DWS, Sunday 28th September to Saturday 4th October 2014

DAWN

WIRE SERVICE

DWS, Sunday 28th September to Saturday 4th October 2014

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

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National News

Modi asks Pak to show ‘seriousness’ for talks

Anwar Iqbal

UNITED NATIONS: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Pakistan on Saturday to engage with India in a ‘serious dialogue’ but asked his Pakistani counterpart not to use the UN General Assembly for raising the Kashmir issue.

UNITED NATIONS: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Pakistan on Saturday to engage with India in a ‘serious dialogue’ but asked his Pakistani counterpart not to use the UN General Assembly for raising the Kashmir issue.

He also seemed to attach a precondition for the resumption of bilateral talks — that it should be held in an atmosphere “without the shadow of terrorism”.

In his first speech at the UN General Assembly, Mr Modi focused on presenting India as an emerging power, ready to play its role on the international stage.

Without making a direct reference to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech on Friday in which he had insisted on a plebiscite in Kashmir, Mr Modi said: “Raising issues in this forum is not the way to make progress towards resolving issues.”

In his speech at the assembly, Mr Sharif had also described Kashmir as the “core issue”, which needed to be resolved to bring peace to South Asia. He had also blamed India for the cancellation of foreign secretary-level talks between the two countries last month.

The Indian leader told the international community that India placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with its neighbours, including Pakistan.

“A nation’s destiny is linked to its neighbourhood. That’s why my government has placed the highest priority on advancing friendship and cooperation with her neighbours,” he said, speaking in chaste Hindi.

Mr Modi declared: “I am prepared to engage in a serious bilateral dialogue with Pakistan in a peaceful atmosphere, without the shadow of terrorism, to promote our friendship and cooperation.”

But to do so, he said, “Pakistan must also take its responsibility seriously to create an appropriate environment.”

Mr Modi said that instead of discussing issues like Kashmir inside the United Nations, “we should be thinking about the victims of floods in Jammu and Kashmir”.

He said India had organised “massive” flood relief operations in parts of Kashmir held by it and had also offered assistance to Pakistan to help the victims on the other side of Line of Control.

One reason why the Indian prime minister avoided making a direct reference to Mr Sharif’s speech was that India had already responded to it earlier on Saturday.

In a “right to reply” statement, India said the Pakistani prime minister’s remarks were “untenable”.

Speaking on the floor of the General Assembly, an Indian official, Abhishek Singh, said: “The people of Jammu and Kashmir have peacefully chosen their destiny in accordance with the universally accepted democratic principles and practices and they continue to do so.”

India, he said, “reject(s) in their entirety the untenable comments of the distinguished delegate of Pakistan”.

For its part, the Pakistani government brushed aside Mr Modi’s suggestion that Mr Sharif should not have raised the Kashmir issue at the UN and said a Security Council resolution had guaranteed the right of self-determination to the people of Kashmir, which could not be taken away from them.

The resolution also authorised Pakistan to raise the issue at the UN, the statement said.

In his speech, Prime Minister Modi also addressed the issue of terrorism and said that South Asia continued to face the “destabilising threat of terrorism”.

“Are we really making concerted international efforts to fight these forces, or are we still hobbled by our politics, our territory or use terrorism as instruments of policy?” he asked.

Mr Modi said he was witnessing a surge of democracy in South Asia, including Afghanistan, which was “at a historic moment of democratic transition and affirmation of unity”.

Afghans, he said, were showing that their “desire for a peaceful and democratic future will prevail over violence.”

While Mr Modi was addressing the General Assembly, hundreds of Kashmiris, Sikhs and Indian Muslims were protesting outside the UN building against his alleged role in the Gujarat massacre.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Live-fire demo of torpedo, anti-ship missiles by PN

Dawn Report

ISLAMABAD / KARACHI: The Pakistan Navy on Saturday successfully performed a live-fire demonstration of torpedo and anti-ship guided missiles during testing operations in the northern Arabian Sea.

ISLAMABAD / KARACHI: The Pakistan Navy on Saturday successfully performed a live-fire demonstration of torpedo and anti-ship guided missiles during testing operations in the northern Arabian Sea.

The demonstration coincided with the start of joint exercises with the Chinese Navy near Karachi.

The two events take place weeks after the Sept 6 botched attempt to hijack the Navy’s ship, PNS Zulfiqar. The attack, allegedly with insider help, had hurt Navy’s reputation.

“The Live Weapons Firing by Pakistan Navy fleet units was a major activity undertaken to validate the lethality, precision and efficacy of Pakistan Navy’s weapon systems,” a spokesperson said.

The demonstration of live weapons firing was seen, among others, by Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Mohammad Asif Sandila. The entire testing area was cleared of merchant and fishing vessels and air traffic was also cautioned.

According to the spokesperson, the demonstration included firing of Torpedo from Agosta 90-B Class Submarine and an anti-ship guided missile from Fast Attack Missile Craft.

“All the weapons fired successfully hit the targets with pinpoint accuracy, thus reasserting the offensive punch of Pakistan Navy fleet,” he said.

“The successful live firing is reflective of fleet’s high state of readiness, professionalism and efficacy of the modern weapons system operated onboard PN platforms. It also reaffirms credibility of deterrence at sea and reassures PN commitment to safeguard our maritime borders,” he added.

Pakistan Navy and Chinese 17th Navy Convoy fleet started joint exercises.

The Chinese fleet is being commanded by Rear Admiral Huang Xinjian, deputy chief of staff East Sea Fleet.

The exercise includes a harbour and a sea phase involving the surface, air and Special Forces elements.

“The exercise; being first of the series is a landmark reflection of the historic ties between the two navies as well as a true manifestation of convergence of strategic interests of the two countries which will go a long way in promoting maritime security and stability in the region,” Pakistan Navy said.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Administrative units: Altaf for talks with Sindhi scholars

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain has called upon Sindhi intellectuals to resolve the issue of administrative units through dialogue.

KARACHI: Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain has called upon Sindhi intellectuals to resolve the issue of administrative units through dialogue.

“I believe in dialogue and peace. I request Sindhi intellectuals to come forward and resolve this issue peacefully as we don’t want war,” he said while speaking to a workers’ convention of his party from London via video link on Saturday.

“There are some miscreants and a few Sindhi nationalists who want to start a war,” he said, adding: “You have to keep in mind that after killing millions eventually people have to sit on the table to start a dialogue.”

The MQM chief made it clear that he did not want the division of Sindh, contending that the demand for new administrative units did not amount to calling for division of the province.

He suggested that four administrative units be set up in Sindh and named “north Sindh”, “south Sindh”, “east Sindh” and “central Sindh”. “Creation of administrative units never divide countries or regions.”

He criticised the octogenarian Sindh chief minister, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, and former president Asif Ali Zardari, alleging that the latter had selected the former because he “does not remember anything”.

He said the Pakistan Peoples Party had been ruling the province since long, but failed to develop roads and hospitals even in Ratodero and Naudero.

Mr Hussain said when everybody asked him not to support Mr Zardari, he decided to support him for five years. “But the PPP co-chairman did not fulfil his promise about betterment of Karachi despite my repeated requests.”

He also lashed out at the establishment for not accepting the ‘Muhajirs’ as Pakistanis and labelling the MQM as ‘anti-state, which grabbed votes at gunpoint”.

Mr Husain recalled the treatment meted out to his party by the Rangers and armed forces during the Karachi operation, posing a question to law enforcement agencies whether they would fire rubber bullets at MQM workers if they staged a sit-in in Islamabad.

Amid slogans of ‘Go Rangers Go’, he declared that those who were working on a ‘minus Altaf formula’ should realise that this would give his party’s workers the power to do whatever they wanted to do with them.

`INTRUDERS’: Turning to his party set-up, Altaf Husain said whenever he tried to purge his party of “intruders sent by the ‘agencies’, something goes wrong”.

He said that Gen Rizwan Akhtar, the former director general of Sindh Rangers, had told MQM leaders that certain Muttahida workers came to Karachi from South Africa and carried out targeted killing of Shias and Sunnis. “When I came to know about his allegations, I asked him to arrest at the airport whoever is involved and shoot them at sight.”

He recalled that once “someone told me” that some security personnel had alleged, while talking to officials of the US Consulate in Karachi, that the MQM was involved in the killing of the son-in-law of Mufti Naeem and the son of Allama Abbas Kumaili. “What else could I do except using foul language against them for their lies?”

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Two killed in Sibi bomb blast

The Newspaper’s Staff Correspondent

QUETTA: At least two people were killed and 23 others injured in a bomb explosion in Sibi on Saturday.

QUETTA: At least two people were killed and 23 others injured in a bomb explosion in Sibi on Saturday.

“A motorcycle bomb was detonated in front of a tea stall on Chakar Khan Road in the heart of town,” a police officer said. The blast was so powerful that it rocked the entire town.

A man was killed on the spot and 24 others were injured. Personnel of police and other law-enforcement agencies took the body and the injured to the Sibi District Hospital and Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

“An injured man died in a hospital,” the police officer said.

The deceased were identified as Mohammad Omer Khosa and Khuda Bakhsh Khosa of Sibi.

“They were passing through the Chakar Khan Road when the motorbike blew up,” police said, adding that their bodies had been handed to heirs.

“The condition of at least four injured people is critical as they were hit by splinters and parts of the motorcycle,” police said, quoting hospital sources.

“The victims were mostly labourers who used to sit in the area to find daily wage work,” they said.

Police said it appeared that the target of the attack were common people going to the local cattle market.

The bomb disposal squad personnel collected evidence from the site and said at least 5kg of explosives had been used in the blast.

AFP quoted a police official, Nazar Mohammad, as saying that the bomb was detonated by remote control.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Imran, Qadri looking for a way out of Islamabad?

Irfan Haider

ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri appear to be looking for a way out of the capital. At least that is the impression conveyed by their separate speeches on Saturday night.

ISLAMABAD: Imran Khan and Dr Tahirul Qadri appear to be looking for a way out of the capital. At least that is the impression conveyed by their separate speeches on Saturday night.

Mr Khan told the capacity crowd at D-Chowk that he wanted the sit-in in front of parliament to continue, but that he would go around the country to rally further support for his cause. “We’ll see on Sunday whether Lahore belongs to the Sharifs or the PTI,” he said.

Dr Qadri, who had already promised his followers that they would be home for Eid, also gave the Inqilab marchers a ‘green light’ to return home, saying they would also be taking their movement for revolution countrywide.

A spokesperson for the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Umar Riaz Abbasi, told Dawn that the party had no plan to perform animal sacrifices at the sit-in, adding that they would allow people to return to their homes for Eid, but did not specify whether they would return.

Both leaders, on Saturday, promised their supporters that they would be visiting other cities to rally support for their cause, indicating that dharna fatigue had finally started to set in on the marchers.

Imran Khan, the leader of the protesting Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, seems to be enjoying the movement he has launched against the elected government. In his speech to a considerable Saturday night audience, he called on the prime minister – whose resignation is his basic demand – to keep his resignation in his pocket for a few more days.

“Wait a little more so that everyone knows who they are dealing with. There is no rush,” he said, in a mock childish tone, much to the joy of the audience, which responded with applause.

“We were looking forward to the day when they would confront these liars in court,” he said, referring to the PML-N government. He was happy that cases against the rulers had finally been opened and was hopeful that justice would be swift for the prime minister, the interior minister and the Islamabad police chief.

He said that the current government had already become “a thing of the past”. He also questioned the logic of Mr Sharif’s trip to New York. “He could’ve issued the same statements from Islamabad; he accomplished nothing. Look at Modi, the Indian prime minister; everyone from American businessmen to Obama are queuing to meet him,” Imran Khan said.

Tired followers

Following Dr Qadri’s announcement, PAT marchers were seen packing up their tents and preparing to return home after 45 days on Constitution Avenue. While most people were happy to finally be heading home, they were disillusioned by the futility of their presence in the capital.

Rafaqat Sheikh was removing his tattered tent with his children, while his wife was packing their luggage. A resident of Sukkur, Mr Sheikh came to the capital to take part in the PAT sit-in on August 14.

“I am a staunch believer in the cause, but it was beginning to look like life was at a standstill here,” he said.

He said that he had lost his job back home because he had been absent for too long.

“Although we are happy to be going home and celebrating Eid with our families, but where is the revolution which Dr Qadri promised us,” he asked.

Fifty-four-year-old Zameer Hussain from Muzaffargarh echoed the sentiment. He had come to Islamabad on August 15 and had heard during his stay in the capital that his home had been destroyed in the recent floods that swept the region a few weeks ago.

“I lost my home in the floods, because I wasn’t at my native village to secure our belongings,” he said.

“I know that we’ve been allowed to go back home, but where do I go? I don’t even have a home anymore,” he regretted.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Imran vows to hold rallies in all big cities

Mansoor Malik

LAHORE: Rejecting a perception that he is planning to wind up the Islamabad sit-in, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has vowed to continue his campaign to awaken the nation by holding public meetings in major cities across Pakistan.

LAHORE: Rejecting a perception that he is planning to wind up the Islamabad sit-in, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has vowed to continue his campaign to awaken the nation by holding public meetings in major cities across Pakistan.

“I knew that I will be able to defeat the status quo in Pakistani politics when the whole nation will stand by me,” he said as the Minar-i-Pakistan lawns in Lahore resonated with the “Go Nawaz Go” slogan.

Addressing a mammoth gathering on Sunday, Mr Khan challenged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to bring in his home-town only 10 per cent of the people attending his rally.

Lauding the masses’ passion for getting rid of what he called the corrupt and fake-mandated PML-N government, the PTI leader said he was on a mission to awaken the nation against slavery and injustices.

As he announced that he would hold his next public gatherings in Mianwali and Multan, Mr Khan said he feared that Nawaz Sharif might resign now. “Nawaz Sharif don’t resign so soon because I want to awaken the entire nation against the politics of status quo that has deprived the masses of their basic human rights,” he said sarcastically.

Stating that today’s Pakistan was only for those amassing wealth at the cost of the poor, Mr Khan said the ‘Naya Pakistan’ was in the making and it would ensure justice to all, offer a uniform education system and syllabus for everyone. “We need to support the 110 million Pakistanis who are being forced to live below the poverty line because the rulers were squandering public money for their personal comforts.”

The PTI chief sought pledges from the people at the rally and also from the masses at large not to allow injustice against anyone.

Reiterating his allegations about massive rigging in the 2013 general elections, Mr Khan said he had the experience of the system of justice in the country and found “there is no institution in Pakistan that can dispense impartial justice”.

He said all those who had stolen his party’s mandate would be punished under Article 6 of the Constitution.

He said all political parties had joined hands to protect the status quo in the name of saving democracy, adding that all of them wanted to save the wealth they had amassed by plundering public resources.

Accusing Nawaz Sharif of having stolen public mandate, the PTI chief warned him that he would not let him live peacefully until getting justice.

He called upon the Election Commission of Pakistan to upload Form 4 on its website that would reveal results declared by polling in each constituency.

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

Seven killed in Peshawar coach blast

Ali Hazrat Bacha

PESHAWAR: At least seven people were killed and six injured when a powerful blast hit a passenger coach here on Thursday.

PESHAWAR: At least seven people were killed and six injured when a powerful blast hit a passenger coach here on Thursday.

Police said explosives left in two bags went off in the Parachinar-bound coach on Kohat Road.

Capital City Police Officer Ejaz Khan told Dawn that a man had placed the bags in the rear of the vehicle. He asked the driver to wait for him that he was coming back with women accompanying him.

An officer of the bomb disposal squad said the bags contained over 5kg of explosives.

“There is a rush of people going to their native areas to celebrate Eidul Azha with their families,” a police official said. The blast caused suspension of traffic on the road for about an hour.

Senior Superintendent of Police (Operations) Najeebur Rehman Bhagvi said the blast could be a reaction to the army operation in North Waziristan. He said all terrorist outfits, including Al Qaeda, had joined hands and were carrying out such attacks.

Bilal Faizi, a spokesman for Rescue Services 1122, said it was difficult to retrieve bodies from the remains of the van. Three of the bodies were charred beyond recognition, he said. The other bodies were identified as those of Jamil Hussain of the Frontier Constabulary, passerby Fazal Khan of Bazidkhel, security guard Sadaqat Ali, who was coming from Karachi to celebrate Eid with family, and Imtiaz Hussain.

Lady Reading Hospital’s spokesman Syed Jamil Shah confirmed that three bodies could not be identified. Syed Sarfaraz Ali Shah, Shahid Rehman (driver), Amjad Ali and Ishtiaq Hussain are among the six injured.

The van was completely burnt, but three CNG tanks were found intact.

The blast damaged nearby shops at the Bazidkhel bus stop.

According to police, seven bombs were defused on Thursday. “Today was the worst day in my professional career,” AIG Shafqat Malik, head of the bomb disposal unit said. It appeared that the bombs were intended to destroy an electric pylon and hit police and a convoy of law-enforcement personnel, he said.

“Imagine what would have happened if all the bombs had gone off.” These bombs were of advanced quality. A pipe-bomb had the expertise possessed only by Al Qaeda, he said. “Tough days are ahead,” he added.

A tower of Sakhi Chashma-Shahi Bagh transmission line was partially damaged when an attempt was made to blow it up early in the morning.

A news agency quoted police officers as saying that the motive of the attack was not clear, but it was suspected to be of a sectarian nature.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Three die in Gilgit as bomb destroys vehicle

Jamil Ahmed Nagri

GILGIT: A bomb hit a passenger van on Gilgit-Skardu road on Thursday, leaving at least three people dead and 10 others injured.

GILGIT: A bomb hit a passenger van on Gilgit-Skardu road on Thursday, leaving at least three people dead and 10 others injured.

Police sources said the van was heading for Haramosh valley, a predominantly Shia area some 40km from Gilgit city, when it was hit by the bomb near Alam bridge.

Van driver M. Aqil, Mushtaq and Syed Sabir were killed on the spot, the sources said. Those injured were two-year-old Safina, Zainab, Bintul Huda, Umrana, Sidrah Zahra, Shama, Essa Khan, Naveed Hussain, Mazhar and Sulaiman.

The powerful bomb triggered by remote control destroyed the van.

The sources said the injured and the bodies were moved to the district hospital in Gilgit. They said the condition of the injured persons was stable.

Experts of bomb disposal squad were dispatched to the area to investigate the incident.

The Shia Ulema Council has announced a three-day mourning period in protest against the bomb attack.

AFP adds: “The incident occurred near Haramosh village on Gilgit-Skardu road when a passenger van was hit by a roadside bomb blast,” Zain Muhammad, a police official in Gilgit, said.

He said that all the passengers belonged to Shia community. “It’s a sectarian attack, the passenger van was going to Haramosh which is a completely Shia-populated valley,” he said.

“It was a roadside bomb blast, but we are trying to confirm whether it was triggered by a timer device or remote control device,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Commission finds irregularities in NA-125 election

Wajih Ahmad Sheikh

LAHORE: A commission appointed to examine polling bags and other records in NA-125, Lahore, has found several irregularities in the election, which was won by Khwaja Saad Rafiq of the PML-N.

LAHORE: A commission appointed to examine polling bags and other records in NA-125, Lahore, has found several irregularities in the election, which was won by Khwaja Saad Rafiq of the PML-N.

Lawyer Hamid Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, who was the runner-up in the constituency, had challenged the result before an election tribunal and sought to inspect the polling record.

Know more: ECP says 40 presiding officers were replaced at PTI candidate’s request

The hearing of the petition was transferred to Faisalabad after the PTI candidate showed distrust in the presiding officer of the Lahore election tribunal. The Faisalabad tribunal appointed a retired district and sessions judge, Sheikh Mohammad Tareef, as head of the commission, which submitted its report to the tribunal on Sept 29.

The petitioner’s side will carry out cross-examination on Saturday (Oct 4).

The head of the commission said in his report: “After examining each and every polling bag and minutely viewing the state of affairs carried out in this constituency, there is gross mismanagement and the polling personnel carried out the election process clumsily for reasons best known to them.

“The polling bag of each polling station shows that the process of the election carried out is the result of gross mismanagement.

“There were 265 polling stations and for each station one polling bag was assigned, but assistant returning officer (ARO) produced 253 polling bags out of that a number of them were related to provincial assembly constituency. Thereafter 179 more polling bags were produced before the commission making a total 432 polling bags.

“The available polling bags contained waste and litter having a smeary dirt and mixture of disagreeable to the sight that reflected carelessness of polling personnel.

“In fact each polling bag of entire constituency is in the condition of such a mess that it can be said to be a trash and rubbish for reasons best known to the polling personnel.”

On close examination of bags, the report said, the commission found worthless things in a heap of litter and nothing was left for inspection.

It said that the polling staff failed to record what sort of articles were received from the returning officer (RO) and which articles had been consumed on the day of election. Polling bag of each polling station did not carry the essential record. The RO had not performed his duty regarding issuance of the inventory of articles to each polling station.

The report said that in the absence of inventory record, the evaluation of the ballot papers counted by the polling officer could not be held. Since everything had been done clumsily, no record was recovered from the dirt and litter of each polling bag as the polling personnel did not perform duty properly.

“Even voter list was not found from a large number of the polling bags. And where voter list was found the ballot papers were not tallied with the number of votes.

“The record of invalid votes was not found in any polling bag of the constituency, therefore, the question of recording any finding about rejection of votes did not arise.”

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Evidence needed for decision in PM case, says SC judge

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: A petitioner seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was puzzled when the Supreme Court asked him on Thursday if he would be willing to produce Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif as his witness to help the court reach a right conclusion.

ISLAMABAD: A petitioner seeking disqualification of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was puzzled when the Supreme Court asked him on Thursday if he would be willing to produce Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif as his witness to help the court reach a right conclusion.

“The crucial point in the controversy at hand is a closed door meeting between the prime minister and the army chief,” observed Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, a member of a three-judge bench headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja.

Also read: PM’s disqualification: CJ rejects petition for formation of larger bench

The bench had taken up three identical petitions moved by PTI leader Ishaq Khakwani, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and Advocate Gohar Nawaz Sindhu requesting the court to order disqualification of the prime minister for allegedly falsely stating in a joint session of parliament on Aug 29 that the government had not asked the army to mediate and become a guarantor between the government and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Awami Tehreek to end the current political impasse.

On Thursday, the court only heard Gohar Sindhu, representing the vice president of PTI lawyers’ wing.

Justice Dost Mohammad said it would be very difficult for the court to decide the matter unless some tangible evidence was brought before it. And the primary evidence in the case, he added, was the witness or at least the affidavit of the army chief because he was the only person who could confirm or deny the version on which the petitioner was agitating, especially when the prime minister himself was the respondent in the case and whose disqualification was being sought.

He said the court had to do justice by applying the Constitution, adding that the crucial point in this case was the closed door meeting between the prime minister and the army chief.

Advocate Sindhu pointed out that a military spokesperson stated that it was the government which had asked the army chief to mediate between the government and the protesting parties.

But Justice Dost Khan said that prime facie the joint sitting of parliament reposed complete confidence in the prime minister. If the prime minister had to be disqualified for telling a lie because he was not sagacious and ameen then what would be the fate of other members of the National Assembly and Senate who reposed confidence in him, he asked.

Advocate Sindhu then referred to Article 227 of the Constitution which ensures that all laws should be brought in conformity with the Quran and Sunnah and requires that members should be honest and not tell lies.

“If we strictly follow Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution which deal with pre- and post-election qualification of the members then the entire parliament will stand disqualified because the Islamic injunctions require abolishment of ‘Riba’ (interest), but we draw salary as other government servants and parliamentarians do under the interest-based financial system,” Justice Dost Khan observed.

The counsel said the court should not be afraid of taking any extreme step even if heavens fall.

Justice Mushir Alam asked the petitioner to consider the fetters the Constitution had placed protecting the members under Article 63(p) and said a member could not be disenfranchised unless he was convicted by a competent court of law.

He also asked if there was any law which attracted disqualification of a member if the same had been rejected by the National Assembly speaker. “What remedy you have after the speaker’s refusal to disqualify a member,” Justice Alam asked.

The court adjourned the proceedings with an observation that it had to determine maintainability of the petition and the procedure to be adopted in case the court decided that it had the jurisdiction to hear the matter.

The court asked the petitioner to consider filing an amended petition because all his references derived from the provisions before the 18th Amendment.

The case will be taken up on Oct 16.

SPEAKER’S RULING: In a related development, Advocate Mohammad Azhar Siddique filed in the Supreme Court a petition challenging the Sept 25 ruling of National Assembly Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq rejecting a reference also seeking disqualification of the prime minister.

The petitioner contended that the ruling was against the law and the Constitution and, therefore, the prime minister should be declared disqualified under Article 62 (1 e) of the Constitution, read with Section 99 of Representation of People’s Act 1976.

He requested the court to interpret Article 66 (1) by laying down a principle that nobody was above the law and immunity, if so provided, was not absolute.

In his ruling, the speaker stated that the Aug 29 debate in the National Assembly revealed that the allegations made in the reference were factually incorrect and that Article 66 (1) required that any statement of a member called for an internal proceeding.

The provision also protected a member of parliament from any proceeding for anything said by him at the forum of parliament, the ruling said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Pakistan may break own record on polio cases

AFP

ISLAMABAD: Health officials said the country was set to break its record for the highest number of polio cases in a year as seven more cases were confirmed on Thursday, raising the tally to 194.

ISLAMABAD: Health officials said the country was set to break its record for the highest number of polio cases in a year as seven more cases were confirmed on Thursday, raising the tally to 194.

“If it [number of cases] reaches 200, we will cross our own record of 199 in year 2000,” said Rana Mohammad Safdar, a senior official at the Pakistan National Institute of Health.

A World Health Organi­sation official in Islamabad said the figure was likely to cross 200 by year-end.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic but efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit in recent years by attacks on immunisation teams.

Mr Safdar, who heads the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, said that at least 130 of the cases reported were from northwestern tribal areas that border Afghanistan and house sanctuaries for militants.

The militants allege polio vaccination is a cover for espionage or Western conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.

The WHO official said the Pakistani strain of the virus had allegedly spread to neighbouring Afghan provinces. Afghanistan has recorded a total of seven cases this year.

Polio cases reached a low of 28 in 2005 but rose to 198 in 2011. In 2012, Pakistan had 58 cases while 72 were recorded in 2013.

Officials said tens of thousands of children were missing a polio eradication campaign every year “because of the law and order situation” in tribal areas as well as family and parents unwilling or afraid to vaccinate.

As the country moves into its post-monsoon period, officials fear the final figure could rise as high as 250.

Ikram Junaidi adds from Islamabad: Seven more polio cases were confirmed by Polio Virology Laboratory at the National Institute of Health, raising the number of cases reported this year to 194.

An official of the ministry of national health services requesting anonymity said three cases each were reported from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata). The seventh patient belongs to Sindh.

The children affected by the virus are: four-month-old Zubair, son of Zafar. The baby could not be vaccinated. He and another patient from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa belong to Peshawar. The third one lives in Mardan.

Two of the three children of Fata affected by polio virus belong to Khyber Agency and one to North Waziristan.

The seventh case was reported from Gadap Town in Karachi, the official said.

Another official of the ministry said that security environment in the country was not good, yet the government had been trying to eradicate the virus.

“Nowhere in the world 64 polio team members and police officials guarding them have been killed and as many as 47 have suffered serious injuries. These incidents have occurred in Fata, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Imran says farmers neglected by all govts

Khursheed Anwar Khan

MIANWALI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan said on Thursday that his party had exposed what he called election rigging by the PML-N and he would ensure that its leadership did not go unpunished.

MIANWALI: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan said on Thursday that his party had exposed what he called election rigging by the PML-N and he would ensure that its leadership did not go unpunished.

He said there was nothing wrong in raising slogans. “Even children are chanting slogans of ‘Go Nawaz go’ which is legally not punishable in a democratic society.”

Addressing a large public meeting in his hometown of Mianwali, Mr Khan said the number of people gathered there confirmed that the present system did not have popular support.

Analysts here described the meeting as the largest in Mianwali’s history. They particularly pointed out the presence of hundreds of women at the meeting in a conservative area dominated by tribal customs. There was a special enclosure for women wearing veil.

The PTI chief said farmers in the district and other parts of country had been neglected by successive governments. “Farmers are the backbone of the country and I will support them.”

He said the present regime supported industrialists and ruined farmers. He said Indian farmers were provided all kinds of facilities on nominal charges by the government, but in Pakistan farmers were facing hardships and struggling for survival.

He said farmers in Mianwali were receiving electricity bills of as much as Rs600,000 per month for their turbines. How can they survive in such a situation. A flat-rate tariff regime is the only solution to the problem.

Mr Khan said he was in favour of the local bodies system and transfer of funds and resources to the village level. Funds should not be given to MNAs and MPAs. He announced that the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would soon hold local bodies’ elections in the province.

He said his dream was to build Namal University Mianwali to meet the dire need of the area, but the project was delayed because of hindrances created by the rulers in allotment of land. He said it would be a model university and students from other parts of country would get admission here and Mianwali would become an educational hub in near future.

He called for early completion of the Cadet College Mianwali which had been shifted to some other place in the district and was still no-functional.

The PTI chief said his Islamabad sit-in would continue till the resignation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. However, he said, he wanted the prime minister to delay his resignation because that would give him time to continue his tour and spread the message of change and ‘new Pakistan’ across the country.

Earlier, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi congratulated the people of Mianwali on the success of the meeting and thanked them for electing Imran Khan twice from the area. It proved that Mianwali was really the hometown of Imran Khan, he said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Pakistan hails US-Afghan agreement

Baqir Sajjad Syed

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday cautiously welcomed the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by Afghanistan and the United States after the latter clarified that counter-terrorism operations under the agreement would be restricted to within Afghan borders.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Thursday cautiously welcomed the signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) by Afghanistan and the United States after the latter clarified that counter-terrorism operations under the agreement would be restricted to within Afghan borders.

“As regards BSA, Afghanistan is a sovereign country. It is their right to conclude agreements with any country,” Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said at the weekly media briefing.

Know more: Afghanistan, US sign long-awaited security pact

She further said that Pakistan government wished “Afghanistan the best and we will continue to facilitate all efforts, to the extent possible, for creating stability, peace and prosperity in Afghanistan”.

Pakistan has in the past expressed reservations about the BSA, but at the same time has remained opposed to precipitate withdrawal of foreign troops from the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Islamabad’s fears about the agreement pertained to a provision about action against states that threatened the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and implications of long-term presence of US troops in the region.

However, Pakistan agreed to support the agreement after a clarification by the US, according to an American official, that: “The provisions (of BSA) related to counter-terrorism operations relate only to operations within Afghanistan.”

The spokesperson reiterated Pakistan’s demand for Afghanistan taking coordinated steps on the other side of the Durand Line in support of Operation Zarb-i-Azb.

“Pakistan and Afghanistan share a very long border. While we are in the midst of a decisive operation against militants, which is proceeding very successfully, it is essential that there is action from the other side as well,” she said.

She also reminded about the need for better border management.

“We have given a number of proposals to Afghanistan and we hope to proceed further on it,” she added.

INDIA: The spokesperson avoided clarifying the controversy kicked up by Adviser on Foreign Affairs and National Security Sartaj Aziz’s comments that the timing of meeting of the high commissioner with Kashmiri leaders, which led to cancellation of foreign secretaries’ talks, was inappropriate.

Instead of commenting on the controversial remark, she said: “the thrust of what he said was that we will continue to meet the Kashmiri leadership whenever we consider it necessary.”

“By way of explanation, he (Mr Aziz) said that whenever Pakistan and India hold talks on substantive mattes related to Jammu and Kashmir, we always hold talks with the Kashmiri leaders to take their views on board,” she added.

MUSHAHID PROPOSAL: The spokesperson rejected as legally impracticable a proposal made by Senate Defence Committee chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain for converting the Siachen into a peace park.

Senator Mushahid, who this week led a Senate Defence Committee delegation to Siachen, also suggested demilitarisation of Siachen and joint Pak-India efforts for preserving the environment and dealing with climate change.

“The de-militarisation of Siachen and making it a peace park has been under discussion in the past as well. India was, however, not willing to withdraw troops without authentication of actual position that they held. This was legally not possible,” she said.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Brawl over anti-PM slogans in Wazirabad

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

GUJRANWALA: Activi­sts of the PML-N, led by an MPA, thrashed supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for raising the slogan of “Go Nawaz go’ after the prime minister had left the venue of a ceremony in Wazirabad on Wednesday.

GUJRANWALA: Activi­sts of the PML-N, led by an MPA, thrashed supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) for raising the slogan of “Go Nawaz go’ after the prime minister had left the venue of a ceremony in Wazirabad on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif distributed compensation cheques among flood-affected people at the ceremony. After he left the place, a group of people started shouting the slogan. Taufeeq Butt, a member of the Punjab Assembly, got off his car and, joined by PML-N activists, beat them up.

Know more: PML-N threatens ‘go Imran go’ campaign

“We will hit them with shoes if they raise this slogan again,” Butt warned while talking to a private TV channel. He asked the PTI to rein in its supporters. “They can raise slogans in their meetings but they can’t spoil others’ show.”

In her tweet after the incident, Maryam Nawaz Sharif warned PTI supporters “not to mess with the lions”. She said PML-N workers had had enough of the PTI’s vandalism and added that supporters of the party would find no place to hide if the PML-N hit back.

