Friday, May 31, 2013
Drone attack fallout The fallout of the drone attack that killed the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) second-in-command Waliur Rehman has followed the expected trajectory. There are condemnations, some adventurism, much shuffling of feet, prevarication, even silence. While the TTP has confirmed the death of Waliur Rehman and appointed his successor, Khan Saeed, alias Sajna, they have vowed revenge for the death of the ‘martyr’. The TTP holds the Pakistan government (and military establishment) responsible for the death of Waliur Rehman. Therefore we can expect intensified attacks on the security forces, citizens, and anyone else within range of the TTP’s indiscriminate terrorism. Khan Saeed, or Sajna, is a redoubtable replacement, allegedly the mastermind behind the Mehran base attack and the jailbreak in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that freed 400 prisoners in a daring raid. While Waliur Rehman’s death is being widely considered a heavy blow to the TTP, it will definitely complicate further the already dubious chances of a peaceful solution so dear to the incoming PML-N and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leaderships. There is an ingenious ‘campaign' in the press to paint Waliur Rehman as a 'moderate' who may have been central to the peace talks effort, but ‘moderate’ hardly fits a man wedded to the violent overthrow of the Pakistani state in favour of a medieval regime such as the Afghan Taliban imposed in their country for five long years. US President Barack Obama’s speech the other day can now be reinterpreted to mean that although ‘signature’ strikes that led to civilian casualties were being abandoned, concrete intelligence that led to dangerous commanders such as Waliur Rehman are very much on the cards. However, concerns are being voiced that this policy shift may be exploited by the terrorists through the increased use of ‘human shields’ to avoid drone strikes. While the so-called ‘mediator’ for talks with the TTP, Maulana Samiul Haq and the Jamaat-i-Islami have as expected condemned the drone strike and the former has made the case that the peace effort of which he was to be a central part has been sabotaged by the drone strike at the behest of the US, Imran Khan has taken the cake. During the election campaign, one could be forgiven for thinking that Imran Khan’s rhetoric about shooting down drones was campaigning hype. But now reports say he called incoming prime minister Nawaz Sharif to demand that either the new government stop drone strikes through talks with Washington or shoot down the drones. Imran Khan time and again shows his immaturity where statecraft and national interest are concerned. He makes these hyperbolic statements without a thought for the consequences. Does he know the result of any attempt to shoot down, let alone succeed in shooting down, a US drone? Is Pakistan in a position, if it ever was, to take on the US? While recovering from his injuries in that unfortunate fall during the election campaign, Imran Khan is advised to think before he speaks. Pakistan can only negotiate with the US on drones, not carry out any adventurous actions such as suggested by the PTI chief without incurring severe retaliation. In addition, he is quoted by a PTI spokesman as saying “innocent people” were killed in the drone strike! This is one instance where no innocent life appears to have been lost as collateral damage. Therefore this can only mean Imran Khan regards Waliur Rehman and the other commanders of TTP killed in the strike “innocent”! Either this is sheer ignorance or blind adherence to pre-conceived notions of what the TTP and its ilk are all about. A refresher course for Imran Khan on the genealogy and character of the TTP may be in order. Nawaz Sharif hopefully has matured sufficiently to ignore such puerile emotionalism and engage with the US once installed in office to review the drones tactic. But adventurism is hardly a viable option.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Altaf Hussain’s purge MQM chief Altaf Hussain has carried out one of the most radical purges in the party’s history. The party’s main Coordination (Rabita) Committee and the Karachi Tanzeemi (Organisational) Committee have been dissolved and replaced by a 23-member apex and 10-member Karachi committee. The ostensible reasons for these wholesale changes as quoted by Altaf Hussain in a speech from London to a general workers meeting in Jinnah Ground near the party’s Nine Zero headquarters on Sunday are violations of party discipline, corruption, mishandling workers of the party and intimidation of ordinary citizens. Allegations of elements of the MQM’s involvement in land grabbing also figure. Altaf Hussain categorically declared a policy of “no tolerance” for the “enemies of society” within the MQM’s ranks. He exhorted his newly installed leadership to treat the workers of the party with affection. This is an indication that trouble within the party centres on a group within the previous setup that stands accused of trying to acquire power in defiance of Altaf Hussain’s directives, purging of elements involved in criminal and corrupt practices at the expense of the citizens of Karachi, and winning back loyal committed workers alienated during the tenure of the previous leadership. Altaf warned that anyone involved in unacceptable activities would be expelled. Already, in the current shakeup, many bigwigs have been expelled, ostracized, or given an opportunity to mend their ways while working as ordinary workers of the party. Altaf Hussain warned his cadres not to