 2013, recently published by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on its website, has caused an uproar in political circles.

ISLAMABAD: The Post-Election Review Report of the General Elections 2013, recently published by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on its website, has caused an uproar in political circles.

But those involved with the preparation of the report maintain that it should be viewed as a typical ‘lessons learnt’ exercise and should not be considered a systematic analysis of the entire electoral process.

Also read: ECP blames ROs for election mess

Dawn spoke to some of the stakeholders involved in the preparation of the report, as well as an independent, international observer, whose observations were included in the report itself, which was prepared jointly by the ECP, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).

According to the observer, each person quoted in the report was “somebody involved with the election process” and they were asked to voice their concerns. Feedback from election staff, international partners, as well as average voters, was incorporated into the report.

However, the observer stressed that, “Each sentence in the report is not a conclusion.”

According to him, the final report, prepared by the European Union’s Election Observation Mission and the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) — a coalition of over 30 NGOs working to observe the general elections — is a far more systematic and methodologically-sound document in terms of an analysis of the entire electoral process.

However, this does not mean that the post-election report is a flawed document. In fact, it contains several instances, albeit anecdotal, of irregularities committed during the elections. But many of these were attributable to incompetence or lack of training rather than any organised conspiracy to rig the elections.

Mudassir Rizvi, head of programmes at Fafen, told Dawn there was nothing in the report that came as a revelation to those involved with the electoral process in 2013.

The process for the compilation of the report was begun soon after the elections, in July, he said. In it, nearly all sources of information are from “within the system”, i.e. returning officers, presiding officers and regional election commissions who were part of the ECP’s own team.

He maintained that several issues highlighted in the report had to do with processes under the ECP’s control.

“Electoral rolls are finalised a year before the elections. If it was reported that there were problems in the rolls, why were these concerns not addressed before the elections,” he asked.

He posited, “If the ECP had this information ‘in its system’, why did they not act to correct these problems in the first place?”

Talking about the ECP’s attempts to distance itself from the post-election review, Mr Rizvi said that the commission should not do that, adding that it was a good thing that these issues were finally being discussed openly.

It is also telling that while the ECP may officially be ‘disowning’ the report, many of its recommendations for future electoral reforms, including some of the proposals already presented to the Parliamentary Commission on Electoral Reform, are based on issues highlighted in the post-election review.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Five more polio cases detected

Ikram Junaidi

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health’s Polio Virology Laboratory confirmed another five polio cases on Tuesday night, taking the number of cases reported this year to 171.

ISLAMABAD: The National Institute of Health’s Polio Virology Laboratory confirmed another five polio cases on Tuesday night, taking the number of cases reported this year to 171.

Two cases have been reported in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and one each in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Balochistan.

Also read: Two more polio cases confirmed

Those afflicted by the crippling disease are: 46-month-old Sadia, daughter of Syed Alam, resident of Fort Slope, Surdand Camp village in tehsil Bara, Khyber Agency; nine-month-old Abdul Samad, son of Khair Zaman, resident of Khushali village, tehsil Razmak, North Waziristan Agency; eight-month-old Mohammad Talha, son of Nisar, resident of UC Gomal Bazaar, Kot Azam village, tehsil Tank; 24-month-old Hazrat Bilal, son of Khayal Mohammad, resident of UC-2, Khamosh Colony, Liaquatabad Town, Karachi; and 23-month-old Mohammad Ibrahim, son of Maulvi Mohammad Idrees, resident of UC Kharotabad, Pashtoon Bagh village, Quetta.

An official at the Ministry of National Health Services said the two children in Fata could not be vaccinated because of a ‘ban on vaccination’ imposed by the Taliban in June 2012.

The parents of the two children in KP and Balochistan refused to get them vaccinated by the polio team. The child in Karachi received three OPV doses, but it appeared that his immunity was very low and might be affected because of the presence of the virus in the area, the official said.

Of the 171 cases detected this year, 121 have been reported in Fata, 29 in KP, 15 in Sindh, four in Balochistan and two in Punjab.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

India says no plans for Modi-Sharif meeting in New York

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: There are “no plans” for a meeting between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, India’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

NEW DELHI: There are “no plans” for a meeting between Indian and Pakistani prime ministers on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York this week, India’s foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

As part of “neighbours first” policy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet the leaders of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, Press Trust of India quoted the spokesman, Mr Syed Akbaruddin, as saying.

Asked if there could be a meeting between Mr Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, he said: “There are no plans for the meeting.”

About recent meetings between Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit with National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, the spokesperson said these were ‘courtesy’ meetings sought by the Pakistani envoy.

“Process should not be mixed with the content,” he said when asked if these meetings were indicative of possibility that the two prime ministers might meet in New York.

On the Modi-Hasina meeting, PTI quoted the spokesman as saying that both countries were aware of each other’s concerns and issues and any meeting will help in better understanding and also further deepening of the bilateral cooperation.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Karzai criticises US and Pakistan in farewell speech

Reuters

KABUL: Outgoing President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday blamed the United States for Afghanistan’s long war, in a final swipe at the country that helped bring him to power 13 years ago but towards which he has become increasingly bitter.

KABUL: Outgoing President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday blamed the United States for Afghanistan’s long war, in a final swipe at the country that helped bring him to power 13 years ago but towards which he has become increasingly bitter.

His farewell speech came days ahead of the swearing in of a new president, Ashraf Ghani, after months of turmoil over a disputed election that ended in a power-sharing deal, yet to be tested, with rival Abdullah Abdullah who will fill the role of chief executive.

Mr Karzai blamed both the United States and Pakistan for the continuing war with the Taliban and warned the new government to be “extra cautious in relations with the US and the West”.

The conflict kills thousands of Afghans each year and has claimed the lives of more than 2,200 American and other international forces in Afghanistan.

“One of the reasons was that the Americans did not want peace because they had their own agenda and objectives,” the Afghan president said. He did not elaborate, but in the past has suggested continued violence has been an excuse for the United States to keep bases in the country.

US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham called Mr Karzai’s comments “ungracious and ungrateful”.

“It makes me kind of sad. His remarks, which were uncalled for, do a disservice to the American people and dishonour the sacrifices made by Americans here,” Mr Cunningham said.

Mr Karzai also accused Pakistani power players of trying to control his country’s foreign policy.

“Today, I tell you again that the war in Afghanistan is not our war, but imposed on us and we are the victims,” he said.

“No peace will arrive unless the US or Pakistan want it.”

In recent years, Mr Karzai has denounced the United States for the deaths of Afghan civilians in air strikes and for holding suspected Afghan militants prisoner without trial. The relationship deteriorated to near breaking point this year when Mr Karzai refused to sign a security pact with the United States.

He said he had travelled to Pakistan at least 20 times seeking a negotiated end to the war, but his efforts were thwarted.

Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul had no immediate comment on the Afghan president’s speech.

Mr Karzai has been in power since 2001 after being plucked from virtual obscurity by the United States after the overthrow of the Taliban’s government for sheltering Al Qaeda’s leadership after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

The deterioration of his relationship with the West was seen by some as an effort to shape his legacy as an independent leader rather than a US puppet as maintained by the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Australian counter-terrorism officer shoots man dead

AP

CANBERRA: A man was shot dead and two counter-terrorism police were stabbed in a confrontation in Australia’s second largest city on Tuesday, police said.

CANBERRA: A man was shot dead and two counter-terrorism police were stabbed in a confrontation in Australia’s second largest city on Tuesday, police said.

It was not immediately clear whether the violence was related to a recent call from the Islamic State (IS) group to supporters to kill in their home countries. But police said the man appeared to be acting alone.

An Australian Federal Police officer and a Victoria state police officer who were part of a Joint Counter-Terrorism Team had asked the 18-year-old man to come to a police station in southeast Melbourne in relation to a routine matter in an investigation when the violence erupted outside the station, Victoria state police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said. The two police officers were stabbed before one of the officers shot the man dead, Mr Cornelius said. He declined to release the man’s name. “Our members had no inkling that this individual posed a threat to them and as far as we were concerned, it was going to be an amicable discussion about that individual’s behaviour,” Mr Cornelius told reporters, adding that the officer had “no choice” but to shoot.

Both police officers were taken to a hospital and were in stable condition on Tuesday night. “It appears this individual was acting on his own and was not acting in concert with other individuals,” Mr Cornelius said. “It’s our belief at this stage that this is an isolated incident.” Onlookers said the dead man had been shouting insults about Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Australian government in general in the moments before he was shot, The Age newspaper reported.

Australian Federal Police Commander Bruce Giles said reports that the deceased man had earlier been waving an IS flag were being investigated.

Earlier this month, Australia raised its terror warning to the second-highest level in response to the domestic threat posed by supporters of the IS group. Last week, police detained 16 people in counter-terrorism raids in Sydney and charged one with conspiring with an IS movement leader in Syria to kidnap and behead a randomly selected person. Another man faces a lesser weapons charge; the rest were released.

Mr Abbott warned on Tuesday that Australians who fought with the IS group in the Middle East would be “jailed for a very long time” when they returned home under a proposed law that would make it an offence to simply visit terrorism hot spots abroad.

Mr Abbott’s government is to introduce the proposed law to parliament on Wednesday. The legislation is designed to make it easier to prosecute Australian militants when they return home from Mideast battlefields and carries sentences of up to life in prison.

“If you fight with a terrorist group, if you seek to return to this country, as far as this government is concerned, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed for a very long time indeed,” he told parliament on Tuesday.

At least 60 Australians were fighting in Iraq and Syria with the IS group and another Al Qaeda offshoot, Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, the prime minister said.

He revealed that more than 60 Australian would-be fighters had their passports cancelled on secret service advice to prevent them from flying to the Mideast.

Dozens of suspected fighters have already returned to Australia from the battlefields. Security agencies fear they now pose a domestic terrorist threat.

Under current legislation, fighting with terrorists overseas carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence. But few have been charged due to the difficulties in gathering evidence from distant war zones.

Under the proposed law, an Australian would be committing a crime by visiting an area that the foreign minister has designated off-limits.

Attorney General George Brandis said entire countries would not be banned, but specific locations such as the Syrian city of Raqqa, which has become an IS stronghold, might be.

According to draft legislation released late on Tuesday, entering a so-called declared area would carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Entering a foreign country with the intention of engaging in hostile activity could incur a life sentence.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Footprints: The City of Gastronomy

Saher Baloch

I AM in the ‘royal city’, Chengdu, which according to my local guide, June Zhao, a bright 24-year-old woman, is new and at the same time ancient. “This is because merely 20 years ago, it was a village,” she says. Once ruled by the Qing dynasty, the last of China’s imperial dynasties, this 2,600-year-old royal city was where the traders merchandised silk and rice.

I AM in the ‘royal city’, Chengdu, which according to my local guide, June Zhao, a bright 24-year-old woman, is new and at the same time ancient. “This is because merely 20 years ago, it was a village,” she says. Once ruled by the Qing dynasty, the last of China’s imperial dynasties, this 2,600-year-old royal city was where the traders merchandised silk and rice.

But for foreigners and foodies, Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, is now famously known as the food capital. In 2010 it was named the Unesco city of gastronomy and was acknowledged for being the birthplace of many culinary traditions.

One of Chengdu’s specialties is the hotpot. June and I are on our way to the legendary Huang Cheng Lao Ma on Qin Tai Road, that was started as a modest hotpot stall in 1986 by Liao Huaying. It now has three branches in Chengdu.

On reaching the five-storey establishment located in the south of the city, I muse on the name: Huang Cheng Lao Ma, an old lady in a royal city, an apt description for Chengdu. But my thought vaporises when the strong aroma of Sichuan pepper hits us.

As we make our way to the table, I spot a gleaming cauldron. I am told it is a divided hotpot. One section has sizzling red chilli pepper and sesame seed oil in which the adventurous can dunk the ingredients. The other contains a milder broth. According to the manager of the restaurant, 32-year-old Wu Liu Ying, the fiery soup is the old Chengdu way of cooking. “Since most of our customers are foreigners or locals who like a bit of a mild taste, we don’t use all the spices. We keep it simple,” he tells me.

Next to the pot is a wide array of ingredients ranging from fish strips, sliced meats and the base of the lotus flower to lettuce leaves and tofu skin. Since I see myself in the adventurous camp, I take a tofu cube and dip it in the broth, to immediately regret it. I had barely chewed the tofu when the Sichuan pepper’s pungent flavour exploded, my tongue going numb for a good three minutes. Any attempt to reduce the heat by drinking cups of water went futile. “The water is hot!” I managed to cry out. The guide informed me that cold water was bad for the body — talk about adding fuel to the fire.

In the next round waiters bring in generous servings of golden-brown fried fish and beef strips with tomatoes, Kung Pao chicken, shrimp with lettuce leaves and dried mushrooms with tomato paste. The Sichuan pepper is a constant element. The shrimp is quickly polished off and I’m not surprised that it was the main attraction: melt-in-the-mouth, beautifully creamy. It dawned on me then that hot spices do not have to rob a dish of its flavour; rather, they balance the taste of each ingredient. This seemed to be a key quality of Sichuan cuisine.

June advised me to “keep an open mind while having food and remember that just like people, the appearance of a dish can be deceiving too”. This held true for some journalists partaking of vegetarian fare. One vegetable dish turned out to be the only one that was constantly nudged forward on the revolving food tray at the table, until someone weakly complained, “It tastes like dirt.” A bilingual interpreter translated it to the manager. Though a minor disaster, the dish was quietly taken away.

I turn my attention to other dishes placed before me. The fried fish reminds me of home and the roadside baakra restaurants at Kharadar, Karachi. Here, it is presented in a flat steel dish with soya bean sauce, laced with Sichuan pepper. The outer crust of the fish is spicy and delicious while the inside is bland, nicely balancing the overall taste. The only difference from the one sold at baakra at Kharadar is that the inside of the fish is stuffed with spices as well.

When I share this thought with a colleague, he points out how food is usually taken for granted in most countries. “They think it is inconsequential, not realising how fast the global food market is growing.” It seems Chengdu has realised the significance of the food market, though. According to the municipal statistics bureau, Chengdu’s food industry takes up 28.7 per cent of the total sales amount of Sichuan’s food industry and 4.8pc of Chengdu’s GDP. Zhang Xun, vice secretary of Chengdu International Container Logistics Park, says: “We realise the need to export our food and introduce their food in our markets in return. But these plans will begin between 2015 and 2016.”

At the end of our meal, fruit is brought in. Someone pipes up, inquiring about the fortune cookie, a dinner scene that has been enacted in several Hollywood movies starring stereotypical Chinese characters and traditions. Wu Liu clarifies, saying: “It is a hilarious myth. There’s no fortune cookie. Please don’t let people from other countries fool you with an account that has no basis.”

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Afghan president-elect Ashraf Ghani promises unity

AFP

KABUL: Afghanistan’s president-elect promised to end political strife and corruption in a speech on Monday, his first since signing a power-sharing agreement with his rival aimed at bringing months of turmoil to a close.

KABUL: Afghanistan’s president-elect promised to end political strife and corruption in a speech on Monday, his first since signing a power-sharing agreement with his rival aimed at bringing months of turmoil to a close.

“Afghanistan’s stability is most important for us,” former finance minister Ashraf Ghani said in his address at the presidential palace. “Let’s build up this nation and put the past behind us.”

Mr Ghani was named president-elect on Sunday after he signed a US-brokered deal to share power with his opponent, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Mr Abdullah had complained of mass vote-rigging in June’s run-off ballot.

Under the terms of the unity deal, Mr Ghani will share power with a chief executive proposed by Mr Abdullah.

The two will share control over who leads key institutions such as the army and other executive decisions.

Meanwhile, the Taliban dismissed the agreement for a unity government as a “sham” orchestrated by the United States and vowed to press on with their war against the Afghan government and the US and allied forces backing it.

“Installing Ashraf Ghani and forming a bogus administration will never be acceptable to the Afghans,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to journalists.

“The Americans must understand that our soil and land belong to us and all decisions and agreements are made by Afghans, not by the US foreign secretary or ambassador,” he said.

“We reject this American process and vow to continue our jihad until we free our nation from occupation and until we pave the way for a pure Islamic government.”

A US official said Mr Ghani and Mr Abdullah, both pro-western technocrats with similar political platforms, would be able to come together for the sake of the country despite the bitterness of the last three months.

Mr Ghani is expected to be sworn in as president on Sept 29, according to an official.

The new chief executive is expected to be inaugurated at the same time.

“Our focus will be on merit in every sector of the government and there will be no place for nepotism,” Mr Ghani said. “It will be a government of transparency, accountability and taking responsibility.”

One of his first acts is likely to be to sign a long-delayed security agreement with the US to allow a small force of foreign troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. He has previously declared support for the pact.

US Secretary of State John Kerry congratulated Afghanistan for what he called a “moment of extraordinary statesmanship” in which personal interests had been put aside for the sake of the country.

The “unity government… offers a huge opportunity for progress in Afghanistan, for the signing of the BSA (bilateral security agreement) in a week or so,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

IS calls for attacks on US, French citizens

Reuters

BAGHDAD: The Islamic State militant group urged its followers on Monday to attack citizens of the US, France and other countries which have joined a coalition to destroy it.

BAGHDAD: The Islamic State militant group urged its followers on Monday to attack citizens of the US, France and other countries which have joined a coalition to destroy it.

A spokesman for the IS, formerly called the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS), said according to the SITE monitoring website’s English transcript of an audio recording in Arabic that the intervention by the US-led coalition would be the “final campaign of the crusaders”.

“It will be broken and defeated, just as all your previous campaigns were broken and defeated,” Abu Muhammad al Adnani said.

Also read: Iran has ‘role’ in fighting IS militants, Kerry accepts

He urged his extremist group’s followers to attack US, French, Canadian, Australian and other countries’ nationals.

Mr Adnani mocked western leaders over their deepening military engagement in the region and said US President Barack Obama was repeating the mistakes of his predecessor George W. Bush. Addressing President Obama: the IS spokesman said: “You claimed today that America would not be drawn into a war on the ground. No, it will be drawn and dragged… to its death, grave and destruction.”

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Peace deal signed in Yemen after rebels seize govt HQ

AFP

SANAA: Rival groups in Yemen signed a UN-brokered peace deal on Sunday after Shia rebels seized the government headquarters and the prime minister resigned in the face of raging violence.

SANAA: Rival groups in Yemen signed a UN-brokered peace deal on Sunday after Shia rebels seized the government headquarters and the prime minister resigned in the face of raging violence.

“A national peace and partnership agreement based on the outcomes of the national dialogue conference was signed this evening at the presidential palace” in Sanaa, state news agency Saba reported.

President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi, United Nations envoy Jamal Benomar and representatives of Yemen’s political forces, including the Huthi rebels, attended the signing ceremony, it reported.

In a speech, Mr Hadi said: “We have reached a final deal with which we can overcome this crisis.”

Mr Benomar said the agreement called for the formation of a government of technocrats within one month.

Under the deal, Mr Hadi would also appoint advisers from the Shia Ansarullah rebels and southern separatists within three days, Mr Benomar said at the signing ceremony broadcast on state television.

The rebels earlier on Sunday swooped on key institutions across Sanaa, including the government headquarters and military sites, after an apparent surrender by security forces.

And Prime Minister Mohamed Basindawa resigned, accusing Mr Hadi of being “autocratic”, according to the text of his resignation letter released by the council of ministers.

“The partnership between myself and the president in leading the country only lasted for a short period, before it was replaced by autocracy to the extent that the government and I no longer knew anything about the military and security situation,” he wrote.

In a sign of the confusion sweeping Sanaa, Saba quoted a presidency source as saying Mr Hadi had not received the letter, “therefore the government remains headed by Mohamed Salem Basindawa”.

The rebels also overran state radio, the general command of the armed forces, headquarters of the sixth military region, the fourth brigade and the defence ministry’s media arm, official and rebel sources said.

They swept into the parliament building and took over the central bank and civil aviation authority, the sources said.

The interior ministry’s website urged security forces not to confront the insurgents.

Interior Minister Abdo al-Tarib instead urged “cooperation” with the rebels “to strengthen security and stability, preserve public property and guard government installations… and to consider Ansarullah friends of the police.”

The rebels advanced into Sanaa from their mountain stronghold in the far north last month and set up armed protest camps to press their demands for political change.

Mr Hadi on Friday denounced the Ansarullah offensive as a “coup attempt”.

Sunday’s developments came after a UN announcement on Saturday of a power-sharing deal to end days of fighting between the rebels and army-backed Sunni militiamen belonging to the influential Al-Islah (Reform) Party.

Earlier on Sunday, shelling and gunfire rocked northern Sanaa, prompting an exodus of terrified residents, a correspondent reported.

A week of fighting has killed dozens on both sides and forced the suspension of all flights into and out of Sanaa airport.

The latest clashes centred on the campus of Al-Iman University, a bastion of Sunni Islamists that the Shia rebels had been trying to capture, witnesses said.

Late on Sunday, Saba reported that Mr Hadi was meeting his advisers and Yemeni political forces, including representatives of Ansarullah.

He had already agreed to bring the rebels into a new government to replace the unpopular administration that imposed austerity measures, including a fuel price hike, earlier this year.

The rebels have demanded posts in key state institutions as part of their push for greater political clout.

With residents of northern districts fleeing their homes, the streets were largely deserted on Sunday as shops remained closed and the education ministry ordered schools to suspend lessons.

Yemen has been swept by political turmoil since long-time strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was forced from the presidency in early 2012.