She said her party’s policy of “restraint and civility” should not be misconstrued as its weakness.

PM’S ASSURANCE: Earlier speaking at the ceremony, the prime minister assured flood-affected people that the government would help them in rebuilding their houses and restoring their normal life.

He said Rs25,000 paid to each flood-affected person was the first instalment of compensation for the losses they had suffered. The second instalment would be given to them on Oct 20.

Mr Sharif appealed to the rich to come forward to help the helpless as it was their moral and religious duty. He said floods had affected 600,000 families and damaged crops over two million acres of land.

The premier was told in a briefing that 21 centres had been set up in flood-affected areas of Gujranwala division.

He was accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, some ministers and parliamentarians.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Petitions against PM to be taken up today

Nasir Iqbal

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court resumes hearing on Thursday disqualification cases against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for allegedly misleading parliament, one of the petitioners has expressed reservations against the presiding judge and pleaded that the judge should recuse himself from the bench.

ISLAMABAD: As the Supreme Court resumes hearing on Thursday disqualification cases against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for allegedly misleading parliament, one of the petitioners has expressed reservations against the presiding judge and pleaded that the judge should recuse himself from the bench.

A three-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja will commence hearing a set of three identical petitions moved by PTI leader Ishaq Khakwani, PML-Q chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and Advocate Gohar Nawaz Sindhu.

All three petitioners have asked the court to order the disqualification of the prime minister for his alleged misstatement on the floor of the house during the recently-concluded joint session of parliament.

On August 29, the petitions maintain, the PM claimed that the government had not asked the armed forces to ‘mediate’ and become a ‘guarantor’ between the government and the protesting parties.

Mr Sindhu and Chaudhry Shujaat have filed separate applications requesting Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk to consider constituting a seven-judge larger bench to hear the cases. Ishaq Khakwani – through his counsel Irfan Qadir – has filed a different plea, expressing reservations on behalf of the PTI against the presiding judge. But Mr Sindhu’s request for a larger bench has already been turned down by the chief justice.

Former attorney general Irfan Qadir told Dawn that the PTI maintained in its application, that it had always had concerns regarding the judge in question, but the apprehensions were lent credence at the last hearing of the case on Sept 29. On that day, the judge and the PTI counsel had a brief but uncordial exchange regarding the petitioner’s presence in court when their case was first called.

The application alleges that members of the bar have expressed serious reservations over some of the judge’s decisions. The petition states that while the applicant is aware that he cannot choose his own judge. But he has every right to object to a particular judge when there are serious apprehensions of an unfair trial.

The petitioner has also offered to furnish reasons and supporting documents to substantiate their fears, if the bench wishes to examine them.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Four killed in Quetta grenade attacks

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: Four people, two teenage boys among them, were killed and nine others injured in two grenade attacks here on Wednesday.

QUETTA: Four people, two teenage boys among them, were killed and nine others injured in two grenade attacks here on Wednesday.

“A barber’s shop and a photo studio were targeted by the assailants,” police official Imran Qureshi said.

The United Baloch Front (UBF) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Police said men on a motorcycle hurled a grenade at the barber’s shop in Killi Langovabad area on the busy Double Road.

The device exploded outside the shop, killing one man and injuring 10.

Soon after the blast, the area reverberated with gunshots.

Police and FC personnel took the victims to the civil hospital.

Also read: Three killed in deadly Quetta attack

“Two of the seriously injured who were in their teens died in hospital,” police said. The condition of the other injured was stable.

The barber’s and several other shops were damaged.

The dead were identified as Ghulam Shabbir, the shop-owner; Shahrukh Khan and Mohammad Sultan Zehri.

Shortly afterwards, a photographer’s shop on Sariab Road came under a similar attack. The owner, Mohammad Afzal, and his employee Mohammad Asif were injured.

Police took both to the hospital where Asif died.

Calling from an unspecified place, UBF spokesman Musa Surbaz told reporters that his organisation was behind the attacks.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

NWA operation progressing satisfactorily: army chief

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The army’s top brass gathered on Wednesday for the monthly corps commanders meeting.

ISLAMABAD: The army’s top brass gathered on Wednesday for the monthly corps commanders meeting.

“Matters of professional interest were discussed during the 175th corps commanders’ conference held at General Headquarters and presided over by the Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif,” a military spokesman said.

The agenda of the meeting mostly related to the ongoing Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan.

“General Sharif expressed satisfaction on the progress of the operation and lauded the successes made so far,” the spokesman said.

It was the last meeting for four corps commanders, who are retiring this month. They include Lt Gen Khalid Rabbani and Lt Gen Tariq Khan (retiring on Oct 2), Lt Gen Saleem Nawaz (Oct 20) and Lt Gen Sajjad Ghani (Oct 25).

The meeting may also be the last for the Director General of the Inter Services Intelligence, Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam, who will retire on Nov 7.

Gen Sharif paid tribute to the retiring officials and praised their services.

The duration of the conference was reduced because two of the participants had proceeded for Haj.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

ECP wants power to suspend legislators over assets

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed that lawmakers who fail to submit details of assets to the commission within the stipulated time period be suspended from membership of the house for 60 days.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has proposed that lawmakers who fail to submit details of assets to the commission within the stipulated time period be suspended from membership of the house for 60 days.

The proposal is part of the unified draft election law prepared by the ECP, but experts believe it needs to be refined because, in its present form, it sets two ‘last dates’ for the purpose.

Also read: Over 500 lawmakers fail to file statements of assets, liabilities

The proposed law requires members of parliament and provincial assemblies to annually submit statements of their assets and liabilities, as well as those of their spouses and dependents. The law stipulates that the names of those who fail to do so by Oct 15 every year, be made public. Under the proposed law, the commission is also seeking powers to suspend the membership of such legislators for two months through an order to be issued on Oct 16.

Any member who fails to submit the statement of assets after his suspension will remain suspended till the filing of the document.

Under the draft law, the commission shall determine the veracity of each lawmaker’s statement of assets and liabilities in any manner it may deem necessary and may seek the assistance of any authority, agency or department in the federation or a province.

Missing statements

Meanwhile, a day after the last date prescribed by law for the submission of asset details, around 400 lawmakers, including at least four federal ministers and a minister of state as well as a number of provincial ministers, were yet to file their statements. They include Petroleum Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Safron Minister retired Lt Gen Abdul Qadir Baloch, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir, Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Sadruddin Shah and Minister of State for Postal Services Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.

Other prominent defaulters include Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, senators Taj Haider and Israrullah Zehri, Faryal Talpur, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Shafqat Mehmood, Arif Alvi, Asad Umar, Sardar Owais Leghari, Daniyal Aziz and Tariq Fazal Chaudhry.

Sources told Dawn that PTI chief Imran Khan submitted the statement after office hours on Tuesday, taking advantage of an ECP courtesy, as the commission continued to rec­e­ive documents until midni­ght on the last date, i.e. Sept 30.

The MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar and PPP’s Mian Raza Rabbani were among those who submitted their asset statements on Wednesday.

In all, 776 from a total of around 1,140 lawmakers had submitted their statements of assets and liabilities by Wednesday, October 1. They include 88 senators, 270 members of the National Assembly, 197 members of the Punjab Assembly, 114 members of the Sindh Assembly, 71 members of the KP Assembly and 36 members of the Balochistan Assembly.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Pact signed to keep US troops in Afghanistan

Reuters

KABUL: Officials from Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed a long-delayed security agreement to allow American troops to stay in the country after the end of the year, fulfilling a campaign promise by new President Ashraf Ghani.

KABUL: Officials from Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed a long-delayed security agreement to allow American troops to stay in the country after the end of the year, fulfilling a campaign promise by new President Ashraf Ghani.

Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar and US Ambassador James Cunningham signed the bilateral security agreement in a televised ceremony at the presidential palace, one day after Mr Ghani was inaugurated as president.

“As an independent country… we signed this agreement for stability, goodwill, and prosperity of our people, stability of the region and the world,” Mr Ghani said in a speech after the signing.

Mr Cunningham said the pact showed that the US remained committed to Afghanistan, where foreign forces helped provide security since the 2001 toppling of the Taliban government.

“It is a choice by the United States to continue cooperating with our Afghan partners on two important security missions: training and equipping Afghan forces and supporting cooperation against terrorism,” Mr Cunningham said.

Minutes after the security pact was signed, a similar agreement with Nato was ratified to allow the alliance’s European members to contribute to a residual foreign force.

Mr Ghani said in his speech that the agreement did not compromise Afghanistan’s sovereignty and that either side had the right to withdraw from the pact within two years.

“The right to use force will be based on decisions by the Afghan government,” he said. “Our airspace will be under our own control. International forces will not be able to enter mosques or other holy sites.”

Mr Ghani was inaugurated on Monday and called on the Taliban to join peace talks. He formed a unity government with election rival Abdullah Abdullah after a prolonged standoff over vote results that ended in a deal to make Mr Ghani president and Mr Abdullah a chief executive in the government with broad powers.

The Taliban, fighting to oust foreign forces and the US-backed government, have taken advantage of the paralysis in Kabul to launch attacks in an attempt to regain strategic territory in provinces such as Helmand in the south and Kunduz in the north.

The Taliban denounced on Tuesday the agreement and described it as a “sinister” plot by the US to control Afghanistan and restore its “international credibility” as a military superpower.

“Under the name of the security agreement, today Americans want to prepare themselves for another non-obvious and very dangerous fight,” the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media.

“With their bulk of artifices and deceptions they want to hoodwink the people. They think that the Afghan people do not know about their conspiracies and their sinister goals.”

Dawn Correspondent Anwar Iqbal adds from Washington: Welcoming the security pact, President Barack Obama said it “provides our military service members the necessary legal framework to carry out two critical missions after 2014: targeting the remnants of Al Qaeda and training, advising, and assisting Afghan National Security Forces”.

He said the agreement laid “the foundation for a partnership that will help advance our shared interests and the long-term security of Afghanistan”.

The outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had delayed the signing for two years, insisting that it was not in Afghanistan’s interest to do so.

According to documents released in Washington, the agreement calls for the deployment of around 10,000 US troops in Afghanistan for another 10 years. America’s Nato partners will also contribute to this force.

The US forces will have nine bases in the country, including in provinces that border Iran and Pakistan. They will have immunity from Afghan courts.

The agreement will restore “full sovereignty” to Afghanistan on Jan 1, 2015. Since the US invasion in October 2001, Afghanistan has had only “limited sovereignty”.

The pact retains an arrangement President Karzai made with the United States in October 2013, which forbids US from carrying out attacks on Afghan soil without first consulting the Afghan authorities.

It also retains an understanding the US reached with Afghanistan in October 2013: US forces would not protect Afghanistan from external attack because it could get mired in a war with Pakistan.

President Obama said the agreement was “an invitation from the Afghan government to strengthen the relationship we have built over the past 13 years”.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

India criticised for sabotaging efforts for Siachen peace

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: The Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, has criticised the Indian military establishment for sabotaging all efforts for peace in Siachen.

ISLAMABAD: The Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee, Mushahid Hussain Sayed, has criticised the Indian military establishment for sabotaging all efforts for peace in Siachen.

India, he said, had consistently rejected all proposals made by Pakistan for peace in Siachen, even in the aftermath of the Giyari tragedy.

He was addressing the troops during a visit to Siachen along with members of the committee.

About two and a half years ago, an avalanche had killed 140 soldiers and officers of the army in Giyari.

The delegation laid a wreath at the monument for the martyrs of Giyari.

According to a press release, Mr Hussain expressed concern over consequences of climate change and global warming which has adverse consequences in Siachen because of freak weather incidents like the Giyari avalanche.

He urged India to cooperate with Pakistan and other South Asian countries to jointly formulate a regional strategy to cope with the climate change threat.

Mr Hussain presented to army officials a media manual on climate change prepared by the committee.

The senators’ visit was for expressing solidarity, on behalf of parliament and political forces, with the valiant soldiers and officers defending the motherland on the world’s toughest terrain.

Mr Hussain lauded the valour, morale and determination of the troops in performing their duty under extremely difficult conditions when in the peak of winter temperature falls to minus 50 degrees centigrade.

He said the people of Pakistan were proud of their armed forces and could never forget their sacrifices in defending every inch of the country despite being outnumbered by an adversary superior in numbers and weaponry, but not in fighting spirit, morale and motivation.

He told the troops that members of the committee were their voice in parliament and would do their utmost to protect and promote the good name and image of the armed forces, especially their committed role in Siachen.

During their two-day visit, the senators first landed in Skardu where they were briefed army officials before flying to Giyari.

They flew to a strategic military post in Siachen, located at Bilafond-la, at a height of about 17,000 feet, not far from where the Indian army is based at the Line of Actual Contact.

After their return from Bilafond-la, they received another briefing at the brigade headquarters at Goma at a height of about 10,500 feet.

Sabir Ali Baloch, acting chairman of the Senate, and Haji Adeel also addressed the troops and expressed solidarity with and support for the armed forces.

Other members of the delegation were Mohsin Leghari, Abdur Rauf and Dr Saeeda Iqbal.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Petrol price reduced by Rs2.94

Khaleeq Kiani

ISLAMABAD: The government reduced on Tuesday prices of the petroleum products.

ISLAMABAD: The government reduced on Tuesday prices of the petroleum products.

According to an official statement, the prime minister approved the reduction on the recommendation of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority.

The ex-depot price of petrol was reduced by Rs2.94 to Rs103.62 from Rs106.56 per litre.

The ex-depot price of high speed diesel was set at Rs107.39, down by 95 paisa, from Rs108.34 per litre.

The price of HOBC was cut by Rs1.88 to Rs131.13 from Rs133.01 per litre.

The price of light diesel oil was decreased by 67 paisa to Rs91.41 from Rs92.08 per litre.

The kerosene price was reduced by Rs1.31 to Rs95.68 from Rs96.99 per litre.

Apart from the petroleum levy of Rs6 to Rs14 per litre, the government charges 16 per cent general sales tax on all oil products.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Threats can’t force mid-term polls: Shah

Amir Wasim

ISLAMABAD: Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah has said that threats cannot force mid-term elections in the country and the PPP does not support any such action.

ISLAMABAD: Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Syed Khurshid Ahmed Shah has said that threats cannot force mid-term elections in the country and the PPP does not support any such action.

“It will not be appropriate, if someone talks about mid-term polls in a threatening manner. I personally don’t approve of this. However, it will be a different issue, if a situation arises that (the Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif himself decides to go for mid-term polls,” Mr Shah said while talking to reporters here on Tuesday.

The opposition leader also told the reporters that he had sent a legal notice to PTI chief Imran Khan for allegedly defaming him through allegations of corruption.

Through the notice, a copy of which is available with Dawn, Mr Shah asked Mr Khan to publicly issue an apology for levelling false allegations and pay Rs10 billion as damages within 14 days of the receipt of the notice. The notice has been served through PPP Senator Raza Rabbani.

The PTI chief in his recent speeches had alleged that the leader of the opposition was supporting the PML-N government because two corruption cases were pending against him in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

During his chat with reporters, Mr Shah lashed out at Mr Khan for his speech in the public meeting in Karachi in which Mr Khan had said that he had come to Sindh to wake up the people of Sindh.

“Imran Khan lives in a fools’ paradise. Sindhis are 8,000- year-old nation. Sindhis are poor, but they are awakened,” the PPP leader said.

Mr Shah said the PPP was holding a public meeting in Karachi on Oct 18 to support continuation of democracy and the event would prove that the people of Sindh were happy with the PPP government. He said the people of Sindh had rejected calls for Sindhu Desh and they had always voted for the federation.

Mr Shah said that the PPP was playing the role of a true opposition, saying that at a time when the PTI leadership was hurling abuses at the government from the container, the PPP was highlighting shortcomings of the government in parliament.

He said the prime minister was facing a difficult time because he had failed to fulfil promises he had made to the people during the election campaign.

He advised Mr Khan not to raise expectations of the people because he could also face the same fate. He warned that there would be serious threats to the federation, if PTI and PAT sit-ins succeeded.

The PPP leader said PTI’s vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi in his speech on the floor of the parliament did not talk about resignations. Similarly, he said, 18 PTI MNAs attended the session, but they also stayed silent, indicating that perhaps the resignations had been obtained forcibly from them. He said it had become necessary for the NA speaker to verify resignations.

Mr Shah reiterated his proposal to reduce the term of the government to four years, adding that this amendment could be made in the Constitution even through the parliamentary committee which was busy in finalising recommendations for improving election system in the country. He said if the term of the present government was reduced to four years, it would reduce the pressure on the government.

Mr Shah claimed that the PPP was not in a “blind alley”, rather it was on a “four-lane highway”. He said the government could be in a blind alley, but the PPP would not let parliament go into a blind alley.

The PPP leader said that party’s co-chairman Asif Zardari would spend Eid days in Lahore.

He said they had asked the National Assembly speaker to allow live transmission of proceedings of the house so that the people could see the role of their elected representatives in parliament.

The PPP leader claimed that the country remained under democratic rule only for about nine and half years. He went on to say that there was “controlled democracy” even during the first two terms of both MS Benazir Bhutto and Mr Nawaz Sharif as prime ministers. He alleged that politicians were being intentionally maligned through propaganda in the country.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

COAS inaugurates work on upgradation of counter-terror centre

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif performed on Tuesday the ground-breaking of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre being set up near Kharian.

ISLAMABAD: Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif performed on Tuesday the ground-breaking of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre being set up near Kharian.

“The centre will be a state-of-the-art facility with a large capacity to impart quality training to troops for combating terrorism, in all types of terrains,” a military spokesman said about the planned complex.

The army already has a counter-terrorism centre at the site, which is imparting training to personnel of armed forces and civilian law-enforcement agencies. It is now being upgraded as a national centre.

The army also plans to provide training to troops from other countries at the centre.

The army chief met the troops currently undergoing the training and “appreciated the standards” of training. He said “since we will have to fight the menace of terror together with other LEAs across the nook and corner of the country, the army will do its part to train paramilitary force, police, constabulary and levies at this facility”.

Gen Sharif said the “army is fully prepared to deter and defeat any form of aggression across the entire spectrum of threat”.

He said: “With its unique accomplishment of confronting both conventional and sub-conventional threat, Pakistan Army is respected for its achievements and sacrifices the world over.”

A military official said: “The new centre will focus on joint approach and progressive training. It will provide specialist training in urban, jungle and riverine operations in multiple scenarios.”

Different types of terrains would be replicated inside the complex to provide real-time training to the soldiers preparing for counter-insurgency operations.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Three-day holiday for Eidul Azha

APP

ISLAMABAD: The federal government announced on Tuesday a three-day public holiday for Eidul Azha.

ISLAMABAD: The federal government announced on Tuesday a three-day public holiday for Eidul Azha.

According to a notification issued by the Ministry of Interior, Oct 6, 7 and 8 (Monday, Tuesday and Wed­nesday) would be observed as public holiday.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Balochistan assembly seeks return of Khan of Kalat

Amanullah Kasi

QUETTA: The Balochistan Assembly adopted on Tuesday a unanimous resolution urging the Khan of Kalat to return home from abroad and play a role in normalising the situation in the province.

QUETTA: The Balochistan Assembly adopted on Tuesday a unanimous resolution urging the Khan of Kalat to return home from abroad and play a role in normalising the situation in the province.

Agha Suleman Dawood Khan went into self-exile in London after the murder of veteran Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti in 2006.

The resolution, moved by opposition member Sardar Abdur Rehman Khetran of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F), stated that Agha Suleman should be approached to end his exile and contribute to mainstream politics.

Mr Khetran regretted that despite the passage of 18 months the coalition government had neither contacted the Khan of Kalat nor other Baloch leaders abroad.

He said a committee of legislators should be formed to contact Agha Suleman and persuade him to return home. This will help improve the situation in Balochistan.

The house witnessed a pandemonium when the JUI-F leader described the law and order situation in the province as bad.

Five members of the treasury bench – Abdur Rahim Ziaratwal, Dr Hamid Khan Achakzai, Syed Liaquat Agha, Rehmat Baloch and Obaidullah Babat – reacted sharply to the remarks and claimed the law and order situation was quite satisfactory as compared to the past.

They said the mover should confine his speech to the contents of the resolution, adding that the previous government was responsible for the bad law and order situation in Balochistan.

The bedlam continued for several minutes as acting Speaker Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo was unable to restore order.

This led Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch to intervene and request both the treasury and opposition members to respect the decorum of the house.

Backing the resolution, he said it was his government’s desire that Agha Suleman and other Baloch leaders come back and play their role in the development of the province.

Dr Malik said the leaders who attended a recent multi-party conference had also given him the mandate to hold talks with the exiled leaders and “we are making efforts in this regard”.

He said the leadership of National Party and Pakhtun­khwa Milli Awami Party had discussed the matter with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the federal government’s response was very encouraging.

“The centre wants to resolve the matter amicably.”

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Rangers come under fire over Karachi operation

Kalbe Ali

ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee was informed on Monday that Rangers had conducted 3,696 raids during the ongoing operation in Karachi and arrested 6,835 suspects and seized 5,214 weapons.

ISLAMABAD: A Senate committee was informed on Monday that Rangers had conducted 3,696 raids during the ongoing operation in Karachi and arrested 6,835 suspects and seized 5,214 weapons.

Col Tahir Mehmood of Sindh Rangers briefed the Senate standing committee on interior on the law and order situation in Karachi and claimed that incidents of kidnapping for ransom, target and sectarian killings and other crimes had fallen significantly in the city over the past year.

He said Rangers had conducted 372 raids on Mutta­hida Qaumi Movement’s offices and arrested 560 of its workers, besides recovering 241 weapons. Eighteen raids on the Awami National Party’s offices led to the arrest of 40 workers and recovery of 21 weapons.

As many as 539 people were arrested and 591 weapons seized in 396 raids on the People’s Amn Committee’s offices. Rangers conducted 403 raids on various TTP set-ups, arresting 760 terrorists and recovering 619 weapons.

A total of 4,936 suspects were arrested and 3,742 weapons seized in 2,506 raids targeting other banned outfits and criminal groups.

The Rangers official’s briefing drew a barrage of accusations from two members of the committee from Karachi.

They alleged that some Rangers officials were working in connivance with criminals and terrorists.

The committee’s chairman Senator Talah Mehmood said lawbreakers should be treated as criminals and not political workers.

“If you name any party then it is also your responsibility to provide details about it and seek their help to at least determine if the accused are actually party workers,” he told the Rangers official.

TRUST DEFICIT: Senator Shahi Syed of the ANP said there was a serious trust deficit between the Rangers and the general public.

“I know people and their children who were targeted after they lodged complaints against terrorists. How did the killers come to know about such persons,” he wondered.

He said Rangers listed all Pakhtuns arrested on charges of criminal activities as ANP workers.

“Why is the identity of all these so-called members of political or terror outfits kept secret.

“At least after all legal formalities and charges, one has the right to know who the person is and what is his crime,” he added.

Shahi Syed alleged that some agencies were using criminals to serve their purpose. “And after the work is done they are even killed; later we are told that MQM killed the Pakhtun boy.”

Senator Tahir Mashhadi of the MQM alleged that certain elements in Rangers were defaming the army. He disputed a claim that the crime rate had come down, observing that the figures were low because very few people reported incidents of crime.

“It seems that you people are facilitating groups like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi. They kill one to two Shias daily and even claim responsibility for that,” he said, adding: “What is the net output of the operation in one year.”

The committee was also briefed on the Sept 24 raid by Rangers on MQM’s sector office in Karachi.

It was informed that firing on a Rangers patrol had led to the raid and arrest of 23 workers.

“They included three target killers and eight absconders. Twelve of them were later released,” Col Tahir Mehmood said.

The MQM senator asked the Rangers official where did the bullet fired by the so-called target killers hit. “Did the fire hit any personnel? No. Any mark on the vehicle? None. Anybody injured? No one. Tell me why the workers continued their meeting even after shots were fired from their office; they could have escaped before the raid,” he said.

Mr Mashhadi asked: “Why is it that when there are raids on PPP, MQM and ANP offices you ransack the place, destroy TV and computers; do you think that weapons are hidden inside LCDs.”

The committee decided to hold its next meeting in Karachi.

Meanwhile, one official belonging to the forces told media that the presentation was classified because it contained details of various factions in MQM involved in killing each other and even workers of other parties.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Parliament helped strengthen democracy, says PM

APP

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday his government was serving people relentlessly despite disturbances caused by the sit-ins.

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said on Monday his government was serving people relentlessly despite disturbances caused by the sit-ins.

Talking to reporters in London before returning to Pakistan, the prime minister said he did not want to talk about those who were engaged in negative politics.

Mr Sharif, who made a stopover in London on his way back home after attending the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, said that parliament had played a significant role in strengthening democracy.

The premier said his government wanted to remove anomalies in the system.

In reply to a question, he said he did not consider that judiciary was conspiring against the government.

The prime minister said his speech at the UN Genral Assembly session and his stance on Kashmir represented the aspirations of the people of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Blast leaves 7 dead in militants’ compound

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

LANDI KOTAL: A bomb went off in a compound of suspected militants in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on Monday, killing seven people.

LANDI KOTAL: A bomb went off in a compound of suspected militants in Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency on Monday, killing seven people.

Officials in Jamrud said it was not clear what had actually caused the explosion, adding that there was an ammunition depot in the compound located in Rajgal area of the valley.

“Initially we were told that it was a drone attack, but later local sources informed us that it was a bomb blast inside a compound under militants’ control,” they added.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Pressure on PML-N to hold CWC meeting

Khawar Ghumman

ISLAMABAD: Following the successful show of power by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) over the weekend in Lahore, the ruling PML-N has come under pressure from its own ranks to convene a meeting of its Central Working Committee (CWC) to construct its own response to the opponents.

ISLAMABAD: Following the successful show of power by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) over the weekend in Lahore, the ruling PML-N has come under pressure from its own ranks to convene a meeting of its Central Working Committee (CWC) to construct its own response to the opponents.

The CWC last time met well before last year’s general elections to sanction allotment of tickets to the party candidates.

With the PTI’s incisive campaign against the PML-N leadership, a majority in the ruling party believe that it should work out its ‘political strategy’ to deal with the phenomenon, a senior office-bearer of the ruling party told Dawn.

Know more: PTI fans defy odds to reach Minar-i-Pakistan

“It’s encouraging to see that parliamentary parties are standing with us against the protesting leaders of the PTI and PAT, but the time has come to work on party’s own narrative to confront them before it’s too late,” he said.

He, however, said a few leaders in the party had been advising PML-N President Nawaz Sharif against convening the CWC meeting.

Talking to Dawn, Information Minister Pervez Rashid, who is also spokesman for the prime minister, said: “CWC is meant for party politics. After getting people’s mandate and forming the government, we are more focused on resolving issues facing the nation.”

He said “we deliberately avoid convening CWC meeting” so that the party’s influence on government affairs was kept to a minimum.

Mr Rashid said the prime minister had taken a clear stand that parliament was the only forum to resolve the stand-off with the PTI and PAT.

But others in the ruling party don’t buy the information minister’s argument and wanted the PML-N’s own response to the PTI’s increasingly belligerent campaign.

“I am unable to understand why the party leadership is reluctant to hold the CWC meeting and get its input over the political crisis,” a PML-N parliamentarian said, expressing frustration over the PM’s regular meetings with heads of other political parties and ignoring his own people.

The lawmaker, who is also a member of the CWC, said he had more than once urged the prime minister and other senior leaders of the party to call the CWC meeting to take its members on board.

The PML-N parliamentarian, who remained loyal to the Sharif brothers during the General Musharraf regime, agreed that it was because of the same indifferent attitude the party lost its support after the October 1999 martial law.

“They (Sharif brothers) are refusing to learn from their mistakes,” he said.

A political analyst said running the government and party affairs through hand-picked officials and party men had been a trade mark of the PML-N, but it was high time for the Sharifs to get the party united to face their opponents.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Analysis: Our enemy, their enemy

Ismail Khan

At least in tactical terms, the US and Pakistan appear to be on the same page — both are hunting their enemies in our north-western border region and that’s where there is convergence. There is divergence though when it comes to making a distinction between ‘our enemy’ and ‘their enemy’.

At least in tactical terms, the US and Pakistan appear to be on the same page — both are hunting their enemies in our north-western border region and that’s where there is convergence. There is divergence though when it comes to making a distinction between ‘our enemy’ and ‘their enemy’.

Pakistan’s F-16s pound targets in the remote corners of North Waziristan to take out local and foreign militants just when American drones sharing the same airspace target local and foreign militants around the same area.

But there is a difference. Pakistanis are bombing those they see a potential threat to their national security while the Americans are hunting for men of interest to them. The Pakistanis are targeting those waging war against Pakistan, the Americans are tracking those “interested in attacks across the border”.

Know more: US drone kills four suspected militants in Wana

This is how Pakistani officials describe drone victims — ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’. In the same way, the target of the Sept 28 drone strike in Karikot, six kilometres to the south of Wana in South Waziristan, was characterised as ‘theirs’.

Sunday’s drone strike killed two men of Middle Eastern origin including what local residents believe was Sheikh Abu Turab, who had taken over as Al Qaeda’s money bag’s man. The two men were killed because, officials say, they were of interest to the Americans and were involved in cross-border operations.

Much the same pattern can be seen as being repeated in North Waziristan. There have been a total of ten drone strikes since January in what was then rightly considered a hotbed of militancy in Pakistan, excluding Sunday’s drone attack in Wana.

There was a five-month hiatus in drone strikes till mid-May when Islamabad sought to negotiate peace with the same set of people it is seeking to eliminate now. The halt in drone strikes had come after a furious response from Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to the death of TTP chief Hakeemullah Mehsud in November 2013.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s exuberant leader who led a campaign against drone strikes by disrupting — and attacking — supplies to Nato in Afghanistan claimed the credit for the halt in equal measure, though drones continued to hover the skies in North Waziristan.

But no sooner had the peace talks collapsed than the drone strikes began in earnest with the first one on May 14. And since then there has been a steady drone campaign every month operating in the same region extending from North Waziristan into South Waziristan.

The total number, by all media accounts, of those killed in the drone strikes since May stands at 68.

While the Pakistanis and their American allies in the war on terror — a term that no longer seems to be in use — look for and eliminate their own targets in the volatile Waziristan area, their interests do converge every now and then.

Consider the case of Hakeemullah Mehsud whose death in a drone strike in November 2013 caused the interior minister to accuse Washington of sabotaging Islamabad’s peace overtures with the militant honcho.

Mehsud, under whose watch terrorism-related violence in Pakistan peaked, found his name added to the list of most wanted men in November 2009 when Islamabad posted a bounty of Rs500 million on his head.

Washington followed suit in September 2010 by adding Mehsud’s name to the Specially Designated Global Terrorists and by offering its bounty of $5 million. The US move came only when Mehsud appeared in a video along with Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi: the suicide bomber who blew himself up inside Camp Chapman in Khost, killing several CIA officers in January 2010.

Pakistanis and the Americans wanted him dead, though the timing of his ultimate elimination became a bone of contention owing to the circumstances surrounding the peace overtures.

There, however, appeared to have been no disagreement when the Americans took out Hakeemullah’s predecessor and TTP founder Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009 or Nek Muhammad Wazir in June 2004. Indeed, some say, the two militant leaders were taken out on Pakistan’s request.

Whether or not Islamabad has acquiesced in the ongoing drone campaign in Waziristan is not known. Beyond terming these strikes as violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, reaction from the foreign office always appears to be subdued and tepid.

Such considerations as internal displacement of nearly a million people from North Waziristan, collateral damage and strikes being counter-productive seem no longer to bother the foreign office much. The US drone strikes are continuing to hit targets of interest just when the military is in the midst of the Operation Zarb-i-Azb in Waziristan.

Officials say the strikes are likely to continue and perhaps expand, depending on how the situation in Waziristan pans out post Zarb-i-Azb and when the US ends its combat operation in Afghanistan in December 2014. Until then, the drones would continue to take out the few remaining key targets of interest to the Americans.

Not many foreign militants, particularly the Al Qaeda type, are left in the tribal region, according to security officials, their focus having shifted from Afghanistan to Syria. But while the military operation in Waziristan continues, so will the drone strikes that have come to be seen as complementing the effort — of cleansing the area of local and foreign militants — though neither Islamabad nor Washington admits to it.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Bomb blast in IDP camp leaves seven dead

Abdul Sami Paracha

KOHAT: A bomb blast in a camp for internally displaced persons in Hangu left seven people dead and 13 injured on Sunday.

KOHAT: A bomb blast in a camp for internally displaced persons in Hangu left seven people dead and 13 injured on Sunday.

The Mohammad Khawaja camp houses IDPs from Orakzai Agency. A girl was among those killed and three children among the injured.

Police quoted witnesses as saying that the bomb was rigged to a motorcycle parked outside a shop in the camp.

District Police Officer Anwar Saeed Kundi and DSP Hangu Falak Naz said that six kilograms of explosives had been used in the blast.

Officials said that soon after the blast a heavy contingent of police arrived at the camp and cordoned off the area. Kohat-Hangu road was closed by bomb disposal personnel for clearing the area.

Families displaced from Orakzai Agency have been living in the camp for six years. The army has claimed to have cleared 90 per cent of the agency, but the IDPs are reluctant to leave the camps for fear of militants returning to their areas.