get involved in bazaars that ostensibly sell goods cheaply, a source it is thought of illegal gratifications for the organisers or controllers of such bazaars. The biggest demotion is that of Dr Farooq Sattar, previously the Coordination Committee’s deputy convener, a position virtually equivalent to being the leader in Pakistan of the party as a whole. He has been ‘demoted’ to head the international and diplomatic committee of MQM, although compensated by being declared the parliamentary leader of the party in the National Assembly. Altaf in his speech criticised the previous coordination committee for not acting against those who ‘insulted’ him, a reference it is thought to the accusation by Imran Khan that Altaf Hussain was responsible for the murder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) leader Zahra Shahid Hussain in Karachi on the eve of the re-polling in many of the polling stations in a constituency of Karachi. MQM boycotted the re-polling. The seat was won by PTI Secretary General Dr Arif Alvi. The context of the purge is the unprecedented setback suffered by the MQM in the elections in Karachi, where the PTI not only won a seat, it emerged as the second largest party in terms of the popular vote in the city. It is thought that this reflects the migration of the youth vote to Imran Khan’s party, a loss the MQM could not have envisaged or been prepared for. The activities of criminal and corrupt elements within the MQM’s ranks may have dented its popular vote, and this worrying development lies at the heart of Altaf Hussain’s radical reorganisation of the leading bodies of the party. There has emerged a tentative debate within the MQM regarding the policy it has adopted for some years of trying to expand beyond an urban-based party of Sindh enjoying by and large the support of the province’s Urdu-speaking people towards an all-Pakistan political formation. That policy has not reaped the results expected, with the MQM’s forays into Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit Baltistan producing rather poor results. The argument is that in the effort to garner new support in these other provinces, the MQM has ended up losing the support of at least part of its traditional base in the cities of Sindh. So, back to the drawing board perhaps. It remains to be seen whether the reorganisation wrought by Altaf Hussain produces the results he hopes for of rejuvenating the party, especially its dormant workers, eliminating the image that unfortunately clings to the party of the original author of bhatta (extortion) activities in Karachi, and the accusations and allegations against some of its cadres of morphing into a land mafia in the city. Clearly, the knocks the once unassailable MQM has received in this election at the hands of the PTI in Karachi are the basis of the purge. MQM will have to tread furiously in the water if the trend of losing votes, particularly of the youth, is to be reversed.
Drone strike Just one week after US President Barack Obama reiterated Washington’s policy on drone strikes with more restrictive use against unambiguously identified targets and days before the new elected governments take office, a drone stroke has killed the Tehreek-e-Taliban’s (TTP’s) number two, Waliur Rehman. Along with the commander, five others, including two senior commanders of the TTP and two Uzbek militants were also said to have been killed and two others injured. The strike hit a house in Chashma village near Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan. Waliur Rehman had a $ 5 million bounty on his head announced by Washington, which accused him of coordinating attacks against US/NATO forces in Afghanistan. When the news broke on Wednesday, the TTP at first refused to confirm the development. But on Thursday, they not only confirmed the death of their commander, they also announced ‘breaking off’ talks with the government. It should be noted that these ‘talks’ so far only exist in the statements of intent of the incoming governments at the Centre and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If the TTP means what it says, and there is no reason to doubt their word, the strategy of a negotiated peace with the militants may not take off. Waliur Rehman was the principal TTP commander in charge of South Waziristan, his home Agency. In North Waziristan, a hotbed of local and foreign jihadis, the government’s writ is virtually non-existent. The authorities have to rely on tribal contacts to garner any information about the area. Interestingly, while the US has stayed mum and is yet to acknowledge the drone strike (a practice they have followed religiously in all but the rarest of cases, and that too after a delay), the Pakistan Foreign Office has reiterated its ‘concern’ at the strike. The language of the Foreign Office’s condemnation is being considered by some analysts as milder than in the past. Whether this restraint emanates from considerations of Pakistan being poised on the cusp of new dispensations taking charge within days and the concomitant uncertainty about how to respond, or secret delight at the elimination of one of the most redoubtable of the TTP’s commanders, is not known. Not unsurprisingly, the PTI has been quick off the mark to unreservedly condemn the attack as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. Verbal condemnations or expressions of concern notwithstanding, the strike indicates that Washington is not about to give up on drones any time soon, despite the new, more restrictive guidelines outlined by US President Obama. Those waxing indignant or apoplectic on this latest drone