The rebels hail from the Zaidi Shia community, that makes up 30 per cent of Yemen’s mostly Sunni nation but the majority community in the northern highlands, including the Sanaa region.

They have battled the government on and off for a decade from their stronghold of Saada in the far north.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

IS fighters close in on Syrian town as thousands flee

AFP

MURSITPINAR: Fighters of Islamic State (IS) group closed in on Syria’s third-largest Kurdish town on Sunday as tens of thousands of people fled in terror across the border into Turkey.

MURSITPINAR: Fighters of Islamic State (IS) group closed in on Syria’s third-largest Kurdish town on Sunday as tens of thousands of people fled in terror across the border into Turkey.

The UN refugee agency said as many as 70,000 Syrian Kurds had poured into Turkey since Friday, and solidarity protests by Turkish Kurds on the border prompted clashes with security forces.

Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by reinforcements from Turkey are battling to hold off a militant advance on the strategic border town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobane by the Kurds.

The IS group has seized large parts of Iraq and Syria, declaring a “caliphate”, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law and committing widespread atrocities including beheadings and crucifixions.

Local officials have warned of potential massacres should IS fighters advance on Ain al-Arab, and pleaded for an international intervention.

But despite promises by Washington to expand its air campaign against IS in Iraq to Syria, there were no signs yet of US strikes in the country.

UNHCR said it feared the massive influx of refugees would only grow, and said authorities were preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands of additional arrivals.

IS fighters have been advancing on Ain al-Arab since late Tuesday, hoping to cement their control over a large part of Syria’s border with Turkey.

On Sunday, they were within 10 kilometres of the town, after capturing more than 60 villages in the area, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.

The fighting has killed at least 27 Kurdish militants and 39 IS fighters.

At the border on Sunday, Turkish security forces used tear gas and water cannon to disperse a solidarity protest by Turkish Kurds and later closed most border crossing points in the area, including one used by Kurdish fighters heading to Syria.

Only two posts remain open, and the interior ministry will now register new arrivals.

Mustefa Ebdi, a Kobane resident, local journalist and activist, said the streets of the town — once home to about 50,000 people — were virtually empty.

“Most of the women and children have left Kobane, but there are thousands of Kurdish men who have taken up arms and are ready to defend the city,” he said by telephone, adding that the fighters would have a hard time matching the heavy weapons of IS.

“We need one US airplane to strike those barbarians, where is this international coalition?” he asked. “We are waiting for a miracle.”

The Syrian opposition National Coalition has urged foreign air strikes to “stop mass atrocities”, and Washington has said it would consider extending its air campaign against IS from Iraq to Syria.

American forces have carried out at least 183 strikes against IS in Iraq, where government forces launched an operation on Sunday to rescue an army battalion under attack by militants near the western city of Fallujah.

Iraqi military spokesman Qassem Atta said the operation was backed by US air support.

International outrage has grown over the IS group’s atrocities including the on-camera beheadings of two US journalists and a British aid worker.

The wife of a British taxi driver being held hostage by the militants urged them on Saturday to “see it in their hearts to release my husband”.

Alan Henning, a 47-year-old father of two, volunteered to drive a humanitarian aid convoy to Syria for a charity but was captured 10 months ago by IS.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that dozens of Turkish hostages held by IS militants in Iraq had been freed as a result of negotiations and no ransom had been paid for their release.

Forty-six Turks abducted by IS militants in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul were freed and returned to Turkey on Saturday after more than three months in captivity.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Envoy says US will not be alone in anti-IS campaign

Reuters

WASHINGTON: The United States has indications other countries are willing to launch air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, its UN ambassador said on Sunday, predicting “we will not do the air strikes alone”.

WASHINGTON: The United States has indications other countries are willing to launch air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, its UN ambassador said on Sunday, predicting “we will not do the air strikes alone”.

Washington is trying to build an international military, political and financial coalition to defeat the militant Sunni group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a ‘caliphate’ in the heart of the Middle East.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” if Washington had any indication other countries were willing to launch air strikes in Syria.

“We do,” Ms Power said. “But we’re going to leave it to other nations to announce for themselves what their specific commitments to the coalition are going to be.”

She highlighted US efforts to build a coalition against IS on television news shows as world leaders gathered in New York for this week’s UN General Assembly.

The United States has launched air strikes against IS within Iraq and President Barack Obama on Sept 10 authorised air strikes in Syria aimed at denying IS fighters safe havens in either country.

Ms Power refused to identify any of the countries that might join any air strike effort in Syria, but told CBS: “We do indeed have the support along the lines that I’ve described.” “There’s universal support, I think, for degrading and destroying this group,” she said on ABC’s “This Week”.

“I will make you a prediction … which is that we will not do the air strikes alone if the president decides to do the air strikes,” she said.

France last week launched its first air strikes inside Iraq, but its president, Francois Hollande, has ruled out strikes inside Syria as well as sending in ground troops.

The United States, president of the UN Security Council for September, called a meeting on Iraq on Friday where Secretary of State John Kerry said every nation, including Iran, had a role to play in the coalition.

Mr Obama, who said last week 40 countries had pledged to help, has already ordered 1,600 US troops into Iraq.

The US president will give a speech at the General Assembly on Wednesday to make the case again for world action against IS.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

US-Russia standoff looms at UN

Masood Haider

UNITED NATIONS: A diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia seems inevitable as Washington seeks to expand its military action against IS (formerly known as ISIS) in Syria.

UNITED NATIONS: A diplomatic standoff between the United States and Russia seems inevitable as Washington seeks to expand its military action against IS (formerly known as ISIS) in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart John Kerry on Sunday that Washington should respect Syrian sovereignty in its fight against Islamic State militants, the ministry said in a statement, released in Moscow.

Mr Lavrov stressed “the necessity to strictly comply with the United Nations’ statute, norms of international law and unconditional respect of Syrian sovereignty during the fulfilment of plans by the US-led coalition, which includes the use of force”, the ministry said.

President Barack Obama authorised US air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria earlier this month.

But Russia is expected to veto any resolution authorising any military action inside Syria.

Mr Obama will come to New York on Tuesday to first attend the world climate change summit.

He will then attend the opening session of the UN General Assembly and will meet a host of world leaders to discuss the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Syria and will preside over the UN Security Council meeting as the US heads the 15-member council this month.

The US is seeking to bolster the coalition of like-minded nations to prosecute military action against IS in Iraq and Syria but Iran says it cannot succeed without its participation.

However, the Western nations are reluctant to include Iran.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Footprints: Fear stalks the frontier sikhs

Aurangzaib Khan

The rickshaw chatters through deserted streets, shattering the grey silence curdled over the old city. At six in the morning, only the vendors from villages are here at the Kohati Gate, their pushcarts stacked with spinach. The shutters are still drawn on the pet shops, the birds unaware of the morning’s arrival, their dawn choruses unsung.

The rickshaw chatters through deserted streets, shattering the grey silence curdled over the old city. At six in the morning, only the vendors from villages are here at the Kohati Gate, their pushcarts stacked with spinach. The shutters are still drawn on the pet shops, the birds unaware of the morning’s arrival, their dawn choruses unsung.

A Sikh family stands at the mouth of Jogan Shah Mohalla in Peshawar, waiting for someone or something, their bags a pile on the side. The young man, his face haloed by a black beard, gives me directions to the temple.

His old mother stands by, worrying the beads, lips moving in silent prayers.

Our women read the scriptures when we leave home; they read it when we come back safe.

The pale morning light makes the mother and son appear tentative like refugees, both hopeful and despairing. Are they fleeing?

I enter the warrens of the old city where one could get lost if not careful. The streets get narrow and dark, light sucked out by multi-storeyed houses on both sides. Here stands an ancient brick facade among nondescript new buildings, an architectural masterstroke awaiting applause on being discovered in a street where residents have grown indifferent to it.

From somewhere deep within the maze of streets comes music, its muffled strains dispelling the morning gloom. It grows louder as I near the Bhai Joga Singh Gurdwara at the heart of Jogan Shah Mohalla, the Sikh neighbourhood in Peshawar.

Joga Singh. Jogan Shah. Singh. Shah. When did the name get twisted and turned around?

I sit outside the gurdwara, waiting for the morning prayers to end, watching sunlight wash over the ornate facade of the temple, painted vanilla. Hirsute men cleanse their feet in the shallow pond at the door before entering the temple, kirpans visible between the slits of their shirts. Men and women touch the footwear at the door for the dust left by the feet of other Sikhs.

Men eye me curiously as they go into the temple. I am here early to catch the community elders to speak to them about the killing of Sikhs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Five members of the Sikh community have been killed in the province in as many months, two of them in the first week of September. A pall of quiet desperation hangs over the Sikh inhabitants of the mohalla. Paranoid and suspicious, no one wants to speak out about the killings, afraid they might be targeted if they do.

The people won’t speak, they are terrified. When you go there, don’t tell them you are there to do a story. Don’t take notes. You can always write from memory later.

The Sikhs in Peshawar are mostly from the Orakzai, Khyber and Kurram agencies in Fata — the so-called “Frontier Singhs”. They are fair, speak fluent Pashto and many have the Afridi suffix to their name. When Partition occurred, the Sikhs in Peshawar fled to the tribal areas and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where the local Pakhtun population provided them protection. Since then, they have integrated into the local culture and society.

“We have not migrated from anywhere, nor did we choose to leave this land when Partition took place,” says a member of the community. “It hurts us when our right to this country is questioned, our loyalties doubted. Every time there is a cricket match between India and Pakistan that Pakistan wins, the people in the street we have lived and worked with for generations say, ‘We beat your team,’ as though we are Indians. They have never accepted us as citizens of Pakistan.”

Pakistan is where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was born and died.

On a Saturday, when the community finally agrees to speak to me, the gurdwara still has elders and youngsters at 11am in the morning. This is unusual, I am told, because Sikhs, mostly traders with shops in the city, are not going to work; their children are staying away from educational institutions in the wake of the killings.

“We are a tiny minority compared to others,” says a community elder. “If the state can’t offer us protection, what hope is there for others? They can ensure protection for the dharnas in the capital but our lives and properties are not safe.”

At the gurdwara, there is a lone policeman, busier reading the morning papers than being alert. Community members say they have been crying hoarse for protection. But their voices are drowned out by the song and dance at the dharnas that claim the attention of the media and the authorities. Earlier, when community representatives met Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, he said the government could give them licences for weapons to protect themselves.

“How will that solve anything?” asks a young man. “It will only fuel conflict. We will be labelled terrorists. We are karobari [business] people, we have no time for kutcheris [court cases].”

The Sikhs in Peshawar are also IDPs, displaced from the tribal areas post-Sept 11, 2001. In Orakzai, militants asked them for ‘protection money’, demanding that they convert to Islam or join them as fighters. In Khyber, they were kidnapped and beheaded, their shops targeted. In Kurram, the Shia-Sunni conflict forced them to leave for Peshawar and Hassanabdal.

“The very elders who protected us told us to leave because they could no longer protect themselves, let alone us,” says an elder from Tirah in Khyber Agency. Now the landlords in Peshawar are telling them to vacate shops and properties because they are a hazard.

“For the thousands of Sikh families here, it is like Partition all over again,” says one man. “We are being hounded and targeted, pushed into leaving our homes and properties.”

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Afghan presidential rivals reach unity govt deal

Reuters

KABUL: The rival candidates in Afghanistan’s messy election for a new president finally struck a power-sharing deal on Saturday, aides said, after more than two months of tension over a vote in which each side accused the other of fraud.

KABUL: The rival candidates in Afghanistan’s messy election for a new president finally struck a power-sharing deal on Saturday, aides said, after more than two months of tension over a vote in which each side accused the other of fraud.

Teams from both sides met late into the night with United Nations representatives to try to finalise a power-sharing deal before Sunday’s scheduled announcement of the final election results after a UN-monitored audit and recount.

“Both camps have agreed 100 per cent on everything and we’ll sign the deal tomorrow. Everything has been initialled and there is no disagreement on anything,” said Faizullah Zaki, spokesman for front-running candidate and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

Mujib Rahimi, the spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, confirmed a deal had finally been struck, but did not give any details.

Aimal Faizi, a spokesman for President Hamid Karzai, said the deal would be formally signed on Sunday at a ceremony.

Preliminary results released in July put Mr Ghani ahead with 56 per cent of the vote, prompting street protests from supporters of Mr Abdullah, who alleged massive fraud and said he was the rightful winner.

The dispute ruined hopes for a smooth democratic transition to replace Mr Karzai, who has held power since the Taliban’s Islamist government was ousted in 2001, and threatened to rekindle the ethnic tensions that had plunged Afghanistan into civil war in the 1990s.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

India terms Bilawal’s Kashmir statement ‘far from reality’

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: India on Saturday described as “far from reality” the reported comment of Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that his party would get back entire Kashmir for his country.

NEW DELHI: India on Saturday described as “far from reality” the reported comment of Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that his party would get back entire Kashmir for his country.

New Delhi also asserted that integrity and unity of the country was “non-negotiable”, the Press Trust of India said.

“We are in the process of looking forward and looking forward does not mean that our borders will be changed. We made it very clear that as far as we are concerned, the integrity and unity of India is non-negotiable,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said.

He said the comment was “far from reality which takes us back into the past century”.

Mr Zardari was quoted as telling his party colleagues on Friday that the PPP would get back the entire Kashmir from India.

“I will take back Kashmir, all of it, and I will not leave behind a single inch of it because, like the other provinces, it belongs to Pakistan,” he said.

When he made these remarks, PTI said he was flanked by former prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Raja Pervez Ashraf.

The PPP officially wants good ties with India.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2014

Editorial News

Challenge within

Editorial

IT is not what President Barack Obama said at the UN General Assembly that matters; it is the horror of the situation in the Middle East that must prod the Muslim world into asking itself — to borrow the title of historian Bernard Lewis’s celebrated book — what went wrong?

IT is not what President Barack Obama said at the UN General Assembly that matters; it is the horror of the situation in the Middle East that must prod the Muslim world into asking itself — to borrow the title of historian Bernard Lewis’s celebrated book — what went wrong?

The American leader’s focus in his speech on Wednesday was on a joint struggle that would “degrade and destroy” the self-styled Islamic State, which he called a “network of death” that was using rape as a weapon to subdue civilians, beheading journalists and killing children.

Forty nations, Muslim and non-Muslim, were fighting this menace, whose reprehensible actions, he said, “no God condones”. The president’s rhetoric was aimed at two audiences — the American people, who were assured that there would be no boots on the ground; and the Muslim world. So that the latter should not misunderstand his motives, he stressed that “we reject any suggestion of a clash of civilisations” and that a “belief in permanent religious war is the misguided refuge of extremists”. Then he appealed to the Muslim world to focus “on the extraordinary potential of their people, especially the youth”.

Nobody can say when the war on the IS will end and what twists and turns it will take during what appears to be just the beginning of America’s third war in the Middle East in 25 years. But one thing is obvious — it is the people of the Arab-Islamic world who have suffered, and will continue to suffer, the consequences of their failure to take on the extremism and bigotry which were bound to take root in an atmosphere characterised by the lack of freedom and democracy. That some provocations and humiliation came from outside — as in the case of Palestine, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Kashmir — goes without saying.

But it was the Muslim rulers’ failure to meet these geopolitical challenges that created frustration among the masses and gave space to the extremists now questioning and threatening the fundamentals of civilised living. Nowhere is the failure to break out of the cycle of stagnation and discard the baggage of history more evident than in the oil-rich countries’ inability to transform themselves into progressive societies.

The disparity between Muslim societies and others is stark, as pointed out by former president Pervez Musharraf in a speech some three months before 9/11. For instance, while the GDP of the Muslim world was between $1,200 and $1,300, Japan’s stood at $5,550; while the Muslim world had 380 universities, Japan had 1,000; the number of PhDs a year was 500 in Muslim world, while India alone produced 5,000 annually.

This means the Muslim world doesn’t have the tools — military or educational — to take on the extremists. Instead, it depends upon help from those very powers which directly or indirectly encouraged the monster of militant extremism now ravaging the Muslim world.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Extent of militancy

Editorial

The outgoing Peshawar corps commander Gen Khalid Rabbani has spoken candidly about the national dimension of the militancy problem, squarely indicating that regions outside his operational command of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a potent, and varied, mix of militancy that needs to be tackled urgently.

The outgoing Peshawar corps commander Gen Khalid Rabbani has spoken candidly about the national dimension of the militancy problem, squarely indicating that regions outside his operational command of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have a potent, and varied, mix of militancy that needs to be tackled urgently.

By citing militant hotbeds in other provinces, the commander of the military’s ongoing Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan Agency should not be seen as trying to deflect responsibility, but should be applauded for attempting to put the fight against militancy in its proper context — which means regarding Zarb-i-Azb as an important, but by no means final, step in the right direction.

Unhappily, few lessons appear to have been learned from the experience of Fata and KP, where militancy festered for years in plain sight until it exploded about a decade ago. Now for years the country has heard about a growing militant network in Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh, but for the most part such warnings have met with the same dire apathy that once greeted those about what was brewing in Fata and KP.

In many ways, the next phase of the fight against militancy — and this phase will come whether the state decides to take the fight to the militants or vice versa — presents an even bigger challenge than Fata.

That is both because the non-military tools — civilian-led law enforcement and counterterrorism forces — are either non-existent or unable to perform adequately. Moreover, the militants themselves are more integrated within society in the provinces, living, recruiting, fund-raising and contributing welfare schemes to the communities in which they live.

A bigger challenge with less effective resources to fight it — that is essentially the dilemma that militancy outside Fata and KP presents. Yet, Gen Rabbani left a few things unsaid and they concern his institution. For one, while highlighting the need for so-called intelligence-driven operations requiring cooperation and coordination among a host of provincial, national, military and civilian agencies, Gen Rabbani left unsaid what the eternally fraught civil-military relations, especially in light of recent events, have done to the possibility of cooperation and coordination.

For another, has the military leadership really dropped the idea of a distinction between good and bad militants across Pakistan? Operation Zarb-i-Azb itself has left a question mark over whether that is truly the case. Surely, the civilian-led dispensation must perform better. But can it if the old power centre is still unable to fully move on?

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Fate of Afghan refugees

Editorial

MUCH hinges on the success of the new power-sharing deal in Kabul, including the fate of over a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

MUCH hinges on the success of the new power-sharing deal in Kabul, including the fate of over a million Afghan refugees in Pakistan.

Along with the success of the ‘unity government accord’ between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, the return of the Afghan refugees to their homeland will be determined by how stable conditions are after the foreign forces leave.

Right now, the prospects for swift repatriation don’t look very bright. At a recent workshop organised in Peshawar by UNHCR and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees, participants were told that while 19,000 Afghans returned home in 2013, this year so far only 4,800 refugees had been repatriated.

This is despite the fact that the UN refugee agency has increased cash assistance to the displaced Afghans and provided them transport to cross the border. The slowdown is fuelled by fears of what may happen in Afghanistan in the months ahead. For its part, Pakistan, which hosts around 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees (and reportedly over a million unregistered individuals), has much on its plate already, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.

Pakistan has been tackling the Afghan refugee crisis for over three decades; the UNHCR has acknowledged it as the “largest protracted refugee situation globally”.

This newspaper believes that repatriation should be voluntary — keeping in mind that without peace in war-torn Afghanistan, the refugees may not want to return. While the UN and those countries that have been militarily involved in Afghanistan must support Pakistan’s efforts to care for the displaced Afghans, there are steps authorities within the country can take to mitigate the problem.

For one, better border management is needed as currently, individuals can slip into Pakistan without much hindrance. People have been known to take money offered by the UN, leave for Afghanistan and soon find their way back to Pakistan. Additionally, there has been no coherent refugee policy at the national level, which is hampering efforts to effectively address the problem.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Suicide attack in Peshawar

Editorial

IN the fight against militancy, a military operation in North Waziristan Agency was always considered a necessary step and blowback in Pakistan proper a likely price that would have to be paid. Now, with the military’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb well into its fourth month, the blowback that did not immediately materialise appears to have finally arrived, and possibly may rapidly escalate.

IN the fight against militancy, a military operation in North Waziristan Agency was always considered a necessary step and blowback in Pakistan proper a likely price that would have to be paid. Now, with the military’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb well into its fourth month, the blowback that did not immediately materialise appears to have finally arrived, and possibly may rapidly escalate.

The suicide attack on a senior commander of the Frontier Corps in Peshawar on Tuesday has indicated just how potent the Taliban threat still remains: from target selection to reconnaissance to pairing suicide bomber with munitions, the TTP still has all the elements necessary to cause much damage.

It is possible to point to the escape of the senior FC commander as a sign that the TTP threat is waning, but in the world of terrorism an essential truth is that the militants only need to succeed once in many attempts to land a massive psychological blow.

Yet, to definitively succeed against terrorism and militancy, the state will need a wide-ranging strategy involving many arms of the state, not just the armed forces. The weakness of the present strategy was underlined yet again on Tuesday as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee vowed to eradicate terrorism in the country and to work tirelessly to develop and execute an effective strategy against terrorism.

That sentiment may be noble, but to what extent does it reflect reality? The military can operate in Fata, where it is waging a counter-insurgency with nearly 200,000 troops, and it can operate under the protection of Article 245 in the cities, doing selective counterterrorism operations. But does the fight against militancy need a military-led strategy or a civilian-led one? No military strategy can tackle the roots of the problem of militancy nor can any militancy strategy change the social dynamics that make violent ideologies so appealing to sections of the public.