The dead were identified as Mohammad Siddique Khan, Khalil, Sher Khan, Lal Wali, Khalil, Shamsa Bibi and Sohail Khan.

The injured were taken to the Hangu District Hospital. Nine of them were identified as Hamza Gul, Sajida Bibi, Amra Bibi, Naimatullah Shah, Khalil Khan, Ilyas Khan, Sajidullah, Umra Bibi and Siddique Khan.

The Upper Orakzai Agency remains to be cleared of militants who have fiercely resisted security forces, especially their movements in Mamozai area.

Meanwhile, two people were injured when a bomb hit a coach near Parachgan Banda area. According to police, the coach was going to Stori Khel area from Kohat.

Driver Mohammad Saleem and passenger Gharas Khan were injured and taken to a hospital in Kohat.

Bomb disposal personnel said the bomb weighing about five kilograms was concealed in a canister. It expl­oded a few seconds before the coach reached the area.

Our Khar Correspondent adds: Gunmen shot dead on Sunday evening a pro-government tribal elder and member of the Salarzai Qaumi Lashkar in Bajaur Agency.

According to administration officials, Malik Gul Akbar was going home in his car when he came under attack in Dara, 28km northeast of Khar, the main town of Bajaur.

He and his driver were injured and taken to the agency headquarters hospital where Malik Akbar died. The driver was sent to a hospital in Peshawar because of his critical condition.

The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. Talking to reporters on phone from an unspecified place, TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said Malik Akbar was on their hit list because of his anti-Taliban activities. “We will continue to attack those tribal elders who are raising Lashkar against Taliban,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

HC meeting with Hurriyat leaders was ill-timed: Aziz

Masood Haider

NEW YORK: Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said in an interview with an Indian TV network that the meeting of Pakistan’s High Commissioner with the Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi ahead of India-Pak secretary level talks last month was “ill-timed”.

NEW YORK: Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said in an interview with an Indian TV network that the meeting of Pakistan’s High Commissioner with the Hurriyat leaders in New Delhi ahead of India-Pak secretary level talks last month was “ill-timed”.

But Mr Aziz lamented India’s decision to cancel the foreign secretaries’ level talks and said “now the ball is in India’s court to come up with a date”.

“The timing of the meeting between Pakistan High Commissioner to India and the Hurriyat leaders was not right and it could have been avoided.

“The newly-elected leaders of both the countries missed an opportunity of starting a dialogue,” Mr Aziz said.

However, he insisted that Pakistan could not ignore Hurriyat and said that talks between Indian and Pakistan foreign secretaries “should not have been cancelled as the issue was not that big”.

“Kashmiri leaders have been meeting us because the Kashmir is one of the issues which are to be discussed. Dialogue with Hurriyat leaders has been a regular practise since last 20-30 years.”

He further said: “We were upset after India cancelled the talks. Talks are the only way forward for us. Now, the ball is in India’s court to come up with a date.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

US drone kills three in South Waziristan

Sailab Mehsud

LADHA: A US drone attack in Sheen Warsak area of South Waziristan on Sunday killed three people and left another person injured.

LADHA: A US drone attack in Sheen Warsak area of South Waziristan on Sunday killed three people and left another person injured.

According to administration officials in Wana, the tribal agency’s headquarters, two missiles were fired at a compound.

This was the first US drone attack in South Waziristan after about a year.

The names of the victims could not be ascertained but there were unconfirmed reports that they were affiliated with the militant group of Mullah Nazir.

AFP adds: Security officials said, “A US drone fired two missiles at a vehicle and at least two militants were killed and one was wounded.”

“The militants had just parked their vehicle outside the main gate of a compound and had asked for drinking water from inside. Just when they were drinking water standing on the road, drones fired two missiles.”

Peshawar Bureau adds: Pakistan military planes bombed five hideouts in Shawal area of North Waziristan, killing 15 militants, the ISPR said in a statement on Sunday.

It said foreign militants were among those killed.

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

Bilawal apologises to party workers for unexplained mistakes

Habib Khan Ghori

KARACHI: For unexplained reasons, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari apologised to his party’s estranged workers on Sunday and appealed to them to reconsider their decision to join other parties.

KARACHI: For unexplained reasons, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari apologised to his party’s estranged workers on Sunday and appealed to them to reconsider their decision to join other parties.

He said that being a democratic party the PPP welcomed differences of opinion, adding that the best way for workers was to attend party meetings and strive for bringing about changes they wanted and put the country on the road to progress and prosperity.

In an open letter to supporters, Bilawal Bhutto conceded that mistakes had been committed in the past and pledged to correct them to regain workers’ trust.

Know more: Bilawal to contest 2018 elections from Benazir’s home constituency

But he did not spell out what mistakes the party had made which called for an apology or the differences of opinion expressed by some workers.

“To those who have been with the PPP but now feel let down, first of all allow me to apologise personally for letting you down. We do not claim to be perfect; we acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past and are committed to rectifying them and regaining your trust.

“In the interim period, if you are considering to switch over to another political party, please act discreetly. Do not punish Pakistan or its democracy for my shortcomings. Please do not support undemocratic party or a party appeasing extremists. Pakistan has rightwing parties which support dictatorship and appease the TTP. If you are frustrated with the party, I would suggest to you ways to legitimately practise opposition politics.

“The PPP is a democratic party and welcomes internal dissent. The best way to influence the PPP’s policy is to join us and bring about changes in the party and in the country from within. If party policy is unacceptable to you and you are considering to join another party, I would suggest you to join pro-democracy and pro-people political parties.

“The PPP welcomes and encourages other leftwing parties to join the political process. In fact, if a former sympathiser desires to attend a political event, I would suggest to him to attend the AWP Congress in Islamabad.

“No-one can claim to have once supported Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto or Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto but can now support dictatorship or extremism. I look forward to regaining your trust and also proving that the PPP is the only party that can build a peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan. Jeay Bhutto, Pakistan Zindabad.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

85 ‘militants’ surrender in Dera Bugti

Saleem Shahid

QUETTA: Fifteen people reported to be militants belonging to the Bugti tribe and their 70 accomplices surrendered themselves to law-enforcement personnel in Sui on Sunday.

QUETTA: Fifteen people reported to be militants belonging to the Bugti tribe and their 70 accomplices surrendered themselves to law-enforcement personnel in Sui on Sunday.

Khan Wasey, spokesman for the Frontier Corps, Balochistan, said in a statement that the men belonged to various Bugti clans living in Sui area of Dera Bugti.

They had been involved in attacks on security forces and national installations in Dera Bugti and other areas of the province.

They laid down their weapons in the presence of FC Inspector General Maj Gen Muhammad Ejaz Shahid at a ceremony attended by tribal elders and senior officials.

The weapons, ammunition and explosives surrendered by them included 89 rifles and landmines. The militants vowed to renounce violence. They also pledged not to get involved in anti-state activities. They welcomed the general amnesty announced by the provincial government, along with a special package for militants surrendering to the state and pledging not to take part in anti-state activities.

Published in Dawn, September 29th , 2014

Footprints: Imprisoned in Afghanistan

Imran Ayub

THERE’S hardly any connection between Malala Yousufzai, Sirajul Haq and Saleem Safi.

THERE’S hardly any connection between Malala Yousufzai, Sirajul Haq and Saleem Safi.

The teenage activist is recognised for her global campaigning for education, the chief of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) is striving for an Islamic system in the country and the renowned broadcaster is known for a series of scoops.

But for Faizullah Khan, each of the three emerged as heroic characters who made possible his release from Nangarhar jail in Afghanistan.

Also read: Govt urged to get reporter freed

“I am thankful to everyone,” he says. “From the management of my organisation to journalist bodies and from the governments of the two countries to human rights activists: everyone played a role and that’s why I’m back home. But the way those three took up my case and followed it up constantly, it’s beyond anyone’s imagination.”

With others vying for attention in the print and electronic media, these three, however, preferred to keep away from the limelight as Faizullah believes that it might have damaged the case for his release.

Malala contacted top officials in the Karzai government to secure Faizullah’s release after reading about his ordeal in a story published in Swat’s local newspaper. Sirajul Haq used JI’s decades-old connections in the neighbouring country to obtain his freedom. And Saleem Safi utilised his journalistic contacts to ensure Faizullah’s safe return.

Faizullah, associated with ARY News as a reporter, was arrested in Lalpura, Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on April 25. The 35-year-old journalist was convicted of having illegally entered the country by a Jalalabad court which sentenced him to four years imprisonment.

While the prosecution in Afghanistan was getting ready to seek another 25-year prison term for Faizullah on charges of ‘spying’, ‘compromising national security’ and ‘attempting to deteriorate diplomatic relations of the two countries’, the president issued a pardon and ordered Faizullah’s release on his last day in office.

For his family, the long and frustrating wait has finally been brought to an end. On a warm Wednesday afternoon as I entered the building where he lives, I saw his four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter standing next to him, waving from their third-floor balcony. Inside, the children would sometimes slide on the couch and at other times climb onto their father’s lap as friends and relatives continuously called him up congratulating him on his release.

For Faizullah, it all happened in his quest for ‘big news’ after he landed in Peshawar in April. He was scheduled to cover peace talks between Pakistani and Afghan officials including the security situation in the western border areas. He claims that he never intended to enter Afghanistan and only realised that he was there when he was caught by the Afghan intelligence officials. But the ‘nightmare’ in Afghanistan, Faizullah says, finally ended for him as a ‘miracle’.

“I was jailed in April and in May I came to know that we were expecting our third child. I was missing my family terribly and this news made me even more miserable. I felt extremely helpless. But I have to commend my wife’s role during the entire ordeal. She came to the forefront as a real crusader.”

The crusader wife, Sania Faiz, launched an unwavering campaign to secure her husband’s release. She filed a petition in the Sindh High Court, met every official concerned and influential individuals with a single-point agenda. “I was unable to take care of my children during those five months,” she says with a smile, patting her daughter’s cheek affectionately. “To focus on Faiz’s release, I left them at my mother’s place. I hired a rickshaw from morning to evening to go from one place to another so that I could meet people, attend meetings and demonstrations, appear in court and mobilise journalist and human rights bodies.”

Having been a journalist herself before tying the knot with Faizullah in 2008, Sania knew which channels to use and who to pursue. She visited Islamabad thrice and Quetta once. She was even present at the Torkham border with journalists and Khyber Agency administration officials to receive Faizullah.

“I was able to persuade a source to regularly send Faiz some money from here while he was imprisoned in Nangarhar jail,” she says. “I did it alone and never lost hope. I don’t know how I found the strength, patience and stamina. Somehow I did. But you know these are memories that one never wants to live with,” she says in a voice choking with emotion and her eyes brimming with tears.

After a momentary silence, Faizullah asks me to drop him at the Karachi Press Club where a reception awaited him. During the 15-kilometre ride from his home in Gulistan-i-Jauhar to the press club on my motorbike, Faizullah’s analysis on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations made me realise how his journalistic quest for the truth did not wane even in prison.

“I am indebted to the Afghan government for all their cooperation in extending my release,” he mused. “But you know, Imran bhai, it’s very unfortunate that we are no longer good neighbours. During my five-month imprisonment I came across all types of Afghans including media persons, officials, security personnel and diplomats. And they all believe that the two countries are not friends and probably will never be. This is alarming. And sadly no one cares from either side of the border.”

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Pilgrims start congregating in Mina for Haj

AFP

MAKKAH: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims began a mass movement on Thursday out of the holy city of Makkah towards nearby Mina in western Saudi Arabia, at the beginning of the Haj pilgrimage.

MAKKAH: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims began a mass movement on Thursday out of the holy city of Makkah towards nearby Mina in western Saudi Arabia, at the beginning of the Haj pilgrimage.

This year’s Haj comes with Saudi authorities striving to protect pilgrims from two deadly viruses, Ebola and the MERS coronavirus.

Authorities say close to 1.4 million pilgrims have come from abroad to perform Haj alongside pilgrims from Saudi Arabia.

Pilgrims were moving from Makkah to Mina by bus or on foot on Thursday. The passage to Mina marks the official start of Haj.

Security has not been noticeably enhanced around the holy sites, but a reporter observed three checkpoints between Jeddah and Makkah, where security officers verified that visitors had Haj permits.

Officials say they have intensified efforts to stop people attending Haj without authorisation, as part of safety measures for such a large gathering with massive logistical challenges.

The official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said more than 145,000 unauthorised pilgrims had been turned away.

Eighteen aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters would patrol and be on standby for emergencies including “terrorist attacks”, Arab News reported.

“The aircraft are equipped with thermal cameras and shooting platforms,” the newspaper quoted General Mohammed Eid al-Harbi as saying.

Saudi news channel Al-Ekhbariya broadcast footage of commandos rappelling from helicopters and performing other exercises to demonstrate their readiness.

Supplementing the 85,000 security and civil defence officers who are reportedly deployed for Haj are thousands of health workers.

While Ebola has hit Africa, most MERS cases worldwide have been in Saudi Arabia itself. Pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three nations hardest-hit by Ebola, have not been allowed in for Haj. No Ebola cases have yet been found in the kingdom.

The health ministry on Wednesday announced the country’s latest MERS victim, a 43-year-old Saudi man who died in Taif, east of Makkah.

But “no infectious cases have been recorded among the pilgrims, including coronavirus (MERS)”, said Acting Health Minister Adel Fakieh in a statement carried by SPA.

He added that “the health situation of the pilgrims is reassuring”.—AFP

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Atrocities committed by IS could amount to war crimes, says UN

Masood Haider

UNITED NATIONS: A UN human rights report has said that Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Iraq have carried out mass executions, kidnapped women and girls and recruited child soldiers in what could amount to systematic war crimes.

UNITED NATIONS: A UN human rights report has said that Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Iraq have carried out mass executions, kidnapped women and girls and recruited child soldiers in what could amount to systematic war crimes.

The report based on 500 interviews with witnesses and released on Thursday also said that air strikes carried out by Iraqi government against IS militants had caused “significant civilian deaths” by hitting villages and hospitals in violation of international law.

At least 9,347 civilians have been killed and 17,386 wounded so far this year, well over half of them since the IS, also known as ISIS, began seizing large parts of northern Iraq in early June, according to the 29-page report by the UN Human Rights Office and UN Assistance Mission for Iraq.

“The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIS and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein.

In a statement, he again urged the Iraqi government to join the International Criminal Court, and said the Hague court was set up to prosecute such massive abuses and the direct targeting of civilians on the basis of their religious or ethnic groups.

Islamist forces have committed gross human rights violations and violence of an “increasing sectarian nature” against groups including Christians, Yazidis and Shias in a widening conflict that has forced 1.8 million Iraqis to flee their homes, according to the report.

“These include attacks directly targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure, executions and other targeted killings of civilians, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual and physical violence perpetrated against women and children, forced recruitment of children, destruction or desecration of places of religious or cultural significance, wanton destruction and looting of property, and denial of fundamental freedoms,” said the report.

In a single massacre on June 12, the report said, about 1,500 Iraqi soldiers and security officers from the former US Camp Speicher base in Salahuddin province were captured and killed by IS fighters.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Ebola fear grips United States

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: Fears of an Ebola epidemic gripped the United States on Thursday as health officials warned that more than 100 people were exposed to a confirmed patient in Dallas, Texas.

WASHINGTON: Fears of an Ebola epidemic gripped the United States on Thursday as health officials warned that more than 100 people were exposed to a confirmed patient in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas County Public Health Department said 12 to 18 people came into direct contact with the patient while others came into contact with this group.

Know more: Man catches Ebola in US after arriving from Liberia

The issue also echoed in Congress where a Republican senator, Rand Paul, accused the Obama administration of “underplaying” the threat of Ebola.

On Sept 30, a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, was diagnosed with Ebola in a Dallas hospital

On Oct 1, health officials in Texas announced that a second person was under observation for possible Ebola virus. This person had close contact with the confirmed case.

Within 24 hours, the number of patients being watched for Ebola increased to 100.

In Honolulu, the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed that a patient was placed in isolation after doctors believed he too was infected with Ebola virus.

Mr Duncan arrived in Dallas on Sept 20 and on Sept 24 he developed symptoms and sought medical care. On Sept 30, doctors confirmed that he was infected with Ebola virus.

Earlier on Sept 15, he helped transport a neighbour in Monrovia, Liberia, to the hospital. The 19-year-old pregnant woman later died of Ebola.

On Sept 19, Mr Duncan left Monrovia for Brussels where he boarded United Airlines Flight 951 to Washington Dulles Airport. He arrived in Dallas on Sept 20.

His movements scared health officials because he came into contact with a large number of people.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Nine killed in bus crash

Dawn Report

LAHORE: Nine people were killed and 21 others injured when a bus going to Mansehra by the National Highway overturned near Uch Sharif in Bahawalpur district on Thursday night.

LAHORE: Nine people were killed and 21 others injured when a bus going to Mansehra by the National Highway overturned near Uch Sharif in Bahawalpur district on Thursday night.

According to TV reports, most passengers on the bus coming from Karachi were heading home for Eidul Azha.

The injured were admitted to the Taranda Rural Health Centre and Bahawal Victoria Hospital, Bahawalpur.

Police said the driver lost control over the wheel because of over-speeding. They feared the death toll might increase.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

US legislators press Kerry on talks with Iran

Reuters

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of US lawmakers pressed Secretary of State John Kerry to lean harder on Iran in talks over its nuclear programme in a letter released on Thursday after Israel warned Washington not to go easy on Tehran.

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of US lawmakers pressed Secretary of State John Kerry to lean harder on Iran in talks over its nuclear programme in a letter released on Thursday after Israel warned Washington not to go easy on Tehran.

Three hundred and fifty-four members — four-fifths — of the US House of Representatives signed the letter sent to Kerry on Wednesday night, expressing concerns that an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme might not require sufficiently strict inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Know more: US open to back-channel talks with Iran

The UN nuclear watchdog said on Sept 5 that Iran had failed to address concerns about suspected atomic bomb research by an agreed deadline.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Barack Obama on Wednesday that he must make sure any final nuclear deal with Iran does not leave it at the “threshold” of being able to develop nuclear weapons.—Reuters

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

US, India vow to dismantle LeT, Al Qaeda

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: In a joint statement issued on the conclusion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-day visit, the United States and India vowed to work together to dismantle Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and their affiliates.

WASHINGTON: In a joint statement issued on the conclusion of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s four-day visit, the United States and India vowed to work together to dismantle Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and their affiliates.

The statement also urged Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice.

The two countries committed themselves to making “joint and concerted efforts to disrupt all financial and tactical support” to “Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company, the Haqqanis” and Al Qaeda.

D-Company is a term coined by the Indian media for a criminal group controlled by an Indian crime boss, Dawood Ibrahim. Delhi claims Mr Ibrahim lives in Pakistan. Islamabad denies.

In their joint statement, US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Modi also expressed “deep concern over the continued threat posed by terrorism,” and underlined the need for “continued comprehensive global efforts to combat and defeat terrorism.”

On Wednesday, the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two Pakistan-based terrorist organisations — LeT and Harakat ul-Mujahidin (HuM) — and froze the assets of their leaders.

The announcement claimed that the assets were used for providing financial support to LeT, which is accused of carrying out the Mumbai terror attacks.

The Treasury notification described HuM as “a terrorist group that operates throughout India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and maintains terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan.”

According to the notification, in 2005, HuM attacks in Kashmir killed at least 15 people, and in 2007, an unspecified number of Indian troops were also killed in a firefight with HuM militants in the area.

To date, the Treasury Department has designated 27 individuals and three entities associated with LeT.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Indian version of Hamlet faces Kashmir heat in Pakistan

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

NEW DELHI: “I am opposed to the very idea of film censorship, be it in India, Pakistan or anywhere in the world,” said celebrated filmmaker Kumar Shahani on Wednesday as news reports came in of uncertainty over the release in Pakistan of an Indian interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

NEW DELHI: “I am opposed to the very idea of film censorship, be it in India, Pakistan or anywhere in the world,” said celebrated filmmaker Kumar Shahani on Wednesday as news reports came in of uncertainty over the release in Pakistan of an Indian interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

The Larkana-born Mr Shahani has won several Indian and international awards for his avant garde cinema, and though he hasn’t seen Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider based on the tragedy of Hamlet, he said no film from India should be banned in Pakistan or vice versa.

“Film censorship should be enforced only for children, to protect them from visual violence, but adults shouldn’t be deprived of their right to watch the cinema of their choice,” Mr Shahani told Dawn in Delhi.

Haider, the third interpretation of a Shakespeare play by Vishal Bhardwaj after Maqbool and Omkara, will be released across the world on Thursday. It recasts the Shakespeare play into an Indian counter-insurgency against Kashmiri militants fighting for independence or to join Pakistan.

Mr Bhardwaj, who previously reworked Macbeth and Othello into Indian settings to critical acclaim, is said to be fielding queries about whether Haider will be seen as an anti-India film.

“I’m also an Indian, I’m also a patriot, I also love my nation. So I won’t do anything which is anti-national,” Mr Bhardwaj told the Times of India newspaper on Tuesday. “But what is anti-human, I will definitely comment on it.”

India’s Central Board of Film Certification cleared Haider for release after asking for seven cuts to the film. None of these, however, is reported to have altered the thrust of the movie or its criticism of the Indian state’s actions in Kashmir, reports said.

Based on Curfewed Night, a memoir by Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer about growing up in Kashmir in the 1990s, Haider depicts the Ikhwan-i-Muslimoon, a counter-insurgency militia armed and funded by Indian security forces.

Formed in 1994 and at its most active for three to four years, Ikhwan exemplified, for Mr Peer, the abuses perpetrated by the Indian state in Kashmir. In Curfewed Night, he recalled that Ikhwan “tortured and killed like modern-day Mongols. Ikhwan … went on a rampage, killing, maiming and harassing anyone they thought to be sympathetic to the Jamaat [the Jamaat-i-Islami, a religious body supportive of Pakistan] or the separatists.”

In Pakistan though, going by local reports, it seems that the film might not get the much-needed NOC (No Objection Certificate) by the Pakistan Film Censor Board.

The film which stars Shahid Kapoor, Tabu, Kay Kay Menon and Shradha Kapoor in the lead has been shot in Kashmir, which led to reservations about its release in Pakistan, reports said.

Apparently the film was previewed and was sent to Pakistan’s Censor Board for approval. However, after watching Haider’s preview, the body, according to reports, decided not to go ahead with the release because of some controversial elements related to Kashmir.

Haider was slated for its release on October 2 alongside Hrithik and Katrina starrer Bang Bang, but while the shows for Bang Bang are scheduled in Pakistan, the much-awaited Haider is evidently nowhere to be seen.

It is expected that the distributors would not face a loss as they had already anticipated that the film might not be released in Pakistan.

Earlier, a film based on the Indian Army, Holiday, was screened in Pakistan but Salman Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger could not make it to the screens because of the portrayal of anti-Pakistan elements.

Though the reasons were different, Rani Mukherjee’s Mardaani also saw a similar fate.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

IS beheads seven men, three women

Reuters

BEIRUT: The Islamic State (IS) militant group beheaded seven men and three women in a northern Kurdish area of Syria, a human rights monitoring group said on Wednesday.

BEIRUT: The Islamic State (IS) militant group beheaded seven men and three women in a northern Kurdish area of Syria, a human rights monitoring group said on Wednesday.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, said five anti-IS Kurdish fighters, including three women, and four Syrian Arab rebels were detained and beheaded on Tuesday 14km west of Kobani, a Kurdish town besieged by IS near the Turkish border.

He said a Kurdish male civilian was also beheaded. “I don’t know why they were arrested or beheaded. Only the Islamic State knows why. They (probably) want to scare people,” he said.

IS fighters have carried out several beheadings of enemy fighters and civilians in Syria and Iraq. The beheadings are often carried out in public and with a message that any violent or non-violent dissent will not be tolerated.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Twin suicide attacks in Kabul kill seven

AFP

KABUL: Two Taliban suicide bombers hit army buses in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least seven people in a coordinated attack, officials said, a day after the new Afghan government signed a deal for US troops to stay in the country.

KABUL: Two Taliban suicide bombers hit army buses in Kabul on Wednesday, killing at least seven people in a coordinated attack, officials said, a day after the new Afghan government signed a deal for US troops to stay in the country.

The Taliban, who strongly opposed the agreement, claimed responsibility for the early-morning blasts that targeted vehicles taking military employees to work in the capital.

“There have been two suicide attacks targeting buses carrying Afghan national army personnel,” Farid Afzali, chief of the city’s police investigation department, said.

“Six military personnel and one civilian were killed in one attack, and 15 were injured. Four military personnel were injured in the other attack.”

Ministry of Defence spokesman General Zahir Azimi confirmed the death toll.

There were conflicting reports, however, on whether the attackers were on foot or driving cars laden with explosives.

The Taliban said at least 20 soldiers were killed. “This is a clear message to the stooge government that signed the slave pact, and we will step up our attacks after this,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Afghanistan and the United States on Tuesday signed the long-delayed bilateral security agreement to allow about 10,000 US troops to stay in the country next year.

The signing took place on newly-inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani’s first day in office and represented a major step towards mending frayed ties between Kabul and Washington.

The US-led Nato combat operations in Afghanistan will finish at the end of this year, and the Taliban have launched a series of offensives that have severely tested Afghan soldiers and police.

Nato’s follow-up mission, which will take over on January 1, will be made up of 9,800 US troops and about 3,000 soldiers from Germany, Italy and other member nations.

The new mission — named Resolute Support — will focus on supporting Afghan forces as they take on the militants, in parallel with US counter-terrorism operations.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

UK leader lauds Pakistanis’ contribution

APP

ISLAMABAD: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has commended the contribution made by the Pakistani diaspora to the progress of the United Kingdom and acknowledged that the Pakistani community had enriched the country culturally, socially and politically.

ISLAMABAD: Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has commended the contribution made by the Pakistani diaspora to the progress of the United Kingdom and acknowledged that the Pakistani community had enriched the country culturally, socially and politically.

Mr Clegg was speaking at the second integration dinner organised by the World Congress of Overseas Pakis­tanis at a London hotel on Tuesday, said a message received here on Wednesday.

He appreciated the Pakis­tani community’s ethos of hard work and their successful integration into the British society while also retaining their identity. He termed the UK-Pakistan relations strong and assured his government’s continued support to Pak­is­tan in various sectors.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Obama, Modi vow to push relations to new levels

Anwar Iqbal

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday coined a Hindi phrase — “chalein saath saath” — as the central premise of a defining 21st century partnership between their countries.

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday coined a Hindi phrase — “chalein saath saath” — as the central premise of a defining 21st century partnership between their countries.

On Monday evening, when Mr Modi arrived at the White House for dinner and his first meeting with the US leader, President Obama greeted him in Gujarati, — “Kem Chho?” (how are you?) — in the prime minister’s mother tongue.

In a joint op-ed in The Washington Post on Tuesday, the two leaders wrote that the advent of a new government in India was “a natural opportunity to broaden and deepen our relationship” and to set a new agenda.

“That we both have satellites orbiting Mars tells its own story. The promise of a better tomorrow is not solely for Indians and Americans: It also beckons us to move forward together for a better world,” they wrote.

Some of the areas identified in the piece for increased cooperation included intelligence sharing on terrorism and regional concerns, including Afghanistan.

In their first summit at the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, the two leaders resolved to push the bilateral relationship to “new levels”, to fully implement the civil nuclear deal reached during the Bush administration and to cooperate in counter terrorism.

Also read: Obama plays host as Modi’s White House visit begins

US and Indian officials told journalists that the hour-long meeting between the two leaders covered a lot of ground, from trade and investment to the current situation in South Asia.

The two countries also concluded an agreement to extend defence cooperation for ten more years and Mr Modi urged American companies to investment in the defence-manufacturing sector in India.

Mr Modi drove straight from Blair House to the West Wing of the White House to hold talks with Mr Obama, first in restrictive format and then with their aides.

President Obama called for deeper economic collaboration between their nations and Mr Modi identified common economic priorities.

“We already have the foundation of a strong partnership,” Mr Modi said, speaking Hindi as he did at the UN General Assembly. “We now have to ensure that we get the best out of it for our people and the world.”

On Monday evening, President Obama hosted Modi for a private working dinner at the White House, although the Indian PM, a devout Hindu, was fasting.

The US media noted that usually, a guest is only invited once to the White House during a visit but Mr Obama arranged two visits for his Indian guest, the dinner and then for formal talks on Tuesday.

From the Oval Office, President Obama and PM Modi travelled together to the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial on the National Mall, just a few blocks from the White House.

The warm welcomed Mr Modi received in Washington contrasts sharply with the US decision to deny him a visa when he was the chief minister of Gujarat 10 years ago. As chief minister, he was accused of instigating religious riots in his state in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

The US media noted that defence ties and trade in military equipment between the two countries had increased manifold during the last ten years but economic relations had not achieved their full potential because of India’s restrictive policies.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Man who protested against ‘VIP culture’ sacked

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

KARACHI: A man who shot video clip of passengers preventing a former minister from boarding a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft and forcing another legislator to disembark for being late has been sacked from his job, according to a private television channel.

KARACHI: A man who shot video clip of passengers preventing a former minister from boarding a Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft and forcing another legislator to disembark for being late has been sacked from his job, according to a private television channel.

Arjumand Hussain shot the video clip last month when he and other passengers protested against what they called ‘VIP culture’ and prevented former interior minister Rehman Malik from boarding the aircraft and forced MPA Ramesh Kumar to disembark, for allegedly delaying PIA’s flight PK-370 for more than an hour.

The news channel reported that Mr Hussain, who was working as general manager for a major courier and logistics group, had been sacked because of his involvement in the protest.

The group issued a statement on Tuesday which confirmed that Mr Hussain had been removed from his job but claimed that it had been done “on merit” and not due to his involvement in the PK-370 incident.

A message posted on the group’s website said the decision to dismiss Mr Hussain was “purely based on merit” and that the company had been considering the decision for some time.

Narrating his side of the story to the news channel, Mr Hussain said he didn’t know why he had been sacked but that he had no regrets.

“I went to work yesterday and was told that the company didn’t need my services any longer. I returned home quietly and I have no grievances,” he remarked.

“I only stood up for my rights as a Pakistani and as an airline passenger,” he said, sticking to his stance that protesting against wrongdoing was his democratic right.

Mr Hussain dismissed allegations that he had used abusive language during the protest and said: “The video speaks for itself.

“The other passengers were angrier than me but my language was not out of line at all. I was assertive, not arrogant.”

He said he and other passengers like him were “just protesting against our system”.

About the two lawmakers’ claims that they did not cause the delay, Mr Hussain said his video clip showed clearly that Mr Malik and Mr Kumar were the only passengers who were late.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

ECP ready to introduce electronic voting

The Newspaper’s Staff Reporter

ISLAMABAD: After facing criticism over the quality of magnetised ink used in last year’s general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to introduce electronic voting machines in two years and use them in next polls, due in 2018.

ISLAMABAD: After facing criticism over the quality of magnetised ink used in last year’s general elections, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has decided to introduce electronic voting machines in two years and use them in next polls, due in 2018.

Briefing reporters after a demonstration of the machi­nes by about 10 vendors here on Tuesday, ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan said the commission would call for an immediate amendment to the Constitu­tion to remove legal barrier in the way of introducing the technology, after which the pilot project would be launched.

He said the commission had plans to launch the pilot project in six months if parliament made the amendment during the next two months.

Know more: ECP rejects allegations about ballot paper, ink

He said the electronic voting system would help address complications arising from manual balloting. “It will resolve the issues of printing of ballot papers and counting and compilation of results.”

He said the vendors would give a similar demonstration to the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms after which a panel of technical experts at the commission would select the company for deploying the system.

The ECP secretary said each machine was likely to cost about $300. Around 70,000 polling stations were set up in the last elections and most of them had two booths, thus the commission would have to procure at least 150,000 machines.

A similar exercise was carried out before the 2013 elections and some vendors were shortlisted, but the proposal was dropped because of lack of required legislation.

Finance Minister Ishaq Dar has also announced the government’s intention to invest in the biometric verification system to address loopholes in the electoral process.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Kurds fight IS men on three fronts

AFP

ERBIL: Kurdish troops backed by warplanes battled the Islamic State (IS) group on three fronts in northern Iraq on Tuesday, clawing back land they lost to the militants in recent months.

ERBIL: Kurdish troops backed by warplanes battled the Islamic State (IS) group on three fronts in northern Iraq on Tuesday, clawing back land they lost to the militants in recent months.

The Kurdish peshmerga struck before dawn against the town of Rabia on the Syrian border, north of the militant-controlled second city Mosul, and south of key oil hub Kirkuk, officers said.

A senior source in the peshmerga said troops had entered Rabia, after seizing the villages of As-Saudiyah and Mahmudiyah. “Ground troops are now fighting in the centre of Rabia,” which is about 100km northwest of Mosul.

He said peshmerga forces, backed by artillery and warplanes, were also attacking Zumar, about 60km northwest of the city, near the reservoir of Iraq’s largest dam, which has been a key battleground between the Kurds and the militants.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Online abuse of Pakistani women turns into real violence

Reuters

ISLAMABAD: Internet abuse of women in Pakistan is triggering real-world violence against them, but major social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are moving too slowly to stop it, according to internet rights group Bytes for All.