shrike need to be interrogated on their stance on the thousands of jihadis and foreign fighters concentrated on Pakistani soil for decades, from where they launch attacks on Afghanistan and within Pakistan. The security establishment has failed to act effectively against this concentration of malign forces, amongst whom are foreign jihadis who have violated our sovereignty for decades. Those condemning the drone strikes should see their own visage in the mirror of first using jihadis for projection of power and then failing to deal with the internal threat they pose to Pakistan. The case of Waliur Rehman is an illustration of the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistani jihadis, in which he stood accused of carrying out attacks in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Objectively, therefore, there was a convergence of interests between Washington and Islamabad in his elimination, verbal protests not withstanding. This ambiguity lies at the heart of the Pakistani establishment’s approach to the question of drone shrikes. Former president Musharraf may have gone too far for the comfort of some in offering the US virtual carte blanche for such attacks (amidst allegations of the drone programmme initially enjoying the use of Shamsi airbase in Balochistan), but even after his departure and during the tenure of the outgoing government, the military establishment and all other stakeholders continued with the policy of ambiguity on drone strikes, with reports regularly speaking of the dichotomy between Islamabad’s public posture of condemnation and private acquiescence so long as civilian casualties were kept to a minimum. The question now arises, after the TTP’s rejection of the notion of peace talks following the death of Waliur Rehman, what remains except tatters of the PML-N’s and PTI’s stated policy of peace through negotiations with the terrorists?
Sunday, May 26, 2013
A tragedy foretold All the expressions of “shock and grief” and wringing of hands after the event from the President through to all significant political leaders, even the usual announcement of Rs 500,000 compensation for the dead and Rs 100,000 for the injured, is not sufficient to allay the tragedy of the school children and a teacher burnt alive in a school van fire incident in Gujrat the other day. This is neither the first such incident nor, given the dire state of transport safety generally, and school busing in particular, is it likely to be the last. The van in question was reportedly owned by the school administration, did not have a route permit, and its fitness certificate had expired. That sums up the state of vehicle certification and inspection from a safety angle. The particular incident has been reported to have happened when the driver switched from CNG to petrol. It is being said that a spark ignited the petrol, including a reserve petrol bottle inside the van, which must have exacerbated the effects of the raging fire. The driver initially escaped, as is usual in such occurrences, but was later arrested from Kharian and latest reports say he has been remanded for three days. The school administration is said to have disappeared after locking the school as soon as news of the incident reached. Both show the sense of responsibility of the driver and the school owners/administration. There is no news yet whether the school owners/administration have been arraigned. The incident should not surprise us. Ever since transport has been allowed to use CNG, numerous cases of cylinder explosions have cost many lives, including children. It is a sad commentary on the inefficiency of government and state authorities that the problem has been left to fester over the years without a single step being taken to regulate transport safety. Many CNG kits and cylinders are installed by fly by night mechanics, putting the lives of all who ride in such vehicles in jeopardy. In this incident, the cause may have been the petrol that ignited rather than the CNG cylinders exploding, but that takes nothing away from the risks posed by dual-fuel vehicles with non-factory fittings. Vehicle certification, fitness and regular inspections are conspicuous by their absence. After the horse has bolted, the usual plethora of reports is being asked for to fix responsibility for the particular incident and private schools (only in the area) asked to submit the fitness certificates of all vehicles in their use for transporting school children. This is typical of the dysfunctional state Pakistan has been reduced to. Laws, rules, regulations, and their implementation, all exist only on paper, or can be circumvented by ‘greasing’ some palms. Children are the flowers of our future. Any society that is careless or indifferent about their welfare does not deserve the title ‘human’. Even animals look after their young better. Whereas the wider problem of the use of risky fuel kits in vehicles needs urgent control, the issue of school busing and the dangers this kind of arrangement and a whole array of private arrangements throughout the country pose to the lives of our tender charges needs addressing on a war footing if further loss of young lives is to be avoided. The Gujrat incident is nothing less than murder, or at the very least manslaughter. It is doubly poignant that children and a teacher became the victims of a greedy transporter, an irresponsible school administration, and government officials and institutions that fail to do their duty. Shame on them, and shame on all of us that seem incapable of safeguarding our young.