Moreover, with some doubts about whether the long-standing policy of the security establishment of differentiating between good and bad militants has truly been abandoned, is the state really poised to effectively fight militancy?

Unhappily, while the focus is on military-led approaches, the civilian set-up remains ill-equipped to even understand the dimensions of the militancy problem. The previous PPP-led government was clear in its language, but more than just ambiguous in its actions.

Now, the PML-N is often accused of tolerating or even collaborating with militant elements to keep the peace in Punjab — a misguided notion of peace given that it has only allowed the infrastructure of jihad (the mosque, madressah and social welfare networks) to grow without any oversight or control. Surely, where brave soldiers fight on the front lines in the war against militancy, their courage and sacrifices should be recognised and applauded. But the fight against militancy will not be won with guns alone.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Gas infrastructure cess

Editorial

A MESSY situation is developing in the gas sector. The previous government had introduced a ‘Gas Infrastructure Development Cess’ to be imposed on all consumers except for domestic.

A MESSY situation is developing in the gas sector. The previous government had introduced a ‘Gas Infrastructure Development Cess’ to be imposed on all consumers except for domestic.

A list of rates applicable to each category of consumer — from fertiliser to CNG to industry — was attached to the original legislation, which ultimately had to be passed via the finance bill. The idea at the time was to use the cess to raise funds for building additional pipeline capacity, particularly for imported gas. In its first year of operation, the amount of money to be raised from the cess was budgeted as Rs8bn.

This rose to Rs30bn subsequently. Today, the amount to be raised under this cess has risen further to Rs145bn, a staggering sum, making the cess comparable to some of the largest non-tax revenue heads in the government’s finances. From the very beginning, the cess became a controversial enterprise, thus making it necessary to seek its passage into law via the finance bill, where it did not need to be debated in committee.

More recently, the Peshawar High Court has found the cess to be illegal, and ordered the government to reimburse all money charged under it. The matter went to the Supreme Court, which found that “the cess could not have been introduced through a money bill” and upheld the judgement of the Peshawar High Court.

The court’s order has hit the government hard. An option being explored is to seek an act of parliament to provide the cess with legal cover, while using a presidential ordinance in the interim period to keep the revenues coming. If the ordinance stands up to legal challenge, and if the government is successful in arranging support in parliament for the cess, the matter may yet reach smooth closure. But should the plan hit a snag, the blow to government finances could be substantial.

A snag could come in the form of parliamentary parties insisting that the cess be classified as a tax, which would entitle provincial governments to their share in it under the NFC Award. In substantial measure, the mess is the result of failure in gas price deregulation. Reforms in gas pricing are important to avoid landing up in difficult situations of this sort. If the government draws the right lessons from the whole affair, perhaps the headaches created would have been worth it after all.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Redrawing boundaries

Editorial

NEVER short of solutions for this country’s numerous crises, MQM chief Altaf Hussain recently weighed in on two sensitive topics that are bound to spark debate.

NEVER short of solutions for this country’s numerous crises, MQM chief Altaf Hussain recently weighed in on two sensitive topics that are bound to spark debate.

Speaking late on Monday, the Muttahida supremo called for the formation of a government of technocrats at the centre for two years in order to carry out “ruthless accountability”. Earlier, he had called for the creation of four new provinces in Sindh.

As far as the formation of a technocrats’ administration goes, this is not a new suggestion and has been often cited as a silver-bullet solution for Pakistan that would, in effect, roll up the democratic project. Coming to the division of Sindh, this is a potentially divisive issue and all political forces need to think carefully before publicly airing their views in this regard.

For one, there does not seem to be much weight in the argument that Sindh should be divided along administrative lines. For example, at a multi-party conference held in Karachi on Tuesday, organised by the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan and the Qaumi Awami Tehreek, all parties present — both those sitting in the Sindh Assembly and those without elected representatives — said they opposed the division of Sindh.

Although the PPP, which considers Sindh its power base, was not invited, it has also spoken clearly about its opposition to any redrawing of the provincial borders. This points to concerns that such a division of Sindh will disturb the delicate ethnic balance that exists in the province, and could unleash communal passions.

What Sindh does need are empowered districts, whose elected representatives deliver good governance and security to the people. For this, elected local governments are essential; unfortunately, both the PPP and MQM have done little to revive the local bodies’ system in Sindh. But if the Muttahida feels strongly about the issue, let it take the debate about new divisions to the Sindh Assembly. The house — with elected representatives from all parts of Sindh — is the best forum to discuss the matter.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

The Syrian campaign

Editorial

IF a few cruise missiles and bombing sorties were all it took to neutralise battle-hardened terrorist groups, the world would be a much safer place. However, this is not a practical solution, which is why we must greet with caution the start of the US-led bombing of the self-styled Islamic State in Syria.

IF a few cruise missiles and bombing sorties were all it took to neutralise battle-hardened terrorist groups, the world would be a much safer place. However, this is not a practical solution, which is why we must greet with caution the start of the US-led bombing of the self-styled Islamic State in Syria.

Tuesday’s air strikes mark the first time the US, aided by its allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, as well as Jordan, have engaged IS in Syria. An aerial campaign targeting the militant group in Iraq has been under way since August. However, in the latter case the government in Baghdad had asked for American help.

In Syria’s case the regime — which has been fighting a brutal civil war against a clutch of opposition groups, including extremist outfits — has mostly been kept out of the loop. Damascus says it was “informed” about the American strikes inside Syria. However, there has been no coordination between Bashar al-Assad’s government and Washington.

The Western camp and its allies have long called for regime change in Syria, which is why the US-led coalition finds itself in a dilemma. When the Syrian civil war began over three years ago, the rebels, including many extremist factions, received considerable outside help to battle Mr Assad. Now that some of these fighters have helped form the nucleus of IS and grown into veritable Frankensteins, and are out of their masters’ control, it is difficult for the West to bury the hatchet with Mr Assad and join forces against the militants.

Many questions remain about what will follow in Syria. After all, even some senior officials in the Western camp have said victory against IS will be difficult without ground forces. And with the US and many in Europe uneasy about putting their own boots on the ground, the million-dollar question is: who will do the dirty work in the field? If plans are being drawn up to arm and train the ‘moderate’ Syrian opposition, two questions emerge: how moderate are these forces and what are their fighting capabilities? It is largely true that most of the best fighters in the Syrian opposition have come from extremist factions. So would the West be replacing one set of obscurantists with another?

The rise of IS has doubtless been facilitated by geopolitical machinations trumping logic and respect for the sovereignty of others. The best solution appears to be for the US and its allies to abandon plans for regime change in Damascus and work with Mr Assad to effectively counter IS and other extremists in Syria.

Iran and Russia also need to be engaged considering their close relationship with Mr Assad, to form a more formidable anti-IS front and to convince the Syrian leader to agree to a negotiated solution to the Syrian crisis with the non-militant opposition once the dust settles.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

ECP revelations

Editorial

SELF-INDICTMENT or an expression of helplessness, the Election Commission of Pakistan has reconfirmed fears about the system by which lawmakers are elected.

SELF-INDICTMENT or an expression of helplessness, the Election Commission of Pakistan has reconfirmed fears about the system by which lawmakers are elected.

In an assessment report — which has taken its time coming — about the May 2013 general election, the ECP has identified some problems that resulted in the polls being perceived as far from ideal.

Much of the blame for the ‘mess’ had already been put on the frequently maligned returning officers drawn from the judiciary. There is, however, a lot more in this self-analysis that shows the rot is much deeper and wider than it appears, and brings the working of the ECP under a dark cloud. It exposes serious flaws in ECP operations, and a remedy should go beyond the oft-made suggestion that the returning officers be put under its control.

Now to the crucial question of whether the ECP’s admission and its mild complaints of having to be unnecessarily dependent on others, including the judiciary, bring the 2013 election into doubt. It is impossible to argue that this self-assessment will not embolden those campaigning against vote rigging in the last polls. They have time and again been asked to back their slogans with evidence, whereas the proof they have cited in support of their allegations has been dismissed as insufficient.

The ECP’s own report about its failings is a boon for the campaigns of both the PTI and PAT. It is an official seal on information about polls irregularities accumulated through various sources. The PTI, which has been fighting various cases within the system to prove its claims about rigging, and PAT, which wants not reform but a change of system outright, would now be justified in saying they have a case that demands not only a probe but prompt action, even if some poll results have to be nullified.

The PML-N government on its part has maintained that the ECP-led system which organised the polls was not its invention. But that does not, or should not, prevent an honest scrutiny of the last polls. It might no more be sufficient to say that these things do happen during elections or that it is in the interest of democracy to ignore May 2013 and wait for the next polls in 2018, which could be conducted under a reformed, reinvigorated ECP. Those who term May 2013 a fraud would be energetically and with some justification be pushing for a mid-term solution.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

War on minorities

Editorial

IT should have been just another Sunday service at the All Saints Church in Peshawar a year ago. As it turned out, it was the prelude to a massacre, the worst attack against the Christian community in Pakistan, when twin suicide bombings at the end of the service claimed around 90 lives and injured over 100 people.

IT should have been just another Sunday service at the All Saints Church in Peshawar a year ago. As it turned out, it was the prelude to a massacre, the worst attack against the Christian community in Pakistan, when twin suicide bombings at the end of the service claimed around 90 lives and injured over 100 people.

The carnage sparked a wave of revulsion among Pakistanis, and expressions of solidarity with the community were swift in coming. Although attacks on such scale along religious lines have not occurred since then, the war on minorities in this country grinds on relentlessly.

In fact, it could be said that it is expanding, claiming yet more victims and also from communities hitherto left comparatively unscathed by religious extremism.

In Peshawar itself, the small Sikh community has been repeatedly targeted this year. Five Sikhs have been killed in as many months, with two fatalities in the first week of September alone. In a remote corner of Balochistan, armed men attacked a group of Zikris in their place of worship, killing six and injuring several others. Although persecution of the Zikris — a little-known Islamic sect — had surfaced during Gen Zia’s time, when religious extremism was actively harnessed and patronised to further strategic objectives, this was the first direct attack in more than two decades on their lives.

Meanwhile, a reprehensible conspiracy of silence by the state surrounds the murder of Ahmadis — whose persecution is institutionalised in Pakistan — even when a woman and two girls from that community were killed in a ghastly mob attack in July.

The crux of the problem is the state’s refusal to take proactive steps to control the menace of religious extremism: banned/extremist organisations extend their influence to areas so far untouched by communal strife; hate speech is freely disseminated; the blasphemy law is used as a tool of persecution; school curricula contain derogatory references to minority communities. While the government continues in a state of torpor, this fire has begun to consume the very foundations of the country.

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Challenge for new ISI chief

Editorial

SO endemically controversial has become the ISI director general’s post in recent years that if incoming DG Gen Rizwan Akhtar were to simply leave office at the end of his term with his reputation neither bolstered nor harmed, it would count as a success at this stage.

SO endemically controversial has become the ISI director general’s post in recent years that if incoming DG Gen Rizwan Akhtar were to simply leave office at the end of his term with his reputation neither bolstered nor harmed, it would count as a success at this stage.

Consider the deep controversy that Gen Shuja Pasha had generated by the time he retired in 2012: a one-year extension the year before, the Osama bin Laden raid and ‘memogate’ are just some of the stunning lowlights, with persistent rumours of meddling in the political process dogging the latter part of his tenure.

Know more: Lt-Gen Rizwan Akhtar named new ISI chief

Now Gen Zaheerul Islam is set to leave office as an ongoing national political crisis he has been accused of engineering by some quarters rumbles on. So perhaps if the new director general were simply to keep a distance from politics and avoid national security crises, it would be an improvement over his predecessors.

Yet, while politics and the ISI are no strangers, the politicisation of the ISI in recent years has obscured a more fundamental challenge: getting the strategy against militancy right and helping restore internal security.

In that regard, Gen Akhtar’s counterterrorism experience in Karachi as DG Rangers and counter-insurgency experience in South Waziristan as a commander will give him the kind of skill that can be invaluable in tackling the problem operationally.

The bigger challenge though may be less to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight militancy and more to wean the military leadership off its old habits of security policies rooted in fear and ambition. There is also a sense — all but confirmed in recent years — that the ISI has in some ways grown almost independent when it comes to its parent organisation, the armed forces.

When reasonable and rational observers of the military and the political process begin to speculate whether an army chief has full control over the ISI or whether even a DG ISI has full control over his sprawling organisation, there is surely cause for concern. Gen Akhtar has many challenges ahead of him, but none may be as important as signalling that the armed forces are not a house divided.

Finally, there is the inevitable question of civil-military relations. Even in the very announcement of Gen Akhtar’s appointment can be detected a further sidelining of the civilian government with the ISPR choosing to announce the ‘posting’ instead of the Prime Minister’s Office issuing an official statement.

If form is so completely ignored, then what does that say about the substance of ties between the PML-N government and the military leadership at the moment? If Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif did not attempt to install a favourite of his own, did the military reciprocate by at least offering the prime minister a choice of three names? Or has the military simply indicated that the military decides and Mr Sharif complies?

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

PTI show in Karachi

Editorial

THE PTI’s urge to expand its protest resulted in a sizeable rally in Karachi on Sunday. The change in locale from Islamabad where Imran Khan has been holding his dharna for the last five weeks entailed a necessary adjustment of target for the party.

THE PTI’s urge to expand its protest resulted in a sizeable rally in Karachi on Sunday. The change in locale from Islamabad where Imran Khan has been holding his dharna for the last five weeks entailed a necessary adjustment of target for the party.

The ‘Go Nawaz Go’ slogan remained the rallying call but underneath it much of the rhetoric was aimed at no longer just the PML-N. Mr Khan had been earlier unsuccessfully wooing the PPP in his campaign to oust Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Now he lambasted the PPP for exploiting rural Sindh in the name of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He was not overtly critical of the MQM — although earlier the PTI had accused it of poll irregularities, the main plank of its current campaign as well. But his message was that if the people of Sindh were able to unite and rise above ethnic politics, the emerging collective would be large enough to work as an effective third force in Sindh.

The MQM has shown signs that it realises the importance of the PTI’s challenge. And the PPP could always do with a nudge or two from a possible opponent. Consequently, whereas it is difficult at the moment to measure how far the PTI can go in Sindh, there is significance in Mr Khan carrying the battle to the province.

The labels do not matter much. Call it the politics of change or populist politics, so long as it brings greater choices to the people, the PTI will have a role, and Mr Khan’s opponents should not underestimate him.

At the Karachi rally, Imran Khan indicated he was planning to have similar shows in Lahore and elsewhere in the country. This belies an attempt by the PTI chief to try and play to his strength — cashing in on the PTI’s popularity among the middle class in various cities.

His dharna has kept him and his party centre stage since mid-August but many believed that the sit-in was not the most advisable mode for the PTI; instead, they favoured a series of public meetings all over Pakistan, which to their mind were easier organised and less taxing on the party. Now, the public meetings elsewhere in the country will complement the sit-in in Islamabad, where the numbers of participants have fluctuated. These are not bad tactics in the attempt to show the extent of support for the PTI.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Monetary policy statement

Editorial

THE State Bank’s monetary policy statement for the July to September period makes for confusing reading. All the caveats that peppered previous announcements are gone, and no mention is made of how key reforms in the energy and fiscal side are progressing.

THE State Bank’s monetary policy statement for the July to September period makes for confusing reading. All the caveats that peppered previous announcements are gone, and no mention is made of how key reforms in the energy and fiscal side are progressing.

There is only a cursory mention of the rapidly deteriorating trade deficit, which increased by 83pc from the corresponding period last year. Plummeting levels of FDI are merely mentioned in one phrase, but there is not a word on the causes or implications of this.

Bank lending to the private sector turned negative in this period, while government borrowing from the State Bank rose — a worrying sign for continuation of the nascent recovery in real economic activity. Yet the monetary policy statement makes no mention of it. In fact, one has to look in vain in the statement for any update on the nascent recovery being touted by the government all year, save for one bland claim that “real economic activity is expected to continue”.

On all the critical issues facing the economy the State Bank is suddenly silent. In both the May and July statements, it endorsed the idea that a recovery was under way in real economic activity, but cautioned that “challenges and vulnerabilities” remained, and further reforms were necessary for it to be sustainable.

While those statements were not exactly shining examples of lucidity, this time even minimal hints and caveats of announcements past are conspicuous by their absence. The impression one gets is that the bank is too fearful to speak at the moment, given the politically charged atmosphere in the country, and prefers to mumble its pronouncements. Some of this reticence is understandable.

These are, after all, sensitive times. But questions of credibility still linger, because it appears the bank is bartering away its hard-won autonomy without even a fight. If not, then an explanation should be furnished about why the concerns raised in earlier pronouncements have been dropped so easily this time round.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Afghanistan deal

Editorial

THE election deal secured in Afghanistan by the international community yesterday cannot really be called democratic, but at least it has given the country a chance to establish relative peace and stability.

THE election deal secured in Afghanistan by the international community yesterday cannot really be called democratic, but at least it has given the country a chance to establish relative peace and stability.

Unhappily, three elections into a new era aspiring towards democracy, the Afghan electoral process remains hostage to back-room deals, powerbrokers and warlords. Without forgetting Pakistan’s own struggles with democracy over more than six decades, the most worrying part about the post-2001 Afghan political system is that it does not quite give an impression of being sustainable.

Know more: Afghan Elections 2014

If elections are to be a complete sham — the winner was announced yesterday by the Independent Election Commission chairman without even sharing a final vote count — and do not incrementally move towards the goal of transparency and fairness, then surely at some point behind-the-scenes powerbrokers inside Afghanistan may dispense with the façade altogether.

Without belabouring the point, much of Afghanistan’s governance travails over the past decade have been because the electoral system was betrayed to install Hamid Karzai as president the first time round and then betrayed a second time as Mr Karzai turned on his original benefactors to secure more and more power and perks for his political partners and himself.

Of what use is a so-called democratic system if it leads to the most undemocratic of actions? The international community and Afghanistan’s power elite have once again sacrificed principle to salvage the veneer of stability and forward movement. Having said that, the experiment to put into effect a national government with both Pakhtun and erstwhile Northern Alliance elements seems to be the only option worth trying.

At least the incoming government team will be led by the two men who Afghans have an overwhelming preference to be ruled by. Quite how president-elect Ashraf Ghani and possibly his number two, incoming chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah, will get along in office remains to be seen. It is better though to have a peaceful settlement rather than chaos and civil war, as many of Mr Abdullah’s allies have been tacitly threatening.

The big issues that will confront the two men are well known, as is their priority. First, the post-2014 future of the international presence, led by the US, in Afghanistan will have to be quickly settled. Almost as important as residual troops in Afghanistan will be the international community’s financial commitments to the country. Second will be a serious push in the peace process with the Afghan Taliban, while ensuring that the Afghan National Security Forces do not cede too much terrain to the former. Third, relations with Pakistan and the problem of a porous border and militant sanctuaries on both sides of it. Fourth, Afghanistan itself, with the incoming government having to prove it can govern better than Mr Karzai. Together, these factors constitute a towering challenge.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Politics & development

Editorial

NOTWITHSTANDING the ongoing sit-ins in Islamabad — which have by now settled into something that more closely resembles routine rather than crisis — since the elections in 2008 there is some evidence that, politically, Pakistan has made several crucial gains.

NOTWITHSTANDING the ongoing sit-ins in Islamabad — which have by now settled into something that more closely resembles routine rather than crisis — since the elections in 2008 there is some evidence that, politically, Pakistan has made several crucial gains.

It is noteworthy that an elected government managed to ride out various crises and complete its full term in a country where civilian rule has historically always been cut short. This was followed by the peaceful handover to another elected government.

These past few years have seen several important pieces of legislation and long-awaited constitutional amendments, including the reduction of discretionary presidential powers and the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

Some might even hold up with triumph evidence of some of the country’s leading politicians and largest political parties having learned, through their years in the wilderness during the Musharraf era, that the politics of constantly undermining one another are detrimental in the long term, and that it is the system that is of paramount importance.

Recognition of the latter, after all, is what led the majority in parliament to stand behind the embattled government as Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri threw down the gauntlet.

But has this growth in political maturity translated into solid gains on the ground for this country’s impoverished and beleaguered citizenry? The short answer is no — or not yet, anyway.

For the average Pakistani, life remains a matter of scaling mountains of challenges. This is the unfortunate reality that was underscored by a UNDP report discussed in Islamabad on Friday — the Human Development Report 2014.

Placing Pakistan at the 146th position amongst the 187 countries ranked, it points out that this country’s human development index has been stagnating over the past five years, meaning there has been extremely slow growth in the building of citizens’ capacity.

This importance source of information regarding Pakistan’s hard realities is confirmed by even a cursory glance at our towns and cities. The task ahead for the state and the government at the helm is therefore clear: as the political system grows stronger, they need to urgently put themselves to work by investing in the people, in measures that will improve the capacities of the workforce and bring about social and economic uplift.

It needs to be recognised that progress is required in tandem, on all fronts; work in isolation will not achieve the desired results.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Polio emergency

Editorial

IT’S hard to say what it will take to shake the state out of its apathy towards polio. There’s not a shadow of doubt that the crippling disease is not just on the upsurge, but rapidly accelerating.

IT’S hard to say what it will take to shake the state out of its apathy towards polio. There’s not a shadow of doubt that the crippling disease is not just on the upsurge, but rapidly accelerating.

In recent days, almost 20 new cases have been reported across the country — 13 on Sept 16 alone. The number of confirmed cases so far this year has reached 166.