ISLAMABAD: Internet abuse of women in Pakistan is triggering real-world violence against them, but major social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, are moving too slowly to stop it, according to internet rights group Bytes for All.

Women face online threats globally, but they run a unique risk in Pakistan, where there is a tradition of men killing women seen as having injured a family’s honour.

With law-enforcement agencies too weak to fight the violence sparked by online campaigns, activists want giant internet firms to roll out greater protection for users, from streamlining how they tackle complaints to faster action against threats of violence.

“These technologies are helping to increase violence against women, not just mirroring it,” said Gul Bukhari of Bytes for All, and the author of a report released this week as the country experiences a surge in sectarian hatred, attacks on minorities and blasphemy disputes.

“A lot of the crime we are witnessing would not have been possible without the use of these technologies.”

There have been more than 170 complaints of cybercrime against women this year in Punjab, the Federal Investigation Agency says. No figures are available for the remaining three provinces.

None of the cases was successfully prosecuted because women usually reached a compromise with the suspect, said Syed Shahid Hassan, an official with the cybercrime office in Lahore, where 30 employees work full-time.

Since police rarely act when women are harassed online, few cases are reported, activists say.

About 32 million of the country’s 180m people use the internet, the group said in its report, mainly via mobile phones. About 12m are on Facebook and some 2m use Twitter, local media say.

In one case documented by Bytes for All, an online hate campaign last year urging the rape and murder of a prominent human rights defender culminated in shots being fired at the woman and her husband.

She received hundreds of threats and the addresses of her family were posted online, along with pictures of her and her daughter.

“She suffered nightmares of being raped, of family members being harmed because of her,” the group said.

Facebook took down the pages, but had to do so again when they were posted by a different user, the group said, and Twitter took a month to deal with her complaint.

Twitter declined to comment on specific cases but says it took tough steps last year to protect privacy and tackle abuse.

Facebook is “passionate” about protecting users, says its content policy director Monika Bickert, who formerly worked at the US Justice Department to target sex traffickers and crimes against children.

“My background has given me an appreciation of how serious this issue is,” Ms Bickert said. But the woman is unlikely to get justice, as police have lost all the evidence, and the sole witness has died.

In another case that spotlights the limitations of police, a 14-year-old girl was blackmailed into submitting to repeated incidents of gang rape after her boyfriend threatened to post online a video he had secretly shot of the couple together.

The slight, shy girl said she was too ashamed to tell her family and gave into her abuser’s demands.

Ms Bukhari’s investigation showed police got the girl’s age wrong and did not charge her abusers with statutory rape.

“She’s 18,” one police officer said, but admitted he had not looked at school records to ascertain her age or searched for evidence of the abuse online.

Though the case is nearly two years old, authorities have not asked Facebook for evidence, the girl’s lawyer said. The site said it would investigate if the rape video proved to have been posted on its pages.

Twitter and Facebook had made it easier to report abuse but more needed to be done, said Ms Bukhari.

“The companies are responding a bit better to women in the West,” she said. “But voices in other countries are not being heard with as much seriousness and that puts women in danger.”

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2014

Footprints: Hindus in no man’s land

Hasan Mansoor

“I WILL never go back to India, but sooner or later I’ll also leave this place,” says Mahesh Kumar, who is in his mid-40s, as he spares me a moment while attending to customers at his bustling general store in the Hindu mohalla. This is in Thul, a small town in Jacobabad district that takes its name from the Sindhi word for ‘stupa’.

“I WILL never go back to India, but sooner or later I’ll also leave this place,” says Mahesh Kumar, who is in his mid-40s, as he spares me a moment while attending to customers at his bustling general store in the Hindu mohalla. This is in Thul, a small town in Jacobabad district that takes its name from the Sindhi word for ‘stupa’.

Present-day Thul bears the remnants of a decaying European township. Residents here tell me stirring stories of the resilience of Hindus and Muslims who came to each other’s rescue during the devastating floods of 2010 that inundated every village in the area.

Know more: How are the Hindus facing Hindutva?

Back then, they were able to save the town’s physical boundaries. But today, they are finding it difficult to maintain this town’s pluralistic religious ethos. The Hindu community that once constituted nearly half the population is now dwindling by the day. With increasing religious intolerance, kidnappings and forced conversions of teenage Hindu girls, abduction of Hindu traders for ransom and desecration of temples have forced many to migrate to India and elsewhere. Community leaders say that hundreds of families have left.

People leave to seek a better life. They want to build the lives they have envisioned for themselves and their families. Kumar and other Pakistani Hindus had hoped that this would be the case when they moved to India last year.

He and his family, including his wife and two sons, fabricated a reason to visit India, declaring to officialdom that they were going on a pilgrimage. Once they obtained the visa, they took a train journey to Lahore, entered Amritsar and reached Bhopal where some of their relatives were settled.

“But problems are not resolved through migration,” says Kumar. “In fact, as we discovered, the challenges began once we arrived in India. Our relatives were kind and helped us initially. But I met several Hindus from Sindh whose applications had been pending for many years. My mind was plagued with questions. What if we don’t get the nationality? What will become of us? Even though I was frustrated by the thought of this long-drawn-out process, I decided to be practical and returned to Thul within three months. I bought my shop back and have resumed my earlier life,” he says.

A similar account is narrated to me by a Hindu rice trader who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “My family and I moved to Indore in 2011 where my relatives have been living for a long time,” says he, a stocky man in his early 50s. “I invested in a shop and was managing to earn a living but we couldn’t reconcile with the anti-Pakistani sentiment of the locals. My children couldn’t get admission to schools because they lacked the necessary documents. If there was any trouble in the neighbourhood, we were questioned because we were Pakistani. Once I reprimanded a group of rowdy teenagers and the locals ganged up against me. This left me disheartened and so we decided to come back.” The rice trader returned to Thul early this year.

Ravi Dawani, the secretary general of the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, calls Pakistani Hindus “stateless people” who are “Pakistanis in India and Hindus in Pakistan”. He says quite a few Hindus who had earlier migrated to India are now returning in increasing numbers.

“Most go to cities such as Ahmedabad, Raipur, Indore, Bhopal and Pune, but apart from a few resourceful families, others face immense hardship,” says Dawani. “They remain insecure as Pakistanis, are discriminated against in jobs and school admissions, and get nationality after decades of ordeal.”

Citing figures provided by the Indian home ministry, the All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat says that between January 2013 and June this year, 3,753 Pakistanis surrendered their passports and obtained long-term visas (LTV) for India that permit a once-a-year visit to Pakistan. Since January 2011, 1,854 Hindus belonging to Sindh have been given Indian nationality.

Shahnaz Sheedi, from the NGO South Asia Partnership Pakistan that works on minority issues, says non-Muslims formed a quarter of Pakistan’s population when the country came into being; now, they account for just four per cent. “Most non-Muslims have migrated to India. Those few who remain behind live in terror,” she says. “They are denied many basic rights, and treated even by the state as second-class citizens or even worse.”

I am not surprised when Kumar tells me that he continues to seek a place where his family can live a better life, preferably in his own country. “I will leave Thul and perhaps go to Karachi or Hyderabad,” he muses. “These cities are far more open to all kinds of communities. No one is bothered about your religion. And what is more satisfying than not having to leave the country of your birth?”

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

IS militants in Syria attacked

Reuters

BEIRUT: US warplanes attacked Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, in raids that a group monitoring the war said killed civilians as well as jihadist fighters.

BEIRUT: US warplanes attacked Islamic State targets in Syria overnight, in raids that a group monitoring the war said killed civilians as well as jihadist fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strikes hit mills and grain storage areas in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, in an area controlled by Islamic State, killing at least two civilian workers.

Strikes on a building on a road leading out of the town also killed a number of Islamic State fighters, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory which gathers information from sources in Syria.

At the Mursitpinar border crossing with Turkey, scores of young men were returning to Syria saying they would join the fight.

More refugees were fleeing in the opposite direction.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

New Afghan president sworn in

Reuters

KABUL: Afghanistan inaugurated its first new president in a decade on Monday, swearing in technocrat Ashraf Ghani to head a power-sharing government just as the withdrawal of most foreign troops presents a crucial test.

KABUL: Afghanistan inaugurated its first new president in a decade on Monday, swearing in technocrat Ashraf Ghani to head a power-sharing government just as the withdrawal of most foreign troops presents a crucial test.

The first democratic handover of power in Afghan history has been far from smooth: the deal for a unity government was cobbled together after months of deadlock over a vote in which both Mr Ghani and opponent Mr Abdullah Abdullah claimed victory.

Illustrating problems facing the new president, a suicide bomber killed seven people at a security checkpoint near Kabul airport just before Mr Ghani was sworn in, a government official said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Later, ending months of uncertainty over the future US role in Afghanistan, the US embassy announced Ghani would on Tuesday sign a security agreement with the United States allowing a small contingent of troops to remain.

In his inaugural speech, Mr Ghani appealed to Taliban and other militants to join peace talks and put an end to more than a decade of violence. Thousands of Afghans are killed each year in the insurgency.

“Security is a main demand of our people, and we are tired of this war,” Mr Ghani said. “I am calling on the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami to prepare for political negotiations.”

Hezb-i-Islami is an Islamist faction loosely allied with the Taliban.

Mr Ghani also vowed to crack down on rampant corruption and called for cooperation within the coalition government.

“A national unity government is not about sharing power, but about working together,” Mr Ghani said in his speech that lasted nearly an hour.

But already there have been signs of tension in the fragile coalition. A dispute over office space and whether Abdullah would speak at the inauguration led to threats his camp would boycott Monday’s ceremony, an Abdullah aide said, adding it was resolved after late-night meetings with the US ambassador.

The inauguration marks the end of an era with the departure of President Hamid Karzai, the only leader Afghans have known since a US-led invasion in 2001 overthrew the Taliban who had given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.

Mr Ghani’s first act after being sworn in was to sign a decree creating the post of chief executive. Abdullah was sworn in to that job moments later, and he made a speech before Mr Ghani, a departure from the original programme.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Legality of ballot paper can’t be questioned: ECP

Iftikhar A. Khan

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has asserted that the validity of a ballot paper issued in accordance with procedures prescribed in the law and the votes polled cannot be questioned.

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has asserted that the validity of a ballot paper issued in accordance with procedures prescribed in the law and the votes polled cannot be questioned.

“The legality of all ballot papers issued and votes cast remains protected unless established otherwise at a competent forum,” said a fact-sheet prepared by the commission in response to controversies relating to the 2013 elections.

The fact-sheet was shared with the parliamentary committee on electoral reforms on Monday with the consent of majority of its members.

ECP Secretary Ishtiak Ahmad Khan told the committee at a meeting presided over by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar that the decision to obtain thumb impression with magnetised ink on the electoral rolls which carried the photograph of each voter had been taken to preclude the possibility of impersonation and to ensure transparency.

“If some of the thumb impressions could not be verified, it would not affect the validity of the votes cast,” he said.

He said the reason for inability of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) to read some thumbprints could be that they were not properly made. “If an impression cannot be read by the computer, it does not mean that the vote is bogus.”

Mr Khan said the thumb impression was taken on the counterfoil of the ballot paper and the voter’s CNIC number was also noted on it and it was a legal requirement. The requirement of magnetised ink was meant to be an additional administrative measure.

He said the ECP was now working on the use of biometric system in the next elections and had proposed necessary legislation for the purpose.

Director General (data warehouse) Nadra Muzaffar Hussain said thumbprints with normal ink could also be read if the impression had been properly taken. He said no thumbprint had been declared unverified by Nadra. “These were just unreadable impressions for technical reasons.”

The ECP secretary said that in India the entire polling staff had been placed under the administrative control of the election commission. The ECP had also proposed amendment to the law on the same lines before the 2013 general elections and sought powers to penalise district returning officers and returning officers and other polling staff who in any manner tried to influence the election results or violated the law, but it could not be realised.

Mr Khan rejected a perception that the number of rejected votes in the last elections was abnormally high. The number was higher than in previous polls because registered voters and turnout were higher this time, he said.

Farooq Naek of the PPP asked the ECP secretary who possessed the unused ballot papers and when told that they were lying in the district treasury, he remarked: “This is law of the rule and not the rule of law.”

Mr Naek said the storage of vital documents in district treasury meant that they were in the custody of the government. The unused ballot papers must be in possession of the ECP, he said.

Managing Director of the Printing Corporation of Pakistan (PCP) Izhar Hussain Shamim said it was not for the first time that private experts had been hired for numbering ballot papers.

He said 48 people had been sent to the PCP, but 14 of them were found not fit for the job for being underage and the remaining 34 performed the task. He rejected the allegation about getting additional ballot papers printed from Urdu Bazar.

The ECP also rejected an allegation that extra ballot papers had been printed and distributed on May 9, 2013, in five divisions of Punjab. The fact-sheet says: “It is a matter of record that in all these five divisions, almost 100 per cent of the ballot papers had already been distributed to the returning officers by May 9, who had carried out bulk breaking of these ballot papers and prepared the sealed bags containing ballot papers for handing over to the presiding officers a day before the polls (May 10). It was therefore practically impossible to print and distribute extra ballot papers to the returning officers for putting them into already sealed bags…”

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Modi meets Netanyahu

Masood Haider

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a New York hotel and pledged to “boost cooperation in the most substantive interaction between the two countries’ leaders in 11 years”.

NEW YORK: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a New York hotel and pledged to “boost cooperation in the most substantive interaction between the two countries’ leaders in 11 years”.

Mr Netanyahu said that he was ‘delighted’ to meet Mr Modi and invited him to visit Israel, in what would be a first for an Indian prime minister.

“I believe that if we work together, we can do so with benefits for both our peoples and well beyond,” he said.

“We are very excited by the prospects of greater and greater ties with India. We think the sky’s the limit,” Netanyahu said, describing the countries as “ancient civilisations” that are also democracies.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Hong Kong police use tear gas, batons to disperse protesters

Reuters

HONG KONG: Police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protests here on Sunday and baton-charged a crowd blocking a key road in the government district in defiance of official warnings against illegal demonstrations.

HONG KONG: Police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse pro-democracy protests here on Sunday and baton-charged a crowd blocking a key road in the government district in defiance of official warnings against illegal demonstrations.

Chaos had engulfed the city’s Admiralty district as chanting protesters converged on police barricades surrounding more demonstrators who had earlier launched a “new era” of civil disobedience to pressure Beijing into granting full democracy.

Police, in lines five deep in places and wearing helmets and gas masks, used pepper spray against activists and shot tear gas into the air. The crowds fled several hundred yards, scattering their umbrellas and hurling abuse at police “cowards”.

The demonstrators regrouped and returned however, and by early evening tens of thousands of protesters were thronging streets, including outside the prominent Pacific Place shopping mall that leads towards the Central financial district.

“If today I don’t stand out, I will hate myself in future,” said taxi driver Edward Yeung, 55, as he swore at police on the frontline. “Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one.”

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a formula known as “one country, two systems” that guaranteed a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China. Universal suffrage was set as an eventual goal.

But last month Beijing rejected demands for people to freely choose the city’s next leader, prompting threats from activists to shut down Central in what is being seen as the most tenacious civil disobedience action since Britain handed over its former colony.

China wants to limit elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.

Police in full riot equipment later fired repeated rounds of tear gas to clear some of the roads in Admiralty and pushed the crowds towards Central. Health authorities later said some 30 people needed treatment.

Police had not used tear gas in Hong Kong since breaking up protests by South Korean farmers against the World Trade Organisation in 2005.

“We will fight until the end… we will never give up,” said Peter Poon, a protester in his 20s, adding that they might have to make a temporary retreat through the night.

Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying had earlier pledged “resolute” action against the protest movement, known as Occupy Central with Love and Peace.

“The police are determined to handle the situation appropriately in accordance with the law,” Leung said, less than two hours before the police charge began.

A spokesperson for China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office added that the central government fully supported Hong Kong’s handling of the situation “in accordance with the law”.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Russia calls for in-depth study to examine conflict between Arabs and Israel

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS: The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov, said on Saturday the United States and its Western allies were unable to change their cold war “genetic code” and said US should abandon its claims of “eternal uniqueness”.

UNITED NATIONS: The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov, said on Saturday the United States and its Western allies were unable to change their cold war “genetic code” and said US should abandon its claims of “eternal uniqueness”.

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Lavrov said the grave threat posed by Islamic State (IS) “requires a comprehensive approach if we want to eradicate its root causes”.

The IS, formerly known as ISIS, is just a part of the problem.

“We propose to launch under the auspices of the UN Security Council an in-depth study on the extremist and terrorist threats in all their aspects across the MENA area. The integrated approach implies also that the longstanding conflicts should be examined, primarily between Arab nations and Israel.

“The absence of settlement of the Palestinian issue over several decades remains, as it is widely recognised as one of the main factors of instability in the region that helps the extremists to recruit more and more new Jihadists.”

He decried Western support for the foes of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. “The struggle against terrorists in the territory of Syria should be structured in cooperation with the Syrian government which clearly stated its readiness to join it,” he added.

“We warned against a temptation to make allies with almost anybody who proclaimed himself an enemy of [Syrian President] Assad: be it Al Qaeda, Jabhat an Nusra and other ‘fellow travellers’ seeking the change of regime, including ISIS, which today is in the focus of our attention.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

S. Arabia calls for sustained campaign against terrorists

The Newspaper’s Correspondent

UNITED NATIONS: Without appearing before the world audience, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said in a written statement that the war against extremists in the Middle East might take years and must not stop before all terrorist organisations were eliminated.

UNITED NATIONS: Without appearing before the world audience, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said in a written statement that the war against extremists in the Middle East might take years and must not stop before all terrorist organisations were eliminated.

Saud Al Faisal’s speech was distributed to member states and considered as read in which he called for more decisive policies and decisions to fight terrorism.

“We face a very dangerous situation today. Terrorism has evolved from cells to armies and from threatening specific spots to nations,” he said.

“The war on terror requires serious and continuous work that may go on for years, and must not stop at partial victories against limited organisations,” he said.

“We must continue until all terrorist organisations are destroyed, wherever they may be.”

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Police officers shot at in troubled US city

AFP

WASHINGTON: Two police officers were shot at, leaving one wounded, in the city of Ferguson, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen triggered race riots and national outrage.

WASHINGTON: Two police officers were shot at, leaving one wounded, in the city of Ferguson, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teen triggered race riots and national outrage.

Saint Louis County Police Department spokesman Brian Schellman said a bullet struck one officer on foot patrol in his left arm around 9.10pm on Saturday.

The officer had been conducting a business check at the Ferguson Community Centre when he noticed the suspect and tried to ask him why he was there. The suspect then ran away.

“The officer initiated a foot pursuit of the subject. During the foot pursuit, the subject spun towards the officer armed with a handgun, and fired shots at the officer,” Mr Schellman said in a statement.

“The officer returned fire at the suspect, however there is no indication at this time that the suspect was struck by return gunfire from the officer.”

A police search failed to turn up the suspect who was still on the loose.

In neighbouring St Louis, an off-duty police officer was shot at by an unknown number of assailants while driving his own car on a highway shortly after midnight.

The officer, who sustained minor injuries from broken glass but did not appear to have suffered gunshot wounds, did not return fire.

“It is unclear at this time if the officer was targeted or if this was a random act of violence,” Mr Schellman said.

Ferguson has seen large protests take place since Michael Brown, 18, was shot dead on August 9 by a white police officer.

The college-bound teen was shot at least six times by police officer Darren Wilson and his body was left in the street for several hours before it was removed.

Violence rocked Ferguson — a St Louis suburb of 21,000 with an African-American majority and an overwhelmingly white police department and town council — prompting Missouri Governor Jay Nixon to briefly call in the National Guard to quell protests.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Footprints: Season’s end

Aurangzaib Khan

THEY are setting out, the shepherds. To the cities they go, trudging the winding road along the Kunhar River, its frothy torrent contained between sombre peaks. The flocks shift shape like amoeba as errant sheep and goats break with the herd, curiously nosing the grassy edges of the road.

THEY are setting out, the shepherds. To the cities they go, trudging the winding road along the Kunhar River, its frothy torrent contained between sombre peaks. The flocks shift shape like amoeba as errant sheep and goats break with the herd, curiously nosing the grassy edges of the road.

It is only days before Eidul Azha and the road is long. As they make slow progress to the lowlands, shepherds plod past men packing potatoes in dusty sacks. Others are making green piles of corncobs, freshly culled from the terraced fields.

Like most dwellers of mountains, the locals in Naran — a popular mountain resort in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — follow a seasonal cycle shuttling between here and the highlands. Busy beavers, they work hard during the summer to sustain themselves in the winter, when the land freezes over.

When the snows thaw in the summer, they return to the valley in anticipation of tourists and farming. Shutters go up on hotels and shops that stay closed through the freezing winter. The town teems with tourists that look to the mountains to escape the heat of the plains. Trekkers pitch camps, on their way to explore peaks and passes in the Himalayan, Karakoram and Hindu Kush mountain ranges. The town market comes alive as folks flow in from cities in the “tourist season” that begins around June 1, peaks in August and ends in September. Something unusual happened this season though.

“The tourist traffic in Naran peaks around Aug 14 because of the holiday,” says Sadaqat Ali Khan, assistant manager at the hotel run by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC). “We usually have 90 to 100 per cent occupancy around the time. It is like a fairground here. This year, the place was sunsaan (abandoned).”

The season started sluggishly, what with Ramazan keeping people away between June and July. Tourists trickled in after Eidul Fitr but then the Pakistan Awami Tehreek and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf announced sit-ins in Islamabad, causing panic among people who left in a hurry, afraid the roads would close down.

“Within days, the occupancy fell from 100pc to nothing,” says Khan. “There were no new reservations. The existing ones were cancelled when people changed their plans due to political unrest. Those who were already here left and others didn’t come. We lost between four and five million rupees to the dharnas in Islamabad.”

Came August and even Ayubia and Nathia Gali — hill resorts that are more accessible compared to the remote Kaghan and Naran valleys — lost tourists. The Galliat draws day trippers throughout the week but far fewer people turned up this summer, according to Khan. “In Ayubia, the hotels start filling up around Aug 8,” he says. “This year, the occupancy registered a sharp decline around those dates.”

The walled PTDC compound, with 58 red-roofed log cabins and cottages among groves of walnut and pine trees, is one of the many hotels that crowd Naran. But it is not just hotels that stand to lose if tourists don’t turn up. All over the northern areas, where the literacy rate is low and jobs non-existent, the seasonal spurt in the tourism and hospitality industry throws up employment opportunities for the local youth and households.

“For most people here, the only source of income is tourism,” says Haji Umer Din who manages the Batakundi Hotel in a valley that goes by the same name, 14km further up the road. “We have to pay salaries to staff and workers. This year we couldn’t cover our costs, leave alone make a profit. We only did business for five days after Eid and nothing since.”

Standing atop a green hill, with a view of the emerald waters of the Kunhar snaking through the valley, the Batakundi Hotel is surrounded by grassy land where campers and trekkers pitch tents. Around August, when the tourist rush peaks, the hotel falls short of space. Visitors have to sleep in vehicles. It is a bit like an adventure festival, with hundreds of people arriving and leaving for mountain safaris.

“The landscape turned desolate this year, the roads empty,” says Umer Din, a lone figure haunting the verdant spaces around the hotel. With not a single guest in sight, there is nothing much for him or his staff to do.

With September ends the tourist season in Naran. In the town market, jeeps stand in a long line, waiting for tourists to go up to Saiful Maluk Lake. Shopkeepers sit waiting in shops stocked with fruit and vegetables. But along the Karakoram Highway that connects Pakistan and China more people are leaving than arriving as winter approaches.

Already, in places where clouds coagulate over empty valleys, the world turns medieval. The mountains, dark sentinels, loom over the Kunhar River, a gushing streak of silver tearing through the shadows. Their pine-laden heads, quiet and mysterious, echo with the forlorn caws of ravens.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

US, allies widen air strikes against IS in Syria

AFP

DAMASCUS: The US-led coalition widened its air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria on Saturday as British warplanes took off on anti-militant missions over neighbouring Iraq.

DAMASCUS: The US-led coalition widened its air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria on Saturday as British warplanes took off on anti-militant missions over neighbouring Iraq.

Seven targets were hit in Syria, the Pentagon said, including an IS building and two armed vehicles at the border crossing in the besieged Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab, also known as Kobane.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said IS rockets also hit the town for the first time since the militant assault began on September 16, wounding 12 people.

Other targets in Syria included IS vehicles and buildings near Al-Hasakeh, as well as an IS command and control facility near Minbej, US Central Command said.

Meanwhile, Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 combat jets armed with laser-guided bombs took off from Britain’s RAF Akrotiri base on Cyprus for missions over Iraq but returned after seven hours without having used their weapons.

“On this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft,” a defence ministry spokesman in London said.

Belgium and Denmark have also approved plans to join France and the Netherlands in launching air raids against the militants in Iraq, allowing Washington to focus on the more complex operation in Syria, where IS group is based.

Washington warned that the militants could not be defeated in Syria by air power alone, saying that up to 15,000 “moderate” rebels would need to be trained.

Saturday was the second time US-led air strikes had been reported around Ain al-Arab since the IS advance began.

Senior Syrian Kurdish official Newaf Khalil said the latest strikes hit the IS-held town of Ali Shar, east of Ain al-Arab, and destroyed several IS tanks.

Saturday’s strikes came a day after hundreds of Kurdish fighters crossed from Turkey to reinforce Ain al-Arab’s Kurdish militia defenders.

Coalition aircraft also pounded the Euphrates valley city of Raqa, which the militants have made the headquarters of the “caliphate” they declared in June straddling swathes of Iraq and Syria.

“At least 31 explosions were heard in Raqa city and its surroundings,” said the Britain-based Observatory.

The US and Arab allies began air strikes against IS in northern and eastern Syria on Tuesday, more than a month after Washington launched its air campaign against the militants in Iraq.

Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria, but acted after the militants captured more territory and committed widespread atrocities, including beheading three Western hostages.

A US defence official said on Friday that the Syrian mission is now similar to US-led air raids against IS in Iraq, with “near continuous” combat sorties.

Washington is also planning to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels as part of the effort, although the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said between 12,000 and 15,000 men would be required to recapture “lost territory” in Syria.

Gen Dempsey said defeating IS would take more than air strikes and that “a ground component” was an important aspect of the US-led campaign.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Afghan villagers hang four Taliban

AFP

KABUL: Afghan villagers hanged four Taliban fighters from a tree after hundreds of militants launched a major offensive, officials said on Saturday, as security forces fought to recapture ground in the eastern province of Ghazni.

KABUL: Afghan villagers hanged four Taliban fighters from a tree after hundreds of militants launched a major offensive, officials said on Saturday, as security forces fought to recapture ground in the eastern province of Ghazni.

About 100 policemen, soldiers and civilians have been killed in clashes over the past week, with the Taliban beheading 12 of the victims, according to provincial officials.

This summer’s fighting season has seen worsening violence, with the Taliban pushing forward in several provinces as the government was deadlocked for months over disputed election results.

“In one village, local people hanged four fighters from a tree after capturing them as the army and soldiers made advances,” Ghazni deputy governor Mohammad Ali Ahmadi said.

“The Taliban have holed up in homes and are using locals as human shields. About 100 fighters are still in the main bazaar, but we hope to break their frontline soon.”

Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said it believed provincial officials were exaggerating the scale of the offensive, probably to encourage extra reinforcements to be sent to the remote region.

“It is the officials in western Ghazni who normally hugely overstate what is happening,” Isaf deputy commander General Carsten Jacobson told reporters. “The picture that we have is by far not as grim (as local officials say).”

Gen Carsten said Isaf was assisting Afghan forces with reconnaissance, and he rejected reports that some militants in Ghazni were aligned to the Islamic State (IS) group active in Syria and Iraq.

“We haven’t seen so far any credible proof — and we are watching that, of course, very carefully — of real manifestation of IS here in Afghanistan,” he said.

The attacks in the last week have focused on Ajristan district in Ghazni province, after recent Taliban offensives in Kandahar, Helmand and Logar.

Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said: “We have sent special forces, police and army as part of reinforcements to the district, and launched operations against the Taliban. “The villages will be cleared of the insurgents very soon.”

The Taliban issued a statement denying the beheadings in Ajristan, adding that “checkpoints around the district centre are falling one after the other”.

“Enemy claims that they have pushed back the mujahideen from their positions in Ghazni are complete lies,” the English-language statement said.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Editorial News

Price of inaction

Editorial

PAKISTAN’S drift towards international isolation is only matched by the state’s denial of this truth.

PAKISTAN’S drift towards international isolation is only matched by the state’s denial of this truth.

On Wednesday, the joint US-India statement issued at the end of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington D.C. contained direct language seemingly focused on Pakistan.

It is worth reproducing the relevant part of the text: “The [US and Indian] leaders stressed the need for joint and concerted efforts, including the dismantling of safe havens for terrorist and criminal networks, to disrupt all financial and tactical support for networks such as Al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, the D-Company and the Haqqanis. They reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice.”

On the same day, the US Treasury department announced sanctions against three Pakistanis, including Fazlur Rehman Khalil, and two Pakistan-based entities for links to the LeT and Harkatul Mujahideen, the foremost of the Kashmir-orientated militant groups in the country. Certainly India has its own reasons for trying to build an anti-Pakistan alliance, but our refusal to address militancy concerns has created more space for Delhi’s anti-Pakistan rhetoric.

Take the official reaction by the Foreign Office yesterday in which the FO spokesperson focused on a UN terrorist watchlist and denied that the US move is “binding” on Pakistan.

Therein lies the problem: while Pakistan continues to baulk at acting against certain militant groups, the countries under threat from those organisations are moving closer to each other in order to counter the threat.

Consider that the joint US-India statement also refers to “dismantling” terrorist safe havens: is that an ominous sign that however remote the possibility at the moment, the US and India have begun contemplating the possibility of targeted counterterrorist operations on Pakistani soil at some point in the future?

Surely, that would be nothing short of a catastrophe for Pakistan with unknowable consequences for peace and security in the region. Yet, the country’s national security and foreign policy apparatus remains indifferent to or unaware of the storm that appears to be brewing.

In truth, many of Pakistan’s problems are self-inflicted. The best that has ever been managed when it comes to pro-Kashmir militant groups is to put the state’s sponsorship of jihad in cold storage, as was done by Musharraf in the early part of the last decade. But, a decade on, the security establishment seems bent on continuing the policy of politically mainstreaming the leadership of groups such as the LeT, HuM and now even the Punjabi Taliban.

That is what allows Hafiz Saeed and Fazlur Rehman Khalil to address rallies, appear routinely on TV and to go on organising their ranks and developing their organisations with a brazenness and confidence that has the rest of the world looking on with alarm. Truly, the outside world can legitimately ask why the Mumbai-related Rawalpindi trials are stuck in limbo. The signals from D.C. are clear: if Pakistan doesn’t act, others will.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Unfair protections

Editorial

THE Competition Commission of Pakistan is back in the news with an important order against three state-owned construction companies.

THE Competition Commission of Pakistan is back in the news with an important order against three state-owned construction companies.

When they were formed, the National Logistics Cell, the Frontier Works Organisation and the National Construction Limited, were allowed an exemption from furnishing various types of sureties for work they undertook for the federal and provincial governments.

Their competitors in the private sector, by contrast, have been required to furnish these sureties, ranging from bank guarantees to secure performance bonds and mobilisation advances, and retention money adjustment for example. Since such sureties tie up large amounts of the contractor’s funds, private parties say these exemptions give the three state-owned companies a huge unfair advantage, and place “burdensome terms” on their private-sector competitors.

The CCP finds that the exemptions were originally granted to “allow growth under protection to achieve economies of scale”. Since their establishment decades ago, the economy has opened up to encourage greater private-sector competition but the exemptions have remained in place. The CCP finds that the three state-owned companies “no longer need protections in the form of exemptions”, keeping in mind “their ability to compete abroad”.

It is heartening to see the CCP asserting itself in an important matter. Providing a level playing field for all players is a key function for the government. Since the exemptions distort the market in the key construction sector of the economy, they create barriers for entry for other players, the CCP says. And since hundreds of billions of rupees flow through government contracts for construction in any given fiscal year, the size of the market that private parties are being discouraged from entering is enormous.

Of particular concern is the fact that two of these companies enjoying exemptions come under the Ministry of Defence. The defence production sector has long enjoyed exemption from the structural adjustment measures undertaken by the government over the past three decades.

If companies in this sector are enjoying profitable years while the rest of the public sector sags under the weight of accumulating losses, it is because exemptions of this sort have been granted in many other forms as well. Perhaps the CCP should look into similar uncompetitive practices in other state-owned enterprises in the defence production sector, which has escaped the brunt of budget cuts and subsidy rollbacks that other SOEs have had to suffer over the decades.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Wazirabad scuffle

Editorial

THE anti-government ‘go Nawaz go’ slogan seems to have gone viral, thanks largely to the campaign being run by the PTI and PAT in Islamabad.

THE anti-government ‘go Nawaz go’ slogan seems to have gone viral, thanks largely to the campaign being run by the PTI and PAT in Islamabad.

Over the past few days, we have come across numerous reports of the slogan being raised in different forums, usually where members of the PML-N are present.

Understandably, the N-League is extremely displeased with the frequent repetition of the stinging phrase. Patience in the party’s ranks is wearing thin and matters came to a head at an event in Wazirabad in Punjab’s Gujranwala district, where the prime minister had come to distribute cheques to flood victims.