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Caretakers’ over ambition Pakistan entered onto terra incognita when caretaker governments were appointed at the Centre and in the provinces before the elections. These were to be consensus or Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) (as a last resort) appointees with a limited mandate of conducting free, fair, transparent elections and keeping the day to day business of government going until a new elected government could take office. The federal caretaker government under interim Prime Minister (PM) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso in particular seems to have misunderstood (unintentionally or deliberately) the limitations on its freedom of action in the short period it would remain in office. Secondly, the caretaker federal government appears to have mistaken being in ‘office’ (for limited purposes) with being in ‘power’. The latter is the exclusive preserved of elected governments. Caretaker governments cannot arrogate to themselves the same privileges, particularly on far reaching policy matters, as a duly elected government. Some of the unwise ‘decisions’ of the caretaker federal government have been challenged in the Supreme Court (SC), and some struck down, while the ban on CNG for vehicles over 1,000 cc has been withdrawn by the caretakers themselves on Law Ministry advice. This does not leave the caretakers smelling of roses. The charges against the caretaker federal government extend from corruption allegations to illegal appointments, transfers and promotions of high officials in different departments. On corruption, we thought after the departure of the previous PPP-led government, the same level of attention by the SC would no longer be necessary. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. The caretakers’ own Law Ministry advised that the wholesale transfer, appointment and promotion of high officials was beyond the scope of the caretaker government. That view has been upheld by the SC in a writ petition against these measures moved by PML-N leader Khwaja Mohammad Asif. Twenty-two federal secretaries were transferred, with some being moved back after a few days or weeks and others being shuffled around like ninepins. The SC has issued contempt notices to the PM, Secretary Establishment Division and the PM’s Principal Secretary over this arbitrary measure/s that run against the SC’s judgements on the issue. The SC has also stopped the PM from appointing his Principal Secretary as the Federal Ombudsman after the retirement of Shoaib Suddle. To make confusion (and criticism) worse confounded, the PM stands accused of favouring two of his sons by appointing them against posts they did not deserve or could be appointed to under the rules. Other favoured individuals were also graced with such largesse. The SC rightly stopped the caretaker government from disbursing development funds during its tenure, a step that went far beyond its limited mandate. Now the issue of the caretaker government issuing a ‘mini-budget’, i.e. new taxation measures, has been challenged by the PPP as unconstitutional, since only a government duly elected and enjoying the support of parliament (or at least a majority of the house) can impose taxation. The PPP’s stance on this is strengthened by the fact that it holds a majority in the Senate, a situation that could give it the power to strike down any fiscal measure that is patently beyond the scope of the caretakers. As if this short litany of the ‘sins’ of the caretaker government were not enough, there is considerable criticism of the caretakers for their inability to conduct transparent elections, although it must be conceded that perhaps the level of ‘rigging’ or administrative anomalies in the polling are not of such proportions (as admitted even by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, the main complainant and agitator against such alleged misdemeanours) as to invalidate the mandate delivered by the electorate. Admittedly, Pakistan was on terra incognita when inducting and undergoing this caretaker experiment for the first time under the 18th Amendment. Valuable lessons are there for the learning for all stakeholders and state institutions from the whole experience. Being open to such lessons can help to improve the process for the future. But the obvious temptation by the caretakers to take steps and decisions that exceeded their purview is something that requires safeguards to make future such governments aware of and confined to what is theirs by law and best practice, and not indulge in the ‘usual’ self-aggrandizement or vested interest decision making that has been the bane of all our governments as far back as memory serves.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Nawaz’s ‘positive change’ Addressing a gathering of his party’s newly elected representatives in Lahore the other day, Nawaz Sharif committed his incoming government to many ‘positives’. However, no one should underestimate the incoming government’s difficulties, some rooted in the previous government’s tenure, others dating further back into Pakistan’s hoary past. Nawaz underlined his ‘100 days’ thrust to provide relief to the people groaning under energy shortages, unemployment and inflation. A ‘positive change’ is promised. ‘Change’ of course has entered the country’s political lexicon during the election campaign, with Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) Imran Khan leading the charge with his central slogan of ‘change’ without necessarily spelling out many details of the desired change or even more crucially, how to get there. Whether Nawaz Sharif’s ‘positive change’ will