Punjab and Balochistan, earlier thought to be polio-free, have had that myth shattered; and the less that is said about the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the better.

Know more: Health ministry running out of funds for polio campaign

In terms of the tribal areas, the authorities can to some extent hide behind the excuse of the remoteness of the area and the lawlessness that prevails. But what of Karachi, where a shocking number of cases have been confirmed?

What greater indictment could be imagined of a country that has spent over two decades, and millions upon millions of rupees — much of it from global aid and polio-eradication initiatives — on the effort?

Given that Pakistan-specific strains of the virus have been found in several other countries, there is growing fear that this country stands to re-infect the global population at large. Considering this scenario, it could be argued that in merely issuing the advisory for unvaccinated travellers that was issued by the WHO in May, the world has shown a degree of forbearance towards Pakistan and invested confidence in its ability to put its house in order in this regard.

But Pakistan has simply failed to make enough of a push. Consider, for example, the government’s decision that individuals would be required to produce vaccination certificates before travelling: in reality, such screening is being done sporadically, if at all. Then, there’s the problem of those who refuse to let the vaccinations be administered.

With a WHO review meeting due on Sept 30 regarding the travel advisory, it may well be time to start mulling mechanisms that penalise the refusal to vaccinate; at the very least, we need to seriously step up the vaccination effort.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Power sector billing blues

Editorial

If a suggestion by the prime minister’s special assistant is accepted, the government may be poised to induct tens of thousands into an already bloated workforce in the power bureaucracy.

If a suggestion by the prime minister’s special assistant is accepted, the government may be poised to induct tens of thousands into an already bloated workforce in the power bureaucracy.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had tasked his special assistant, Musadik Malik, to investigate the causes behind the rise in public anger over power bills in August.

The power bureaucracy had complained that a shortage of meter readers was hampering its ability to generate accurate bills, forcing them to rely on a practice known as ‘presumptive billing’, where instead of reading the meter, a bill is issued on assumptions based on past bills.

The practice is commonly used to inflate bills in order to meet recovery targets. Presumptive billing allows recovery agents in the bureaucracy to elevate people’s bills, and unless there is an outpouring of complaints, the higher amounts collected pass unnoticed.

Mr Sharif was told in a cabinet meeting in August that a 10-year-old ban in the recruitment of meter readers had hampered the power bureaucracy’s ability to issue proper bills. In response, the prime minister had asked his special assistant to investigate.

Mr Malik has now completed his assignment and reportedly is about to submit his report. In the report he will counsel lifting of the ban on the recruitment of meter readers. Another source in the power bureaucracy has told this newspaper that the requirement of meter readers is in the “tens of thousands”.

The process of induction, training and deployment is likely to be long mired in allegations of political favouritism, and prove expensive in the long run in terms of the jump in pay and the benefits that will accrue as a result.

Already the lion’s share of the expenses incurred by the power bureaucracy is on account of personnel pay, including benefits and salaries. The move to induct meter readers on this scale is likely to multiply the financial woes of the power bureaucracy. One can only hope that the forthcoming report gives a clear picture of the cost that will have to be borne if their advice is implemented.

Ultimately, the power sector’s inefficiencies will only be overcome with more holistic reform, instead of isolated, ad hoc measures. Reforms must begin at the top, with accountability to independent boards as a cornerstone.

They must also emphasise transparency, and the shutting down of all spaces of discretionary decision-making within the bureaucracy. A regular disclosure regime which mandates the bureaucracy to release a set of data on a regular schedule is essential. And lastly, the reforms must use power of technology.

Meter readers are an antiquated notion in this era of smart meters that can report their readings back electronically. The bureaucracy’s resistance to using this technology should be questioned. Ad hoc measures will surely fail if not accompanied by reforms in the larger system.

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

Bilawal, finally

Editorial

These are not the times for politics — this has been the PPP slogan of late. The refrain takes on an entirely new meaning now that the vow to not do politics is accompanied by the PPP co-chairman’s presence among people affected by the floods.

These are not the times for politics — this has been the PPP slogan of late. The refrain takes on an entirely new meaning now that the vow to not do politics is accompanied by the PPP co-chairman’s presence among people affected by the floods.

The pledge for political restraint was not entirely unwarranted. The political situation in the wake of Imran Khan’s war on the system demanded sobriety. The question asked, however, was whether the PPP was going too far with its support for the prime minister — to a point where it posed a danger to itself.

The PPP leadership was staying away from the ground, especially in Punjab, which was bad politics. With Bilawal Bhutto Zardari venturing into the flood-hit areas of Punjab together with his visits to parts of Sindh, it is an attempt at better politics.

The PPP politicians in Punjab have been long waiting for their leader to show up. The party is faced with a serious revival challenge in the province and its support has fallen drastically. It has in recent times been accused of failing to make even a basic effort at exploring any space emerging out of the tussle between the PTI and PML-N.

So eerie has been the PPP’s dormancy that some well-known party names in Punjab have been asked when they planned to switch to other available choices. Those among them who want to be with the PPP in its tough hour in the province would be happy that Mr Bhutto Zardari has at last found the lost map to their neighbourhood.

All they can hope now is that the tour by their leader of Chiniot, Lahore and Multan is followed by more such visits and a sustained campaign aimed at kind of a reinvention of the PPP. For now it is only a ripple, not a splash

Mr Bhutto Zardari’s presence in Punjab is essential to any renewal plan the party must follow, but his challenge in Sindh, where his party is in power, is of a different nature. He must reorganise and sympathise and show solidarity in Punjab; in Sindh he must do all these things and then must provide governance as well.

He has to find ways to project himself as an heir who cannot just stir emotions but who can also improvise and use the system to deliver efficiently. The rule has not changed: His delivery in Sindh will help his drive in Punjab.

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

Lessons from Scotland

Editorial

The ‘nays’ have it. On Friday, it emerged that Scotland’s just over 300-year-old political union with England will survive, with more than 55pc of Scottish voters casting their ballots against independence.

The ‘nays’ have it. On Friday, it emerged that Scotland’s just over 300-year-old political union with England will survive, with more than 55pc of Scottish voters casting their ballots against independence.

It was a spirited campaign. The ‘yes’ camp, led by the ruling Scottish National Party, promised voters a more just welfare state free from Westminster’s influence, while the British establishment pulled out all the stops to convince Scots to vote ‘no’, saying that Scotland and the UK were ‘better together’.

We must appreciate the democratic manner in which the matter was decided. The issue was resolved through the vote; unfortunately, in countless other instances around the world we have seen attempts at separation either succeed or be put down by force after much bloodshed and acrimony.

Pakistan’s own loss of its erstwhile eastern wing remains a bitter, painful memory. However, while the Scots will stay with the UK, other independence-seeking regions the world over have been emboldened by the exercise. For example, Spain’s autonomous Catalonia region may opt for a similar referendum, but unlike the UK, the central government in Madrid has vowed to oppose such a move.

Scotland’s case is an interesting one. In most instances separatist feelings are fuelled when a region suffers from poverty and discrimination and the denial of rights, or receives step-motherly treatment from the centre. Though Edinburgh’s relationship with London was not quite perfect, Scotland did not suffer from the usual causes that encourage separatism.

There are lessons in the referendum for the rest of the world, including Pakistan. Firstly, even the most divisive of questions can be dealt with in a non-violent fashion provided democratic methods are used. Secondly, even prosperous and relatively peaceful regions will desire separation if they feel their voices are not being heard.

To prevent separatist feelings from growing, states must ensure maximum devolution of power right down to the local level, as well as the protection of cultural, political, economic and, most important, the human rights of every citizen.

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

Columns and Articles

Anti-poor bias?

Faisal Bari

FIGURES from the Human Development Report 2014 show that where Sri Lanka loses eight infants per 1,000 live births, Pakistan loses 69. Doing back-of-the-envelope calculations, if we assume our population growth rate to be 2pc per annum, on a base of 180 million people this implies 3.6m births a year. Some 240,000-odd babies become part Pakistan’s infant mortality statistics each year.

FIGURES from the Human Development Report 2014 show that where Sri Lanka loses eight infants per 1,000 live births, Pakistan loses 69. Doing back-of-the-envelope calculations, if we assume our population growth rate to be 2pc per annum, on a base of 180 million people this implies 3.6m births a year. Some 240,000-odd babies become part Pakistan’s infant mortality statistics each year.

In a nutshell, Pakistan loses 61 more children per 1,000 live births than Sri Lanka. It is true that the latter, with its gross national income per capita at 9,250, does have a much higher income level than we do (4,652). But, it is not just an issue of higher incomes. Vietnam with an income that is quite close to us has only 18 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, and Bangladesh (2,713), with a much lower income (2,713) level has only 33. Clearly, there is more to it than just national income.

Though higher income has an impact on human development indicators, the relationship is not a simple, direct one and certainly not linear. Bangladesh has better human development indicators than Pakistan, though its income level is much lower. Vietnam’s achievements on the human development side are impressive even though its income levels are only a little higher than ours.

In almost all countries that are roughly at Pakistan’s level of income, the progress on reducing infant mortality has been more impressive than in Pakistan.

Sri Lanka loses 35 and Vietnam 59 mothers per 100,000 live births — figures that come under the maternal mortality rate. We lose 260 mothers. Again, the same arguments apply. Given the number of pregnancies in Pakistan, this will be close to 10,000 mothers or so per annum.

These numbers of infant and maternal deaths dwarf the number of people we lose to terrorist and other incidents and accidents. But we focus a lot more on the latter than on infant and maternal mortality. Every year, when the human development indicators for Pakistan are launched and we see a dismal picture, we comment and move on. But these numbers require attention.

Given that we know that even at our income levels we can do a lot to reduce these numbers, not doing so seems to be criminal on the part of policymakers, policy implementers as well as the citizens of the country.

Though we can save the bulk of 200,000-odd infants and 10,000-odd mothers dying every year, we choose not to do so.

There is significant evidence that access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities and access to pre- and post-natal care, nutritional supplements for mother and child, vaccinations for children and facilities for oral hydration in cases of diarrhoea can have a significant impact on reducing infant and maternal mortality.

Countries that have focused on education, social welfare, water and sanitation, basic health facilities, and public health; whether or not they have been high-growth countries, have been able to make significant progress on human development indicators. All high-growth countries have not been able to make rapid progress, and the explaining factor is the lack of people-centred policies. Do the majority, who happen to be the poor in most countries, matter or not? That is the question.

Our drinking water infrastructure is crumbling even in our biggest cities. In many places, the mixing of drinking water with liquid waste, the fecal-oral connection, has been reported repeatedly.

Waste management, whether of solids or liquids, is in its infancy even in the bigger cities. One of the more expensive housing colonies right in the middle of the city of Lahore still uses empty plots for dumping liquid waste. They are, even today, not connected to the main drains that have been laid by the Lahore Development Authority.

Many villages have started to look like dumps where plastic and other non-biodegradable solid waste has been accumulating for decades now. And most villages, of course, do not have any sewerage systems for the proper disposal of waste.

We have only mentioned a couple of variables. We could also have talked about the health costs of lack of proper services for adults, or the cost of being sick, of morbidity and birth defects. The story is going to be the same for each of these issues.

True, the focus on these areas may be politically motivated. Regardless, the issues of motorways versus water and sanitation, underpasses versus healthcare for the poor, schools versus metro systems are not trivial and should be thought through clearly by the authorities.

The writer is senior adviser, Pakistan, at Open Society Foundations, associate professor of economics, LUMS, and a visiting fellow at IDEAS, Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Between the ‘seniors’ and ‘juniors’

Asha’ar Rehman

IT might sound odd but newspaper offices are sometimes so fed up with it that they dread the next bad news. And they must maintain a certain kind of aloofness from the outside world in order to survive and report and boastfully shape opinions, which is why an intrusion by the real, by one of our own, causes an earthquake. The professional façade —so called objectivity — is blown up by this invasion by the bad news that has personal connotations.

IT might sound odd but newspaper offices are sometimes so fed up with it that they dread the next bad news. And they must maintain a certain kind of aloofness from the outside world in order to survive and report and boastfully shape opinions, which is why an intrusion by the real, by one of our own, causes an earthquake. The professional façade —so called objectivity — is blown up by this invasion by the bad news that has personal connotations.

The gentleman is in his 80s, and a veteran newspaper hand, as confirmed by his yellowed visiting card, a relic from the last job he held until ‘a few’ years ago. When he went looking for work in a newspaper office a fortnight ago, he had to be escorted by a grandson of his. He mumbled a few words with old-world grace, took the vague response to his request with the requisite amount of salt and quietly walked away, holding tightly on to his young companion. No questions were asked about his abilities or his experience. He was just too old to have come asking.

Then there is this other, comparatively younger veteran who would once write on the old Lahore — the ancient city that has outlived his own market appeal. He is the more insistent type and would settle for just anything that remotely has to do with the profession he once served, respectfully, he believes — the sort you usually do not find and cannot afford to have in newspaper offices anymore.

The staff there still have their share of the haggard and the lost and the absent-minded, but these are essential journalistic attributes which are to be found in the ‘younger lot’ that has since replaced the coughing, smoking, white-haired, even if experienced and chastened, scribes of the classic newspaper.

But for these job inquiries by these veterans who once ruled and ruled from the newsroom, the journalists of today would do their jobs with less fear of the future.

The newspapers have taken their time in accepting change — in this case using their aloofness to some personal advantage — but they have or are yielding to the pressure finally. Just like the sudden transformation in the television soaps where the young must play the older generation to people almost their age, the senior tag comes to people in newspaper offices much quicker than it used to in the past. But if this change leaves the oldies out of the equation, it is far from a walk in the park for the budding and the aspiring.

Whereas it is difficult to keep a count of colleges that are offering journalism degrees in the country the question these students, journalism teachers and working journalists are often asked is where do these aspirants hope to find employment.  Not in the newspapers since a majority if not all of them are inspired by the glamour and thrill of electronic media, and the wise among them already know that public relations is a job much more rewarding than committing to spending a lifetime in search of news stories.

These youngsters are mostly destined for the TV channels, where many of them are to find out that the bubble had long burst and it is not at all difficult for the managements to hire fresh, energetic hands at a pittance.

The fate of these recent entrants is not dissimilar to those who have obtained professional degrees in other fields. Just as the doors have been closed on the old and the fear of being thrown out grips professionals as soon as they are past their 30s, the young that one runs into also find themselves confronting an uncertain future. There are no jobs for people other than those who already have jobs.

Take the three credit card sellers, for it makes as absurd and as hard-hitting an example of the job market as any — also, because it is recent and thus fresh in memory. There were three of them in the picture, competing with each other but each with a story similar to the other.  

They were all young graduates from colleges with decent enough reputations, they had all been relatively new recruits, two of them having joined just a few days earlier, and while all three hated their work, they lived in perpetual fear of losing their job.

“The boss told us that he had come with an agenda to extract the maximum out of us and a real bully he turned out to be. One hot afternoon I just couldn’t take it any longer and collapsed. My blood pressure had shot up to 200, which, apparently, was a landmark for my superior. He pondered over it briefly, and then he said this was a sign that his strategy and the people under his charge were working.”

The third card seller was the frankest of them all. The man he had approached was obliged to ‘help’ a salesman who earned Rs500 on every card that he sold. No salary. No petrol to move around in search of buyers. No other perks. Just as some others at the other end of the spectrum are too senior to be given work, these fresh graduates are too junior to be asking for the privilege called fixed salary.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

The Eid message

Amin Valliani

EVERY nation, tribe and community living on earth has certain festivals to celebrate. In agricultural societies, people usually celebrate the days of sowing or harvesting their crops. Governments allow citizens to celebrate days of national importance, while in some societies people celebrate the days of their heroes’ birth or death anniversaries etc.

EVERY nation, tribe and community living on earth has certain festivals to celebrate. In agricultural societies, people usually celebrate the days of sowing or harvesting their crops. Governments allow citizens to celebrate days of national importance, while in some societies people celebrate the days of their heroes’ birth or death anniversaries etc.

The Muslim ummah, ever since the establishment of the state in Madina in the 7th century, celebrates two major annual festivals: Eidul Fitr and Eidul Azha.

Eidul Fitr is of course celebrated on the first day of the 10th Islamic month, Shawwal, to mark the completion of fasting in the month of Ramazan. Eidul Azha, on the other hand, is celebrated in the month of Zilhaj to commemorate the grand sacrifice of Prophet Ibrahim as per the wish of Allah. Muslims around the world sacrifice countless animals to relive the tradition established by Ibrahim.

For believers, piety is the sole purpose of sacrifice. The Holy Quran unequivocally says “it is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah. But it is piety from you that reaches Him. …” (22:37).

The Eid day starts with the offering of special namaz with the humble sense of gratitude for the plentitude of blessings bestowed by Allah. After namaz, believers greet each other with the phrase ‘Eid Mubarak’. ‘Mubarak’ is an Arabic word, derived from the root/origin ‘baraka’, which means plentitude, as believers receive many blessings from Allah to bear hardship on the path of piety. After namaz and the exchange of greetings, the process of sacrificing animals begins.

However, our present style of sacrifice needs re-adjustment. Animal sacrifice is carried out mostly in the middle of streets, roadsides and other open areas. Onlookers, especially children, are especially affected in a negative way because of the method through which the slaughtering process is carried out. The felling of the animal, throat-cutting, blood-spilling and skinning need refinement in the light of Sharia and modern knowledge.

On the other hand, even after Eid, some people continue to consume meat for many days consecutively, inviting ill health and obesity.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that believers should understand the purpose of sacrifice, ie to earn blessings, not to contaminate the environment, nor to damage public health. The local authorities should consider fixing specific city areas where the process of slaughtering sacrificial animals is carried out.

Islam, being a complete way of life, encourages sharing and altruism. Every society consists of haves and have-nots, people differ in terms of their social, economic and other material aspects of life. Islam encourages those who are well-off to be mindful of the needs of others.

Eid is an occasion where people of all categories converge and share their happiness. The difference between the haves and have-nots is minimised and values of mutual respect, generosity and sharing are demonstrated. This not only fulfils the needs of the underprivileged, but also takes one closer to Allah, as mentioned in the Quran.

Though both Eids are celebrated each year, their messages have permanent values. They give us the chance to turn these values into reality. These need to be understood, demonstrated and expressed as often as possible.

The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.

valianiamin

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Harbingers of change

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

AMONGST the more popular rhetorical questions that litter our political and intellectual landscape is: ‘Who will change Pakistan?’ Imran Khan’s elevation to most obvious contender for the prize notwithstanding, the truth is that there is a problem with the question itself.

AMONGST the more popular rhetorical questions that litter our political and intellectual landscape is: ‘Who will change Pakistan?’ Imran Khan’s elevation to most obvious contender for the prize notwithstanding, the truth is that there is a problem with the question itself.

Societies are not static entities that change only when our messiah of choice graces us. They are like living organisms, and constantly changing. Yes, big convulsions do take place from time to time which accelerate or interrupt processes of change. Such conjunctures are, however, not the ‘doing’ of individuals even if certain personalities become closely associated with them.

So, for instance, capitalist modernisation through the late 1950s and early 1960s precipitated the emergence of a radical politics of class in the latter half of the 1960s; the upsurge during those years was unlike anything that preceded or followed it. Tens of thousands of ordinary people politicised during this period became the face of the anti-Ayub movement in particular, and an anti-systemic politics more generally.

It was not just in Pakistan that a cadre of committed political workers emerged. The politicisation was global in scope; students were taking over Paris in May 1968, unprecedented numbers were protesting the Vietnam War in America, and anti-colonial consciousness was peaking in large parts of Africa and East Asia.

Those who crave a short answer to ‘who will change Pakistan?’ are either unaware of how significant a role an entire generation of political workers played in fomenting transformative ideas and movements in the late 1960s and for two decades subsequently, have conveniently forgotten that change in society is not possible without a conscious, critical mass of activists adequately organised to take on established structures of power.

The world has of course moved on from those heady days. Indeed, the tide turned against the revolutionary generation as early as the late 1970s, and brave resistance through the following decade petered out by the early 1990s.

It can be reasoned that a new generation of committed young people is finally coming to the fore after a long period of dormancy. The means and methods are different; so-called social media technologies are the carriers of ideas of change rather than cyclostyled handbills, and the emphasis tends to be on deepening citizenship rights rather than uprooting the bourgeois order as a whole.

Examples all around the world, from the Arab uprisings to the Occupy movements, confirm that the impact that this new generation is making on political discourse and practice is growing. In Pakistan too, a small but increasingly influential cadre of young activists is reinvigorating left politics. But, in this country or elsewhere, it is just as clear that there is a critical ingredient missing in this new brand of politics and that without it even the newest enabling means and methods cannot play a decisive role.

I am of course referring to that old-fashioned creature called the political party. The urban middle class typically decries political parties as vehicles of corruption in particular, and appendages of an unjust and exclusionary political order more generally. Yet mainstream bourgeois parties represent a means for ordinary people to express themselves politically, however flawed the electoral system.

That bourgeois elections offer very little leeway for meaningful political change is another matter altogether. The generation of the 1960s and 1970s developed a formidable organisational infrastructure outside the bourgeois mainstream — political parties, trade unions, peasant groups, cultural fronts, student federations. This infrastructure started decaying from the early 1980s onwards, and progressives continue to suffer for it.

Certainly organisational patterns of the past need not be replicated in toto in the contemporary period. But without leftist political organisations there can be no transformation of society’s established structures of power.