The situation turned ugly when PML-N workers, reportedly led by a provincial lawmaker, thrashed PTI supporters for raising the slogan after Nawaz Sharif had left the venue.

As per remarks on television, Taufeeq Butt, the MPA in question, said similar treatment would be meted out to protesters who raised the dreaded slogan again.

Deplorable as the violence is, what is totally unacceptable is the PML-N leadership’s apparent defence of the brutal tactics its activists applied to silence their opponents. Tweeting after the incident, Maryam Nawaz appeared to gloat over the ‘performance’ in Wazirabad, warning PTI supporters “not to mess with lions”.

Political dissent is an essential ingredient of democracy. Yet what has been observed about both sides — the government as well as those in Islamabad calling for its departure — is that there is a visible lack of tolerance.

We can question the timing and occasion where slogans are raised, but stamping out dissent through brute force smacks of authoritarianism. A few days ago, another protester raising the ‘go Nawaz go’ slogan was beaten up at a function in Lahore.

Instead of using such methods, protesters can firmly but in a non-violent manner be asked to take their demonstration elsewhere. Meanwhile, party leaders would do well not to encourage any hooliganism in the lower cadres, which could worsen matters. All sides need to use democratic methods to express dissent, as well as to counter it.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Counterterrorism challenges

Editorial

THE National Counter-Terrorism Centre near Kharian, Gujrat, inaugurated by army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday is a good time to raise an old question: what is the civilian-led law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus across the country doing to play its part in the fight against militancy?

THE National Counter-Terrorism Centre near Kharian, Gujrat, inaugurated by army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Tuesday is a good time to raise an old question: what is the civilian-led law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus across the country doing to play its part in the fight against militancy?

Expectedly, the military has talked up its purpose-built facility meant primarily to train army troops, but also foreign troops and local paramilitary and police personnel. While the military does have a legitimate and necessary role in specialised counterterrorism operations, the consensus in the world of anti-terrorism expertise is that dense, urban and built-up environments require civilian-led law-enforcement and intelligence operations.

Consider though the state of that civilian-led apparatus across the provinces. In Punjab, an abortive and ill-advised attempt to create a parallel counterterrorism police force has been followed up with no real reforms of the existing police force.

In Sindh, the operation in Karachi has seen the Rangers play a much bigger role than the police themselves.

In Balochistan, the old problem of so-called A and B areas has left the police irrelevant and operationally confined to a tiny percentage of the province’s land mass.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a strong police leadership freed from the most intense aspects of political interference has restored some morale, but the police force as a whole has been battered and bruised by years of attacks by the Taliban.

In Islamabad, the increased terror threat earlier this year required police from Punjab to be drafted in and, unhappily, Muhammad Sikander, the lone gunman on Jinnah Avenue in August 2013, has come to define the capital territory’s true policing potential.

If a picture of weaknesses — and severe ones — on the civilian front were not dismal enough, the sense of near failure is reinforced by the drift in the policy arena.

Nacta, the much-touted but mostly neglected National Counter-Terrorism Authority, remains in limbo, despite repeated promises by successive governments to re-energise it. The National Internal Security Policy launched with much fanfare by the PML-N government appears to have been forgotten altogether.

Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan, who propelled the creation of the NISP and is principally responsible for its execution, disappears for stretches of time over matters of politics. The revamped and renamed Cabinet Committee on National Security (formerly the Defence Committee of the Cabinet) was launched with much fanfare but has become a victim of civil-military discord and civilian apathy.

Where then is counterterrorism policy to be debated and articulated on the civilian side, much less led operationally by the civilians? Is it any surprise then that the military is seeking to take the lead in yet another area where international experience and logic suggests the civilians ought to be leading? Winning the fight against militancy is as much about the right leadership as it is about the right strategy.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

A new approach?

Editorial

IT could be out-of-the-box thinking, but to what end is unclear at the moment. What one can posit about the Balochistan Assembly’s resolution to approach the Khan of Kalat, Agha Suleman Dawood Khan, to return from self-exile in London and assume a role in restoring peace to Balochistan is that the initiative could mean different things to different people in the province’s fractured political landscape.

IT could be out-of-the-box thinking, but to what end is unclear at the moment. What one can posit about the Balochistan Assembly’s resolution to approach the Khan of Kalat, Agha Suleman Dawood Khan, to return from self-exile in London and assume a role in restoring peace to Balochistan is that the initiative could mean different things to different people in the province’s fractured political landscape.

When the 2013 elections brought moderate nationalists to power in Balochistan, observers deemed it a positive development because the National Party was seen as better placed to address the many problems bedevilling the province, including the insurgency as well as the feelings of extreme alienation that decades of ill-conceived policies had engendered among its people.

Fundamental to any chance of reaching out to disaffected Baloch was that the establishment abandon its unconscionable kill-and-dump policy to crush the separatist movement. However, the powers that be have continued to follow the same playbook, in the process undermining the Balochistan government.

From his weak position, Dr Malik’s oft-stated intention to reach out to the leadership of militant groups was scarcely viable.

His support for the resolution could be another attempt in this direction, taking into account the Khan of Kalat’s standing in Balochistan, both in terms of tribal hierarchy as well as for historical reasons. The latter go back to the pre-Partition days when the princely state of Kalat, then ruled by the present Khan’s grandfather, held a pre-eminent position in the tribal confederacy that included much of central and southern Balochistan.

However, Dr Malik may be clutching at straws, for many insurgents in the province consider the Kalat rulers as ‘traitors’ to the Baloch cause for having signed the Instrument of Accession to join Pakistan in 1948.

As such, the militants may see overtures to Dawood Khan as further evidence of the state’s strategy of using proxies to further its ends. Indeed, the establishment has much to gain if the Khan can be persuaded to return; it is not in Pakistan’s interest for other regional players to be able to approach him or for him to go to the ICJ with Baloch grievances as he vowed to at a grand jirga convened after Akbar Bugti’s murder in 2006.

Whatever the motives behind this recent resolution, the Khan’s return could be a catalyst for starting a crucial dialogue on important issues; that in itself would be a welcome change from the present suffocating impasse.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Pak-Afghan ties: the road ahead

Editorial

THE history is so long and fraught and the problems so complex that the start of the Ashraf Ghani presidency in Afghanistan cannot immediately be seen as a new beginning in ties between Islamabad and Kabul.

THE history is so long and fraught and the problems so complex that the start of the Ashraf Ghani presidency in Afghanistan cannot immediately be seen as a new beginning in ties between Islamabad and Kabul.

There are though fresh possibilities now that the Hamid Karzai era is over. Mr Karzai in his final speech in office exemplified quite how impossible it had become to hope for major breakthroughs in ties while he was still around: the rancour and vitriol Mr Karzai directed at Pakistan was neither new nor surprising and had thoroughly poisoned all facets of the relationship.

President Ghani, meanwhile, is seen as a pragmatist who is aware that peace and stability in the region will depend on Pak-Afghan relations. Of course, with a power-sharing agreement in place in Afghanistan, it remains to be seen to what extent the Abdullah Abdullah camp — especially the hawks in the erstwhile Northern Alliance — impacts foreign policy and the national security choices of Afghanistan.

Despite Pakistan’s reaching out several years ago, the remnants of the Northern Alliance, so influential in Kabul during the Karzai era, never really warmed to the idea. Much then could depend on how domestic politics between the Ghani and Abdullah camps shape Afghan policy towards Pakistan.

The immediate priority for both the Pakistani and Afghan sides should be to reduce the acute tensions along the border between eastern Afghanistan and Fata. Where security forces on both sides have targeted sites across the border, there needs to be an immediate cessation. But the problem is really one of sanctuaries and cross-border attacks — so long as militants on both sides of the border are present and active, the risk of an escalation between Pakistani and Afghan security forces remains very real.

Eventually, the two countries, if they are ever to deal with the problem on a long-term basis, will need to move towards better border management in a way that makes it less porous but still accessible for legitimate people traffic. Yet, that surely does not mean putting everything else on hold, especially intelligence cooperation and re-energising military-to-military contacts across the border to make clashes less likely.

From there, there are the truly big issues. Pakistan facilitating an internal Afghan reconciliation between the government and the Afghan Taliban would be at the top of that list and the one measure against which much of Islamabad’s intentions will be judged in Kabul and internationally.

The protracted Afghan election process has added to lost time so a big gesture may be needed to revive the reconciliation process — one that could be provided by Pakistan. If the goals are kept reasonable but clear and both Pakistani and Afghan sides show they understand the past cannot be repeated, there is a possibility for a shared, better future.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

Militant monks

Editorial

RELIGIOUS zealotry mixed with xenophobic nationalism can create a toxic ideology that has the ability to tear societies and nations apart. And when the state fails to check the growth of groups espousing such ideology at the initial stage, soon enough these outfits become too complex to handle. In both Sri Lanka and Myanmar, over the past few years ultranationalist Buddhist extremist groups — led by monks — have seen their profiles rise as they have campaigned, often violently, against the Muslim minorities in their respective countries. On Tuesday, two extremist groups, Sri Lanka’s Bodu Bala Sena and Myanmar’s 969 movement, signed an accord on the island nation to “protect Buddhism”. Yet the track record of both these groups indicates that the agreement may be about more than just exchanging notes on spiritual matters. Monks from both groups have led anti-Muslim mobs which have looted and plundered at will. For Sri Lanka, this is an especially worrying development as relations between the island nation’s Muslim and Sinhalese Buddhist communities have remained largely peaceful, while the country also faces no known threat from Islamist extremists. Yet if anti-Islam demagogues are allowed to preach hatred, it could lead to reactive radicalisation within the Muslim community. In Myanmar, the sufferings of the Muslim Rohingya are quite well-documented. Though Myanmar’s foreign minister has said the state has started the “verification process” that could lead to granting the Rohingya citizenship, the authorities will have to do far more to rein in Buddhist extremists that often target the Muslim minority.

RELIGIOUS zealotry mixed with xenophobic nationalism can create a toxic ideology that has the ability to tear societies and nations apart. And when the state fails to check the growth of groups espousing such ideology at the initial stage, soon enough these outfits become too complex to handle. In both Sri Lanka and Myanmar, over the past few years ultranationalist Buddhist extremist groups — led by monks — have seen their profiles rise as they have campaigned, often violently, against the Muslim minorities in their respective countries. On Tuesday, two extremist groups, Sri Lanka’s Bodu Bala Sena and Myanmar’s 969 movement, signed an accord on the island nation to “protect Buddhism”. Yet the track record of both these groups indicates that the agreement may be about more than just exchanging notes on spiritual matters. Monks from both groups have led anti-Muslim mobs which have looted and plundered at will. For Sri Lanka, this is an especially worrying development as relations between the island nation’s Muslim and Sinhalese Buddhist communities have remained largely peaceful, while the country also faces no known threat from Islamist extremists. Yet if anti-Islam demagogues are allowed to preach hatred, it could lead to reactive radicalisation within the Muslim community. In Myanmar, the sufferings of the Muslim Rohingya are quite well-documented. Though Myanmar’s foreign minister has said the state has started the “verification process” that could lead to granting the Rohingya citizenship, the authorities will have to do far more to rein in Buddhist extremists that often target the Muslim minority.

In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, the state has been accused of turning a blind eye to the Buddhist extremists’ activities. We in Pakistan know that if demagogues and rabble-rousers are allowed to plant the seeds of hatred, the results can be highly destructive for communal and sectarian harmony. Narrow nationalism cloaked in the guise of religion can spell the death knell for pluralism. That is why both states need to confront the extremist threat before it grows out of control.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Karachi operation

Editorial

ON the face of it, the numbers appear impressive. A briefing on the Karachi operation, given by a Sindh Rangers official to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, stated that the Rangers had conducted 3,696 raids, arrested 6,835 suspects and seized 5,214 weapons during the first year of the initiative.

ON the face of it, the numbers appear impressive. A briefing on the Karachi operation, given by a Sindh Rangers official to the Senate Standing Committee on Interior, stated that the Rangers had conducted 3,696 raids, arrested 6,835 suspects and seized 5,214 weapons during the first year of the initiative.

Although the briefing, which claimed that the operation had wiped out the TTP network in Karachi, was coy on details of the crackdown’s impact on various categories of criminal offences, police officials have often been quoted as saying the operation has brought down crime by 50pc, with the steepest drop in murders committed along political or ethnic lines. But Karachi is complex and Machiavellian, and has multiple stakeholders with often conflicting agendas.

Hence, these claims need to be placed in context to understand the larger picture and gauge whether the gains are sustainable.

While the decline in political/ethnic murders has indeed been marked, developments at home and abroad may have also played a role in reducing friction between political activists inclined to ‘robust’ means of conflict resolution.

For one thing, in the months following the 2013 elections, the main parties in Karachi, perhaps feeling vulnerable with a heavily mandated PML-N asserting its writ at the centre, made attempts to bridge their differences and these efforts culminated in their joining forces to run the province. This has been a fraught year for the MQM anyway with legal problems dogging its leader in London.

Meanwhile, nearly 400 raids on the People’s Amn Committee during the course of the operation have brought down large-scale, gang-related violence in Lyari, but it is relevant to point out that almost as soon as the operation began, the gangs’ top tier leadership fled the area — some, intriguingly, even made it abroad.

As for breaking the back of the TTP in Karachi, the briefing stated that the Rangers had arrested 760 terrorists in 403 raids on militant hideouts, but a cursory glance at newspapers on most days shows that sectarian killers — one faction of whom is said to be closely associated with the TTP — are going about their business without let or hindrance.

Of late, relatives of prominent ulema have also been targeted, indicating a degree of planning which points to the existence of determined, well-organised gangs. Given these realities, it will take nothing less than a holistic approach — involving systemic, far-reaching reforms — to grapple with the criminal landscape of Karachi.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

PTCL suspension

Editorial

SINCE technology dictates and defines everyday life so comprehensively a suspension of the routine is all the more paralysing.

SINCE technology dictates and defines everyday life so comprehensively a suspension of the routine is all the more paralysing.

Following a blaze at a PTCL installation on Sunday, Lahore and some other parts of Punjab found themselves cut off from the world without the technology they had come to take for granted. Thousands of telephones, landlines and some operations by mobile phone companies linked to PTCL went dead and internet services were disrupted.

Consequently, work was severely curtailed in many areas, prominent among them banks, educational institutions, the media industry and IT-related businesses.

The fire incident took place just as the week leading up to Eidul Azha was about to get under way. This is the season when everyone is in a hurry to complete assignments before settling down to enjoy the holiday.

The disruption caused by PTCL added an element of panic to the pre-Eid rush and the flurry of explanations and promises of early resumption of normal operations put forward by the affected organisations did little to ease concerns.

For many who found themselves constrained by the unexpected suspension of communications, the situation was not without irony. How come something that was there to speed up their work was not capable of quickly fixing a fault in its own system?

Questions were raised about the precautions taken at the sensitive premises hit by the fire, and on Monday, there were reports that the city district government of Lahore was looking at forensic evidence to ascertain the cause.

However, even if it was an accident that had taken place despite the best possible measures to prevent one, consumers were justifiably shocked and puzzled at the amount of time it took to restore the system to even a minimum level of functionality. Though some urgent effort was put in to resolve the issues and a few connections were restored faster than the others, the calls are for greater security of the system and a brisker response in case of an emergency.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

Apology and after

Editorial

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s message to party workers and followers is reminiscent of the sentiments of a general who is striving to keep his troops together for the next battle.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s message to party workers and followers is reminiscent of the sentiments of a general who is striving to keep his troops together for the next battle.

In an open letter, he has apologised to those who may have reason to part ways with the PPP and has asked the disillusioned to stay put a while longer, making it incumbent upon himself and Asif Ali Zardari to take some drastic steps towards the party’s revival.

The PPP has not only been reduced to a regional party, more or less confined to Sindh, its support is considered emotionally inspired. It has drawn widespread criticism for not keeping pace with the people who have far more at stake today than backing a political party purely out of their love for the ‘martyrs’ the party has produced.

Declaring one’s intention to take up where Ms Benazir Bhutto left off can only be meaningful if the PPP is willing to back its words with reorganisation along practical, result-oriented lines all over the country.

The old stories about how the PPP once swayed Pakistanis across various divides are now mere opium that can only make those at the party’s helm oblivious to the current realities.

It was easier for the PPP in the 1960s during the years leading to its founding. The repair now is a much more sensitive job, not least because others have been more inventive and mobile than the PPP, and the debate about whether or not they have moved in the right direction is a luxury which Bilawal Bhutto Zardari cannot afford at the moment.

The simple reality is that the people have found themselves choices and a new force to challenge the long-time PPP opponent — the PML-N — that had over all these decades provided an automatic justification for the existence of the PPP. The PTI is a challenge to grapple with. Imran Khan appears to have eaten deep into the PPP support base particularly in Punjab comprising anti-PML-N pockets — and the PPP’s policy of playing the appendage of PML-N is further harming its cause.

To say that apologies are solutions would be as futile as dismissing this message by the PPP chairman as an instrument of surrender.

For whatever it is worth, his letter does provide broad lines of policy and identifies the PPP with the ‘left-wing’ forces. It falls short of stating the obvious about who controls the politics in the country, but at the same time does promise resistance to “right-wing parties” that “appease” the extremists.

For practical reasons, the edgy PPP jiyala would be hoping that these appeasers in the new party rule book would include both the PTI and PML-N. Though this is a dangerous course, this ideological focus is as crucial to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his party’s rise as to the effort to organise at the grass roots.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

A broken system

Editorial

IN Pakistan, one of the major factors contributing to rampant lawlessness is quite simply that criminals don’t get caught. And if they do, weak investigation and prosecution means that soon enough, dangerous individuals are back on the streets.

IN Pakistan, one of the major factors contributing to rampant lawlessness is quite simply that criminals don’t get caught. And if they do, weak investigation and prosecution means that soon enough, dangerous individuals are back on the streets.

In fact, the data collected by the Faisalabad police serves as an eye-opener to indicate just how rotten the system is. Information collected by the district police reportedly shows that over the last five years, around 8,000 suspected criminals have been released for a number of reasons. Some of the suspects were apprehended for alleged involvement in crimes ranging from murder to robbery.

The reasons for their release will be familiar to anyone with an idea of the workings of Pakistan’s law-enforcement and criminal justice systems.

The suspects were let off because witnesses were too afraid to testify, while even investigation officers and judges faced threats. Alarming as the figure seems, considering the moribund state of the law-enforcement and prosecution systems countrywide, the numbers for the district should not be too surprising.

Due to massive holes in the system, the Faisalabad police have resorted to ad hoc measures to detain suspects, such as applying Maintenance of Public Order laws. This comes across as a relatively more tolerable way of keeping suspects behind bars, given that our law enforcers are known to use other, extra-legal methods, to ‘get rid’ of troublesome suspects.

To assess the situation perhaps a similar district-level exercise could be carried out countrywide. In each district, the police should make public the number of suspects released, along with the reasons why. This would give reform efforts benchmark figures to work with.

The next — and more difficult step — involves improving the capability and capacity of police forces to investigate crime. Today, mostly archaic methods — that largely rely on confessions, statements and informers — are used to build a case.

Officials have often cited the need for using forensics to aid investigation efforts, hence it is time noble intentions were transformed into action and scientific investigation techniques introduced at the grass roots. And as the investigation system is modernised, the prosecution system also needs to be overhauled.

The need for effective witness protection programmes has long been highlighted in the country, yet progress is painfully slow. Unless the state ushers in long-lasting changes in the investigation and prosecution systems, it will be unable to provide justice to the people and law and order will continue to plummet.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Confident consumers

Editorial

ALL is not as gloomy as it might appear. Investor confidence might be plummeting and the country’s savings rate may be the lowest in the region.

ALL is not as gloomy as it might appear. Investor confidence might be plummeting and the country’s savings rate may be the lowest in the region.

We might be slipping further in competitive rankings, and the outlook of our credit rating may be hanging by a thread tethered to the IMF. But our consumers are amongst the most confident in the world.

“Pakistani consumers are generally optimistic” finds a report by the research company Nielson. The State Bank’s own consumer confidence index reports a rising score between July last year and this year. Given that wage levels have been stagnant over this time period, while inflation has hovered around 8pc, these results can be a little puzzling.

How are people spending more when they are earning less? The erudite find answers in the parallel economy, the so-called informal sector, which perhaps surged while the rest of the economy barely moved at a rate of 4.1pc. The key word here is ‘perhaps’, because there is no reliable way of knowing for sure what is going on in the informal sector.

But to those less encumbered by the methodological baggage of the erudite, no evidence is required beyond what a pair of eyes and ears can provide.

Perhaps Pakistanis are spending more today because they don’t know what tomorrow will bring. And the less they know about the shape of tomorrow, the more likely they are to use it all up today.

Saving and investment are for fools and squirrels when you live in a present, where tomorrow always falls in a faraway land. Here it’s all about the quick score and flaunting what you have.

Let others worry about sending a mission to Mars; we can simply announce a housing colony up there and start trading plot files right away. So through all the turbulence, let us rejoice over the wind in our sails that has kept us in such fickle stead through the fiercest of storms — and let a million malls blossom.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

No end in sight

Editorial

IT’S a strange kind of impasse the country is trapped in. The PML-N government is trying to limp on from the ongoing crisis, but in a peculiar way: the government appears to think that if it ignores the PTI and PAT protesters, they will disappear in time.

IT’S a strange kind of impasse the country is trapped in. The PML-N government is trying to limp on from the ongoing crisis, but in a peculiar way: the government appears to think that if it ignores the PTI and PAT protesters, they will disappear in time.

Meanwhile, the PTI and PAT have been busy adjusting their anti-government protest strategy, with Imran Khan switching his attention from the sit-in on Constitution Avenue to a travelling protest each week in various parts of the country.

Clearly, the big loser in all of this is the country and any prospect of governance taking centre stage anytime soon. Consider that a summer of turmoil has morphed into an autumn of discord – and still there is no end in sight. Surely, this is not a sustainable scenario for a state and society contending with deep and complicated problems that only keep growing with time.

Part of the problem was and remains the PML-N itself. Even when it attempts to create a veneer of semi-normality, the government seems to be undone by itself.

The UN trip of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last week could have been an opportunity to put forward a confident face, to show that the government is thinking long-term about economic, political and social issues back home. Instead, the trip was lacklustre with little real planning or foresight seeming to have gone into it. Perhaps that was because the trip was not a certainty until the last moment and most work at the UN General Assembly’s annual session is planned weeks and months in advance. But it does betray a larger point about the government’s performance so far: the promise and expectation has been so much higher than actual delivery.

In area after area, be it the power sector or administrative reforms or parliamentary performance, the PML-N simply seems mired in old ways, unable or perhaps unwilling to forcefully move the democratic project ahead. Unhappily, the PML-N still does not appear to understand that as the chief custodian of the democratic project, the onus falls on the party to strengthen democracy and improve governance in a manner that can address the wellspring of discontent among the population.

Yet, for all its shortcomings and placidity, the PML-N is in truth confronted by an opponent who is difficult to contend with.

For all his claims about wanting to rewrite the social contract and to improve governance, Imran Khan’s quest comes down to a single issue: ousting the PML-N from power so that the PTI has another shot at capturing power.

Raging against injustices – of which there are many, pillorying an under-delivering state – which it does, excoriating a government for not truly being democratic in spirit – which it isn’t, is all well and good, but it leaves a fundamental question unanswered: what is Mr Khan’s concrete and measurable plan for change? It’s not even that the PTI-led

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government’s performance has been less than stellar, but that Mr Khan does not even attempt to flesh out how, on what time scale and in which areas reforms would be prioritised and delivered.

Without any of that, how is the PTI any different from the status quo it lambastes?

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Assessing losses

Editorial

A STORY is being propagated that the economy has suffered massive damage due to the protests in Islamabad, and the floods in Punjab.

A STORY is being propagated that the economy has suffered massive damage due to the protests in Islamabad, and the floods in Punjab.

Most recently, the finance secretary appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Revenue, and complained that the economy, the image of the country, investor sentiment and inflation all had been adversely impacted by both events.

Investors have shelved their plans; the rupee had slid from Rs98 to Rs103 to a dollar; the IMF had delayed its tranche; and inflation would probably be fuelled “on account of supply disruption of commodities due to dharnas and rallies” as well as the recent floods. He also touched on the external trade deficit, although it is far from clear how this might be linked to the floods or the protests.

In short, everything was going fine until the floods and the protests came along and upset the apple cart, we are being told. All of these claims strain credulity.

The story should be received with a large dose of scepticism because there is sufficient evidence that the economy was sputtering long before the floods and the protests descended on us. How have the dharnas contributed to inflation, or to supply bottlenecks, except in the opening days when the government tried to choke all movement in an effort to stop the marches?

Moreover, the Fund as well as the State Bank had flagged the fragile nature of the recovery that the government was boasting of, and as late as July, the central bank was voicing scepticism about the growth story.

The trade deficit was flagged as an issue much earlier in the year, and the value of the currency at Rs98 to a dollar was considered untenable from the very beginning. The build-up in the reserves was a positive sign all of last year, but it had also been underlined as driven by “one-off inflows” early in the year.

The circular debt had returned to its previous levels by July, and the power tariff subsidy had to be revised upward by almost 50pc midyear. There is little doubt that the floods and the protests have dented the economy, but it is also important to keep in mind that the government’s growth story was in significant trouble long before these events materialised. The Senate standing committee should bear this in mind when taking stock of the secretary’s testimony.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Infant’s kidnapping

Editorial

IT’S a long-standing issue that hasn’t been able to attract the attention it merits: that of the kidnapping of newborns, usually from the hospital they were born in.

IT’S a long-standing issue that hasn’t been able to attract the attention it merits: that of the kidnapping of newborns, usually from the hospital they were born in.

There are no aggregate numbers other than what can be gleaned from media reports, and barely anyone to keep track of whether the infants were recovered or not. On Thursday, the despicable crime was apparently committed yet again, this time in Lahore.

The baby’s family says that the boy, born a few hours earlier at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, was in the facility’s gynaecology ICU and his maternal aunt was attending to him. According to the father, staff on duty sent the aunt away to buy medicine, and was upon return informed that another woman proclaiming herself to be a relative had taken the baby away.

The family alleges corruption on part of the hospital staff, further complaining that neither the ICU duty staff nor the hospital gatekeeper bothered to check the identity of the purported ‘relative’. The hospital administration, for its part, claims that the mother herself handed the baby over to another woman.

An investigation has been promised and for the sake of the family, and the unfortunate boy himself; it is to be hoped that the matter doesn’t end up being dusted under the carpet.

The fact is that this crime has been reported sporadically from cities and towns across the country, from Peshawar to Karachi. In some cases, the kidnapped infant has been recovered; but in others, he or she has been lost forever. And while the eventual fate of such children cannot be guessed at, it is bound to be tragic — certainly, police have on occasion busted gangs involved in trafficking kidnapped babies.

It behoves hospital staff, therefore, to urgently step up vigilance and accept their responsibility. Families, too, need to be made aware of the unscrupulous elements that often haunt hospital corridors. This crime needs to be dragged out of the darkness and be made the focus of a concerted investigation.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Kashmir at the core

Editorial

SPEAKING at the UN General Assembly session on Friday was a Nawaz Sharif different to the one who had earned much flak from the hawks in Pakistan for his India vision of a few years ago.

SPEAKING at the UN General Assembly session on Friday was a Nawaz Sharif different to the one who had earned much flak from the hawks in Pakistan for his India vision of a few years ago.

He was then an opposition leader who wanted to present himself as a moderate Pakistani politician. Now he is a prime minister who must represent his state’s interests which are made up of much more than a politician’s wishes.

Pakistan and India are back at a place from where they have to build from scratch. And if internal Pakistani dynamics, such as Mr Sharif’s tenuous ties with the security establishment, have contributed to the responses today, India’s desire, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to act as an ‘emerging superpower’ has also deterred dialogue between the two countries.

Last month’s cancellation of the foreign secretary-level talks by New Delhi, which deplored Pakistan’s contacts with leaders from India-held Kashmir, had heralded the suspension.

In fact, the ground was being prepared for that eventuality and recent engagement between the two countries, when not cold, has been too heated. There were far too many incidents of firing on the Pakistan-India frontier if we are to cite just one significant reason for the deterioration in ties — and the gifts the two prime ministers exchanged were too bereft of substance to be of any long-term value.

Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir is based on a solid principle. The emphasis has varied, but Kashmir has been very much there influencing attitudes at the talks even when it was being kept out for the sake of confidence-building.

On its part, New Delhi has also stuck to its guns over the disputed territory. Consequently, dialogue, which is always the best way forward and which in this case was kept going not least by the efforts of international powers, has been under constant threat. The basic reason for this engagement in recent times was that in a changed world, Pakistan and India could not continue their hostile ways if they hoped to keep pace with economic development.

For many on this side of the border, the increasing insistence by Mr Modi’s India to dictate is rooted in the belief that India today is economically powerful enough for international players to side with it — tacitly and openly.

That would mean greater pressure on Pakistan which has an image problem and a host of economic problems to deal with. But this formula disregards the fact that Islamabad cannot ignore or compromise on Kashmir. There is no denying that Kashmir is a central issue, but the only way it can be dealt with is by including the Kashmiris in the discussion — rather than using them to sustain nationalistic refrains. That fact must not be lost sight of.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

A novel plan for PIA

Editorial

A NEW plan is in the offing to bifurcate PIA into two companies and sell one of them to an international party. The plan would split PIA’s sprawling operations into two — creating an airline on one hand, and putting ground operations such as hotels, catering and ground handling in a separate compartment. The airline can then be sold off, while the other operations could be consolidated for sale later.

A NEW plan is in the offing to bifurcate PIA into two companies and sell one of them to an international party. The plan would split PIA’s sprawling operations into two — creating an airline on one hand, and putting ground operations such as hotels, catering and ground handling in a separate compartment. The airline can then be sold off, while the other operations could be consolidated for sale later.

This is, indeed, a novel idea and it should be given the space to succeed. Earlier efforts to privatise the state-owned airline have come to grief because of strident opposition from the labour unions who fear mass layoffs, and, reportedly, even from the Ministry of Defence which has large interests in the airline. The concerns of the labour unions are well understood, and layoffs at a time of high unemployment should be avoided to the extent possible.

But all other considerations for retaining the airline as a national asset have now been overshadowed by the sorry state of the carrier’s affairs for a number of years now. The fact that the airline has a workforce of 17,000 for a fleet of 36 aircraft, 10 of which are grounded, is evidence enough of its inefficiency. The accumulated losses, that had crossed Rs186bn when the plan was originally formulated in January, have left the airline with a debt burden of Rs276bn. This has made debt service one of its largest expenditure heads after operating costs.

Having come this far, and stoked the embers of expectation, the government must now see through the successful implementation of the plan. Retaining PIA as a national carrier no longer appears workable, and if a viable path exists to divest the airline without sparking mass layoffs, then the plan deserves a chance.

It is also worth noting that PIA would be amongst the first regional national airlines to be successfully privatised. However, it is equally important that mistakes of the past with regard to privatisation be avoided. Principal amongst these is wasting the proceeds. Since the government is intending to raise almost $4bn via its privatisation plan this year, it is crucial that we have thorough transparency on how those funds are utilised. The law requires them to be used for drawing down debt, not for financing the current account deficit. This must be ensured. Frittering away hard-fought gains has been a national failing for far too long now.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

‘Objectionable material’

Editorial

IT is fair to say that the mix of ideology, religion and selective history taught in our public schools often leaves students unable to cope with the realities of the modern world. Some critics have even said that the curriculum is the main reason for the Pakistani population’s steady drift towards intolerance.

IT is fair to say that the mix of ideology, religion and selective history taught in our public schools often leaves students unable to cope with the realities of the modern world. Some critics have even said that the curriculum is the main reason for the Pakistani population’s steady drift towards intolerance.

Yet whenever efforts are made to reform the curriculum, powerful forces that insist on keeping intact the narrative in textbooks — one that was largely constructed in the Zia era — become active in order to mould the minds of the next generation. As reported in this paper on Saturday, the PTI-led government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has buckled under pressure exerted by Jamaat-i-Islami, its provincial coalition partner, and has decided to remove ‘objectionable material’ from primary school textbooks. We would assume any matter that promotes hatred and intolerance would fall under the category of ‘objectionable material’, but the Jamaat, it seems, has other ideas.

Reportedly, the party has issues with the presence of pictures of Christmas cakes and little girls without dupattas in schoolbooks, as well as the mention of ‘good morning’, instead of ‘As salaam-o-alaikum’. Moulding the curriculum so it is culturally appropriate is understandable, but these objections seem ridiculous. If anything, we need greater mention of other faiths and cultures in our textbooks so that our children are taught to appreciate diversity.

Perhaps the JI and PTI should make an effort to educate youngsters about the values of harmony, tolerance and brotherhood so that their impressionable minds are exposed to an alternative narrative to counter the hate and poison that surrounds them. Also, there is much that needs to be fixed in KP’s education system before the administration starts worrying about Christmas cakes in textbooks. While some improvements have been made under the PTI’s watch where the management of the education system is concerned, matters largely remain the same. Additionally, much of the infrastructure, including girls’ schools, damaged by militants needs urgent attention. Instead of non-issues, it is these areas that the provincial government should be concentrating on.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Columns and Articles

Economic management

Sakib Sherani

LAST week I was in Muzaffarabad, presenting a medium-term outlook for the economy at the strategic offsite meeting of one of Pakistan’s largest banks. The views from the conference room, atop Domail where the rivers Neelum and Jhelum meet, were stunning. But having been to Muzaffarabad after the tragic earthquake of 2005 and seeing the devastation first-hand, I knew that underneath the beautiful sight lies a natural fragility — the city is astride a fault-line.