bring anything better remains to be seen. To illustrate, Nawaz Sharif promises a 30 percent reduction in government spending. Whether this will come from the running expenses of the state or development remains unknown. Cutting down the state’s huge expenditure on managing day-to-day operations would require a mammoth exercise across the board, including defence, with the possibility of it leading to further unemployment of those with sinecures in bloated public service organisations. It goes without saying that applying cuts to the development budget would deepen the recession and end up making recovery that much more difficult. Turning to his decisions regarding the provinces and the governments to be formed there, Nawaz Sharif accepted the PPP and MQM’s mandate in Sindh, the PTI’s in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and his party’s at the head of a coalition in Balochistan. For the first, he promised the federal government’s cooperation and help in handling the complex law and order problems of Karachi. In the case of the second, he reiterated the parliamentary convention of allowing the party with the most seats to have first go at formation of a government, a decision that knocked the wind out of the sails of Maulana Fazlur Rehman who was trying to wean the PML-N and Sherpao to his banner in KP. In Balochistan, his party’s leading role may have proved attractive to actual or potential partners as the best chance for the benighted province having a glimmer of hope that its problems would find better hearing in Islamabad. Punjab did not figure in Nawaz Sharif’s remarks because the PML-N has such an overwhelming majority in its home province as to appear unassailable. Turning to everyone’s favourite grouse, the energy deficit and incessant load shedding, Nawaz was more modest than his ‘emotional’ younger brother Shahbaz Sharif in not giving any deadline for the elimination of load shedding, instead satisfying himself with the promise to overcome it in the minimum possible time. This is wise since the complexities of the energy sector militate against any miraculous overnight solutions. The real issue though is whether Nawaz Sharif’s argument to take the Taliban’s offer of talks seriously can bear fruit in the shape of a cessation of terrorism that has not only cost 40,000 civilian and 5,000 security forces personnel’s lives and caused losses of billions of rupees but crippled the economic, political and social life of the country. It goes without saying that without tackling energy and terrorism, the economy has little chance of reviving with domestic and foreign investment having to be lured back from capital flight and shutdown in the case of the former and persuading the latter to include Pakistan in the list of desirable destinations. The terrorism conundrum is central to any solution. Reservations aside about the sincerity of the Taliban’s talks offer and their willingness to reconcile with the state and its system, this will be the space to watch in the days ahead. No one in their right mind would wish Nawaz Sharif to fail in this endeavour if it means the country can take a turn from the havoc it is suffering at the hands of the terrorists to at least the possibility of peace, development and prosperity. However, we may be excused for keeping our powder dry on this one until and unless events prove our scepticism misplaced.
Kayani-Nawaz meeting Great significance is being attached to the ‘courtesy call’ by COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani on prime minister-elect Mian Nawaz Sharif at his Model Town residence in Lahore the other day. Reports speak of a very cordial and pleasant atmosphere during the three and a half hour meting, during which all the pressing issues facing the country were discussed. These included internal and external security issues, especially the Karachi situation, terror attacks throughout the country, and drone strikes in the tribal areas. It goes without saying that the looming withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan next year was central to the discussion of what changes would be required to facilitate that withdrawal and handle the situation left behind after 13 years of occupation. Also, whether the US could be persuaded to cease drone attacks, a difficult proposition given the signals from the US authorities. General Kayani reportedly cautioned Nawaz Sharif to proceed slowly and surely in improving relations with India in the light of past experience. It is also being reported that the fate of General (retd) Musharraf, currently incarcerated and being tried in various cases including a possible treason case under Article 6 came under discussion. General Kayani’s replacement as COAS after he retires towards the end of this year figured in the exchange. It is widely expected, and reported from ISI circles, that the new government will receive a comprehensive briefing from the military authorities on the security situation soon after it takes office. The military, according to remarks attributed to General Kayani, is fully behind the democratic government and knows that all stakeholders have to be on the same page if internal peace is to be restored in the country. In preparation for being sworn in, the PML-N chief has called a meeting of his party today to mull over the formation of governments in the Centre, Punjab and Balochistan. It is expected that the top leadership of the PML-N will formulate a plan for the first 100 days of the new government, which is expected to focus on the crippling impact of massive load shedding, the upcoming budget, alliances at