It is thus that the best organisational traditions of the 20th century must be wedded to the novel initiatives of the new generation of political activists politicised over the past few years. This process will take time, because in recent times there has been no society-wide upsurge such as that of the late 1960s that would induce a large number of people towards political activity.

The anti-Musharraf mobilisations in 2007 did indeed politicise a not insignificant number of young people, and the impetus generated culminated in the consolidation of the still small left in 2012. In these intervening two years, things have shifted even further to the right but then again a once stable hegemonic order is also beset by irreconcilable contradictions. Ultimately it is only a left party and the committed activists who run it that can turn today’s maelstrom of contradictions into a just and humane society tomorrow.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2014

Voters with disabilities

I.A. Rehman

A CONFERENCE on the political rights of persons with disabilities, especially their right to vote and to contest election brought out the plight of such persons caused by state indifference and social prejudice.

A CONFERENCE on the political rights of persons with disabilities, especially their right to vote and to contest election brought out the plight of such persons caused by state indifference and social prejudice.

A reference to voters with disabilities is likely to bring to mind the picture of an old man or woman being carried to a polling booth by a younger person or being helped to stamp the ballot paper that is published during each election to demonstrate public interest in the election process and proof of democracy in the country.

But such pictures cannot conceal the disappointment of hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities with no one to help them exercise their right to vote, assuming that conscientious officials considered them entitled to be enrolled as voters. The bitter reality is that by and large, persons with disabilities are kept out of the electoral process.

This is not to deny that the Election Commission of Pakistan is at least aware of the existence of such persons and their democratic rights. In its five-year strategic plan adopted before the 2013 election, a reference to them was made but what practical steps were taken to enable persons with disabilities to vote is not known outside the ECP.

In its second five-year plan that is currently being implemented, some measures are proposed to enable persons with disabilities to exercise their right to vote, and one hopes that their rights aren’t ignored during the ongoing debate. It is a measure of the neglect these people have been subjected to that they have never been counted.

According to a 2012 survey by an NGO, the number of persons with disabilities in Pakistan was 2.65 million. A regional organisation put the figure at 2.49pc of the population. At the other end, the World Health Organisation says such people constitute 15pc of the global population. There’s no reason to believe that Pakistan can boast of a percentage smaller than the world average. The application of the WHO formula would put the number of persons with disabilities in Pakistan at more than 29m. About 12m of them should be entitled to vote.

That is a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Even if we take the conservative estimate of only 2.65m persons with disabilities the number of voters among them should be around 1.2m. They cannot be ignored.

The confusion about the exact number of persons with disabilities in Pakistan has arisen because the government has not bothered to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities it signed in 2008 and ratified in 2011.

The convention requires Pakistan to collect appropriate information, including statistical and research data, to formulate and implement policies giving effect to it. Disaggregated data about persons with disabilities is needed to determine not only what kind facilities are required to enable persons with different disabilities to enjoy their right to vote but also to realise the entire body of their human rights.

While collecting information about these persons, the government must “comply with legally established safeguards, including legislation on data protection, to ensure confidentiality and respect for the privacy of persons with disabilities”, and also “comply with internationally accepted norms to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms and ethical principles in the collection and use of statistics”.

The emphasis on the right to privacy and dignity of persons with disabilities is not limited to methods of collecting information about them or to their entitlement to political participation. It runs throughout the discussion on their rights to equality in all spheres of life, especially to equal opportunity and access to justice.

Besides, the world is learning to address them in a civilised idiom. Instead of calling them disabled they are described as persons with disabilities. ‘A lady in wheelchair’ has been replaced with ‘a lady who uses a wheelchair’. The use of a proper language while discussing persons with disabilities is important in Pakistan because we have a habit of identifying persons by their disabilities instead of using their names.

The question of the voting rights of persons with disabilities must be examined in the context of the obligations Pakistan has assumed by becoming a party to the UN convention mentioned earlier.

All those working for the rights of persons with disabilities as state functionaries or civil society activists must familiarise themselves with the principles on which the convention is based: respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons; non-discrimination; full, effective participation and inclusion in society; respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity; equality of opportunity; accessibility; equality between men and women; and respect for the rights and evolving capacities of children with disabilities.

One way of ‘dealing’ with the problems of voters with disabilities could be to defer discussion on the subject till the Pakistan authorities learn to implement the relevant convention in its entirety, or as a cynic might say until persons without disabilities (including women and non-Muslim citizens) can secure their right to freely exercise their democratic entitlements.

This is the most common way of avoiding obligations under the constitution and international treaties. This approach will not only be a gross injustice to persons with disabilities but also prevent policymakers from acquiring a correct perspective on the urgency of reform.

A correct way to proceed would be to accept persons with disabilities as essential stakeholders and bring them into the political mainstream. There must also be consultations with persons with disabilities on the best means of developing facilities to enable them to not only exercise their right to vote but also participate in all political activities.

Some people have suggested seats in assemblies should be reserved for persons with disabilities. The idea was dropped for two reasons: first, such a step would have amounted to a quantum jump for a society that has traditionally treated persons with disabilities with contempt; and, secondly, this proposal could lead to a demand for reservation of seats for persons without disabilities.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Monetary policy non-statement

Khurram Husain

SO what is “fiscal liberalisation” anyway? According to the State Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) of September, the term refers to a state of affairs where you have “shrinking budget deficits, contained government borrowings, and improved debt profile”. I always thought the term to describe this was stabilisation, but heck, what do I know, I’m just a journalist.

SO what is “fiscal liberalisation” anyway? According to the State Bank’s Monetary Policy Statement (MPS) of September, the term refers to a state of affairs where you have “shrinking budget deficits, contained government borrowings, and improved debt profile”. I always thought the term to describe this was stabilisation, but heck, what do I know, I’m just a journalist.

If the MPS had been written by a second-year economics student, it would certainly be docked a few points for this liberty with language. After all, words do have specific meanings. But it hasn’t been written by a second-year student. It’s the voice of the country’s central bank we’re talking about, the repository of the country’s economic common sense and the seat of its economics profession.

But let’s not nitpick over words. After all, everybody makes mistakes, even central bankers! Let’s take a look at how the State Bank chooses to describe the state of the economy in these complex times.

Since at least January, the government has been telling us that a turnaround has been achieved in the country’s economy, which had stagnated in a “low-growth high-inflation equilibrium”, to borrow a phrase from an earlier State Bank pronouncement, since at least 2008. By July, the State Bank was telling us in its third quarterly report that a new growth story had begun in Pakistan as the economy crossed the 4pc growth rate threshold for the first time in years.

A close reading of the third quarterly report back issued in July showed that the turnaround was not all that it was being made out to be. “[Q]uarterly data reveals a sharp decline in YoY growth of LSM” in the third quarter of last fiscal year, that report had said. A close look at the numbers revealed that much of the growth had been narrowly based, and was deeply connected with the Rs500 billion or so injection into the power sector that the government undertook in its early days. In large-scale manufacturing, where most of the increase in growth had come from, the growth rates had fallen from 6.5pc in the first half to 0.5pc by the third quarter.

In fact, exports and investment and capacity utilisation in industry were all falling long before the circus got under way in Islamabad. Even in the crucial matter of the reserves, that rose so fast in April and May that the State Bank wrote “such a sequence of positive developments in the external sector” had not been seen since 2001, the real story was a lot less shiny. “[U]nderlying fundamentals do not show much of an improvement”, it said a few lines down, cautioning in veiled terms that the growing stock of external debt added greater urgency to augmenting the FX earning capacity of the economy.

All of these problems had been flagged, albeit very gingerly, in the third quarterly report back in July. Fact is, the government’s growth story was losing altitude long before the circus got under way in Islamabad, and long before the arrival of the floods. So we were all entitled to ask, where do things stand as of September?

We didn’t get an answer in the MPS. In fact, the statement laid the foundations for a different story altogether: things were going fine until the circus and floods came along, and now everything could go pear-shaped.

What else do we make of a statement that begins by telling us that the past few months have “continued to witness stable macroeconomic conditions”? And that “real economic activity is expected to continue” throughout the current fiscal year?

The only risks facing the economy now, we are told, are from a delay in the release of the next IMF tranche (a foregone conclusion by now), from the damage wrought by the floods, and from the possibility of an unsuccessful bond floatation and divestment exercise scheduled in the next few months. Hardly a word is mentioned about the risks from intrinsic weaknesses in the character of last year’s growth, save for an awkwardly constructed phrase on the growing trade deficit which “is going to dominate the composition of external current account deficit”.

In another place, a hope is expressed that “[c]ontinuation of the growth momentum” depends crucially on agriculture since large-scale manufacturing, that had driven last year’s growth spurt, “might remain constrained due to continued energy shortages; reduced production capacity of independent power plants; low supply of gas to fertiliser plants; lower domestic and international prices in the sugar sector; and higher inventories and slower exports growth prospects in food and textile sectors, respectively.”

Read that sentence again, and you’ll notice it’s actually a pretty long list of weaknesses weighing down on growth, causing it to “remain constrained”. And hardly any of it has anything to do with the circus and the floods. Yet the statement has little more to say on than what you read above.

To some extent, this is understandable. The MPS did receive some sensationalist press, which is bound to happen given the times. But the shifting of the emphasis, away from the inherent weaknesses of the growth story towards the circus and the floods appears contrived to satisfy demands coming from Islamabad rather than reflecting the view from the street. One can only hope that in the next MPS, or in the annual report, we’ll get a more comprehensive, and less diluted, view of the problems that continue to plague our economy.

The writer is a member of staff.

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Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

A glass half full

F.S. Aijazuddin

DUAL nationality comes instinctively to Pakistanis: they are polygamous by nature. This explains why many of them found the referendum in Scotland superfluous. Why, they argued, couldn’t the Scots be allowed to hold Scottish passports as well as British ones?

DUAL nationality comes instinctively to Pakistanis: they are polygamous by nature. This explains why many of them found the referendum in Scotland superfluous. Why, they argued, couldn’t the Scots be allowed to hold Scottish passports as well as British ones?

The recent Scottish referendum is the latest of a number of attempts by Scots to assert their identity as a separate nation. Their irritation at being treated as an appendage to other countries has chafed for centuries. In 1543, for example, the English King Henry VIII formalised in the Treaty of Greenwich his ambition to unite the two kingdoms, by marrying the infant Mary Queen of Scots to his young heir Edward. The Scots spurned that takeover bid.

In 1558, Mary — by this time also dauphine- designate — signed off her kingdom to France. The premature death of her husband Francis II saved the Scots from being absorbed into France.

Her son James VI achieved the union that geography had ordained when he succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603. Scotland and England came under one crown, but remained two separate kingdoms. The political integration of the two states took another century to consummate.

It is for armchair analysts to determine whether the cacophony of doom orchestrated by Mr Cameron helped to swing the undecided. His desperation infected six prominent banks — Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Société Générale, JP Morgan, RBC Capital Markets and Credit Suisse. They issued ‘dire warnings’ of financial disorder if Scotland detached its economy from the English pound.

Older Scots had seen it happen all too often before. Their Allama Iqbal — Robert Burns — had voiced his dismay in a poem he composed on the 1707 Acts of Union: ‘What force or guile could not subdue,/Thro’ many warlike ages,/Is wrought now by a coward few,/For hireling traitor’s wages./The English steel we could disdain,/ Secure in valour’s station;/But English gold has been our bane — / Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!’

It was reported that the governor Punjab (a dual national) rushed to his former constituency Glasgow to exhort his fellow Glaswegians (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to vote ‘no’. Sadly, no one there or here could see any anomaly in this duality of loyalties, tantamount to a conflict of interest.

The United States permits dual nationality. Hyphenated identities such as Afro-Ameri­cans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Indian-Americans, and American-Indians (for­­merly Red Indians) now comprise the majority in the US. And it is just such an American of Indian origin — Richard Rahul Verma — who has been nominated by Presi­dent Obama as the next US ambassador to India.

Mr Verma is replacing Ms Nancy Powell, herself once US ambassador to Pakistan. Mr Verma is being accredited to India, a country where to ensure impartiality, there is a rule that no person from any Indian state can be appointed a governor of that state.

Mr Verma is an interesting choice. Because of his origins (his mother was born in pre-1947 Punjab) and his professional exposure as one of the architects of the Kerry-Lugar Bill, he can provide his own government (and Mr Modi’s) an insight into our country. He has visited Pakistan often and then helped resuscitate it through that timely aid-related legislation.

His appointment comes at a crucial time in Indo-Pak relations. In a few days time, Mr Narendra Modi and Mr Nawaz Sharif will both be in the UN. Mr Modi will meet President Obama (and undoubtedly Mr Verma), Mr Sharif may or may not meet President Obama, but every sane Pakistani and Indian hopes that Mr Nawaz Sharif and Mr Modi will talk to each other on the sidewalks of Manhattan.

The auguries are favourable. The Indian foreign secretary and the national security adviser have met our high commissioner Abdul Basit in New Delhi. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has spoken of there being a comma, a semi-colon, not a full-stop, in our bilateral relations.

Hadrian’s Wall was man-made. Barriers like that can be as easily unmade.

The writer is an author and art historian.

www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

Change of strategy

Mohammad Ali Babakhel

SINCE Operation Zarb-i-Azb began, there has been a significant decline in large-scale terrorist attacks in the country. Over 1,000 militants have reportedly been killed in the operation which has also destroyed their command and control structures.

SINCE Operation Zarb-i-Azb began, there has been a significant decline in large-scale terrorist attacks in the country. Over 1,000 militants have reportedly been killed in the operation which has also destroyed their command and control structures.

To continue to register their presence in the current scenario, the militants’ best bet is to employ innovative strategies and be very selective in choosing their targets. This is what they are doing, and they appear to have shifted their focus from public places such as bazaars to more specific targets.

There has also been a shift from suicide bombings towards technological explosives, with 72 IED and 53 rocket attacks occurring in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since the start of the operation. Only two incidents of suicide bombing have taken place here in this period, while Tuesday’s vehicle-borne IED attack in Peshawar on a Frontier Corps convoy was the first such attack since the start of the operation.

An alarming trend is the number of criminals turning to terrorism, attracted largely by the pecuniary benefits. Criminals-turned-terrorists primarily carry out auxiliary tasks such as targeted killings, transportation of explosives, information collection, supplying stolen vehicles, making improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide jackets.

Targeted killings as an instrument of terrorism are part of the changed strategy. In KP, there have been 18 such incidents since the operation began. Suicide bombing is a costlier tactic that also requires dedicated souls to carry out. Although IED use also requires technical know-how, hiring a target killer is the easiest option.

Among the recent victims of targeted killing in KP are several members of the Sikh community, security guards in Peshawar’s industrial area, as well as the leader of a religious party in Hangu.

At the same time, even in the changed security scenario, the militants’ focus on airports continues. The attack on Karachi airport, which killed 30 people, took place a week before the military offensive began on June 15.

On June 24, a flight approaching Peshawar was fired upon from within the airport’s funnel area. The next airport in the line of fire was Quetta, when militants attacked the Samungli and Khalid air bases, but that attack was fortunately repelled.

There is a simple logic to the militants’ choice of airports as a favoured target: it instantly attracts media attention and erodes the confidence of law enforcement agencies as well as international investors.

Airports like Islamabad, Peshawar and Karachi are surrounded by thickly populated areas, and joint teams of police, Nadra, and district administration should carry out door-to-door surveys and registration. Funnel area security requires more intelligence collection, coordination, physical security and registration of those living in the vicinity.

Penetration by terrorists into such sensitive areas signifies loopholes in the cordons, which need to be traced and immediately plugged. Airport security procedures must also conform to international standards. Technology-led solutions should be synergised with coordinated efforts among different agencies and rescue services incorporated as integral structural components.

In Karachi, the terrorists disguised themselves by donning uniforms of the Airport Security Force. Had there been technology-backed, limited access into the premises, they could have been tackled at the outermost cordons. Analysis of such incidents indicates that outer cordons are the lowest priority for security managers.

The fact that the Quetta airport attack was successfully repel­led by security forces and police speaks to improved coordination among different security agencies, state of preparedness and professional handling.

In order to create confusion, terrorists are adopting new identities, which also indicates the existence of splinter groups with different leaderships and strengths. Nevertheless, these groups have identical objectives and primarily operate in areas where they exercise influence. The communication, logistical and financial linkages among such factions need to be unearthed.

Although fortunately no incident of terrorism has so far targeted the 800,000-strong IDP population in Bannu, previous attacks on IDPs and refugee camps in Nowshera and Orakzai Agency necessitate enhanced security coverage for the internally displaced.

Police should aim at better intelligence-gathering and more proactive policing to prevent militants from reconsolidating their position. The real test for police and the civilian administration will come when Operation Zarb-i-Azb concludes, for while the military will have cleared militant-infested areas, the challenge will be to retain the re-established writ of law.

The writer is a police officer.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014

A flawed political transition

Zahid Hussain

A LAST-MINUTE power-sharing deal has averted, at least for now, a crisis that threatened Afghanistan’s political transition which is extremely critical to the conclusion of the 13-year US war in that country. Under the agreement brokered by Washington, Ashraf Ghani will be the country’s new president while Abdullah Abdullah, his rival in the bitter fight over the fraud-riddled, run-off election, is to occupy the newly created position of chief executive.

A LAST-MINUTE power-sharing deal has averted, at least for now, a crisis that threatened Afghanistan’s political transition which is extremely critical to the conclusion of the 13-year US war in that country. Under the agreement brokered by Washington, Ashraf Ghani will be the country’s new president while Abdullah Abdullah, his rival in the bitter fight over the fraud-riddled, run-off election, is to occupy the newly created position of chief executive.

Although far from democratic, this dubious arrangement may have broken the deadlock that has been delaying the transfer of power for months. But it is still uncertain whether it can deliver much-needed political stability to the war-ravaged country. Ambiguity surrounds the role of the chief executive that does not have any legitimacy in the Afghan constitution.

Indeed, the spectacle of the two leaders apathetically sharing an embrace after signing the agreement does not give out much hope for the durability of the bizarre power-sharing formula. There was not even an exchange of greetings between the two leaders. The tension was palpable, as they did not even turn up on Sunday for a planned joint press conference.

Interestingly, there was no formal announcement of the result some 100 days after the poll; the election commission only named the next president and chief executive. In an apparent move to placate Mr Abdullah, who had been trailing in the election, not even the number of votes cast for each candidate was disclosed.

Mr Abdullah had alleged “industrial-scale” electoral fraud that led to the complete auditing of votes. But that too failed to break the impasse. An adjustment was forced by the Obama administration under the threat of stopping all aid to Afghanistan.

Surely neither pretender had any choice. Further impasse meant a new civil war. However controversial it may be, the accord has completed the first democratic transfer of power in the country’s history.

Although the new power structure requires the rewriting of the constitution, it is left to the president to delegate powers to the chief executive through a presidential decree. This arrangement is to be valid for two years. It certainly can’t get more intricate.

While the president remains all-powerful, responsible for making all strategic government decisions, the chief executive will head a new council of ministers, a position almost similar to that of a prime minister. It remains to be seen how this concoction works in an atmosphere of hostility.

Indeed, the democratic transfer of power has been the most important of the three transitions including the security and economic transitions, to be completed before the withdrawal of the US-led combat forces by the end of the year.

One can only hope that the two challengers will be able to mend fences to make this critical transition work. Despite their differences they share a common interest in maintaining the unity of Afghanistan.

The prolonged electoral battle has affected the process of economic transition and emboldened the Afghan Taliban. Having failed to disrupt the poll, the insurgent group has stepped up attacks on coalition forces killing dozens of foreign and Afghan troops in the summer offensive. In fact, for the first time since the war in Vietnam, a US army general was killed in an overseas conflict.

Surely, the rising Taliban violence underscores the serious security challenges confronted by the new administration as the US-led coalition forces end their 13-year combat operation in Afghanistan. What is more worrisome is that the insurgents have widened their operation particularly in the region where the security transition has been completed, taxing the Afghan security forces.

For the US, the political transition has finally cleared the way for the bilateral security agreement allowing its residual forces to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Both the leaders are committed to signing the accord. The presence of even a small number of foreign troops is essential to boosting the morale of the Afghan forces assuming complete combat responsibility. Only a small number of Afghan military men are trained enough to fight the insurgents on their own.

Another major challenge for the new Afghan administration is the economic transition, which is directly linked with political stability. The fragile Afghan economy has further suffered because of the protracted election dispute. Political uncertainty has shaken business confidence and caused an increase in unemployment.

Afghanistan is in urgent need of emergency financing from Western donors. The US and other Western allies have pledged billions of dollars in military and economic aid for the next few years, but political discord could make it difficult for their promises to materialise.

The transfer of power to the new administration also marks the end of the 13-year rule of President Hamid Karzai. His exit results in a sigh of relief by Washington for which the controversial Afghan leader had become a liability. Their relations had hit a new low over the last few years especially after the outgoing Afghan president refused to sign the bilateral security agreement.

Mr Karzai’s future relevance in Afghan politics, however, remains unclear. His position has become more controversial after Mr Abdullah accused him of being directly involved in the election fraud. Nevertheless, his political influence cannot be underestimated.

A successful political transition is not only important for the future stability of Afghanistan, but also for regional security. Failure on the part of the Afghan national unity government would bring disaster to the entire region. The latest development in Afghanistan will, of course, have the most direct bearing on Pakistan.