LAST week I was in Muzaffarabad, presenting a medium-term outlook for the economy at the strategic offsite meeting of one of Pakistan’s largest banks. The views from the conference room, atop Domail where the rivers Neelum and Jhelum meet, were stunning. But having been to Muzaffarabad after the tragic earthquake of 2005 and seeing the devastation first-hand, I knew that underneath the beautiful sight lies a natural fragility — the city is astride a fault-line.

In much the same way, the seemingly pretty picture of the economy painted (and viewed) by the government over the past one year, is fraught with vulnerabilities that are being exacerbated by some poor economic decisions and management.

Three areas that stand out where the government’s management is detrimental to the interests of economic stability and growth are: exchange rate management, reforms in the power sector, and slow restructuring of public-sector enterprises. (I have excluded the pace and direction of tax reform and public debt management for a more detailed treatment in a subsequent column). If a course correction is not brought about quickly, or the desultory pace of reform picked up in these areas, the good work done in stabilising the economy over the past year will be lost and amount to nothing.

Exchange rate: By virtue of pursuing a stated goal of bringing the exchange rate below a hundred rupees to the greenback, the government has insensibly triggered a substantial real appreciation of the rupee. Between December 2013 and July this year, the real effective exchange rate has appreciated nearly 12pc, according to the State Bank. At the same time, growth in exports has not only stalled but declined, with export receipts falling in comparison to year-ago levels for five consecutive months since April this year. Were it not for the substantial prop to overall exports from the operation of GSP Plus to the EU since January this year, the fall in exports would have been much sharper.

To be sure, an important factor that has affected Pakistan’s exports during this period has been the reversal of fortune of our yarn exporters in the Chinese market. Nonetheless, evidence of the negative impact of exchange rate management on the external account comes also in the form of a rise in imports, especially non-oil, non-food imports which have risen sharply in the past few months.

The fall in exports and a steady trend of rising imports could not have come at a more inopportune moment — at a time of continuing vulnerability of the external account.

Power sector: A combination of a spike in oil prices and extremely incompetent handling of the power sector between 2008 and 2013, has cost Pakistan dearly. Most estimates of the ‘lost’ GDP converge around 2pc a year, though my estimate of aggregate losses is higher.

The received wisdom from the World Bank and the IMF on the source of the problem has focused on a singular dimension: the mismatch between the cost of supplying electricity and recovery from final consumers. This line of reasoning has proven to be both simplistic as well as self-defeating in many ways for reforming the power sector.

There are at least three elements to the power sector’s problems. The first is fiscal, and the inter-connected issues of cost-recovery, circular debt and the budgetary burden of subsidies. The second element is of affordability, and the impact of rising tariffs on the price level as well as business costs and competitiveness. The third dimension of the issue relates to balance of payments sustainability, and the question of our ability to pay for the fuel imports to meet the requirements of the power sector.

The PML-N government’s response has focused mainly on adding new generation capacity to ‘solve’ the problem of load-shedding by 2018. While a part of the new capital investment in the power sector is intended to focus on fuel substitution, thus addressing affordability as well as balance of payments pressures to an extent, the bulk of the new projects are net additions to the grid capacity — and hence will represent an incremental requirement of imported fuel, be it coal or LNG.

Putting together all of the government’s intended projects, even at today’s depressed prices for LNG and coal, the total import bill for fuel will shoot up to $23 billion to $25bn in the next five to seven years. What will be the incremental sources of foreign exchange to pay for this, especially when government policy combines an anti-export bias in the exchange rate with its dangerous corollary, a sympathetic import regime? And, if we won’t be able to pay for the fuel, why build the capacity and incur a capital cost and a deadweight loss?

Restructuring PSEs: While some progress has been made with Railways, almost all the other PSE’s that are a drain on the budget, such as PIA and Pakistan Steel, continue to operate with marginal improvements at best, waiting for the next ‘bailout’ package from public money. So far, the government has conducted a few successful capital market transactions where it has offloaded shares in UBL and Pakistan Petroleum Ltd. It is also likely to meet with success in selling shares of OGDCL and HBL, which the government expects to bring in close to $2bn combined.

However, the divestment of shares by the government is not privatisation — only a transparent strategic sale to an experienced and competent private sector management that is not funded by taxpayers via the absorption of liabilities, will bring success. In addition, the definition of success that should be adopted is not the raising of money through the process — but on the long-term financial sustainability and profitable operation of the privatised entity.

While the ongoing political protests are a distraction, the air pocket hit by the economy is less a result of politics and more a function of economic management that needs improvement.

The writer is a former economic adviser to government, and currently heads a macroeconomic consultancy based in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Who would have thought…

Asha’ar Rehman

‘DUSHMAN maray tay khushi naa karyay sajna vee mar jana.” For a man of Shahbaz Sharif’s purpose and energy, the replacement of Habib Jalib with Mian Muhammad Bakhsh would be too obvious a shift. But in sync with the times, on a tour to flood-hit Sargodha areas, the line that abhors those rejoicing at an enemy’s death in disregard of their own fate was accompanied by what has come to form one basic part of the celebrated chief minister’s argument.

‘DUSHMAN maray tay khushi naa karyay sajna vee mar jana.” For a man of Shahbaz Sharif’s purpose and energy, the replacement of Habib Jalib with Mian Muhammad Bakhsh would be too obvious a shift. But in sync with the times, on a tour to flood-hit Sargodha areas, the line that abhors those rejoicing at an enemy’s death in disregard of their own fate was accompanied by what has come to form one basic part of the celebrated chief minister’s argument.

If previously Shahbaz’s emphasis was on his glorious development schemes, he has of late been topping it up with a mention of his opponents’ evil designs. In Sargodha on Wednesday once again, he accused the protesters of scuttling the country’s progress.

‘Who would have thought’ is a phrase that has lost its meaning given the routine occurrence of the unexpected around us. But wait a minute … there may be something afoot here. Not too long ago, the province of Punjab, Lahore especially, would be made fun of for its lack of imagination in finding its leaders or finding any faults with its leaders. Alternatively, a jealous Pakistani would emerge from a distant place and enviously congratulate the Lahoris on having found such a permanent answer in Shahbaz Sharif to all their ills. Whereas it would be too harsh to say that the one-man machine has lost its saviour appeal, this must be one of the toughest hours Shahbaz has ever been faced with.

The city the Sharif family has invested so much in over the years has just provided their current opponents a perfect stimulus in their campaign to oust the PML-N government. The PTI rally at Minar-i-Pakistan on Sunday would take some denying and the early signs are that the PML-N is finding it impossible to contain the after-effects of the massive Imran Khan show.

It wasn’t a stagnant dharna comprising ‘few thousand’ obstinate souls. It was a gush threatening to inundate long-held Sharif territory. This was the third time since October 2011 that Imran was able to pull a large crowd to the Minar. That is credible enough, for even those who have held jalsas here have avoided attempting a repeat for fear of failure.

There is no shortage of good reasons why someone would want to dissociate from the PTI crowd, or for that matter, with any party one doesn’t feel compelled from inside to support.

Imran and his party can be pulled up for maintaining double standards. They could be confronted for promoting falsehood as facts, and of course, they could be opposed ideologically by labelling them as puppets. The PTI could be told to go find a replacement for Shahbaz Sharif even if it was to be conceded that Imran was now a worthy pretender to the throne in Islamabad. But the time when the PTI could be dismissed with a wave of the hand has long passed.

There are those who have been feigning that the party did not exist, who would now be best advised to recognise the PTI and oppose it if they must as a political force with considerable, and growing, clout in public.

The PTI support in the city is widespread which was reflected so strongly at the Sunday jalsa. It was bigger than the run-up — replete with spirited calls to the people to attend — had suggested. So many ‘appeared’ to be committed to attend the jalsa, but there was some uncertainty as to how big a crowd would actually turn up. After all, only a few weeks ago, Imran’s promised million-man march was thought to have not received a grand enough start in Lahore. The few-hours-long jalsa was, however, more exciting and doable than the never-ending sit-in in Islamabad.

The subsequent days reconfirmed the PTI’s spread in the city and beyond. At the school which was hosting a PML-N lawmaker, at the ceremony where the new chamber of commerce officials took oath, at an event that brought together doctors or the award-giving function presided over by a federal minister, in the office room you were sitting in and the street you were passing through, there was no escape from the ‘Go Nawaz Go’ chant.

No drive has been so incessant in recent years, not even during elections. It is intensifying. This is no joke. It sets the pulse racing, it excites and angers and creates expectancy as if something is about to give.

The game is heating up whereas the predictions were that Imran Khan was fighting a lost battle. Those who only a week ago were asking Imran to call off his ‘futile’ protest are now discussing mid-term polls and not only that but also the slogans which will define the poll campaign. The PPP’s Khurshid Shah, the opposition leader in the National Assembly, has come up with a statement that does not oppose and only questions the method adopted to force a mid-term poll.

It cannot go on like this. There has to be a solution and mid-term polls may be a compromise that could be reached without too much harm to anyone’s avowed democratic credentials. The PML-N would be hoping to do what the PPP did in the last term: seeking to complete its term by cajoling the establishment. It would be tough given Imran’s insistent tone and given the success he has already achieved.

The pressure is going to mount and in the coming days the debate may shift from the need to stick together to save the current parliament. The next possible challenge for the PPP and PML-N et al could be to try and ensure smooth transition from one elected set-up to another. They must be wary of a huge, long bulge of ‘technocrats’ coming in the way.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

New scenarios

Khadim Hussain

THE political transition in Afghanistan, the transfer of security responsibilities to local forces and the need to develop an indigenous formal economy have tested the pati­ence and determination of Afghans in 2014.

THE political transition in Afghanistan, the transfer of security responsibilities to local forces and the need to develop an indigenous formal economy have tested the pati­ence and determination of Afghans in 2014.

During the course of this year, Afghan state and society have passed through three distinct phases. The first phase, in which elections were held, was a fraught one. A situation complicated by insurgency as well as regional proxy wars meant that conducting fair and free elections was a major challenge. The Afghans, both men and women, went to polling stations in reasonably large numbers amidst fears of violence.

The second phase began post-election, when none of the presidential candidates won the required number of votes. This necessitated a run-off vote between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that became bitterly disputed after the latter refused to accept the results. Regional and international observers voiced fears of widespread instability in the country when Mr Abdullah’s supporters threatened to establish a parallel government. A tense impasse ensued with the two contenders refusing to budge from their positions. How this phase played out was considered crucial to Afghanistan’s future and political stability in the region.

The third phase brought good tidings not only for the Afghan people but also for other countries in the region. Under immense pressure from the ever-expanding and increasingly assertive Afghan civil society and independent media, both sides wisely decided to agree on a power-sharing formula. Although US and Nato officials played a major role in bringing them to the negotiating table, the two candidates’ own sagacity was key to reaching an agreement.

The newly elected Afghan government has several major challenges to deal with in the next couple of years. The first pertains to internal security. Both aspects of the internal security challenge, the strengthening of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and reintegration of the insurgents in the political process, need to be tackled simultaneously.

Although the ANA has proved to be a viable institution both in terms of numbers and capacity, desertions by soldiers still pose a challenge. So attention must be paid to personnel retention, and the force should be better equipped and further modernised. The Afghan government would do well to sign deals with regional states for these ends.

Perhaps most important to Afghanistan’s internal security is to carry forward the process of reconciliation with the insurgent groups. The task is complicated by the fact that many members of the insurgent groups are thought to be based in the region, and countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan can play an important role to address this issue.

It is to their advantage to find common economic and political interests inside Afghanistan: instability here, as a result of both internal and external factors, has already led to turmoil in the region. Moreover, realignments of violent religious extremist groups in the neighbourhood may pose serious threats to Afghanistan, Iran, Tajikis­­tan, Uzbekistan and India if they remain oblivious to the emerging security scenarios.

The second challenge for the new Afghan government is to build its own economy. So far, the Afghan economy is either run on foreign capital or falls in the ‘undocumented’ category. The US and Nato are reported to have spent approximately $650 billion in Afgha­nistan since 9/11. Meanwhile, the thriving undocumented economy continues to oil the terrorist and insurgent war machines in Pakis­tan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is situated in a part of the world accessible to South Asia, Central Asia, Turkey, China and the Middle East. Regional states, especially Pakistan, can initiate joint economic ventures that will benefit both countries. If Pakistan wishes to cut the supply lines of terrorist networks engaged on its soil, it has to exponentially expand the volume of trade with Afghanistan.

The third challenge for the newly elected Afghan government is to strengthen political institutions and initiate a robust political process, which would impact state-building as a whole. Tribal kinship networks and alignments are not substitutes for political institutions in a modern state. It is high time for the Afghans to switch to formation of political parties to address the issues of participation and representation.

Against this backdrop, the power-sharing formula between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah may run into hurdles at times. A loya jirga (grand assembly) has been proposed to address the thorny issues that may crop up. This body could suggest constitutional amendments which would be made through the ulasi jirga (people’s assembly) and the meshrano jirga (elders’ assembly).

If achieved, political stability in Afghanistan could herald a much-needed era of regional cooperation in the coming years.

The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.

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Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

More equal

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar

IN George Orwell’s celebrated classic Animal Farm, the founding slogan of the animal collective ‘all animals are equal’ metamorphoses by the end of the novel into ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. In short, the promise of egalitarianism is suffocated by a power-hungry clique that propagates hollow slogan-mongering to sustain its dominant position.

IN George Orwell’s celebrated classic Animal Farm, the founding slogan of the animal collective ‘all animals are equal’ metamorphoses by the end of the novel into ‘all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’. In short, the promise of egalitarianism is suffocated by a power-hungry clique that propagates hollow slogan-mongering to sustain its dominant position.

Another Orwellian dystopia is outlined in the novel 1984, in which a huge authoritarian bureaucracy dumbs down the critical capacities of ordinary people via an all-powerful media, and a thought-controlling language called ‘Newspeak’.

In the seven decades since both stories saw the light of day, the make-up of modern societies has been irrevocably altered by surveillance technologies and the corporate media. Whether or not Orwell intended to provide a blueprint for the evolution of the dark side of capitalist modernity, it can be argued in retrospect that he did exactly that.

This past Sunday, Imran Khan mobilised more people in Lahore than he has managed at any other point since his first Minto Park demonstration in October 2012. The corporate media has of course been instrumental in the PTI’s emergence as a major contender for power over the past two years, and its love affair with Khan has peaked over the past few weeks as evidenced by almost uninterrupted live coverage of the dharna in Islamabad.

It is thus in keeping with the script that Sunday’s gathering in Lahore was gratuitously covered and generated plenty of excited comment about Khan’s regenerated challenge to the Sharifs.

However, the PTI’s jalsa was not the only political event of note on Sunday. Pakistan’s long-maligned left also staged an impressive — albeit much smaller — show in the capital Islamabad. Remarkably, only the state-run PTV covered the leftists, while the private media networks that regularly proclaim themselves to be the vanguards of democracy chose to completely ignore them. Presumably the lure of Imran Khan — even from far away in Lahore — was simply too much for even a few TV cameras to grace the leftist gathering.

Given that the populist right wing regularly employs the language that was once the exclusive preserve of the left, one would think that at least a handful of journalists might have piercing questions to pose about the extent to which the right wing is really committed to a revolution benefiting popular forces, and also why the left should be taken seriously in an era where what it has to say does not appear — on the surface, at least — to be too different than just about everyone else.

But alas, journalism is not what it once was; the critical, thoughtful professional of yesteryear has been replaced by the savvy networker who conforms to all the rules and regulations of the well-oiled machine that is the modern media corporation.

Since 2007 ‘experts’ have been talking up the democratising impacts of the private media. In practice, however, media corporations repeatedly demonstrate their allegiance to the mantra that ‘some animals are more equal than others’. Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri guarantee high TV ratings and therefore advertisements. Conversely, the left simply does not sell.

It is hardly surprising that Pakistan’s media moguls harbour no interest whatsoever in arguably the most significant gathering of the country’s battered left in a couple of decades. But it is staggering that working journalists chose not to show up in spite of their bosses’ disinterest.

In the past, particularly during the Ayub and Zia dictatorships, a critical mass of journalists themselves influenced by progressive ideas made great sacrifices to publish dissenting views, and get the word out about the left’s activities. It would appear that such journalists are now a dying breed, if not totally extinct.

Accordingly, there is very little opposition from within media circles to the corporate juggernaut that Noam Chomsky famously suggested ‘manufacture consent’. The nexus of political establishment and media corporations that is the bedrock of American political economy is fast becoming so in this country as well.

Certainly, the media now has the capacity to turn day into night. Hence people can believe that corruption will be done away with in 90 days and revolutions can be made on Islamabad’s Constitution Avenue by a cleric in a container. This is ‘Newspeak’ par excellence, and our job is simply to make up the numbers.

Those on the left who are not fazed by the absurdity of it all offer the best hope of averting an Orwellian ending to the story. That the mainstream press has clearly thrown in its lot with the forces of reaction is by the by. What matters is whether or not a critical mass of opinion develops within society at large to challenge ‘Newspeak’, or if indeed we will continue to accept that some animals are more equal than others.

The writer teaches at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2014

Umerkot marchers’ tale of woe

I.A. Rehman

THE story of the Umerkot Hindu community’s long march to Karachi some days ago merits retelling before a wider audience. A large number of Hindu citizens from Umerkot district, as many as 15,000 by their spokesperson’s count, travelled to the Sindh capital to demand respect for their rights — to justice, to protection of life and liberty, and to equality of status as citizens of Pakistan. They succeeded in persuading the representatives of the provincial government to sign a memorandum of agreement for addressing their grievances.

THE story of the Umerkot Hindu community’s long march to Karachi some days ago merits retelling before a wider audience. A large number of Hindu citizens from Umerkot district, as many as 15,000 by their spokesperson’s count, travelled to the Sindh capital to demand respect for their rights — to justice, to protection of life and liberty, and to equality of status as citizens of Pakistan. They succeeded in persuading the representatives of the provincial government to sign a memorandum of agreement for addressing their grievances.

The event offers another example of the state functionaries’ lack of problem management skills and their penchant for allowing routine administrative matters to fester and develop into deadly sores. The immediate provocation to the protesters was the way the police had dealt with the murder of two Hindu brothers from Umerkot, both traders. But their woes had been piling up for quite some time. They referred to a string of attacks on non-Muslim communities, such as murders, kidnappings, forced conversions and attacks on their places of worship in Umerkot and elsewhere in the province.

Their most recent complaint related to the killing of two men in a ‘police encounter’ and branding them as murderers on the run. They argued that no attempts had been made to capture the ‘suspects’ alive and no probe was carried out afterwards.

The marchers made the following demands: a judicial inquiry into the two traders’ murder should be held by a tribunal headed by a superior court judge and the local community consulted on its terms of reference; a thorough probe into instances of kidnapping for ransom and other grievances; and non-Muslim citizens, who constitute a majority in Umerkot, should have a say in the selection and posting of local officials (especially in police).

The demands also focused on the urgent need to investigate Thar’s humanitarian crisis, especially lack of access to food, drinking water and healthcare and the causes and effect of a prolonged drought; the government must implement the Supreme Court directives in the June 2014 judgement; and on the fact that since Sindh departments responsible for minority affairs have ignored the non-Muslims, especially the scheduled castes, a body should be set up to probe the matter.

No sane Pakistani will find anything wrong with these demands. Why must a community be forced to undertake a long march for the redress of grievances that should be addressed as per routine? Three representatives of the marchers and two civil society facilitators held negotiations with the authorities who included three Sindh ministers, the commissioner of Karachi, the deputy commissioner, South, and the DIG police and SSP for Karachi South, and signed the following agreement.

The authorities will redouble their efforts to identify and arrest the killers of the two traders within the shortest possible time.

The report by DIG Sanaullah Abbasi will be shared with the negotiation committee and the victims’ families within four days. If the report is not found satisfactory a fresh inquiry will be ordered.

The victim families will be adequately compensated within two weeks.

The process of setting up a branch of the Citizen Police Liaison Committee at Umerkot will be initiated forthwith.

A joint committee will be set up for action on the marchers’ demands.

The government will ensure that the protesters will not be harassed/intimidated or subjected to penal action.

Just as there was nothing extraordinary about the Umerkot marchers’ demands, what they have been offered amounts to the minimum a responsible government must guarantee its law-abiding citizens. The Umerkot group deserves to be commended for their initiative, though it came only after their cup of patience was about to overflow. The authorities also earned credit by displaying a spirit of accommodation that is quite rare these days.

The Umerkot Hindu community’s plight should be seen in the context of declining standards of protection for the minorities. The killing of Ahmadis and Shia professionals continues unabated and blasphemy cases are acquiring more and more weird forms. The police as a rule are unfriendly and reluctant to extend the victims due protection of law. Those responsible for crimes against the minorities are seldom apprehended and if they are caught the victims are pressurised to make up with them.

The recent killing of a widely respected teacher in Karachi revealed a new stage in organised efforts to punish people for their belief. A fatwa was used to set the stage for Prof Auj’s extermination. The seminary that was alleged to have issued the fatwa declared the document forged. That may be true but forged fatwas are only meant to secure results genuine edicts guarantee. Those determined to go for their rivals under cover of the blasphemy law do not need edicts to justify their grisly deeds. Thus the incident should be seen as a new tactic to legitimise foul murder.

What makes the situation utterly unbearable is the absence of any sign that the state is prepared to protect the victims of religious extremism. The authorities watch the excesses against non-Muslim citizens with indifference that borders on complicity. Like the Umerkot marchers all minority communities hailed the Supreme Court judgement of June last as it stressed the creation of a framework for improving the minorities’ protection. Lack of any sign of implementation of the verdict is adding to the minorities’ sense of despair. Unless the government displays its will to take firm action to ensure respect for the minorities’ rights it will be impossible to hope for a change for the better.

Tailpiece: Dr Tahirul Qadri has reason to thank the libraries department of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for advising 19 universities and institutions in the province to put in their libraries all the books written by him. No reasons for the decision have been given. Obviously, questions regarding the usefulness of these books to students do not arise.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Discretionary overbilling

Khurram Husain

THE power sector is in turmoil it seems, from the overbilling scandal. The past week has seen new protests and new pronouncements. Once the cabinet decided to lift a decade-old ban on new recruitments in the power bureaucracy, thereby opening the door to inducting tens of thousands of ‘meter readers’, it appeared the government was running out of ideas.

THE power sector is in turmoil it seems, from the overbilling scandal. The past week has seen new protests and new pronouncements. Once the cabinet decided to lift a decade-old ban on new recruitments in the power bureaucracy, thereby opening the door to inducting tens of thousands of ‘meter readers’, it appeared the government was running out of ideas.

Now Nepra, the power sector regulator, appears to have awoken from its slumber and resorted to some action. According to reports appearing in parts of the press, including this paper, the regulator’s chief has prohibited the induction of new meter readers by the distribution companies, saying they should rely on technology to produce more accurate billing instead of dubiously trained and expensively maintained manpower. If more people were the answer to the power crisis, we wouldn’t be in a power crisis at all.

Since the Nepra chief has weighed in with sensible words, here’s some completely unsolicited advice for him. To make the power bureaucracy more responsive to the needs of its consumers, force them to release their operational and financial data on a regular basis as per a predetermined template.

This isn’t rocket science. Everyday a stream of operational data flows from the myriad power plants and distribution company offices into Pepco headquarters on the Mall in Lahore. They include data like amount of electricity generated, operational stats of the various turbines, flue gas emissions, fuel stock position and much more. The distribution companies report the quantity of electricity purchased, the amount sent out to consumers, and every so often, the units billed in each respective circle. Of course, there is a lot more, this is just a sample, and some of it comes in daily, some weekly, some monthly, and others on demand or according to an irregular cycle.

Financial data might be a trickier proposition, primarily because Pepco’s own financial wizardry leaves a lot to be desired. But big ticket data can still be released. If the Federal Board of Revenue can release the amount of tax collected as per a regular reporting cycle, for instance, why can’t Pepco be required to release the amount of cash generated from billing recoveries? Notice we’re not talking about units billed, that’s where the hanky-panky takes place. Let’s ask them to show us the money, period.

What will this do? First, it’ll introduce a little discipline into Pepco management. Second, it will make it difficult to play around with the numbers too much, because as the data piles up anomalous trends become easy to detect. It will introduce a level of accountability into the power bureaucracy that they are currently completely unused to, and direly in need of.

This won’t be difficult to create, in fact it’s very easy. Since this data is already part of a reporting template, all that needs to be done is to open a new reporting line that carries the data from Pepco headquarters to Nepra headquarters in Islamabad. As the data begins landing in Nepra, it can be automatically uploaded to their website, giving us an option to download it in Excel format if we wish.

It’ll be instructive to see the picture that begins to appear once the data piles up. It’ll be interesting to see where the electricity is coming from, where it’s going. And likewise with the funds, if they can be made to release their recoveries by circle. Since much of the grid has now been equipped with smart feeders, it’s easily possible to create an interactive map that tells you the daily position of each feeder when you click on it. Historical data can be downloaded with a click on a link.

We could model the fuel going into each powerhouse, the electricity coming out in return, and the track the journey of that electricity through much of the grid. With this data in the public domain, it’ll become much easier to build a reliable picture of what ails the system, and pinpoint locations where inefficiencies are visible.

I’m not sure if there are examples of other countries where similar templates are operating, but I know it’s quite common in many other areas of government operations to mandate release of regular information. Consider the State Bank for instance, which maintains the most rigorous data reporting system out of everybody, giving us daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly and annual snapshots and analytical reports about every aspect of the economy. You can find out how much money is being printed, how much is landing up in the banks and how much is staying in cash circulation.

Government debt is highly visible too. You can find out how much money went into which tenors, which instruments, against what returns. You can see where the stocks are accumulating, what the shape of the flows has been over a long period of time. And for our convenience, the data is offered in a form that is easily rendered in Excel format, sometimes Excel archives being available for direct download.

Ogra and the water bureaucracy also release regular data, as does the Federal Flood Commission and the Met Department.

The power sector is unique in this regard. It’s used to operating in the dark. There is no requirement worthy of mention to release any data, and even information on the gap between supply and demand for electricity is given in a highly casual way over the phone. It’s time to end this reign of discretionary power. Perhaps the overbilling scandal provides a window of opportunity here, to cast a light into the dark corners of the power bureaucracy and ask some basic questions.

The writer is a member of staff.

khurram.husain

Twitter: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Labour wakes up

Zeenat Hisam

THE concept of safety at the workplace as a fundamental human right is slowly making its way into the ethos of a South Asian society burdened with the notion of destiny. ‘If the roof falls on your head, too bad. You were fated to die this way while at work.’ Workers and other stakeholders are now rising up against this farcical justification for the inhuman treatment of labour. If not in Pakistan, at least in Bangladesh workers are demanding safety and stakeholders have begun to listen.

THE concept of safety at the workplace as a fundamental human right is slowly making its way into the ethos of a South Asian society burdened with the notion of destiny. ‘If the roof falls on your head, too bad. You were fated to die this way while at work.’ Workers and other stakeholders are now rising up against this farcical justification for the inhuman treatment of labour. If not in Pakistan, at least in Bangladesh workers are demanding safety and stakeholders have begun to listen.

Bangladesh is taking the lead in giving higher priority to workers’ safety and the prevention of industrial accidents though it learnt its lesson the hard way: from 2005 to 2013, industrial accidents in the readymade garments sector killed over 2,000 workers and injured a higher number. These accidents occurred due to gross violations of building safety codes and labour standards. The case is not different here.

It took Bangladesh almost a decade to evolve and implement a workable mechanism. Today the ‘Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh’ a legally binding five-year agreement between Bangladeshi and global trade unions and MNCs is being hailed as a game changer in South Asia, the supplier of cheap labour for products to be consumed by the rich North.

The idea of the accord as a safety proposal was initiated in early 2010. After rounds of consultations among various stakeholders in Bangladesh and abroad it was signed in May 2013, just a month after the Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,138 people.

The accord, signed by 170 MNCs, seven Bangladeshi trade union federations and three global trade unions, is governed by a steering committee with equal representation from trade union and company signatories. It specifies inspections, remediation and training under complete transparency.

Due to its three elements — legal enforceability, government support and worker empowerment — the accord is seen as a breakthrough. Under it, 800 out of 1,500 factories used by MNCs were inspected until August 2014. In another initiative, 26 US and Canadian companies have formed the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety to implement a five-year plan. By early 2014 the alliance had inspected 601 of the 700 factories used by its members.

The readymade garments industry contributes 17pc to the country’s GDP and amounts to 78pc of Bangladesh’s total export earnings. About 4,000 factories employ 4.2 million workers, of whom 75pc are women.

The major partners in both initiatives are MNCs who provide funds to implement the activities. Local manufacturers are required to bear the cost of structural factory repairs or renovations. So, what is the role of the Bangladesh government?

The state’s role in establishing a credible system of safety and health has remained weak in Bangladesh. The government did try, but in Bangladesh (like Pakistan), the factory owners sit in parliament and resist changes that would increase ‘labour cost’.

After a factory collapse in 2005 killing 70, the Bangladesh government set up a task force under the pressure of local trade unions, international trade bodies and labour organisations. As the task force plan (strict audits, unannounced inspections) covered large factories owned by members of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacture and Export Association, the initiative failed. The government formed a compliance monitoring cell in 2005 to ensure safety standards but in vain. Another initiative, the 2006 Multi Fibre Arrangement Forum Bangladesh, with representation from the government, industry, buyers and trade unions also failed. The failure was due to lack of political will and the political clout of big manufacturers.

After the factory fire in November 2012 that killed 112 people, the labour ministry, manufacturers, trade unions and ILO adopted a ‘joint statement of commitment’ in January 2013 and worked out a ‘national tripartite plan of action on building and fire safety’ endorsed in March last year. The plan covered legislation and policy, human resource development and administration. Amendments to the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 were adopted in July 2013 and the national occupational safety and health policy approved in October 2013. The MNCs-funded accord on safety is built upon the national plan.

The stories from the ground indicate significant progress in this sector in Bangladesh in working conditions and workers’ empowerment after the accord. But what about factories producing for domestic consumption? Also, will there be a sustainable occupational safety and health system in place in Bangla­desh after the international brands stop funding?

Meanwhile, in Pakistan it is time for stakeholders to reflect on safety issues, motivate the employers and state to stand up to the task and critically evaluate why it is the ILO that must push for a joint action plan for workers’ safety.

The writer is associated with PILER.

zeenathisam2004

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Wrong approach

Sikander Ahmed Shah

THE US has commenced air strikes deep inside Syrian territory against the militant group the Islamic State (IS). While the Syrian government was informed about the attacks before the operation began, it has not formally consented to these strikes. In fact, the Syrian foreign minister earlier stated that action against IS on its territory would be “considered aggression” unless coordinated with Syria.

THE US has commenced air strikes deep inside Syrian territory against the militant group the Islamic State (IS). While the Syrian government was informed about the attacks before the operation began, it has not formally consented to these strikes. In fact, the Syrian foreign minister earlier stated that action against IS on its territory would be “considered aggression” unless coordinated with Syria.

Under international law, Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter prohibits member states from threatening or using force against the territorial integrity or political independence of other states. Without consent, and a few other exceptions listed in this article, any such infringements of state sovereignty violate international law.

Generally, international law bars the use of force on foreign soil even if a civil war prevails in the targeted state and those attacked are non-state actors (NSAs) hostile to that state. Under international law it is irrelevant that the targeted NSAs are classified as terrorists, rebels or freedom fighters by the community of states. The normative classification of these groups has no bearing on the legitimacy of the use of force.

This conservative view of sovereignty has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice. Some states justify violations of state sovereignty on the basis of what they claim are emerging norms, which derive their legitimacy from human rights principles.

These norms include the right to challenge state sovereignty on the basis of humanitarian intervention, responsibility to protect populations of other states from mass atrocities including genocide and crimes against humanity, and democratic intervention.

These aspirational norms, while appealing at first glance, are often employed by states as pretexts for attacking other states unilaterally or in groups. Such purported norms have not attained the status of customary international law — a source of international law that binds all states.

Absent consent, such air strikes can still be legal if they qualify as acts of self-defence. Article 51 of the UN Charter provides that a state can use force both for individual or collective self-defence in response to an armed attack: the exercise of this right, however, requires immediate reporting to the UN Security Council.

Alternatively, military action can be taken against a state if the UNSC decides to act by passing a binding Chapter VII resolution under Article 42 of the UN Charter, which sanctions the use of force.

It is hard to argue that the US is acting against IS in individual self-defence. There is an argument that the US is acting in collective self-defence for its ally Iraq. However, this requires a security pact which sanctions such assistance in the event of an armed attack. Whether such an agreement is present between the US and Iraq is yet to be determined.

A further hurdle for the US is that IS, while it is operating from Syria, is not itself a state and hence incapable of carrying out an armed attack under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Thus an attack on IS in Syria is an attack on Syria itself and can only be lawful if armed attacks conducted by IS in other states can be attributed to Syria. This would require both effective control and command of IS by Syria. To the contrary, the latter is itself engaged in battle with IS.

The unwillingness of the US to approach the UNSC is evident as it fears a Russian veto of any military action through a UNSC resolution on Syrian territory. Further, US inflexibility in getting Syria on board for neutralising IS is also problematic: what unequivocally could have been a lawful and warranted use of force against IS has become highly contentious because of the procedure employed.

US indifference towards state sovereignty and international law was evident when President Obama recently stated: “I have made clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country wherever they are… [t]hat means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL [IS] in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Such unilateral use of force, without UN sanction and Syrian consent, cements the wrong precedent and undermines both international law and the UN’s security framework. International law evolves and develops as a result of state practice and the obligation to follow that practice.

If such challenges to state sovereignty continue then the rule will become the exception. Any state will then be seen as well within its rights to unilaterally attack another on the premise that terrorists are operating from there. Pakistan should be particularly wary of such developments as most of its neighbours constantly make such claims.

The writer is the former legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2014

Trial and tribulation

Zahid Hussain

IT is hard to decipher the contradictory statements made by Altaf Hussain in recent weeks. One day he calls for a military takeover and setting up a long-term caretaker administration; and almost the next he lashes out at the military establishment for pinning his party to the wall. How do these views square with each other? We have to leave it to the imagination.

IT is hard to decipher the contradictory statements made by Altaf Hussain in recent weeks. One day he calls for a military takeover and setting up a long-term caretaker administration; and almost the next he lashes out at the military establishment for pinning his party to the wall. How do these views square with each other? We have to leave it to the imagination.

It is not unusual for our political leaders to be inconsistent. Yet it is hard to beat the MQM supremo. Whether his theatrics during his marathon telephonic addresses or live TV interviews are a source of embarrassment or entertainment for even some extremely dedicated followers must be left to the latter to decide.

It has become almost a routine affair for Altaf Hussain to sack his party’s coordination committees or threaten to quit the party leadership, only to renege at the pleading of his sobbing followers. It all sounds bizarre and yet the MQM remains the most organised, disciplined and feared political party in the country. Its unwavering mass base has survived despite ups and down experienced by the party since its inception some three decades ago.

But is the MQM finally losing its unchallenged political supremacy over the country’s biggest city and financial hub? The increasingly incoherent statements of Altaf Hussain and policy flip-flop are a manifestation of a growing sense of insecurity. It is the pressure both inside and outside the country that appears to have shaken the party leadership. The investigation by the London Metropolitan police into Imran Farooq’s murder and the money-laundering case has surely become a major cause of worry for the party.

But a much bigger concern is the alleged leverage position of the Pakistani security agencies over the party, by holding the two main suspects in the London murder case. The crackdown on party members allegedly involved in criminal activities has brought the MQM under further pressure. That to some extent explains the blow hot, blow cold approach of the party leadership. While desperately trying to appease the security establishment, it also finds itself cornered by the alleged extra-judicial killing and arrests of its workers.

It has been a love-hate relationship between the MQM and the security establishment since the party’s formation in 1984. For sure, the emergence of the group as a major political force in Karachi, and in Sindh’s other urban centres, was rooted in the growing ethnic divide in the province. And many believe that the formation of an urban-based Mohajir party received the tacit approval of Gen Zia’s military regime seeking to contain the political hold of the PPP in Sindh.

Some kind of liaison between the MQM and the military establishment continued after the return of democratic rule in 1988. But that relationship came under severe strain in the beginning of the 1990s when the MQM’s stranglehold over the country’s economic jugular worried the security agencies. That led to the disastrous military operation against the group in 1992. The party was then divided by the intelligence agencies and most of the leadership including Altaf Hussain fled the country. The factional fighting resulted in the killing of many senior leaders. Though badly fractured, the party survived the crackdown.

Another police operation in 1995 dealt a more severe blow to the party wiping out its much-feared militant wing. But ironically, it was yet another military ruler, Gen Musharraf, under whom the MQM was resurrected. For the next seven years, it remained a critical part of the military-led administration. During this period, almost all the police officers involved in the 1995 operation were eliminated one by one by, many allege, the party’s armed supporters.

The MQM remained a part of the ruling coalition formed after the restoration of the civilian democratic rule in 2008. But the situation now seems to be changing yet again. Marginalised in the new power structure and facing another crackdown, the sense of insecurity in the leadership is evident.

Altaf Hussain’s 14 questions addressed to the army chief manifests a fear of being under siege. Unsurprisingly, he has raised the issue of the 1992 and 1995 operations that keeps haunting the party leadership. The allegation of excesses against the security agencies may not be credible, but the MQM’s anxiety is not without reason given its experience of the past operations.

A truly middle class and secular party, albeit with its own paradoxes and contradictions, the MQM now faces, perhaps, its toughest challenge. Though it has broken into dynastical power structures, it is a party driven on personality cult. The future of the party without Altaf Hussain is hard to imagine, and yet his continued grip of the leadership may be the biggest threat to it.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

The problems of polygamy

Rafia Zakaria

IT is often offered as a solution to the problem of destitute women. If every man married four of them, some have stated, then all women would have a male guardian, a protector, someone to support them.

IT is often offered as a solution to the problem of destitute women. If every man married four of them, some have stated, then all women would have a male guardian, a protector, someone to support them.

The reality of polygamy, however, is often neither this neat nor this simple. Last week, The National, a leading newspaper out of the United Arab Emirates, published news of emerging research that reveals how polygamy is injurious to the mental health of women in such relationships, fostering negative emotions and ultimately creating harmful patterns that detract from having a healthy emotional life.

Conducted by Dr Rana Raddawi, an English professor at the American University of Sharjah, the study surveyed 100 Arab women who were in polygamous marriages and found that many of them were consumed by feelings of neglect and jealousy that severely impacted their lives and mental health. For Dr Raddawi, the inspiration for the study came from close to home. Having known several family members in such marriages, she wanted to focus on the emotional costs of polygamy, a facet she believed was largely ignored in other studies.

Despite religious injunctions to enact perfect justice among multiple wives, Dr Raddawi found that many husbands lapse in this regard. Many of the wives she surveyed complained not only that they did not see their husbands regularly but that they were negligent in meeting their financial and support obligations.

In several cases, men did not have the ability to support several households, in which case the amount of support received by a particular wife began to depend on whether or not she was able to cultivate favour with the husband. The consequent emotional issues caused by this state of affairs ranged from depression to anger, hysteria and even illnesses.

While Dr Raddawi’s study focused primarily on the emotional consequences of polygamy on women, others studies such as one begun by the Malaysian group Sisters in Islam in 2010 have attempted to look at the wider range of problems resulting from polygamous relationships.

The Sisters in Islam study was generated because when women’s rights advocates questioned polygamy as a practice, they were often challenged and asked for evidence; their retorts were met with assertions that such issues only took place in isolated cases or when the dictates of polygamous marriage were not being actually followed.

Based on nearly 1,500 quantitative and qualitative questionnaires that were distributed in 12 Malaysian states, the Sisters in Islam study is one of the largest ever conducted on the issue.

Its findings were alarming. Results showed that not only did polygamy negatively affect the wives, it also had extremely harmful effects on children who were the product of such unions. Many reported being neglected by their father when he had obtained a new wife.

The condition also imperilled the children’s relationship with their mothers, whom they saw as weak and unable to get proper attention from their fathers. In simple terms, because the mother was the only parent that they knew and frequently interacted with, they often held her responsible for the fact that their father was not paying enough attention to them.

Children were also negatively impacted by the fact that without legal injunctions, many fathers failed to pay nafaqa, or support, to mothers, in turn forcing the mothers to take to sewing, teaching, etc., in order to support the children.

In response to these developments, it is crucial that Pakistani women (like Malaysian women or women in the UAE) be aware of the fact that a simple clause forbidding polygamy within their Muslim marriage contracts can save them from ending up in a polygamous situation. While it may not be pleasant to think about it during the festivities of a marriage, a few moments of circumspection at that crucial time can avert marital catastrophe in later years.

When offered as a solution, the picture of polygamy presented is that of an ideal, where a pious and supremely conscientious man provides for a large family of many wives and their children, making exact and precise calculations concerning his attentions and his resources.

The wives, in turn, are imagined as having only economic needs, which once met signal a fulfilment of all obligations toward them. The contribution of the two studies, conducted in cultural contexts as disparate as the UAE and Malaysia, reflect, instead, the empirical reality of polygamy — the situation as it actually exists and the neglect, abuse, depression and jealousy that is bred as a result.

For those who may not particularly be interested in the welfare of women, the quarrels, jealousy, manipulation and competition that become a part of the lives of children born of polygamous marriages may serve as a compelling argument against its practice. Perfect justice, the studies on polygamy show, is not possible for fallible humans, and anything predicated on it is, unsurprisingly, both problematic and perilous for all.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

rafia.zakaria

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

Elusive goals

Zubeida Mustafa

WITH Pakistan more concerned about the existential threat it faces, one is hardly surprised that not much is heard of the MDGs — those elusive eight points called the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 to be met in 15 years. The deadline is approaching and it is time for scrutiny of the report card.

WITH Pakistan more concerned about the existential threat it faces, one is hardly surprised that not much is heard of the MDGs — those elusive eight points called the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2000 to be met in 15 years. The deadline is approaching and it is time for scrutiny of the report card.

How has the world fared on this count? The UN MDG report of 2014 observes that these goals have made a “profound difference in people’s lives and the first goal of halving poverty was achieved five years ahead of the 2015 time frame. Ninety per cent of children in developing regions now enjoy primary education, and disparities between boys and girls in enrolment have narrowed”.

It speaks of remarkable gains having also been made in all health indicators. According to the UN, the target of halving the proportion of people who lack access to improved sources of water has also been met. The UN, however, concludes that a lot more still needs to be done to accelerate progress. As it is, the goals did not seek universal coverage in all sectors. Every goal had varying targets. If the global results pleased the UN it is understandable. Some countries performed infinitely better than others.

Pakistan’s performance in the specified eight areas with the exception of the last one was disappointing. It could have done better in the eradication of poverty, universal primary education, gender equality in school enrolment, reduction in infant mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating AIDS/malaria, etc, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Its only success (of dubious nature) was in developing partnerships — if the massive inflow of foreign assistance can be described as such. Thus of the 41 indicators the government defined to measure progress, it is said to be on track on only nine. Therefore the authorities candidly admit that six goals will not be met at all. The data given for the seventh — sustainable development — appear exaggerated. It is difficult to believe that 89pc of the population has access to potable water and the sanitation needs of 72pc are adequately met as claimed.

The problem is that the MDGs are not our priority. If anything the media also reflects that. The country is at present engaged in two wars, we are told. One is against terrorism. The other is for democracy. In the absence of information from independent sources, we cannot say how we are faring in the first. The status of the second is hazy as media reporting is often biased. So the wars go on providing the rulers and opinion makers the pretext to put the MDGs on the back burner.

This is worrying. Since all the goals pertain directly to children, any apathy towards them amounts to being indifferent to Pakistan’s future. Is it worth fighting to save the country from the militants and to inject democracy into our political system, when the life of our future citizens may be nasty, brutish and short?

The fact is that no nation can survive if it doesn’t have a holistic approach to life. One should not plan in a linear fashion while drawing up one’s priorities. Every issue that is important for the governance of a country must be prioritised and addressed equally. Had this approach been adopted right from the start, we would not have landed up in the mess we find ourselves in today.

Respect for human rights, social justice and democratic freedoms do not come as a bolt from the blue. They have to be inculcated in a child early in life and reinforced with living examples.

www.zubeidamustafa.com

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

Politics of fear

Mahir Ali

PEOPLE anywhere in the world who claim not be profoundly disturbed by the self-publicised actions of the group of combatants that calls itself Islamic State (IS) provide considerable cause for concern. It seems inhumane not to be horrified. But is it necessary, at the same time, to be petrified?

PEOPLE anywhere in the world who claim not be profoundly disturbed by the self-publicised actions of the group of combatants that calls itself Islamic State (IS) provide considerable cause for concern. It seems inhumane not to be horrified. But is it necessary, at the same time, to be petrified?

I guess it depends on where you live. In areas contiguous to IS’s substantial domain, immunity to fear would be unnatural. But does it make a lot of sense to be cowering thousands of miles away?

Well, it probably does if you take at face value the purported likelihood of IS recruits or sympathisers indulging in terrorist acts over there. In countries such as the UK, Belgium and Australia, which appear to proportionately have provided more recruits for IS than comparable Western nations, the received wisdom appears to be that some of the volunteers will be inclined to wreak havoc locally when they return.

That possibility certainly cannot be ruled out. Its likelihood, though, is tempered by several factors. Media reports suggest, for instance, that plenty of idiots who end up knocking on IS’s door are obliged to destroy their Western passports as a gesture of commitment to the ‘caliphate’. That obviously makes it rather difficult to return.

Hundreds of volunteers, at the same time, are believed to indeed have returned to countries such as Britain and Belgium. None of them is claimed to have attempted any terrorist act; in fact some organisations believe that most of those who return disillusioned are disinclined to disturb the peace.

Now that Western air strikes have been launched against IS in Iraq and Syria, there is yet another angle: will those who were previously inclined to travel from the West to the ‘caliphate’ zone now decide to stay home and do their worst over there? Again, it’s possible. Judging the probability, though, involves venturing into the realm of pure conjecture.

But fear is an invaluable political device. It has been deployed by rulers since time immemorial to manipulate public opinion. A fairly egregious recent example was the final few weeks of the Scottish referendum campaign, when a broad range of politicians, bankers, captains of industry and the media strove in tandem to create the impression that a vote for independence would presage an unmitigated economic disaster.

The tactic appeared to work. It’s by no means a one-way street, though. The eleventh-hour flurry of activity on the Scottish referendum front was itself driven by apprehension, once it belatedly became clear that a rejection of the independence option could no longer be taken for granted. In patently undemocratic societies, meanwhile, what repressive regimes fear above all is the evaporation of fear among segments of the populace. Experience tells them it’s an infectious disorder, with unpredictable consequences.

A striking manifestation of this was observed during the ‘Arab Spring’, when unrest in Tunisia, rapidly followed by regime change, was being echoed within weeks in uprisings across the region. There’s inevitably a degree of irony in the fact that since then a new palette of fears has emerged.

The ongoing protests in Hong Kong, meanwhile, also reflect a casting off of fear, albeit by no means to the same extent as the gatherings that culminated so tragically in the Tiananmen Square massacre a quarter of a century ago. Back then, Beijing’s reaction succeeded in restoring order as well as fear; no comparable expression of popular dissent has occurred in the interim. There is little risk that repression in Hong Kong will follow a similar trajectory. It’s instructive to note, though, that one of Beijing’s primary motives in thwarting the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong’s residents is the fear of possible repercussions on the mainland.

Tiananmen Square was sandwiched between a pair of intriguing occurrences. The 1988 protests in Myanmar prompted a ruthless reaction from that country’s military rulers and eventually led to the restoration of fear. In the case of the thankfully short-lived Soviet coup attempt of 1991, though, it was the would-be purveyors of fear who panicked as Muscovites, emboldened by the transformative political processes of the previous five years, emerged en masse on the streets, and, crucially, military units refused to open fire.

It didn’t take all that long, however, for fear to be reintroduced as an instrument of rule in the post-Soviet era. Today, Vladimir Putin has no qualms about deploying it at will, while his adversaries in the neighbourhood feel free to use it for their own ends.

History shows that fear is a particularly potent part of the political arsenal when it comes to whipping up war hysteria. That’s unlikely to change. But its routine use for manipulative purposes in societies that lay claim to democracy and transparency is disturbing and deserves to be far more widely questioned than has thus far generally been the case.

mahir.dawn

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2014

Need for Civil Service reforms

Shahid Kardar

THE attention to civil service reform stems from the pressure of the wage bill on the fiscal health of the government. The public sector is overstaffed and overextended. It is performing too many functions, beyond what should be the core role of the government, manned by a bureaucracy that is afflicted by lack of competence, eroding salary scales, corruption, politicisation and little accountability.

THE attention to civil service reform stems from the pressure of the wage bill on the fiscal health of the government. The public sector is overstaffed and overextended. It is performing too many functions, beyond what should be the core role of the government, manned by a bureaucracy that is afflicted by lack of competence, eroding salary scales, corruption, politicisation and little accountability.

This can be illustrated by the fact that whereas the government spends almost two percentage points lower than what is normal for a country at Pakistan’s income level there are 24 percentage points more illiterate Pakistanis. This suggests that the problem is less because of expenditure on inputs and more because of poor accountability of government functionaries.

Here, the government plays the role of an employment bureau. Governments should be creating employment, not providing it. A veritable army of peons, chowkidars and clerks stalk the corridors of the secretariat and public-sector agencies. The scale of overstaffing is such that under the service rules three categories of employees are required to get a bathroom cleaned — one to wipe the floor, one to clean the sink and one to wipe the dust off the windowsill.

There are multiple agencies with overlapping functions and mandates, engaged in similar activities. Simply drive past the Blue Area to see countless buildings with offices of government agencies with exotic names, with only a handful in Islamabad knowing their operational responsibilities.

Overstaffing has been compounded not by the increase in transactions or the growing complexity of functional responsibilities, but as a result of the upgrading of existing posts, the creation of new posts just to accommodate the burgeoning workforce or the routine regularisation of contract staff.

Moreover, the mechanisms for the public accountability of civil servants, like the Public Accounts Committee and grievance redressal systems, are ineffective. In Punjab, for instance, only 102 government functionaries were charged for any irregularity during the period 1985-2000 and even then the conviction rate was below 20pc, while the proceedings lasted a number of years. The system protects government servants. It is difficult to proceed against those not turning up for duty let alone those who attend office but do not provide any service.

The legal and institutional set-up has given rights to these employees, to the detriment of the citizenry for whom they have been purportedly employed to provide services. They have pre-empted financial resources, sometimes at the cost of the original purpose of employing them, the priority being accorded to their entitlements over the purpose (schools, healthcare facilities) or over the entitlements of service recipients. It has become a service of the employees, for the employees and by the employees.

Over time, the system has also become deeply embedded in the wider political structure, compromising independence, neutrality and competence. The system of transfers has also provided politicians leverage over the bureaucrats and an opportunity to build alliances that may extend over the entire span of the bureaucrat’s career that could be used to exercise patronage without the politicians accepting responsibility themselves.

Whereas in any system, the responsibility of those in top positions is policy analysis, the system in Pakistan has developed in such a way that it has made little contribution to the development of policy skills. This is essentially because a generalist cadre monopolises the top jobs with little expertise. In this age of specialisation a generalist with an academic qualification in English literature can be secretary education in the morning, secretary health in the afternoon and secretary finance in the evening.

They are the chosen race, treated as superior human beings to professionals (doctors, scientists, etc. in the public sector) or to employees of lower formations of government, being entitled to guaranteed promotions over time. The country pays a heavy price for preserving a system in which no one else is mobile and able to reach the highest levels in the civil service.

The disadvantages of a decision-making generalist cadre have been worsened by a system of frequent transfers, which apart from introducing other weaknesses also means that civil servants can never be held accountable or judged on the basis of performance.

Unified pay grades have also damaged incentive structures. Under this system anyone in Grade 20 gets the same compensation as, say, the finance secretary, with much greater responsibility. This irrational structure needs changing. A shift to a contractual basis of appointments can enable this.

Therefore, recruitments of the bulk of the public sector workforce should be on contract and (to counter the curse of transfers), to the extent practical, on a department-specific basis. For example, doctors should be appointed to a particular health unit on a non-transferable basis. Only a small core, recruited on the basis of specialisation (to ensure knowledge, continuity and security of tenure) should form part of the permanent cadre and paid market-based salaries, but without perks like cars, accommodation, etc.

Some of the major reasons for poor implementation of even good and well-directed government policies include archaic regulations and administrative systems and practices that are inconsistent with the declared policy. Information on procedures is not readily available and enforcement of rules and regulations is carried out in a non-transparent manner. More importantly, the power of veto is liberally distributed in the system; almost anyone can scuttle the process.

The theological principle to regulate economic activity is based on a complete distrust of the market and a belief in the state’s omnipotence. Even civil society in Pakistan is suspicious of markets providing the bureaucracy an excuse to regulate which opts for direct controls rather than market-friendly fiscal rewards and punishments. This argument will be continued in my next column.

The writer is a former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

How are the Hindus facing Hindutva?

Jawed Naqvi

INDIAN intellectuals claiming to be concerned for Pakistan’s Hindus accosted a Karachi journalist in Delhi recently. How was the minority community coping with the onslaught from Muslim extremists, she was collared frequently by India’s think tanks, which some see as a misnomer for a bevy of self-regarding nationalists. Excuse me, but it is Pakistan’s Muslims who are under attack, the journalist told them.

INDIAN intellectuals claiming to be concerned for Pakistan’s Hindus accosted a Karachi journalist in Delhi recently. How was the minority community coping with the onslaught from Muslim extremists, she was collared frequently by India’s think tanks, which some see as a misnomer for a bevy of self-regarding nationalists. Excuse me, but it is Pakistan’s Muslims who are under attack, the journalist told them.

Pakistan’s Hindus, like its Christians, were a terrified lot and the extremists often targeted them no doubt, the journalist reasoned. Those incidents, however, came mostly as efforts by the zealots to hit soft targets when they were under attack from the security forces.

The terrorists’ main quarry is our mainstream Muslims, including a majority of liberal men and women be they Shia or Sunni — all tenaciously fighting the right-wing upsurge. That’s why they are getting killed. Yes, you could say that the Saudi-style right-wing Islam was originally spawned by the state itself, and there could still be extremist sympathisers lodged deep within our institutions, she confessed.

Since according to her it was Muslims and not Hindus who were the main targets of the extremists, could the journalist explain the periodically reported exodus of asylum-seeking Hindus from Pakistan into India? That’s because you will not allow Muslim asylum seekers from Pakistan into India. The rejoinder had her interlocutors on the mat though they may not have noticed.

The exchange prompted me to ponder the much-dodged but obvious question for India. How do India’s mainstream liberal Hindus perceive their own reality vis-à-vis the Hindu right? Are they up for the fight? They write comforting editorials about the plight of Muslims in Narendra Modi’s India. They never shirk from sharing useful insights about the Sachar Commission findings, for example, which showed up Muslims as being at the bottom of the social heap. This was their lot also under Congress rule.

In economic and social scales, Muslims did not fare better under communist rule either, for example, in West Bengal, according to Justice Rajindar Sachar. I am sorry to have to describe him as one of the liberal Hindus I wish to discuss. It is this or that liberal Hindu after all who will give you a verifiable account of how Indian Christians are under attack in Orissa, or in Gujarat, and now also in Uttar Pradesh where neo-fascist Hindutva gangs have attacked churches as they deepen their hold over the nation’s polity.

Does the middle-of-the road Hindu perceive his own plight too, or does he only feel moved by whatever is happening or may be about to happen with India’s minorities? Let me frame the question frontally. I met Siddharth Varadarajan the other day. He was smoking his cigar ponderously as we discussed the rise of the Hindu right in India. It is common knowledge that Siddharth, an opened-minded secular Brahmin, lost his job as editor of The Hindu because of a reported managerial assessment that he was not giving due space to Narendra Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate.

In other words, Siddharth had to vacate his job directly or indirectly owing to the worldview he had nurtured for himself as an Indian, or, for present purposes, as an Indian Hindu. I use the word Hindu in the sense you would use Muslim to describe I.A. Rehman, Asma Jehangir, Salima Hashmi or Pervez Hoodbhoy who are all facing the extremist heat in Pakistan. It is of course an unfortunate fact of our times that I must see, purely for the purpose of this analysis, widely admired academic icons like Harbans Mukhia, Badri Raina, Prabhat Patnaik, to name just a few among hundreds, as liberal Hindus.

There was a time not too long in the past when these thorough professionals would be seen as leftist or Marxist or simply secular or liberal intellectuals. I watched with horror when a pro-Modi mob in New York tore into Rajdeep Sardesai, another (liberal Hindu) journalist who lost his job for standing up against the Hindutva wave.

Why should Prakash Karat or Sitaram Yechury be left out from the purview of such a characterisation even though the thought of their being seen as Hindu would be revolting to their staunchly atheistic communist party of which they are the main leaders? Do the comrades feel, for instance, that an entire Indian cultural tradition, which comprises 85pc Hindus, is at risk with the rise of Hindutva, not just Muslims or Christians?

Or does their definition of the threat only relate to the overused sentiment about secularism? What might happen to the Muslims or Christians in India is no doubt of serious concern, but doesn’t such a limiting filter bring us close to the German reality of the 1930s when in its pervasive fear for the Jews — who were no doubt faced with a grim threat to their existence — the world almost completely failed to notice how the open-minded and genial German had turned into a helpless spectator before Nazi successes? Some later became reluctant or even conniving admirers of the Nazi regime.

Let me illustrate my worry with reference to a discussion I recently watched on an American TV channel. Journalist Brigitte Gabriel, not known to be the best friend of Muslims, said the fact that a majority of Muslims were peaceful and not radical was irrelevant. There were 1.2 billion Muslims in the world of whom, according to Western intelligence, 15pc to 25pc had become radicals. In other words, 180 million to 300 million dedicated radicals posed a threat to the world order, including Pakistan.

I asked Prakash Karat before the parliamentary election if he saw Hindutva fascism as a threat to Indian democracy. He said the Indian bourgeoisie had alternative avenues to press its agenda without recourse to fascism. For the sake of the majority of Indians to be worried for, let’s hope the comrade is not wide of the mark yet again.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

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Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

LNG imports

Moazzam Husain

THE petroleum minister has described as a game changer an initiative to import Liquefied Natural Gas to fuel cars with CNG. Under the proposal the CNG pump operators can set up one or more special purpose vehicles (SPV) to import LNG, which would be re-gasified on arrival at the Port Qasim terminal facility presently under construction. It will then be piped to CNG stations countrywide through the leaky pipelines’ infrastructure of the two gas utility companies.

THE petroleum minister has described as a game changer an initiative to import Liquefied Natural Gas to fuel cars with CNG. Under the proposal the CNG pump operators can set up one or more special purpose vehicles (SPV) to import LNG, which would be re-gasified on arrival at the Port Qasim terminal facility presently under construction. It will then be piped to CNG stations countrywide through the leaky pipelines’ infrastructure of the two gas utility companies.

The minister has claimed this would shave $2.5 billion off the oil import bill, make available a 35pc cheaper fuel for consumers and also save the sagging CNG industry.

That the initiative also proposes to exempt LNG imports from GST and the gas infrastructure development cess (GIDC) suggests that the rate differential between the landed costs of crude oil and LNG may not be very much. That in fact if these are applied, it may squeeze the profit margins of the CNG pump operators down to the bone. This also potentially belies the $2.5bn saving claim.

This is akin to providing a subsidy to a scheme that may not otherwise be viable. The petroleum ministry’s argument that the imported LNG would free up gas that the CNG sector presently receives and this would then be diverted to the textile sector and independent power producers (IPP) where it would continue to yield taxes and the cess is fallacious and a distortion of competition.

While the measure may simultaneously placate PML-N’s traditional constituencies — the textile lobby, IPP owners, CNG station owners and millions of vehicle owners — it violates the principle of neutrality of broad-based taxation. The principle states that GST is a tax on consumption, irrespective of the product being consumed, and is to be paid by the final consumer.

Similarly the cess is meant to be used on developing future gas infrastructure and it makes little sense to exempt LNG because at some stage, if demand picks up, more pipeline capacity would need to be built.

At least transparency and national accounting practices would be better served if the government were to levy the tax and cess with one hand and with the other give a direct cash subsidy to vehicle drivers buying CNG at the stations.

So why have the CNG pump operators, with their SPV and the best of intentions, been unable to make this scheme commercially viable? To comprehend this we need to understand that the international LNG trade is carried on between a closed club, where the buyers and sellers are blue chip entities with A or AA credit ratings. As such, entities with lower ratings should expect to receive less favourable terms.

There are 19 exporting countries, Qatar accounting for a third of global production; and 25 importing countries led by Japan, South Korea and Europe. A limited 400 special LNG tankers ply cargo, spanning the globe from Alaska to Australia, the typical cargo value being $200 million. Among these, smaller size vessels of cargo worth $30m to $80m are also available but buying in smaller lots pushes up the landed cost per unit.

Vessel charter rates are also highly volatile. A good part of the cost in this business is in the supply chain and the handling. Importantly, Qatar with its predisposition for larger cargoes, would mean the SPV will have to pick up cargo from more distant destinations which would further drive up its per unit landed cost.

Even once it arrives, a further 10pc of the gas will be lost (and become part of the unaccounted for gas losses) during distribution. The final price at the CNG pumps, including profit, may well be only a fraction lower than petrol — hence the proposal to exempt it from GST and cess.

A better option may be to capacitate PSO, the country’s largest fuel importer, to handle LNG imports. PSO has a more robust financial position than any SPV the CNG pump operators will be able to come up with. It also has better experience of negotiating contracts, procurement procedures and can source much better deals. PSO will be able to achieve an economies effect and land the product at lower per unit prices.

It makes more sense for PSO to spin off a division to handle LNG requirements of all industrial sectors than for individual sectors to go it alone. The petroleum ministry must ask PSO to conduct a feasibility study on the opportunity.

Utmost, of course, systemic gas losses need to be plugged before piping expensive gas into it. This issue should be addressed head on rather than glossing over it by extending tax subsidies and distorting markets.

The writer is a business strategist and entrepreneur.

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Twitter: @moazzamhusain

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Wrong strategy

Samia Altaf

IN May, when 54 polio cases had been diagnosed in Pakistan, the agency charged with monitoring eradication efforts, the World Health Organisation’s Independent Monito­ring Board, described the situation as “dire”. The IMB accused the government of “shadow-boxing” against the virus and urged the establishment of emergency monitoring cells and the direct involvement of the prime minister.

IN May, when 54 polio cases had been diagnosed in Pakistan, the agency charged with monitoring eradication efforts, the World Health Organisation’s Independent Monito­ring Board, described the situation as “dire”. The IMB accused the government of “shadow-boxing” against the virus and urged the establishment of emergency monitoring cells and the direct involvement of the prime minister.

Pakistan followed those recommendations. However, as the IMB prepares to meet today, the number of polio cases has more than trebled, to 174, with cases detected in Punjab and Balochistan, earlier assumed to be polio-free. The government is, understandably, nervous about the meeting.

The current eradication programme, even following IMB recommendations, has not been effective. It will remain this way, despite increasing anti-polio campaigns, monitoring committees, and the intimidation of recalcitrant patients. The design and strategy mean the programme has no hope of success; at best, it is ineffective. At worst, it is exacerbating the problem.

One of the most serious problems begins with the very nature of these efforts. The Polio Eradication Initiative is a vertical programme —structurally and operationally outside the routine service-delivery system. It has its own funding, implementation plans, and personnel, supported mostly by donor funding with little provincial involvement. Vertical programmes have a history of success, when they provide brief, intense, focused activities in well-defined geographic locations for well-defined populations. Vertical programmes exist to support or add to routine health services; they are never meant to replace or substitute for them.

A communicable disease like polio is controlled by creating “herd immunity” — effective vaccination of around 90pc of the vulnerable population. The “vulnerable population” for polio is large; a new cohort is added each year, meaning that creating herd immunity is not a small, focused task that can be handled by a vertical programme conducting campaigns. They have had limited usefulness in certain cases, but the current situation requires far more than a desperate campaign with an ever-increasing target.

The only real solution is a stable, consistent delivery system responsive to the needs of recipients and providers and that can earn people’s trust. This system is missing here, and no one seems interested in building it.

The problems in the service delivery system have been clear for decades. Problems exist on the supply side — in the timely transport, cold-chain maintenance, and supply of vaccines.

On the demand side, information about the nature of the vaccine is unavailable or incorrect; the programmes do not have enough staff, and those they have are poorly trained and paid; and people do not trust the authorities who rush to provide unidentifiable drops while most other forms of healthcare are unavailable.

The 2013-2017 Emergency Plan for Polio Eradication, at a cost of $328.8 million, remains silent on how these issues will be addressed. But the donors increase the funding, the government increases the target population, and everyone, including the technical consultants, the experts, and policymakers who continue to push this strategy, is content that something is being done. Eventually, something has to work, after all.

The government is reacting blindly, in a panic — it wants to be seen as doing something. Unfortunately, squeezing drops into children’s mouths from the back of a truck is not a workable long-term strategy. One dose of OPV does not confer immunity.

Dropping pamphlets from aeroplanes, in a country with low literacy rates, does not provide useful information. The country is paying a heavy price for these photo ops — including the campaign workers, many of whom have been killed while working in anti-polio drives. That is leaving aside the opportunity cost — in time, in lives, in dollars.

The polio eradication programme cannot be simply a super-sized version of what has come before. It has to be completely rethought. Eliminating polio in Pakistan requires an indigenous, contextually appropriate programme based on the routine service delivery system — supplemented, not replaced, by vertical programmes.

Given the diversity of the target population, provinces and districts will need specific activities appropriate to their environments. Donors must tie their funding to concrete, sensible efforts — including the unglamorous and un-photogenic matter of staff salaries and administrative mechanisms.