It is hoped that a new administration in Kabul will open up a new window of opportunity for Pakistan and Afghanistan to improve their relations. The security of the two countries has never been so intertwined as it is now with the drawing down of the coalition forces. Growing instability across the border will have serious implications for Pakistan’s internal security raising the cost of its counterterrorism efforts.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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Twitter: @hidhussain

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Displacement and destiny

Rafia Zakaria

THE 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly began last week. At the last minute, construction workers hurried to put finishing touches to the newly refurbished General Assembly Hall from where global leaders would address the world. New carpet, new backdrops and better desks are among the features of a renovation programme costing over $2 billion.

THE 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly began last week. At the last minute, construction workers hurried to put finishing touches to the newly refurbished General Assembly Hall from where global leaders would address the world. New carpet, new backdrops and better desks are among the features of a renovation programme costing over $2 billion.

But while the leaders debating the world’s destiny can enjoy their spruced up digs, most of the rest of the world yearns for even rudimentary stability, a place to call home. Last Wednesday, a UN-backed report prepared by the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Internal Displacement Centre revealed that nearly 22 million people were displaced in the year 2013 by climate and weather-related disasters.

The report also revealed that the risk of being displaced by disasters has more than doubled over the last four decades, owing largely to the growth of urban populations of affected countries. The latter, unsurprisingly, are the world’s underdeveloped; 19 million of the world’s 22 million displaced are in Asia.

If the news regarding displacement caused by natural disaster was not in itself enough of a tragedy, more reports, also via the UN, painted a similarly dismal picture of the displacement caused by conflict. A few weeks before the UN General Assembly began, the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, released its latest assessment of the situation in Syria.

According to its estimates, roughly half the Syrian population is now displaced. This amounts to about three million people who are now scattered in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighbouring countries. Most, it is said, will likely never return home, given the magnitude of the conflict and the irreparable and irreversible changes that it is wreaking on what was once their homeland.

Here in Pakistan, displacement has been tied to the country’s destiny since its birth but this fact of creation seems to have done little in allowing us to conjure up solutions to the problem of those driven from home. In the most recent iterations of the hapless driven from home, the numbers of internally displaced from Fata fleeing the military operation Zarb-i-Azb have, according to the UN, reached one million. For this number of people, the government has established six refugee camps.

Those are the Pakistanis cursed by conflict; the ones cursed by natural calamity have fared no better. The recent floods that ravaged the country killed over 200 and are estimated to have displaced at least 27,000. Several of these thousands were actually lucky, plucked from rooftops just before their fragile houses were swept away by merciless currents.

In the days that have followed, the same trains of local dignitaries have sailed through their ravaged communities. There have been photo ops and televised hugs and handshakes and soon, as there always is, there will be complete forgetfulness.

Pakistan’s creation story places displacement at the centre of destiny and reflects a central belief in the idea that those who migrate and start again can be absorbed, re-rooted and begin again.

It reflects a belief in the permeability of community to absorb newcomers, to create space for them and eventually integrate them in a new formation. This has proven to be untrue in the waves of displacement that have followed independence and in the waves of refugees, whether fleeing conflict or calamity. The fault lines can be seen everywhere in ethnic patterns and linguistic grievances. These are traced in blood as voices demand autonomy if not outright succession.

One reason for this could be the construction of displacement in the global and local imagination as largely a technical and short-term problem, requiring little beyond the fixes of camps and tents and shelters. Indeed, these are required to aid the immediate needs of those who no longer have roofs over their heads; but the larger-term damage is to the communities whose structures have now crumbled.

In societies like Pakistan, where the government itself provides little in terms of security, social services, education and other basic goods, the evisceration of these communities signifies a transformation of social structures, social relations and the ability of people to survive beyond the immediate calamity.

One example of this was recently seen in refugee camps in Jordan, where Syrian families reported girls as young as 12 being married off because they were afraid for their safety in the environment of the camps. Of course, child marriages produce their own issues, and are not only accompanied by reproductive health problems, but also abuse of the girls. With the absence of community interconnections and controls, society itself is weakened and destroyed.

Displacement and destiny, therefore, are connected because uprooting people from one place to another results in the evisceration of identity and community, which, in turn, leads to a weakened, failing society. This is particularly harmful in places like Pakistan, where communities and social norms largely function as the organising principles of life.

The state, always fragile, weak and dominated by a self-interested elite, has never been a stabilising force and nor will it be in the face of these most recent displacements, providing at best the most superficial forms of assistance.

Pakistanis spend much time and many moments wondering about the conundrums of their society, the crimes against women and children, the poor and the weak; all of them are but symptoms created by the routine and repeated destruction of communities, the washing away of the only glue that feebly tries to keep things together.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

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Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Scottish referendum

Zubeida Mustafa

LAST week Scotland decided its destiny. It came to the brink of independence and then pulled back. In the closing days of campaigning it was estimated that several thousands of the 4.2 million voters were undecided till the last. When the ballots were cast on Sept 18 over 55pc voted to stay in the union.

LAST week Scotland decided its destiny. It came to the brink of independence and then pulled back. In the closing days of campaigning it was estimated that several thousands of the 4.2 million voters were undecided till the last. When the ballots were cast on Sept 18 over 55pc voted to stay in the union.

The 45pc who voted for change were overruled by the majority and conceded defeat. Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland whose Scottish National Party spearheaded the movement for an independent Scotland, announced his decision to step down.

Negotiations will follow in the coming months as more devolution of power is on the cards as has been promised by the Westminster parties in a last-ditch attempt to lure the Scots back from an irrevocable breach.

The referendum has been widely seen as a contest for power between the separatists and those leading the ‘Better Together’ campaign. In reality, it was more of a clash between two systems. Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz who understands the implications of neoliberalism for societies in a globalised world better than most economists, was spot on when he identified the basic issue in the landmark exercise as the Scots’ “shared vision and values”. At stake was the role the state should play in preserving values such as “fairness, equity and opportunity”.

According to Stiglitz, these “are different from those that have become dominant south of the Border. Scotland has free university education for all; England has been moving towards increasing student fees … Scotland has repeatedly stressed its commitment to the National Health Service; England has repeatedly made moves towards privatisation”.

The referendum was a bid to stop the creeping forces of neoliberalism from swallowing up values of equality and compassion. Yet circumspection emerged as the dominant sentiment. The “scaremongering” by Westminster, to use the SNP’s term, had its impact.

Batool, a Scottish-Pakistani health professional, reflected the shared values and passion of the Scots succinctly when she told me: “As the world changes, what I see is a chance to influence that change for the better. To me the direction the status quo is taking us is scarier. There have been articles from ‘leading experts’ supporting both sides, which suggests there is no definitive answer. So for me it has to be about a principle and a strong belief in fairness, justice and equality. I want to live in a country that has these values enshrined in its constitution. … [M]ore importantly, we can be a country that uses its resources to look after those that need it and creates opportunities for all. To build this type of society we need to have the right foundations.”

Could Westminster ruled by the Conservatives build these structures? Shabbar Jafri, an SNP councillor from Glasgow, speaking a week before the poll, expressed scepticism. Its “leaders’ actions reveal they never really cared for Scotland’s well-being. They only want to keep Scotland in the union because it not only strengthens Westminster governments but also because Scotland is a very rich cash cow!” he said.

Obviously, the ‘yes’ campaigners believed that Scotland’s priorities about how to use its resources were different. Hence so much talk about childcare, the NHS, university education, unemployment and defence spending.

With issues — not personalities — under discussion people remained engaged in the campaign as their concerns were addressed. It was a popular movement and as Jafri pointed out, party lines were crossed. At the people’s level, opinions divided families and communities but that didn’t affect personal relationships. For the people, it was an opportunity of a lifetime to express their opinion on how they interpret their values.

One can expect a lot of squabbling in Westminster in the coming months as England, Wales and Northern Ireland ask why they should be left out of the devolution exercise. So the referendum has proved to be a catalyst and the shape of UK will inevitably have to change. That’s what democracy is all about. That’s how change is ushered through the ballot box. It is slow, sometimes painfully slow.

The day after in Scotland the disappointment in the ‘yes’ camp was palpable. But those who voted ‘no’ were not rejoicing either — barring some minor incidents that were quickly controlled by the police. The calls for reconciliation and healing have been louder. Churches had announced special reconciliation services in advance. Of course, in such an exercise one side has to lose.

Not in Pakistan. All pretend to be winners when actually all are losers. That is why no one ever accepts defeat. As for the people, they have no public engagement with politics as, in Batool’s words, “when people feel they can influence, they engage in the electoral process. It is this grass-root involvement that will carry things forward”. The man on the street emerges as the real loser in a nation of winners.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Patterns of abuse

Mahir Ali

EARLIER this month, in a report highlighting the “staggering extent” of the victimisation of young people across the world, Unicef noted that serious sexual violence is experienced by about one in 10 girls. It put the level at an unbelievably appalling 70pc in certain African countries. Such statistics raise uncomfortable questions about human nature, and more specifically about cultures that permit such atrocities. African states, though, are by no means exclusive in this respect.

EARLIER this month, in a report highlighting the “staggering extent” of the victimisation of young people across the world, Unicef noted that serious sexual violence is experienced by about one in 10 girls. It put the level at an unbelievably appalling 70pc in certain African countries. Such statistics raise uncomfortable questions about human nature, and more specifically about cultures that permit such atrocities. African states, though, are by no means exclusive in this respect.

Unicef also cites sexual victimisation in richer countries, with large numbers of girls reporting harassment or exposure to pornography. What has been going on in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, in England, goes well beyond that.

A report by Prof Alexis Jay last month offered a “conservative estimate” of 1,400 victims between 1997 and 2013. The girls, some of them aged as young as 11, were native English. The perpetrators were men of Pakistani origin, most of them tracing their antecedents to Mirpur in Azad Kashmir.

The general pattern of abuse entailed mostly young men befriending the girls in arcades and other such places, offering affection and gifts, and subsequently subjecting them to unspeakable levels of sexual abuse, including gang rape and trafficking.

Jay’s report points out how local figures of authority generally turned a blind eye to what was going on. This has been described as political correctness gone mad, the implication being that there was a reluctance to pursue the perpetrators on account of their ethnic origin, as such actions might be dubbed racist.

This may well be a part of the context, but in all likelihood a small part, given that the English police often enough exhibit the opposite tendency.

It has also been claimed that local elected officials were concerned about the loss of votes that alienating the Pakistani-origin community might entail. Rotherham, however, has been a Labour stronghold since the Second World War, and voters of Pakistani origin comprise about 3pc of the population.

Instances have been cited, meanwhile, of police accosting adult men with a girl in what could euphemistically be described as compromising circumstances, and choosing to haul up the 12-year-old victim for being inebriated while ignoring indications of what is called statutory rape under English law.

The picture that has emerged in Rotherham in the view of some exemplifies the consequences of multiculturalism, and it is not surprising that on the fringes of society in South Yorkshire and elsewhere it has fed into the racist mythologies of neo-Nazi organisations.

As some commentators, including The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, have pointed out, though, the failure to pursue the perpetrators in Rotherham in itself points to racist presumptions, including that unconscionable exploitation of pubescent girls is par for the course in some communities.

Many others have focused on the fact that the victims were working-class girls, most of them either effectively without families or belonging to dysfunctional families, who tended to be looked upon by figures of authority as “young prostitutes” making a “lifestyle choice” — notwithstanding evidence of threats, coercion, violence and torture.

In a recent article in The New York Times, Sarfraz Manzoor notes: “The Pakistanis who raped and pimped got away with it because they targeted a community even more marginal and vulnerable than theirs, a community with less voice and less muscle: white working-class girls.”

Manzoor also dwells on the immigration trends of the 1950s and 1960s, and the segregated communities they spaw­ned. “An enlightening breeze of mod­­ernity needs to blow through those pockets of England that remain forever Pakistan,” he argues. It would be difficult to disagree.

Meanwhile, Nazir Afzal, the British Crown Prosecution Service official who oversees child abuse cases in England and Wales, says between 80pc and 90pc of child sex offenders in his jurisdiction are British white males. He notes that the preponderance of Asian males in the night-time economy in parts of Britain contributes to their prominence in after-dark crimes of opportunity.

At the same time, Jay’s report chimes with independent evidence that a great deal of child sex abuse within the Pakistani and certain other ethnic communities in Britain goes largely unreported, not least on account of notions of ‘shame’ and ‘honour’. The appalling crimes of Rotherham, though, are not exactly an aberration. The same pattern was highlighted in Rochdale a couple of years ago, and instances of it have since emerged elsewhere.

Misogyny isn’t any means be a Pakistani or Muslim prerogative. But its implications in the reported circumstances are heinous beyond belief. Although criminality of this nature is a minority occupation, the knowledge that it permeates societies at a lower, sometimes subliminal, level nonetheless substantiates the case for “an enlightening breeze of modernity” and for notions of morality divorced from medieval impulses.

mahir.dawn

Published in Dawn, September 24th, 2014

Kashmir: a way forward

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

WHY is Kashmir still important for us? Leave aside history, religion and the many other links, Pakistan as a legal party to the dispute has an obligation to uphold and promote the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. If it walks away from this obligation it diminishes itself as a nation.

WHY is Kashmir still important for us? Leave aside history, religion and the many other links, Pakistan as a legal party to the dispute has an obligation to uphold and promote the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people. If it walks away from this obligation it diminishes itself as a nation.

Certainly, we have even greater obligations to our own people who have been blithely ignored and we are, accordingly, diminished both geographically and morally. We have already paid a large enough price for supporting the rights of our Kashmiri brethren. We are also overwhelmed by other issues that threaten to sink us. Accordingly, it is sometimes suggested, if we improve our relations with India the Kashmir dispute will somehow resolve itself. After all, it is an imperfect world, and we will continue to say all the right things in support of Kashmiri rights!

However, a country undermines its raison d’être if either it cannot provide minimally acceptable governance to its own people, or is derelict with regard to the internationally acknowledged rights of a people, for the effective support of which it assumed legal responsibility.

This is no argument for adventurism or minimising engagement with India. It is an argument for statesmanship, policy formulation and public communication and education of the very highest order to deal with an extremely complex and entrenched set of issues and attitudes. Given the state of our governance and our unspeakable politics today, is there any chance of this happening?

Whatever the chances, we should seek to improve the quality and range of our cooperation with India and improve the prospect of moving it from a policy stance that precludes progress towards a mutually acceptable Kashmir settlement to one that opens up possibilities for it. Some argue that the 2004-2007 ‘backchannel’ talks achieved precisely this.

Indeed, progress was made. Our foreign minister at the time claimed an “interim” agreement, based on the territorial status quo, de-militarisation, a “soft LOC” and limited sovereignty over Kashmir for each of the parties, was just a signature away. This agreement may have provided a framework for future negotiations. But at the time it was “a submarine that could not surface” because public opinion was completely unprepared for the concessions and deviations from formal positions involved.

Musharraf’s proposal in December 2003 “to set aside the UN resolutions on Kashmir” did not help either since they provide the legal basis for Pakistan’s status as an interlocutor and rejecting India’s claim that Kashmir acceded to it.

Coordinating our negotiating position with Kash­miri opinion, especially in the Valley, is essential. So is ensuring our stance stays within the framework of UN resolutions. Accordingly, bringing Kashmiri representatives (not just from the All Parties Hurriyat Conference) into a “tripartite” arrangement for a negotiated solution must become a policy priority. A backchannel option should only be used for troubleshooting whenever an impasse develops.

Pakistan should also present its case on the basis of Article 257 of its Constitution which concedes the essence of the third option in a way that is compatible with existing UN resolutions. Even if a compromise settlement with India is the best we can hope for, it will be important for the Pakistani and Kashmiri negotiating positions to be consistent with UN resolutions during the negotiating process. Meanwhile, it will be important to extend the full benefits of Article 257 to Azad Kashmir which currently enjoys less autonomy than India-held Kashmir. This will also have a positive impact on opinion in the Valley.

Narendra Modi seeks to bring about a “paradigm shift” aimed at altogether excluding Pakistan from a Kashmir settlement. The reasons cited for the cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks were indicative of this shift. Modi is moving towards dismantling Article 370 of the Indian constitution which accorded “special status” to IHK on its fraudulent “accession” to India.

For this purpose, he is employing a “3P” (Prakash, Paryavaran, Paryatan ie energy, environment and tourism) development strategy combined with the infamous black laws to obtain a BJP-led majority — or 44 seats in an 87-member IHK assembly.

This could result in IHK having its first ever BJP chief minister, and facilitate a “trifurcation” policy that would, according to some reports, provide union territory status to Ladakh, separate Jammu from the Valley, and enable the Pandits who fled the Valley to return to their homes. The path to significant investment and demographic engineering could open up. The majority of the residents of the Valley would increasingly be confronted with the grim choice of resistance or resignation.

Talks with Pakistan on Kashmir would then be confined to ensuring “respect for the LoC” in accordance with the Simla Agreement and the implementation of trans-LoC confidence-building measures to consolidate the status quo. There would be no joint mechanisms, no limitation on Indian sovereignty over IHK and no role for the UN resolutions. Modi seems to believe this is the way to confront Pakistan with a fait accompli and make its acceptance a condition for structured dialogue, including sterile exchanges on Kashmir, culminating in a triumphant visit to Pakistan to seal the deal.

The soft option for Pakistan is to lose its cool in the face of Indian obduracy and lose the game, as has repeatedly happened. The honest option is to accept there is no short-term solution to Kashmir and violent short cuts have only led to frustration, isolation and blowbacks that weaken our national fabric. For leaders to suggest otherwise is to lie to the people.

However daunting the prospect, we must put in place the building blocks for a successful longer-term strategy for a mutually acceptable settlement. This must entail movement on all sides and, as a first step, improving the human rights situation in IHK. This should provide the thrust of the prime minister’s brief for a one-to-one meeting with Modi in New York. Despite many mutual misgivings, the development of a personal relationship based on mutual confidence and trust should be a priority for both leaders.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

After the deluge, the fog

Jawed Naqvi

UJJAIN University’s vice chancellor, J.L. Kaul, is an old-fashioned Kashmiri Pandit, a man of liberal values, somewhat in Nehru’s genial mould. Armed men of the Hindutva brigade mercilessly beat him up the other day. Why had he appealed to the city’s landlords who housed Kashmiri students to forgo the month’s rent, the men demanded to know.

UJJAIN University’s vice chancellor, J.L. Kaul, is an old-fashioned Kashmiri Pandit, a man of liberal values, somewhat in Nehru’s genial mould. Armed men of the Hindutva brigade mercilessly beat him up the other day. Why had he appealed to the city’s landlords who housed Kashmiri students to forgo the month’s rent, the men demanded to know.

Mr Kaul obviously thought the students could use the savings in their own small way to help their families cope with the catastrophe that has swamped their homeland. But the agitated men of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, seen as the sword arm of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s anti-Muslim political coterie, saw Mr Kaul as a traitor to their cause. While the vice chancellor was rushed off to the hospital, a shattered portrait of Mahatma Gandhi remained fixed to his office wall to tell the story.

Bile also flowed copiously on TV channels like stale, putrid water of vicious intent. Why were the Kashmiri traitors now accepting help from the Indian army, whose soldiers, on any given day, they wanted to vacate their strife-stricken region? The Hindutva chorus was loud and enormous.

They mocked the Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Muslims, not unused to their abuses, came out to help trapped Hindu neighbours or to bail out Indian tourists from the swirling deluge, they were still regarded with scorn. Elections are due in Kashmir later this year, and Mr Modi’s party was hoping to inject a large dose of communal polarisation to exploit it. The flood calamity interrupted the trajectory. The party will need some way to crawl back to its comfort zone of religious identity before it gets late.

A TV channel accused Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yasin Malik of hijacking an official boat with food supplies. It was a damned good thing if he did that because TV footage, which was apparently never aired for reasons not so hidden from the discerning eye, showed an overwhelmed Sanatani Hindu priest from Uttar Pradesh. He never seemed to tire of repeating how he owed his life and that of 200-plus Hindu men and women, including his mother who was a nun on a pilgrimage to Kashmir, to Mr Malik’s rescue act.

“I am a Brahmin from UP, and in our community we are not allowed to touch food or water that has been handled by a Muslim,” the Hindu holy man confessed. “But I have to say this publicly that it was only due to the timely help of Yasin Malik — I don’t know the man, and I don’t care what you think of him — that so many of us are alive today.”

There was no administration worth the name, the man shouted to the shocked woman journalist who seemed surprised by the unusual bonding between a Muslim-hating priest and a former separatist militant. “Without the many kilos of cooked yellow rice Yasin plied for us in his boat, we would have perished.” There were stories of the army going all out to rescue trapped people, but the sadhu seemed unaware of that. Another report spoke of Muslim women helping a Hindu visitor deliver her baby in the melee.

“If they took the state apparatus and its innate prejudices out of the equation, Indians are adept at helping each other out,” declaimed a young man readying himself to wade into chest-deep waters near Maisooma, close to Mr Malik’s home in downtown Srinagar. Stranded people had coped similarly the previous year with little help from the state when thousands of Hindu pilgrims were trapped and many killed in the flash floods that hit Uttarakhand.

Unaware of the floodwaters snaking towards Srinagar’s living rooms on Sept 3, environment experts and peace activists from Delhi were winding up a fortuitous meeting in a ramshackle hotel in Jammu. For some years now, the local chapter of the Pakistan-India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy has been nudging its civil society partners on pervasive if intractable issues such as peace and human rights that concern people on both sides of the Line of Control.

The issue this time round was palpable and urgent. The focus, the meeting decided, was to be put squarely on the deleterious impact on the Himalayan ecology of human greed and military strife, chiefly on the river systems its alarmingly denuded snow-peaks and melting glaciers were struggling to feed. In this context, the decades-old stand-off between India and Pakistan in the Siachen Glacier — seen by an American observer as a fight between two bald men over a comb — came in for flak.

Mr Modi and his fawning supporters may continue to believe that the sacred Ganges river they worship flows from the matted dreadlocks of Lord Shiva. An excellent UNDP documentary shown at the Jammu conclave, however, offered a different explanation for the plight of the Ganges as also for its origins. The river flowed from the same ecological system as the Indus and the Brahmaputra, Mekong and Yellow rivers, and they all leaned on the depleting Himalayan reservoirs for sustenance.

More than 50,000 glaciers are rapidly shrinking in the Himalayan mountain region threatening billions of lives and livelihoods throughout Asia, according the documentary Himalayan Meltdown. Kashmir, Uttarkhand, Bihar, Assam have routinely experienced the depredations.

In much of South Asia, the link between the sea and the mountains has not been fully grasped. In Nepal, for example, climate change is not only melting the Himalayan glaciers, it is also leading to drought and ironically, inordinately rising sea levels. Many communities, as shown in the documentary, have seen seasonal monsoon rains disappear. One of the solutions helping villagers adapt is the use of low-cost moisture-trapping nets that convert fog into drinking water. Is that going to be the way forward for Kashmir now, to pray for the fog to descend?

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Lahore inundated

Adnan Adil

THE slow drainage of storm water is a long-standing issue in Lahore. The flooding of the city on Sept 4, 2014, was a replay of events during the heavy rains of August 1996. Had lessons been learnt from that disaster, the city streets would not have turned into rivers this monsoon. Clearly, no significant improvement has been brought about in the drainage system during the last 18 years.

THE slow drainage of storm water is a long-standing issue in Lahore. The flooding of the city on Sept 4, 2014, was a replay of events during the heavy rains of August 1996. Had lessons been learnt from that disaster, the city streets would not have turned into rivers this monsoon. Clearly, no significant improvement has been brought about in the drainage system during the last 18 years.

No doubt, excessive rainfall — 200 millimetres fell in a few hours on this occasion — cannot be drained out instantly. A sudden downpour naturally takes several hours to clear after the rains stop. However, it is fair to question the extent of the flooding and its duration during and after the rains. Many localities were knee-deep in water all day long and it took them one to two full days to dry out post rainfall.

Under media pressure, government functionaries went into action, running to affected areas to show their concern and carrying out some relief work. This is the usual pattern. Once rains are over, the issue of an efficient drainage system is put on the back burner.

A major problem is that Lahore does not have separate channels for sewage and storm water. In intense rains, the city’s dilapidated and inadequate sewerage pipes get choked and overflow, flooding the city. Leave alone making new drainage channels for rainwater, even the old nullahs for this purpose have either been converted into sewage outlets or encroached upon. The once beautiful canal passing through the city has become a big sewage carrier.

Many studies have been conducted to resolve the city’s drainage issue, mostly sponsored by the World Bank or the Japanese development agency, Jica, but their recommendations are gathering dust.

In 2000, Nespak conducted a thorough study and proposed a comprehensive project to tackle the situation, but the Punjab government through the Water and Sanitation Agency completed only a few small projects.

A recent Jica study proposed the separation of sewerage and storm water outlets in the city and offered funding for the purpose. The government looked the other way, preferring instead to construct flyovers and distribute laptops.

During the last few years, the Punjab government has drastically reduced its spending on the development of water supply and sanitation projects. In 2010-11, it spent around Rs7 billion on such projects, whereas in 2013-14 it spent only Rs4bn. Adjusted against inflation, the actual spending has declined by nearly 150pc.

Yet another master plan is under preparation and scheduled to be completed in the next 18 months. The improvement of the city’s sewerage and drainage would be part of the new plan. Until then, the issue will remain in limbo.

Meanwhile, waste water flows have increased manifold as the city is expanding fast and water supply has been enhanced accordingly. The number of tube wells has jumped from 100 to 400 during the last two decades.

According to official figures, the water table in the city has fallen from 150 to 700 feet, causing saline water intrusion in underground water. Effects of the seepage of saline and polluted water from the Kasur region into Lahore’s water table are disturbing. In about 90pc of Lahore’s tube wells, water has been found to be contaminated with arsenic. The lowering of the water table is also creating underground cavities. If these keep expanding, they may lead to the collapse of buildings.

This alarming situation requires water conservation measures but no steps have ever been taken towards this. Fresh water wastage could be checked by installing meters on the use of tap water to discourage wasteful practices such as washing of cars and irrigation of gardens with tap water.

In Lahore, water is supplied to users at an average consumption estimate of 80 gallons per person per day, which is on the higher side given the city’s population of nearly 10 million. This level can easily be halved without creating scarcity. Economical use of water will also lead to reduction in sewage besides slower depletion of underground water.

Every day nearly 2,000 cusecs of untreated waste water from the city goes into river Ravi, polluting it. This causes health risks for a vast population that consumes fruit and vegetables from fields irrigated with the polluted water.

The quantity of waste water produced by Lahore is equal to the flows in a large irrigation canal the size of the BRB. During the last 66 years, not a single waste water treatment plant has been installed in the city.

Flooding in Lahore can be prevented by laying separate trunk drains for storm water and improving the existing sewerage lines. The issue is not shortage of funds but the misplaced priorities of the rulers whose imagination stops at motorways and flyovers.

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist and researcher.

ednanaadil

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

The readers’ editor

Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

For Dawn to have a readers’ editor in this age of blogs is a unique experiment, full of possibilities and pitfalls. Because he has to deal not only with complaints but also with Dawn’s code of ethics, many critics, I believe, have sharpened their knives.

For Dawn to have a readers’ editor in this age of blogs is a unique experiment, full of possibilities and pitfalls. Because he has to deal not only with complaints but also with Dawn’s code of ethics, many critics, I believe, have sharpened their knives.

Blogs accommodate a large number of online comments in a way that is amazing. But that doesn’t cover the job of an RE — public editor, as the New York Times calls him. Stephen Pitchard of The Observer, London, challenges the view that “giving the readers online access to comments […] removes the need for the ombudsman”. Readers may enjoy seeing their comments on the website, he says, but “that’s where it ends. There is no independent adjudication process and no critical analysis of their complaints”.

Doug Feaver quit as Washington Post’s RE after less than year, and Wapo insisted he quit it on his own. But Media Matters, one of America’s press watchdogs, implied that Feaver had not criticised the contents of the paper himself and that he rarely published “direct criticisms or reviews of the Post’s reporting”.

Jahanzaib Haque, Editor of Dawn’s internet edition, makes a forceful plea for “a macroscopic look” at the feedback coming to Dawn’s readers’ editor (DRE), and doesn’t believe his job is to address “minor daily complaints related to the website or the paper, as there are already systems in place for those”. Instead, he says, “DRE’s job should be to respond in print to readers’ feedback relating to policy and editorial decisions by taking feedback from editors within the paper”.

As announced in our issue of Aug 10, 2014, the idea behind Dawn having an RE is “to attend to our readers’ complaints, and to respond to them professionally in a manner that would address the matter that directly concerns the complainant”.

In most cases DRE will be responsible for pointing out to the editor or to the head of the concerned sections errors, mistakes and any violations of the code. But there will be occasions where DRE will act on his own, even if there is no complaint from a reader because his mandate gives him the independence necessary to investigate a complaint and advise the editor on appropriate action.

Personally I feel DRE’s institution will take time to mature. The ticklish issue for him is to criticise his own colleagues. We know, for instance, what happened to the ordinance on the right to information, which was intended to be the Pakistani version of America’s ‘sunshine law’.

The ordinance was never became an act of parliament because Pakistan’s powerful bureaucracy sabotaged it. Irrespective of its motives, I feel Pakistani society wasn’t ready for a law that assumed public and private attitudes existing in Western European and North American societies. Our attitudes are feudal. Over the decades, governments and politicians have come to accept criticism as a fundamental ingredient of democracy, but society at large has a long way to go.

Five weeks is too short a time for me to evaluate Dawn readers’ preferences. But here is something amazing — no section in Dawn is more popular than the letters to the editor half-page.

In December, when we switched over to the present layout, the strongest criticism from our readers centred on the shrinkage of space for letters. We respected our readers’ criticism by printing a large number of letters, but people continue to protest. Understandably, most readers protest why “my letter” has not been published and attribute many motives, some of them ludicrous. One reader protested that he had sent 10 letters, but not one was printed. But when I requested him to send me some of those letters, I realised the letters staff was right in not printing them.

I have nothing to do with the letters anymore, but when I rejoined Dawn four decades ago, the letters’ section fell to my lot, and I still vividly remember at least one letter because of the impact those few lines had. Those were pre-email, pre-fax days, and most letters were received either by mail or handed in personally.

A reasonably well-written letter from some students of a small town in Sindh complained that they had no playground, and the one that was there had been usurped by a herder, who had turned it into a sort of corral. I shortened it so that it occupied less than two inches of space in those post-Dhaka days when newsprint was available on government quota and every inch of space mattered.

The letter caught the eyes of some efficient deputy commissioner, the herder was made to vacate it, and the boys got their playground back. Within a week, I received a letter from the boys thanking Dawn for publishing the letter and ending with Dawn zindabad!

The writer is Dawn’s readers’ editor

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2014

Dangerous contradictions

Babar Sattar

YOU can call for reform of a dysfunctional constitutional order. You can declare that the existing order doesn’t work and needs to be replaced by a new one. But what are you thinking if you seek to delegitimise an existing order, cast aspersions on its institutions, inspire hate against its procedures and outcomes, and then appeal to the same institutions to produce outcomes of your liking? PAT wants a new constitutional order (even if it is coy about it). What about the PTI?

YOU can call for reform of a dysfunctional constitutional order. You can declare that the existing order doesn’t work and needs to be replaced by a new one. But what are you thinking if you seek to delegitimise an existing order, cast aspersions on its institutions, inspire hate against its procedures and outcomes, and then appeal to the same institutions to produce outcomes of your liking? PAT wants a new constitutional order (even if it is coy about it). What about the PTI?

The latter’s conduct raises serious concerns about its commitment to our constitutional order. Its demands and tactics seem to be challenging foundational concepts of justice, otherwise settled by now: ‘innocent until proven guilty’; ‘right to trial by a neutral arbiter’; ‘no one to be a judge in own cause’; ‘legitimate means produce legitimate ends’; ‘rights and responsibilities go hand-in-hand’; ‘not to yell “fire” in a crowded theatre’; ‘your freedom ends where my nose begins’.

Article 225 states that no election can be called into question except by an election petition presented to the election tribunal. Imran Khan insinuates that election tribunals are either incapable or in Sharif’s control (except when they rule in PTI’s favour). Thus an ordinance must be brought in (without parliamentary debate) that somehow dances around Article 225 and enables a judicial commission to not only call into question election results in selected constituencies but also the overall electoral outcome across Pakistan.

This judicial commission should conduct a summary investigation, consider circumstantial evidence, not afford Article 10-A rights (fair trial and due process) to MNAs, and conclusively declare whether or not the entire electoral exercise in 2013 was a sham. But in doing so the commission is not to consider whether Imran Khan’s basic allegation (that Iftikhar Chaudhry, election commissioners, Returning Officers, Najam Sethi and Geo were all part of a grand conspiracy to deliver a fake mandate to Nawaz Sharif) is true and backed by evidence

So the PTI is demanding that the right of individual MNAs to represent their constituencies and the collective right of the PML-N to run the government be taken away without due process or a fair trial. The PTI is essentially saying that we, in view of the conclusive evidence we possess (not yet shared with a competent court) have concluded that we won the 2013 elections, which judgement must be accepted by all and sundry and thus the PML-N must now prove that it did not steal the PTI’s mandate to remain in power.

And what are the PTI’s means? The prime minister won’t resign just because the PTI is asking pertly. The khakis have clarified that they are not intervening. So is PTI relying on the Supreme Court for a face-saver? If the remedy lay with the apex court why did Imran Khan not file a petition instead of demanding intervention from atop his container? Should the court comply with his demand because there is a mob occupying Constitution Avenue, which might go rogue?

While one hears about the PTI’s rights, one seldom hears about its responsibilities. The PTI seems to have erroneously imagined that the right to protest includes the right to overthrow a government. The right to protest (which flows out of four fundamental liberties: to speak, associate, move and assemble) comes along with no guarantee or promise of immediate corrective action.

By protesting against an objectionable action or policy you record your disapproval while appealing to the conscience of the society and/or decision-makers. The demand is essentially moral in nature. If you seek to enforce such moral position through the use of force, you’re demanding right to violence under the garb of protest. Thus in Pakistan and in democracies across the world, the right to protest is subservient to public order. You have a right to assemble to protest. But if the assembly becomes illegal, the right extinguishes.

The priority accorded to public order means that the right to protest doesn’t come with the privilege to protest wherever and however you wish. Time, place and manner regulation of the right is standard practice across the world. Each Moharram, authorities work with organisers of marches to map out routes etc to ensure peace and public order, because under Article 16 of our Constitution the “right to assemble peacefully” is “subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of public order”.

Have the PTI/PAT breached any laws while exercising their right to protest? Under Section 141 of the Pakistan Penal Code, for example, any assembly of five persons or more becomes unlawful if the common purpose is to overawe by use or show of force the government, legislature or public servants, to resist the execution of any law or lawful process, to commit mischief or trespass, or to obtain possession of property or deprive anyone of the enjoyment of right of way etc.

The PAT/PTI protesters violated the initial permission to protest by changing the venue and moving into the red zone. We saw PTV attacked, parliament’s fence broken, its premises trespassed, and police officers beaten up. We saw senior PTI leaders obstructing prison vans, IG police threatened by Imran Khan and the release of arrested PTI workers secured by force by the mighty Khan personally. We see vigilantes controlling the right of way on Constitution Avenue and even Supreme Court judges have to take a detour to reach the court.

Is this a lawful assembly?

Abuse of authority by the state has a long, abhorrent history. But the remedy lies in availing legal solutions and moving courts (which exist to uphold citizen rights and check the arbitrary exercise of state power) as opposed to relying on vigilantism. Can responsible leaders incite protesters to attack officials and then disown their responsibility for transforming an assembly into a mob?

State institutions and their legitimacy are hard to build but easy to destroy. The police uniforms being demonised represent state authority and not the Sharif government. Pakistan can’t expect progressive evolutionary change if its proclaimed agents of change aim to settle partisan scores by hacking at state institutions and state authority. Once delegitimised, the erosion of state authority will affect all uniforms and not just those worn by civilians.

The writer is a lawyer.

sattar

Twitter: @babar_sattar

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Caught in the crossfire

Tariq Khosa

POLICING in a politically polarised and vendetta-prone society like ours has become the most hazardous and difficult job. Pity the nation beset with bickering politicos and corruption-infested corridors of power. The police leadership walks a tightrope in an environment devoid of decency, manners, tolerance and respect for human rights.

POLICING in a politically polarised and vendetta-prone society like ours has become the most hazardous and difficult job. Pity the nation beset with bickering politicos and corruption-infested corridors of power. The police leadership walks a tightrope in an environment devoid of decency, manners, tolerance and respect for human rights.

The last three months have witnessed a horrendous display of intolerance, propensity for violence, chicanery and attempts at gross misuse of police not only to settle political scores but also to weaken an important state institution. The sit-ins and marches on Constitution Avenue in the capital are a manifestation of state paralysis.

It all began on June 17 in Model Town, Lahore. A dual citizen cleric imbued with revolutionary zeal had to be taught a lesson. Who better than the terror-inspiring Punjab police to deliver a brutal punch to a recalcitrant prayer leader who once used to sing the praises of the house of Sharif? How dare he play someone else’s game to dislodge a heavy-mandated political dispensation? Make him feel insecure by removing the barricades around his fortified office-cum-residence.

The decision was taken on a day when an inspector-general of the provincial police was made an officer on special duty, and a new chief of Punjab police was posted. The political and bureaucratic minions could not wait until the latter took charge and share the planned operation details with him. They had the loyal chief of Lahore police and his senior officers to do their bidding. Imagine an army regional commander going ahead and launching an operation without taking his chief into confidence. So much for the police chain of command, reduced to a group of pathetic courtiers of the ruling elite.

What transpired in Model Town that day was so brutal that it has earned across-the-board opprobrium. The Punjab police learnt a bitter lesson when they ended up getting all the blame for the bloodbath. Although the police officers were investigated, arrested and prosecuted, some politicians and bureaucrats were only removed from ministerial and official assignments — while retaining their perks.

The chief executive showed remorse, but did not resign by taking moral responsibility for the carnage that his hand-picked political, bureaucratic and police favourites had unleashed. When it comes to self-preservation, democratic principles and traditions are of secondary importance.

The Punjab police were put to the test again on Aug 14 when the politician and the cleric were set to embark upon their marches from Lahore to Islamabad. The rulers’ initial plan was to allow the politician to proceed, but to prevent the cleric from leaving his Model Town base. Although the newly installed provincial police chief had gone along with the policy of blockading the locality with containers, when it appeared the strategy would lead to another spate of violence, police reportedly asked for written orders from the government, while reiterating the implications of using force in the situation. This, coupled with sane advice from other political and security-related stakeholders, prevented bloodshed that day.

Next, the Islamabad police command was put to the test. The march towards D-Chowk was peaceful as were the sit-ins, which was why there was no action by police against the protesters. Then the city police chief was asked to place protesters under preventive detention and forcibly remove them, although they had until then made no aggressive move. In response, he advised against use of force that, he felt, could further aggravate the situation. Seeing no other choice, he decided to opt out and sought leave. He was thus the second IG to have said no to senseless violence.

It was Islamabad’s acting police chief next who showed grit and resolve when the leaders of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf started to lead the protesters towards parliament and Prime Minister House. Islamabad police valiantly thwarted the designs of the leaders who were inciting attacks on these symbols of the state. Using tear gas and rubber bullets was the correct strategy.

Although fewer injuries would have resulted had excessive gas shelling and indiscriminate use of rubber bullets been avoided, it should not be forgotten that many policemen, including SPs, sustained injuries at the hands of protesters armed with slingshots and lethal, nail-studded sticks. This was totally unnecessary and avoidable violence provoked by the dharna leaders.

The police find themselves in a catch-22 situation. If they avoid using force, they are chided by the rulers, and their officers lose their jobs. If they use force, detain would-be protesters or arrest those involved in violence, the leaders of the protesting parties threaten to ‘break their legs’ or put them in prison when they come to power. In other words, the rulers want them to dance to their tune while the protesters want them to give them a free hand.

This is a defining moment for the rule of law. With an independent judiciary and vibrant media, the police leadership is also finally realising that it must muster the courage to say ‘no’ to the illegal demands of those who wield authority, while protecting citizens who fall victim to the whims of string pullers.

During this summer of discontent, there are lessons for all stakeholders: the rulers should improve governance; across-the-board accountability must be ensured; police depoliticised; democracy strengthened rather than derailed; parliament bring about electoral reforms; judiciary safeguard the Constitution; and the armed forces with the support of the entire nation should defeat the terrorists who are out to unravel this state.

Let the rule of law and democracy be the ultimate winners from the present logjam. This would be a win-win for the warring parties. The people of Pakistan should be allowed to write the script for a peaceful, progressive and prosperous future.

The writer is a retired police officer.

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Art of policymaking

Syed Saadat

THEY say when you really love something the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it. As a nation, had we love for true democracy or good governance we would have got it by now. We are a nation madly in love with conspiracy theories and that is precisely what we get aplenty even after more than six decades of independence.

THEY say when you really love something the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it. As a nation, had we love for true democracy or good governance we would have got it by now. We are a nation madly in love with conspiracy theories and that is precisely what we get aplenty even after more than six decades of independence.

One can write a well-researched piece about the need for health centres or access to clean drinking water for highly vulnerable sections of the country’s population in the most widely read newspaper, and only a handful of people would notice. On the contrary, write about conspiracy theories and palace intrigues about the presumed tugs-of-war in the power corridors of the twin cities and everybody who is somebody would sit up and take notice. Such is the travesty, that where it comes to policymaking, the priorities of our rulers and masses are no different.

Around the world, policymaking is not the exclusive domain of politicians; it is an inclusive process that involves all stakeholders. A bureaucrat is the implementer of the policy; therefore his input is imperative. A politician is the leader who inculcates ownership of the policy among the masses. Civil society and opinion makers play the role of constructive critics and the result is a refined policy that provides for the optimum utilisation of resources. A country with limited resources must adhere to these principles of policymaking in order to progress. The next rung on the ladder is decision-making, which has to be carried out in the same inclusive spirit.

The consultative process we have in this country is cosmetic; it is not substantive. Unless it is made substantive, policymaking will remain irrelevant. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why the real issues of the people are put on the back burner while power-grabbing takes centre stage. In Pakistan policymaking matters, but political mileage matters more and lies at the core of all decision-making. It seems that focus on policymaking is important only to the extent of being a chapter in our political parties’ manifestos, which even their leadership hardly reads let alone implements.

The recurrent floods in Punjab have exposed the gap between decision-making and policymaking. While an amount of Rs74 billion on a couple of Metro bus projects gets the nod because of the political mileage to be gained from them, a dam near Chiniot with an estimated cost of Rs24bn and recommended by the disaster management authorities to mitigate floods has been deferred for lack of funds since 2009. Gimmicks are all that fascinate the media, bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicians. The masses can only suffer in silence.