Among its specific suggestions, the IMB included in May an abstract request for “transformative action”. That, perhaps because it was more difficult than establishing a monitoring cell, has not yet happened. But without such transformative action, Pakistan will just keep on shadow-boxing. There may be some good photo-ops along the way. There will not, however, be victory.

The writer, a public health physician, is the author of So Much Aid, So Little Development: Stories from Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2014

Our civil-military muddle

Babar Sattar

Senator Raza Rabbani had a point when he said during the joint parliamentary session that there is an urgent need for an earnest dialogue between our political and military leaders. Notwithstanding who emerges as winner in the current political crisis, one thing has been laid bare: the roots of democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan are skin-deep and a significant section of our political class and society still deems direct or indirect military intervention a viable and desirable means to effect regime change.

Senator Raza Rabbani had a point when he said during the joint parliamentary session that there is an urgent need for an earnest dialogue between our political and military leaders. Notwithstanding who emerges as winner in the current political crisis, one thing has been laid bare: the roots of democracy and constitutionalism in Pakistan are skin-deep and a significant section of our political class and society still deems direct or indirect military intervention a viable and desirable means to effect regime change.

This is not a conversation about how things ought to be but how they are. Our military has a history of interfering in politics and no manifest appetite to endure civilian control. Our elected leaders seem utterly incapable of putting their own house in order, let alone rising to the multifarious challenges confronting our polity. And many in our society have been socialised into thinking that an adventurous military saving us from ourselves is a blessing.

The manner in which we approach and resolve our civil-military conflict is no academic matter. Pre­sently, our foreign, trade and internal security policies are subsets of our defence policy (which masquerades as a national security policy).

Our military believes that defining and implementing such a policy falls within its exclusive domain. The resulting civil-military conflict is a natural outcome of the mili­­tary’s articulation of its role and responsibilities.

Those who think that our civil-military imbalance will be fixed either by trying a general or appeasing other generals must think again. Our history of military predominance has perpetuated certain institutional and societal norms that are more relevant to shaping the behaviour of both the military and political actors amidst a crisis than anything written in the Constitution. Reality is that our polity continues to function on the premise that the military sits atop the food chain.

Why should a prime minister backed by parliament ask his army chief to become the arbiter-in-chief in a political crisis? Why did he feel the need to demonstrate to the public that the army chief stood by and not against him? Why did Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri run helter-skelter to meet the army chief when summoned? Why did they wish to be on his right side? Was it perceived ‘national aspirations’ that prodded this wartime army chief to ‘sort out’ squabbling politicos?

We have had Gen Ziaul Haq declare that, “when political leaders fail to rescue the country out of a crisis, it is an inexcusable sin for the armed forces to sit as silent spectators…” We have had Gen Musharraf proclaim that with a government intriguing to destroy “the last institution of stability” (ie the army), the choice is “between saving the body — that is the nation, at the cost of losing a limb — which is the Constitution”.

We have recently seen Gen Sisi of Egypt successfully argue that political protests can lead to civil war and translate into a national security threat requiring military intervention. And further that while an elected government acquires legitimacy through polls, people can withdraw support through street protest and vest it in someone else. In other words, a street protest-based regime change model involving political protesters and a saviour military is no crazy idea.

So cynics imagine scriptwriters (to GHQ’s chagrin) because (i) there is no legal means to oust the government at present, (ii) Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri claim that the government has lost its legitimacy due to their protests and if left ‘unattended’ the situation could lead to civil war, (iii) military interventions aren’t a thing of the past (eg Egypt and Thailand), and (iv) our military has neither lost its ability to intervene nor its perceived overarching role as guardian of the state.

The Army and Democracy, an incisive analysis of military politics in Pakistan by old friend and accomplished scholar Dr Aqil Shah is a must read for thinking civil and military leaders. His main thesis is that the “military’s tutelary beliefs and norms, a legacy of its formative experience under conditions of geopolitical insecurity and nation-building problems, have profoundly shaped its political interventions and influence by justifying the authoritarian expansion of its role in state and society”.

Shah convincingly argues that the brand of military professionalism that has evolved in Pakistan drags the military into politics as opposed to keeping it away. And that the “Pakistani army … unaccustomed to the norms of civilian supremacy … has yet to unconditionally consider democracy the only game in town”.

Our political class that has failed to aggregate citizen interests, respond to our needs and shepherd us out of the woods is indefensible. But if a majority of this class is the outcome of military interventions of the past, what makes sane minds think that similar interventions will bear different results? Let’s throw out a rotten system. But what shall we replace it with? Isn’t our system rotting due to failed khaki experiments that have blown up in our faces and not despite them?

Even a functional government will find it hard to achieve smoother civil-military ties because the perceived roles of civil and military institutions at present are not complementary but overlapping and conflicting. So long as the military is the sheriff in town, it will remain politically expeditious for newer political players to seek khaki sponsorship. In short, Pakistan’s problems are such that eliminating opportunities for military intervention is no cakewalk.

Our civil-military divide is consuming us. To address it we need an honest dialogue between our political and military elites leading to a consensus over three foundational issues: what is our vision regarding the future of our state (ie welfare or security state internally; revisionist or conformist state internationally)? Who will do what (ie will defence policy trump foreign policy and who will have the final say)? What will be the accepted means of regime change (ie as laid down in law or street power)?

Once we have agreement on the overall vision and rules of the game, rethinking institutional norms and re-socialising emerging civilian and military leaders will be the easy part.

The writer is a lawyer.

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Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

South Punjab as a solution

Umair Javed

TWO recent events — the Punjab-centric nature of current politics in Islamabad, and the PPP chairperson’s recent visit to south Punjab — have redirected attention towards the subject of new provinces. The rationale for the issue is fairly clear: Pakistan as a country of 180 million plus people cannot be governed (in any productive way, at least) through only four federating units.

TWO recent events — the Punjab-centric nature of current politics in Islamabad, and the PPP chairperson’s recent visit to south Punjab — have redirected attention towards the subject of new provinces. The rationale for the issue is fairly clear: Pakistan as a country of 180 million plus people cannot be governed (in any productive way, at least) through only four federating units.

Out of all existing proposals, the case for south Punjab is perhaps the most immediate in terms of its political footprint, as well as its developmental justification. Punjab is currently one of the largest federating units in the world, bigger than most countries by both population and area.

While a favourable history has precipitated rapid capital accumulation, outward migration, and urbanisation in the north, the burden of indifference and a less favourable past has induced high poverty, greater inequality, and sluggish upward mobility and growth in the south. Little surprise then that, according to a recent Alif Ailaan fact sheet, 10 out of the bottom 13 districts in terms of proportion of out-of-school children are from that particular region.

Developmental reasons aside, another reason given for the bifurcation of the province pertains to its political imprint on federalism. The province provides over half of all National Assembly seats (148 out of 272), of which 100 exist in the densely populated, well-connected region of north and central Punjab.

Consequently, party incentives are geared towards sweet-talking the relatively well-off electorate in those 100 seats, while the use of political elites as party proxies is utilised in the impoverished south. This has been the strategy of choice for not just the ruling PML-N, but also Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the main opposition party in the province.

What do we see happening as a result? For starters, the government is accused of consistently padding its northern home turf through development spending, with the occasional gimmick being thrown towards the south. To date, it has made no effort to ground itself in other parts of the country through local level initiatives.

The important question then is does a bifurcation of the province into two resolve the following two issues: the issue of development spending and service delivery; and the impact on federalism and political party priorities.

The first is straightforward. The current NFC and 18th Amendment arrangement would devolve fiscal transfers and administration to the new province, whereby spending could potentially happen based on the requirements of its constituent districts.

The second issue, that of political party incentives and health of federalism is trickier. A new province, for all its merits, is not being drawn on a blank slate. There is a pre-existing pattern of politics in the region, one that would not be easy to displace. At the immediate outset, the two provinces would only — and this is worth stressing — have the desired political impact if their electorates vote differently, and on different issues.

If a new province were created today, the PML-N would still be dominating the entire Punjab region, and would actually increase its control over the Senate through the extra seats allotted to the new federating unit.

The moral of the story is that as long as one Punjab-based party keeps winning a majority in the two regions — through active party work in the north, and through inducting political elites in the south — the basic skew in party incentives, and at the federal level will remain unchanged.

The second, more sustainable, way is if the PPP, and current provincial autonomy movements in the south, step up their efforts to engage, organise, and socialise the electorate on region-specific issues. This would most likely ensure different voting outcomes, and hence induce a clearer distinction from the north. More importantly, it will finally force the current ruling party in the province to engage with the electorate beyond its current comfort zone.

The writer is a freelance columnist.

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Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

The one constant

Talat Farooq

“ABROAD, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.” Thus spoke President Obama while outlining his IS (Islamic State) strategy.

“ABROAD, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world.” Thus spoke President Obama while outlining his IS (Islamic State) strategy.

Basking in its self-image of a ‘benevolent hegemon’ the US assumed the mantle of unchallenged global leader following the Soviet Union’s demise and the ‘unipolar moment’. Global leadership, however, is not only about enjoying the perks of a formidable position: it is primarily about upholding international law while not setting short-sighted precedents to the detriment of global stability. Post-9/11, the US has failed to live up to the standard.

Despite his criticism of the Bush approach during the election campaign, Obama is set to perpetuate militarist solutions to complex problems after trying his hand at retrenchment. US intelligence reports show that IS has neither the means nor the intent to threaten the US; its goals are inter-regional. Thus, the US aerial bombardment in Syria falls within the ambit of an unprovoked attack on a sovereign state.

The Obama administration is justifying the president’s unilateral war-making authority against IS on the basis of the Bush-era congressional authorisations of force against those who could be tied to groups responsible for 9/11 and against Iraq.

Interestingly, in June this year Obama called for the repeal of the Iraq authorisation to obviate any re-engagement of its ground troops in Iraq. Similarly, legal experts argue that the 2001 authorisation does not cover IS that was created long after 2001 and has been publicly disowned by Al Qaeda. The point is that a ‘benevolent hegemon’ should be seen to err on the side of lawful caution, not legal ambiguity.

Post-9/11 US open-ended strategies have failed to prudently take unintended consequences into account. Drone attacks in Pakistan without a formal deal, for instance, compromise the status of the Durand Line besides aggravating state-society mistrust. Such trans-border attacks — now expanded to Syria — add a new dimension to international relations by diluting the concept of the nation state. How does this approach make the ‘global leader’ different from non-state militants who do not honour legitimate state boundaries?

In the absence of international laws of unconventional warfare, the US calls the shots. Issues of distinction and proportionality have been supplanted with re-definitions of ‘self-defence’ and ‘co-belligerence’ with civilian deaths dehumanised as ‘collateral damage”.

The US has traditionally predicated its Middle East strategy on the principle of balance of power. What the US applied to nation-states to further its interests in the region is now being applied to non-state combatants. This is a flawed approach because unlike sovereign states empowered trans-national militants cannot be pressured into following international norms. A regional approach to the IS problem cannot work without taking Iran and Syria on board. Failure to do so will only widen the Shia-Sunni gulf and benefit IS.

A major component of US strategy is its dependence on arming and training rebel groups or ‘rebuilding’ pro-US national armies. So far both the Afghan and Iraqi armies have proved inadequate when facing militants. Similarly, the Free Syrian Army — that Obama plans to support overtly — has not been a match for the Assad regime or the jihadists. Small wonder that Gen Dempsey wants to keep his options open despite Obama’s pledge not to deploy US ground forces in Iraq or Syria.

National armies are part of a society’s socio-cultural milieu and cannot be imposed from above. It is not surprising that improvised armies tend to melt away or join rival militant groups following curtailment or termination of foreign aid. Trained and armed men then have the capacity to become a national and international headache as witnessed after the Soviet-Afghan war.

Bush-Obama strategies have failed to destroy Al Qaeda networks or the Taliban: the outcome has been the emergence of a more brutal, organised IS. At the end of the day superior weapons cannot change mindsets; sustained diplomacy and positive engagement can.

To be worthy of ‘constant’ global leadership in ‘an uncertain world’ the US must look inwards and accept its own militarist contribution to the world’s uncertainty.

The writer is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security, Birmingham University.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

Dog eat dog

Hajrah Mumtaz

I asked the gentleman behind the counter how often this one was selected. He said as much as any other, and that it was usually picked by pre-pubescent boys.

I asked the gentleman behind the counter how often this one was selected. He said as much as any other, and that it was usually picked by pre-pubescent boys.

Meanwhile, reports in the press last week quoted attendees at a peace convention in Islamabad saying that in Swat, there had been a discernible increase in the number of children fond of and using weapon-shaped pens. Writing tools in the shape of rocket launchers, pistols, knives and so on were being sold freely, they said. One participant, a Saidu Sharif college student, said she had visited several government and private schools where such pens were in vogue. “I saw children acting like the Taliban and talking about kidnapping and killing each other,” she added.

Now consider this: the house where I live overlooks a yard where a group of eight to 10 children play together every evening, both boys and girls, ages in the six to eight years bracket. They are from well-off families, go to good schools and play the usual games.

I hear them discussing what they’re going to play. On some days, it’s baraf pani, or cricket, or kho kho, or a replication of a classroom. On other days, they play ‘suicide bombing’. This entails one child shouting out, “Bang!” after which they all fall about saying things like, “Oh, my arm is broken” or “My head is bleeding”. Yes, I really have heard them calling out, “Let’s play suicide bombing”.

They also play bandits. Curiously enough — or perhaps not — this is the only one in which they divide themselves up gender-wise. The game involves the boys hiding in a corner, the girls walking round it chattering, and the boys jumping out at them yelling and generally being aggressive. The girls scream and run away.

On Friday, the day the MQM called a strike across the city to protest the arrest of some of its workers, a seven-year-old solemnly informed me, “sheher kay halaat bohat kharaab ho rahay hain [the situation in the city is worsening]”.

Given the violence that rules Pakistani streets, whether it is bombings or armed hold-ups, it would perhaps be surprising if children from Swat to Karachi did not play these sorts of games, and show such predilections. Across the world, through the ages, children have mimicked in their games a watered-down version of the adult world which they are grappling to understand. Along with the good, the horror that they are too young to comprehend gets turned into stories and songs, administered, so to speak, to little minds in small doses.

Consider, for example, the nursery rhyme ‘Ring, a ring of roses, a pocket full of posies,’ which is believed to have its origins in the Great Plague of London (though some dispute this) — that the ‘all fall down’ refers to falling down dead. The Brothers Grimm’s stories are far from cheery, and the cowboys and Indians game reflects a regrettable history. The world is, after all, not a pleasant place.

Nevertheless, it can be argued that regardless of the origins of the games and stories I’ve recounted, the realities of children playing them in the modern world are far removed from the risk of plague or being abandoned in the forest by poverty-stricken parents (Hansel and Gretel).

The situation Pakistan’s children face is different, though. Fear and death are the constant wcompanions of many millions of the hapless, with terrorism and poverty only the beginning.

What will be the outcome of this? What will the generations that are growing up in modern-day Pakistan, with all its problems and fault lines and divisions, look like? Some scenarios can be guessed at.

Amongst those that are relatively insulated from violence and active threats, such as children born to wealth and privilege (though even they aren’t immune), it might instil a glaring lack of empathy and human compassion.

What makes me despair, though, is the cake with the gun. That means that even in the educated, wealthy and world-aware sections of Karachi, there are parents actively encouraging the gun culture. And somehow, that’s not really surprising.

The writer is a member of staff.

hajrahmumtaz

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014

India’s Great Power game

Munir Akram

THE election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and geopolitical developments — particularly the US pivot to Asia and the Russia’s new Cold War with the West — have revived India’s prospects of achieving Great Power status. In quick succession, Modi has visited Japan’s ‘nationalistic’ prime minister; hosted China’s president; and will be received this week by the US president in Washington.

THE election of Narendra Modi as prime minister and geopolitical developments — particularly the US pivot to Asia and the Russia’s new Cold War with the West — have revived India’s prospects of achieving Great Power status. In quick succession, Modi has visited Japan’s ‘nationalistic’ prime minister; hosted China’s president; and will be received this week by the US president in Washington.

The US obviously wishes to embrace India as a partner in containing a rising China, responding to a resurgent Russia and fighting ‘Islamic terrorism’.

It is prepared to bend over backwards to secure India’s partnership. During his Washington visit, Modi is likely to be offered the most advanced American defence equipment; military training and intelligence cooperation; endorsement of India’s position on ‘terrorism’; investment, including in India’s defence industries; nuclear reactor sales; support for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and a prominent role in Afghanistan after US-Nato withdrawal. There will be no mention of the Kashmir dispute, nor of past or current human rights violations in India.

The reticence, if any, in this love fest is likely to emanate from India rather than the US. While seeking all the advantages of a strategic partnership with the US, India is unwilling to relinquish the benefits of its relationships with Russia, China, Iran and other power players.

India’s evolving relationship with China is complex. Both Asian giants see the benefits of trade and investment cooperation and want to ‘democratise’ the post-Second World War economic order dominated by America. During President Xi Jinping’s recent visit China offered to invest $20 billion in industrial parks including in Modi’s home state of Gujarat and to support India’s infrastructure development.

Yet, there are obvious limitations in the Sino-Indian relationship. Memories of its defeat in the 1962 border war with China still rankle in India. The border dispute has been managed but not resolved. There is expectation of future strategic rivalry, felt more strongly in India than China. New Delhi wishes to become China’s military and economic equal in Asia and the world. In particular, India desires an end to China’s strategic relationship with and support to Pakistan — a price Beijing is unwilling to pay.

Without compromising its strategic options, China is prepared to adopt a benign posture towards India, in part to prevent its incorporation in the US-led Asian alliances around China’s periphery. As some Chinese officials put it: “When you have the wolf [US] at the front door, you do not worry about the fox [India] at the back door.” If India does eventually emerge as a US strategic partner, Beijing will exercise its options to neutralise it including through greater support to Pakistan. For the present, China’s advice to Pakistan is to avoid a confrontation with India.

The complexity of the Sino-Indian relationship was on display during President Xi’s visit when news surfaced of a face-off between Chinese and Indian troops on China’s border with India-held Kashmir. It is unlikely that the Chinese would have instigated the incident while their president was in India. According to Indian sources, the “robust” Indian troop deployment to confront Chinese border forces could only have been authorised by the Indian prime minister. Was this then a demonstration of Modi’s muscular credentials meant for his hardline domestic constituency or perhaps a message of common cause to the US on the eve of Modi’s Washington visit?

The new Russia-West Cold War over Ukraine will enhance the ability of India (and other non-aligned countries) to play the two sides against each other. But it will also lower the tolerance of both protagonists for third-party positions that are seen as inimical to their vital interests.

So far, the Russians have been quite accommodative of India’s developing relationship with the US and the growing diversification of India’s huge arms purchases away from Russia.

Until now, Moscow has maintained its undeclared embargo on defence supplies to Pakistan in deference to its long-standing relationship with India. However, given India’s closer relationship with the US, Russia’s reinforced strategic cooperation with China, and the slow divorce between Pakistan and the US, the Russian reticence towards Pakistan, and its emotional bond with India, are receding. Moscow is now more likely to adopt a more ‘balanced’ posture towards India and Pakistan on defence and other issues, including Afghanistan.

The most proximate impediment to India’s quest for Great Power status remains Pakistan. So long as Pakistan does not accept India’s regional pre-eminence, other South Asian states will also resist Indian diktat. India cannot feel free to play a great global power role so long as it is strategically tied down in South Asia by Pakistan.

India under Modi has maintained the multifaceted Indian strategy to break down Pakistan’s will and capacity to resist Indian domination.

This strategy includes: building overwhelming military superiority, conventional and nuclear, against Pakistan; isolating Pakistan by portraying it as the ‘epicentre’ of terrorism; encouraging

Baloch separatism and TTP terrorism (through Afghanistan) to destabilise Pakistan; convincing Pakistan’s elite of the economic and cultural benefits of ‘cooperation’ on India’s terms.

In this endeavour, India is being actively assisted by certain quarters in the West.

Insufficient thought has been given in New Delhi and Western capitals to the unintended consequences of this strategy. It has strengthened the political position of the nationalists and the Islamic extremists in Pakistan. Islamabad’s vacillation in confronting the TTP was evidence of this. Further, the growing asymmetry in India-Pakistan conventional defence capabilities has obliged Pakistan to rely increasingly on the nuclear option to maintain credible deterrence.

The combination of unresolved disputes, specially Kashmir, the likelihood of terrorist incidents and a nuclear hair-trigger military environment, has made the India-Pakistan impasse the single greatest threat to international peace and security.

New Delhi’s bid for Great Power status could be quickly compromised if another war broke out, by design or accident, with Pakistan.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Ticking clock

Cyril Almeida

WE’VE been here before and we haven’t. It matters and it doesn’t. What goes around comes around. The winners will be the losers, eventually. The losers will return, eventually.

WE’VE been here before and we haven’t. It matters and it doesn’t. What goes around comes around. The winners will be the losers, eventually. The losers will return, eventually.

What’s new about what’s going on in Pakistan? The boys are greedy, the pols are grubby, and everyone else gets to watch the boys and the pols fight over dividing what ought to belong to the people.

We’ve seen it all before, we’ll see it all again. If we could leave it at that, no big deal. Everyone could get on with their lives.

Birth pangs of a new scheme of things, death convulsions of the old order, something in between, time would tell. Eventually, we may cross over from the Hobbesian to the Lockean.

But time — that’s the problem. Deep down there’s a fear many may feel but few want to articulate: this project, this country, this endeavour, it may be running out of time.

First though the issue of what’s visibly going on. Essentially, the debate is about systems vs results: which would you prefer?

Democrats, the few that there are here, are arguing for the system. The people are demanding results. To be fair, if the system has failed the people — and it has — then why root for a broken system?

Here’s the problem: simultaneously, the locus of power is also being contested. And without a fixed locus of power, there’s little any centre of power can do to deliver to the people in a meaningful, sustainable way.

Essentially, who’s supposed to call the shots and, critically, remain calling the shots: the elected folk or the unelected boys? Until we figure that out, there’ll be no results, none of that stuff the people need and are agitating for.

Nonsense, you’re thinking, the boys don’t want to take over. But that doesn’t matter. The damage is already done.

Imagine you’re a politician. After this, post inquilab and azadi, what’s your incentive to think long term, to fix the system?

Zardari was pushed into survival mode right off the bat; Nawaz’s mandate has been killed off in little over a year — so why bother thinking five years and to the even more remote possibility of reward in the form of re-election?

Aha, but even if they could, you’re thinking, they wouldn’t have anyway — politicians are scummy and never had the people’s interests at heart.

Probably. It is still though a lasting damage that will come of all of this: the politician’s incentive to think long term — the little incentive he had — has been killed off.

And here’s why the damage will be lasting: if the politicians won’t, the boys can’t. And can’t is worse.

Go back to the first three years of Musharraf. The seven-point governance plan and its execution were about as good as it has ever got on the governance side in seven decades of this country’s existence.

Great, so all we need is a decade and a half of that and, boom, the country is solidly middle-income, educated, vibrant, and ready for more.

Except, no. Forget ideological considerations, democratic preferences, suspicions about the boys’ real motives, etc.

The single most compelling reason against military rule is, the time it would take for much-needed reforms to become irreversible is longer than the time a dictator can hold on to power.

For reasons of history, for reasons of politics, for reasons of society, for reasons of jurisprudence, a dictator-for-life isn’t happening here. We can thank the gods for such small mercies or pray fervently that they be withdrawn, but that’s the reality here.

After three years, Musharraf’s court-sanctioned grip on power loosened. His need for fresh political legitimacy from there on drew him into the very compromises that slowly choked his original reforms agenda.

Dictators can’t hang on here — it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Pakistan, but, if you don’t care about the democratic system, it’s also the worst.

Because dictatorships are condemned to having a shorter life than the time it would take to make reforms (assuming they’re of the right kind) irreversible and self-sustaining, to drag us from a vicious cycle to a virtuous one.

As long as the locus of power remains contested, the problem of results will remain: the boys can’t, the pols won’t.

If that was all there was to this story, most of us could tune out and let the chips fall where they will. Nawaz, Imran, Raheel — who cares when we already know they have no real incentive to nor will the system let them.

Except — the clock. Time.

As Pakistan declines, as the state crumbles, as systems fail, as results diminish and possibilities shrink, there is one system that is going in the opposite direction: the infrastructure of jihad — the mosque-madressah-social welfare network that creates an enabling environment for religiously tainted radical ideologies and violent agendas — is booming.

The only growth industry in Pakistan is the militant complex. It’s everywhere, so ubiquitous now that few even recognise it as an aberration. And soon, we may find out what happens when a booming industry, the infrastructure of jihad, catches up to and overtakes a declining state.

Miserable and predictable as civ-mil and Pyrrhic wars among the civilians are, it would almost — almost — be acceptable if it were the only game in town. Eventually, someone would win.

But there’s a dark horse, the infrastructure of jihad, in this race now. And the longer the race goes on, the more miserable and predictable iterations of the old equation are, the more it looks like the dark horse may win.

Time — that’s really what Pakistan doesn’t have much of anymore.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Tightrope walk

S. Mudassir Ali Shah

THE unity government deal between the combative Afghan presidential runners has evoked an over-optimistic response from influential world capitals. But the accord, however you phrase it, is a curt reminder of political wheeling and dealing in a nascent democracy that remains mired in primitive tribalism and warlordism.

THE unity government deal between the combative Afghan presidential runners has evoked an over-optimistic response from influential world capitals. But the accord, however you phrase it, is a curt reminder of political wheeling and dealing in a nascent democracy that remains mired in primitive tribalism and warlordism.

Deal vs democracy: The accord and the ensuing poll results may have mitigated political uncertainty in the immediate term, but disquieting questions about the incoming government’s credibility remain. As part of the hazy pact, the election commission pointedly avoided releasing the final tallies to tamp down ethnic tensions.

Under the deal, which has literally rendered the two election rounds meaningless, Abdullah has become chief executive officer, a position created to address his allegation of industrial-scale rigging. His legitimacy will stem from constitutional amendments, making him as powerful as the president.

Mismatch of perceptions: Ghani and Abdullah have a conspicuous mismatch of perceptions on key questions. At the hustings, the former came across as a statesman with a vision for rebuilding Afghanistan’s war-

ravaged economy, introducing a culture of merit and national reconciliation. Conversely, Abdullah sounded like a pugnacious political maverick caught in a time warp. He harped on his close association with Ahmad Shah Massoud, a hero to Tajiks but the proverbial villain of the piece to Pakhtuns. He also touted plans for bringing together all jihadi leaders on a single platform and giving them a say in the new administration.

His acolytes have repeatedly warned of stor­ming the Presidential Palace, forming a parallel government and launching ‘Orange’ and ‘Green’ movements before going in for civil disobedience in a country that needs to be at peace with itself. How well the political foes could work together remains in doubt. Their mistrust is too deep-seated to go away in the near future, posing an impediment to good governance.

Abdullah called off his boycott of the election panel and embraced the UN-monitored vote audit in return for cushy government posts. Albeit reluctantly, he accepted the poll result which, according to European observers, suggested large-scale fraud.

Talks with Taliban: In addition to dealing with inordinate demands from an intransigent coalition partner, Ghani will have to contend with several intractable challenges, including reconciliation with the insurgents, who have slammed the new government as a US puppet. The militants have vowed to continue fighting against those whom they’ve branded as Western lackeys foisted upon the Afghan nation.

Important regional powers like China and Russia want the Afghans to combat the Taliban insurgency on their own, but Kabul apparently lacks the will either to negotiate with the rebels from a position of strength or launch a decisive crackdown on them. This position is bound to make the peace parleys an exercise in futility.

Islamabad can indubitably play a crucial role in pushing the reconciliation campaign, but Kabul’s incessant Pakistan-bashing is enough to dampen this prospect. Addition­ally, the Taliban assert their independence as a movement determined to drive “foreign invaders” from Afghanistan. While seeking to enforce Sharia, they do not want to be perceived as a tool in the hands of a particular nation.

Drug commerce: Combating the illicit drug commerce is another area where the Ghani administration will remain reliant on international assistance. Just like the ruthless insurgency, the Taliban also seem to be winning the war on drugs in Afghanistan, which accounts for 75pc of the world’s heroin. It produced a record poppy crop despite America’s $7 billion counternarcotics effort. As their pene­­tration of the drug market is expan­ding, the Taliban’s control of the illegal trade is likely to in­­crease with the pullout of Nato forces. The fighters’ annual windfall from the illicit trade is estimated at $125 million.

Security pacts: Evolving a national consensus on the stay of foreign troops beyond 2014 is compulsory, but appears elusive, at least at this point in time. Ghani, aware of Kabul’s financial constraints, is expected to sign a bilateral security agreement with the US and a status of forces agreement with Nato. This has to be done to ensure salaries of civil servants, teachers, soldiers and policemen are bankrolled regularly. To his discomfort, many Afghan leaders have voiced their aversion to the continued presence of foreign soldiers, blamed for civilian killings and nighttime raids.

Warlordism: The inclusion of people like Rashid Dostum in the new government also speaks volumes for the sway warlords still hold in Afghanistan. Accused of war crimes and trampling on women’s rights, his role in governance cannot be justified in any democratic dispensation.

Getting to grips with all these challenges is going to be a tightrope walk for Ghani.

The writer is a senior Pakistani journalist currently based in Kabul.

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

Social safeguards

Arif Azad

THE roots of the British welfare state can be traced to the Beveridge report of 1942. This document identified five major evils — want, ignorance, idleness, squalor and disease — and exhorted the government to work to alleviate them. Thus evolved the British welfare state as we know it today.

THE roots of the British welfare state can be traced to the Beveridge report of 1942. This document identified five major evils — want, ignorance, idleness, squalor and disease — and exhorted the government to work to alleviate them. Thus evolved the British welfare state as we know it today.

Though these commitments are being gradually jettisoned in the rush to turn the welfare state into a neo-liberal one, the ideals of minimum social protection have become the gold standard across the world. In South Asia, Sri Lanka meets this basic threshold to a large extent. However, Pakistan’s record on minimum social protection provision leaves much to be desired.

Also, the country has struggled to cope with the desired goal of minimum protection provision within an increasingly limited budgetary space. Various social security schemes have been incrementally put in place. These have ranged from government servants’ pension fund, employees’ social security institutions, the Workers’ Welfare Fund, public benevolent funds and the Employees’ Old Age Benefits Scheme.

Together these schemes cover those employed in the formal sector, who constitute only 10pc of the workforce according to one estimate. This leaves the large segment of the workforce employed in the informal economy outside the social protection umbrella. Women are also disproportionately under-represented in these schemes, though the introduction of the Benazir Income Support Programme has remedied this lacuna to some extent by making women the prime beneficiary in this cash transfer programme.

Among those covered by various schemes the personnel of the armed forces enjoy the best social protection coverage, with bureaucrats coming in a close second. The rest of the population is either without adequate cover, or enjoys a semblance of social protection cover patched together from the dribs and drabs of their shoestring saving budgets.

In addition, schemes such as zakat and ushr have contributed another segment of social protection provision. Under Ziaul Haq, these religiously mandated cash transfer mechanisms were housed under the state social protection umbrella. This development not only diluted the voluntary and generous spirit that zakat and ushr embodied but also reduced the state’s commitment to fund social protection schemes from general taxation.

Apart from zakat and ushr, the Baitul Mal has also provided a bulk of the social protection cover. The latter are all cash transfer programmes.

Here a few words about the Employees’ Old Age Benefits Institution (EOBI) are in order, particularly as the recent scandal surrounding the organisation reflects upon governmental commitment to providing minimum protection to low-paid workers.

Over the years, EOBI has enrolled millions of workers employed in the private sector. This is a federal scheme that covers institutions with 10 or more employees. The scheme is funded through 5pc employee contribution with the government chipping in with a matching contribution to provide for sickness and old-age pension.

Being the only scheme available to low-paid workers at the moment, it has attracted subscribers in the millions and, as a result, accumulated a cash stockpile of billions.

The size of this kitty has attracted unscrupulous and illegal raids, as revealed in the allegedly ill-advised land investment made by the organisation’s top bureaucracy. The episode has laid bare the government’s ineptitude in protecting low-paid workers’ hard-earned savings.

If not addressed expeditiously, and if confidence is not restored in the scheme, the unsavoury episode may prove a turn-off for a large segment of low-paid workers, leaving them exposed to unexpected shocks.

Broadly speaking, the social protection schemes have all worked in isolation, with chances of needy individuals’ duplication a constant concern. The focus right now should be on unifying all these schemes into an overarching social protection framework that covers all vulnerable workers irrespective of their station in life.

One good beginning in this direction was made with the unveiling of the national social protection strategy in 2007. However, this was conceived without reference to provincial social protection schemes and was largely oriented towards workers in the formal sector, as pointed out by Haris Gazdar, an expert on social protection.

Moreover, since the formulation of this strategy, progress on the issue has stalled. The much-praised recommendation of setting up a ministry for social protection also remains unimplemented. This has slowed progress towards the goal of integrating and unifying various disparate social protection schemes. More importantly, the goal of finding a way of bringing the informal sector workforce into the social protection regime remains as elusive as it was 50 years ago.

The writer is an Islamabad-based development consultant and policy analyst.

drarifazad

Published in Dawn, September 28th , 2014

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