There is a generally accepted, albeit wrong notion in Pakistan that being the direct representative of the people makes the politician superior to everyone else in the policymaking and decision-making loop. On the contrary, this is a systemic flaw that gives him the power to override the opinion of the bureaucrat, the technocrat, and the critic.

The vote bank that elevates the politician to decision-making and policymaking positions should only be a ticket to the position that a bureaucrat, a technocrat or a critic has reached by dint of his administrative capability, academic knowledge and critical analysis. Once there, all notions of superiority of one over the other should be relinquished. Only then is policymaking — free from personality biases and personal preferences — possible.

I hope for a time when somebody from the hordes of civil servants surrounding our political leaders would be given the confidence to stand up and articulate his sentiments and cite statistics without exaggeration or euphemistic glos­sing over of facts. Circ­ums­tan­tial evidence so far in the third term of the ruling party suggests it is difficult for a Pakistani politician to be wise even in retrospect.

Our love for gossip and rumour-mongering is grotesque at times. The most effective way to monitor Punjab’s flood relief effort in this age of communication would have been to set up a control centre in the chief minister’s secretariat: visiting flood-affected regions actually shifts the local administration’s focus from flood relief activities to the reception of the VVIP. However, it does not surprise me that the Punjab chief minister chose to conduct things in a way that could earn him maximum brownie points and also provide some use of his gum boots which were hitherto a shopping blunder. To be fair, had the chief minister not opted for this barnstorming, the frivolous media would have criticised him for not leaving his comfort zone.

The situation in this country resembles a circus with the spectators (the general public) locked inside for as long as the show lasts.

The writer is a former civil servant.

syedsaadatwrites

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Assaulting the mind

Zarrar Khuhro

“IF rape is inevitable, you may as well enjoy it.” You’ve heard this ‘joke’ before, usually from the mouths of men, and maybe even a few women. Then there’s always that guy who’ll go “Yaar West Indies ka to rape ho gaya hai!” This is said so often that it passes almost unremarked.

“IF rape is inevitable, you may as well enjoy it.” You’ve heard this ‘joke’ before, usually from the mouths of men, and maybe even a few women. Then there’s always that guy who’ll go “Yaar West Indies ka to rape ho gaya hai!” This is said so often that it passes almost unremarked.

At this point, one can be forgiven for thinking this is a purely, or largely, Pakistani thing to do. After all, our record on women’s rights is abysmal, and patriarchal and misogynist views and customs still dominate large parts of society, even in so-called parha likha circles. But being insensitive and tasteless isn’t something we have a monopoly on.

After Brazil’s stunning 7-1 defeat at the hands (feet?) of Germany in the last World Cup, social media was flooded with comments like “Nazis rape Brazil.” Predictably, there was a backlash and then a backlash against the backlash, with the usual “lighten up, it’s just a joke”, refrain.

Recently in Pakistan there was a case where a girl in Faisalabad filed an FIR against the sons of PML-N MNA Mian Muhammad Farooq, alleging they had gang raped her. While the medical report confirmed the crime, the girl later retracted her accusation and refused to go for a DNA exam. Given how difficult it is for a victim to pluck up the courage to report rape, and that too against influential parties, the speculation is that she was coerced into withdrawing the accusation.

Soon after the news broke Rana Sanaullah, that poster boy of progressive views, speculated on a talk show that the sex was consensual, while also implying that the complainant was a sex worker who had filed the case after a payment dispute. This is a variation of the frighteningly common belief that sex workers (which is not to say that the lady in question was one) can somehow be assaulted at will, or that initially consenting to sex (if that was indeed the case) invalidates a subsequent assault.

But let’s not take this as a reason to bemoan attitudes in Pakistan alone. Let’s instead cast a wider net and see what attitudes are like in other parts of the world, starting with India. Here, various pundits and politicians have blamed rape on various causes, but let’s start with a true classic.

A few years back, after no less than 19 rapes occurred in 30 days in Haryana state, a khap panchayat decided to investigate. They ended up blaming the spike on hormonal imbalances caused by eating spicy chow mein and burgers. They also suggested lowering the age of marriage to 16 and preventing girls from wearing jeans or using mobile phones. Stupid backward village council, right? Except that their suggestions about lowering marriage age were endorsed by then Congress minister Om Prakash Chautala.

Around the same time, another Haryana Congress politician commented that most rapes in the state were ‘consensual’ while another called the rising number of cases a ‘conspiracy’ against the state government. But this was in the unenlightened times before the Delhi gang rape shocked India into realisation, right? Sure, but then just this year Binay Bihari, a minister from Bihar, once again blamed mobile phones and ‘dirty messages’ for rape statistics, along with non-vegetarian food.

The list goes on, with Mamata Bannerjee blaming rape on increased interaction bet­ween the sexes and the BJP’s Babulal Gaur’s remarking that rape is “sometimes right, sometimes wrong”, among many other instances.

By now you’re probably thinking what a regressive lot these South Asians are. Surely those in the enlightened West would never make such a comment?

Not so. While speaking out against abortion, Republican congressman Todd Akin actually said that it was very difficult for a woman to get pregnant from rape. His actual quote is “if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”. That “whole thing” is of course the reproductive system, which must be news to all those women who have become pregnant with their rapists’ child.

There’s more; Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock said that pregnancy by rape is “something that God intended to happen”, and that victims could avoid their fate if they “prayed a little harder”.

Of course the difference is that when these views became public, there was an enormous backlash, with presidential hopeful Mitt Romney having to distance himself from Akin, and both Mourdock and others came under serious fire from their own parties.

Even in India, the various comments listed here prompted outrage and protest. The point is that while such views are disturbingly widespread, the pushback against them also needs to be sustained and uncompromising. Rape is not a political issue, it is certainly not a laughing matter, and those in Pakistan who only see obscenity in women dancing at political rallies are looking in the wrong places.

The writer is a member of staff.

zarrar.khuhro

Twitter: @ZarrarKhuhro

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2014

Obligations and risks

Muhammad Amir Rana

A television reporter was standing in the floodwaters. He was yelling and cursing democracy for all the miseries that the rains and floods had brought. His repeated yelling and cursing suggested that either he did not have anything else to report or did not want to. As such images now frequently appear on Pakistani TV screens, viewers are also getting used to them.

A television reporter was standing in the floodwaters. He was yelling and cursing democracy for all the miseries that the rains and floods had brought. His repeated yelling and cursing suggested that either he did not have anything else to report or did not want to. As such images now frequently appear on Pakistani TV screens, viewers are also getting used to them.

But what really do such images and reporting patterns reflect? Are they part of the TV channels’ ratings race or are they intended to promote certain personal or borrowed agendas of media groups and individuals? A conscious viewer often raises such questions when watching highly opinionated news reports.

In this context, a recent study Media Safety in Pakistan, based on case histories of journalists who were threatened or killed in the line of duty, and conducted by a research group in Islamabad, shows that it is a sense of social obligation among many journalists that plays a part in their choice of profession. That is to say, social obligation appears to be an important factor in the work of journalists engaged in social activities at some level. This is tied to their educational profile which often suggests they chose journalism for reasons of social obligations, to bring about a change in society. In fact, this could be another reason for their inclination to unearth and report on exclusive stories.

This factor has helped mould a certain type of behaviour in journalists, which has led them to not only being forced to take risks but also to compromise on basic professional standards in the performance of their duties. Analysis shows that journalists’ political, ideological and religious associations often go hand in hand with other important aspects related to their job and level of professionalism, such as their way of reporting, attitudes and their threat perceptions.

In Pakistan, journalists belonging to small and local media outlets appear to be more prone to threats. State and non-state actors both contribute to the threat matrix at the local level. Criminals and militants in small towns and tribal areas mainly threaten journalists affiliated with local publications and media outlets with comparatively less outreach. The affiliation of media persons with major media outlets, especially journalists in small towns and cities, may offer some security, and those upset by the media’s coverage may not react to the extent where there is serious danger to journalists.

However, journalists belonging to major media houses are more prone to threats if they are critical towards the policies espoused by the state and by non-state actors. Journalists who are considered to be opinion makers or are seen as playing a role in shaping the discourse on an important issue are likely to face greater threats. In this regard, being a part-time journalist may not shield one from threats. However, studies show that journalists’ religious and political affiliations do not necessarily contribute to the threats they face.

This particular study revealed that in the case of those journalists who were killed, it was not known if their respective media groups had been demanding exclusive reporting from them. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, it may be assumed that such reporters often take risks at their own initiative. That could happen for a number of reasons. They could be in search of professional excellence, or monetary bonuses. Second, they could be under social, political and ideological compulsions; even if they have no political affiliations they are aware of political developments and very much aware of religious-political developments in their respective areas and in the country at large.

The study showed that the more adventurous ones did not belong to the conflict zones and they seemed not to have sensed the level of risk. It is different in the case of journalists who are from the conflict areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, and not engaged in exclusive reporting. One reason could be that their routine reporting already has a lot of substance. Secondly, the nature and pervasiveness of threats and pressure from friends and family often stop journalists living in these areas from taking undue risks.

Case studies from KP and Fata are reflective of the fact that media practitioners who work from there mainly face threats regarding the coverage of non-state actors, who complain that the media is not giving them proper space or their point of view is being distorted.

There is much that the government and the media can do to mitigate the level of threat to journalists, but it is of primary importance that journalists themselves must be advised to remain extra vigilant in covering stories which involve powerful actors who can take offence quickly. Local correspondents should seek solutions in consultation with their media houses to ensure that the issue is covered without exposing them to risk. That can be managed sometimes by filing sensitive reports with a different dateline or requesting the media house to send journalists from outside a difficult district to cover a particular issue or development.

It is important for media persons, especially reporters, that they follow professional norms and standards, as these too are a social obligation. Objective reporting can bring about their desired change in society. In fact, objectivity ensures justice and merit in a society.

The writer is a security expert.

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

Crisis is the new normal

Cyril Almeida

Even the conspiracy theorists have given up. Why bother when reality is so much more bizarre?

Even the conspiracy theorists have given up. Why bother when reality is so much more bizarre?

As the never-ending crisis chugs along and becomes the new normal, folk can’t even muster the pretence that October may reveal a deus ex machina. And that tells a story of its own.

For if this was Zaheer leading the charge, Zaheer is going home in October. The charge should stop. But if it was Raheel…

There is only guesswork from here. The denouement is unknown. Some hope that Khan and Qadri will tire and go home eventually. Surely, even the mightiest cannot indefinitely sustain the unsustainable.

Except that doesn’t factor in the nothing-to-lose part: Khan and Qadri have nothing to lose by sticking around, and much to gain. For as long as the agitators stick around, there’s a chance they’ll succeed. Go home and they definitely fail.

If you were Khan or Qadri, would you go home? Go home to what? The prize, the target, sits across Constitution Avenue. Home doesn’t offer the same view, or the same possibilities.

Or the Tawdry Twosome can split up. Imran can take his dharna on the road and Qadri can symbolically hold down the fort on Constitution Avenue with a few desolate supporters.

That would keep interest alive and the pressure on, allowing Khan and Qadri a way out of the cul de sac they’ve found themselves in on Constitution Avenue.

Wouldn’t that be something though? The era of single-episode crises would give way to multi-chapter crises. That’s what happens when you have more moving parts, more mercurial characters, less control and lesser minds.

What about the boys? If decapitation wasn’t the agenda, then what else is left to achieve? Nothing.

So why not pull the rug out from under the protesters, roll up the show and get on with enjoying internal predominance? But that’s not happening. Why? There is a possible explanation: the hunter wants the hunted to free himself.

A trap was sprung, the prey was caught, and ever since the prey has thrashed around, trying to free itself. Now, the prey is exhausted, but the hunter isn’t willing to help him escape the trap. Somehow, the prey will have to do it himself.

It seems unnecessary and is unwise. For if decapitation wasn’t the real agenda, if just pinning him to the mat and wresting away his mandate was, then that means several years of co-habitation lie ahead.

But every extra day this drags out is an extra day lodged in the memory. Too much punishment, too much humiliation, can cause a victim to snap.

Surely, if decapitation wasn’t the idea, then pushing Nawaz into survival mode was. And stuff still needs to get done in survival mode; meetings still have to be held, decisions have to be taken.

National security and foreign policy may be core interests, but there’s a world outside that too. The economy, the people, the business of running the state and keeping the coffers filled and figuring out who gets what.

All of that can happen if Nawaz is nudged into survival mode. But what if he sails past survival and goes over the edge? Why run that risk by keeping the pressure on?

Surely, crisis after crisis isn’t good for any business, even the boys’. If you didn’t want to knock him out, then why not hold out a hand and pull him off the mat after the fight has been won?

Let him lick his wounds, don’t add to them. But there seems to be a smallness at work that is the hallmark of a bully, not a warrior.

Then again, if decapitation was really the idea…

On to the wounded prey: Nawaz.

As the chief custodian of the democratic project, Nawaz is someone you want to sympathise with. If he wins, we all win. If he loses, it’s back to square one.

And yet, Nawaz has emerged as a singularly unsympathetic character in all of this. Even his allies have looked on in awe at a three-term PM who still just doesn’t seem to get it.

It’s not so much that Nawaz is trapped in a net that nobody can escape from, it’s that he seems unable to recognise the escape routes even when they’re right in front of him.

You could see it again over the weekend, when he gets up, makes a speech before a joint session of parliament, and essentially says nothing. No road map, no plan, no concessions, nothing. Just — talk.

What could he have said? He’s the damn PM. He has options. He has the advantage. He should know.

Or perhaps he shouldn’t. Because it could just be that he’s out of his depth. That it’s not so much his judgement that is clouded, but that he’s just not up to scratch.

Unless he’s convinced decapitation was and is the plan…

Throw all of those possibilities together and the picture only becomes gloomier: boys unwilling to be benevolent in victory; Nawaz unwilling to forgive in defeat; Imran and Qadri hungry for power and unconcerned about the system.

And so, we’re back to muddling through, rummaging through minutiae, looking for meaning where there is none and an end that may never come.

The writer is a member of staff.

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Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

A Pandora’s box

Nasim Beg

A video of a group of PIA passengers that forced MNA Ramesh Kumar and former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik to disembark from PK-370 after they held up the flight for two hours by arriving late went viral this week.

A video of a group of PIA passengers that forced MNA Ramesh Kumar and former interior minister Senator Rehman Malik to disembark from PK-370 after they held up the flight for two hours by arriving late went viral this week.

This happened just as word went around about the alleged price tag of the prime minister’s scheduled trip of a few days to New York: a whopping $400,000 of taxpayers’ money.

This incident comes on the heels of several allegations of power abuse by the ruling elite which have been circulating amongst the populace.

It should enrage us that an MNA and a former bureaucrat could ostensibly force 250 people to wait for them for two hours. Some deemed the passengers’ act of defiance as the beginning of a newfound show of daring among the public.

Others have expressed anxiety at the way Ramesh Kumar and Rehman Malik were hounded out of the plane, and consider these to be acts of mob vigilantism and hence illegal.

As the debate rages on about the impropriety of the tactics adopted by the passengers, some are wondering how one can advocate breaking some laws while obeying others.

It is pertinent to remember here that the MNA, and the former interior minister, who are either guardians of the law or closely associated with those who are, were blatantly bending the rules to suit themselves in this instance. These defiant responses are being openly lauded because they come at a time when the public has been pressured just beyond the tipping point.

The question is whether we should chastise the law-breaking passengers. Morality trumps the law in the face of a bad administrative system, which is abused by the very people who are expected to guard it.

It is telling that several in the public strongly feel that they have no choice, but to act in a manner that is morally justifiable, even though it may be of questionable legality.

The seething anger behind such brazen acts is palpable amongst a populace that has been witness to years of abuse of the system by Pakistan’s ruling elite. It stems from years of silently watching officials regularly use legal jargon to justify the abuse of public rights, interest and safety. It stems from waiting endlessly in traffic jams that occur when public roads are blocked to allow for VIP movement, on the pretext of security threats.

On the other hand, an ordinary citizen cannot dare to come near the home or offices of the powers-that-be. Electricity and gas tariffs continue to be hiked for the average consumer, while unpaid utility bills of government offices reach billions of rupees. Add to that the cost of the outright theft of electricity and gas, that is passed on to a bill-paying consumer in the form of ‘line losses’ or ‘unaccounted for gas’ and you have just begun to prise open Pakistan’s Pandora’s box that is overflowing with blatant instances of the abuse of power.

While hounding politicians off an aeroplane may be a questionable action, the truth is that that like the passengers of flight PK-370, many Pakistanis are in no mood to put up with the highhandedness that seems to be part and parcel of a Pakistani politician’s persona. The message is clear: in a country where the public is awakening to its power, the abuse of power by politicians has to stop.

The speed with which the Rehman Malik/Ramesh Kumar video was circulated and made its way to the electronic media indicates two things. Nothing can be hidden in an age when mobile phone cameras are ubiquitous and at the ready to record all events; and secondly, most politicians would be hard-pressed to find someone from amongst the public who is on their side on this issue.

It is time for the government to remind itself that small acts of defiance by ordinary citizens can become the trigger for big changes in countries where people are bitterly frustrated with their fabulously inept and corrupt rulers.

It took a relatively minor act of humiliation by a policewoman, for a Tunisian fruit seller to commit suicide and set off the Tunisian revolution, which eventually triggered the Arab Spring.

It took a small stone to start the Palestinian Intifada. And it took a rebellious Rosa Parks to defiantly dig in her heels and refuse to budge on the bus home, to set off the civil rights movement in the US and to change the face of American society.

Unless the ruling elite sit up and take this week’s act of defiance seriously, chances are that incidents such as the passenger’s revolt on PK-370 could soon snowball and create a situation that is far beyond anyone’s control.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

nasim.beg

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

A good beginning

Arif Azad

The Punjab Healthcare Act was passed by the provincial assembly in 2010. The Act enshrined the establishment of the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC). The commission was to be charged with broader functions of improving the quality of healthcare service provision, clinical governance and controlling quackery.

The Punjab Healthcare Act was passed by the provincial assembly in 2010. The Act enshrined the establishment of the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC). The commission was to be charged with broader functions of improving the quality of healthcare service provision, clinical governance and controlling quackery.

These aims are to be achieved through the registration of all types of healthcare service providers, monitoring quality and standards in healthcare service establishments, investigating malpractice and failures in the provision of healthcare delivery. The PHC can also issue guidelines and directives to those working in the healthcare establishment.

Four years down the road, the PHC is up and running with its mandate and functions further elaborated in detailed rules and regulations, staffed with required expertise, human resources and with a board and chief operating officer in place.

It has produced two basic documents: a patients’ charter and minimum service delivery standards for healthcare service providers and establishments. These documents lie at the heart of the PHC’s mission. It has also issued guidelines on dengue.

The establishment of the PHC is a long-felt need in view of the unwieldy growth of the healthcare provision sector, particularly the private sector in recent years. The PHC has got on with the appointed job with some commendable actions, probing cases of medical negligence in some hospitals. Those found guilty of negligence have been duly fined.

However, despite this, the PHC requires clarity of purpose regarding its role in the investigation of cases of medical malpractice. For example, in the case of the Punjab cardiology centre tragedy, where scores died as a result of the administration of expired or substandard drugs, PHC did not investigate the matter. The reason, according to press reports, was that no complaint was lodged with it.

This is quite tricky because, in most cases, the majority of patients using public hospitals are hardly in a social or economic position to come forward as complainants. This leaves major medical disasters uninvestigated. More importantly, the government has to be clear about the role of the commission in such situations.

In recent years, the government has instituted hospital-based inquiries while PHC has stood by idly waiting to be called in. If the government accords it the status of a first-resort investigative body in medical calamities, it can considerably add to the weight of the body as an effective regulatory body.

The other function of the PHC is the registration of all healthcare establishments. This is a tall order given the fast proliferation of such establishments. It is not clear how these will be registered, licensed and monitored. This leads to the next big question of how the PHC is going to go about enforcing minimum standards given the large number of healthcare centres and presumably a limited PHC staff.

As for the broader regulatory thrust of the PHC, the Pakistan Medical Association has been a dissenting voice. The PMA, if press reports are any guide, has expressed its reservations about regulating the health sector as a whole and the licensing and registration role of the PHC.

Whatever the reservations of the PMA, an important stakeholder, there is no denying that the healthcare sector is in need of some form of regulation. The current system of self-regulation of doctors has not worked, and the quality of healthcare provision has deteriorated year after year. The PMA and PHC need to be on the same page regarding the regulation of all aspects of health service provision.

Another associated issue is of the lack of clarification between the roles of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council and the PHC. Although the role of the PMDC is limited to ensuring the quality of medical education, the body also acts as a licensing body for practising doctors. As such, the PMDC also has some role in cases of medical negligence where they question the ability of a doctor to remain in practice. In this regard, it has an investigative role though weak and poorly defined. Here again, there needs to be a clear-cut division between the roles of the PMDC and PHC.

Both bodies need to work concertedly on the issue of medical negligence, withdrawing the licences of those found negligent. In addition, there is a need for further collaboration between the PHC and PMDC where the issue of weeding out unqualified quacks posing as doctors is concerned. The PHC is in its infancy but these considerations can be factored in to make it an effective body with real teeth and with broader support among its stakeholders. An empowered and effective PHC can also best serve the interests of those using healthcare units.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant and policy analyst.

drarifazad

Published in Dawn, September 21th, 2014

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