the Centre with the JUI-F (which has been invited to join the federal government) and the PML-F (which will probably agree to join). The party will also debate the strategy to be adopted towards the PPP and the PTI. Central to all wish lists for peace and economic development in the country, arguably the two most important and linked problems, will be the strategy for dealing with the Taliban. Nawaz Sharif had before the elections advised the previous PPP-led government to take the offer of talks by the Taliban seriously, since military force was not the solution to all problems. It is widely expected that the PML-N (and the PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) would attempt to initiate talks with the Taliban in search of a peaceful solution to the terrorism that has had the country in its grip for years. Not only over 5,000 security personnel and over 45,000 civilians have lost their lives to this phenomenon, it has brought the economy to its knees, already wobbling because of the energy crisis. It remains to be seen though whether the Taliban too are willing to meet the new government/s halfway in the quest for peace. The significance of the Kayani-Nawaz meeting will not be lost on knowledgeable people who feared that the military may harbour reservations about Nawaz Sharif in the light of the past. The signal the Kayani initiative sends is positive: the military endorses the new government led by Mian Nawaz Sharif. This may help to reassure sceptics and quell the apprehensions of a repeat of the past clashes between the military and the incoming prime minister. The icing on the cake may well be that Shahbaz Sharif’s presence in the Kayani meeting is being interpreted by some as a sign that the younger Sharif will play an important role as the point man for the PML-N in dealings with the military. True or not, the Model Town meeting is a good beginning and promises that civil-milutray relations will be put on an even keel. It is hoped the political and military sides will come together in the interests of tackling the country’s grave crises.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
The rigging controversy The elections of May 11 have been overtaken by controversy about allegations (and some eyewitness accounts) of rigging on some seats. Thus the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has organised sit-ins in Lahore and Karachi against alleged rigging by the party’s opponents, a sit-in that continues despite five days having elapsed already. In Karachi the MQM until yesterday had its own sit-in ongoing in NA-250 with the demand that re-polling in certain polling stations in the constituency would not do and that a complete re-election be held there. The PML-F is charging the PPP with rigging in Sindh, while the JUI-F is accusing the PTI of rigging (and therefore a false mandate) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). What is also interesting in this current of accusations and counter-accusations is the fact that parties are hurling these accusations against rivals where they or their allies have lost (e.g. the PML-N supporting the PML-F in Sindh, JUI-F accusing the PTI in KP, PTI accusing the MQM in Karachi, though not perhaps without weight, the nationalist parties generally in Balochistan, etc), while denying any rigging where they have won (e.g. the PML-N in Punjab). Imran Khan, still recuperating in hospital from the fall has issued a three-day ultimatum to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to address the complaints of rigging on at least 25 seats or face a movement against the failure of the ECP to respond. After initial shilly-shallying and foot dragging, the ECP has finally been forced by the pressure of public opinion to move on the complaints. It is contemplating finger print verification through the NADRA database, although some experts are sceptical whether this is technically possible. The best solution to this conundrum and unseemly controversy is that the ECP should investigate the complaints, order appropriate remedial measures, which could include recounting, re-polling in certain polling stations, or even re-elections in certain constituencies. This approach would salvage the transparency of what otherwise is a credible election as a whole. The controversy over 25 (or even more) seats should not be allowed through ECP neglect to wash away the credibility of the election as a whole. The likely outcome of this re-examination of the elections on this number of seats is that either the results will be upheld or overturned. If the latter, these seats will logically end up being divided amongst various parties throughout the country. This means that the results of the election will not be affected materially, since by now the PML-N is close to the 130 mark in the National Assembly, with independents joining every day and the prospect of 60 women’s and 10 minorities’ reserve seats looming as soon as parliament meets. In the provinces, the Punjab and Sindh are a done deal, the former in favour of the PML-N, the latter in favour of the PPP with possibly the MQM in a coalition. Balochistan is still a mixed bag amidst a welter of accusations by the nationalists that they were not allowed to campaign freely and prevented from functioning on election day, which has deprived them of their mandate. Challenges to the ECP are expected from such controversial seat results from there too. In KP it is heartening to note that JUI-F’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s conspiracy to deny PTI its first right to form a government in the province was sought to be sabotaged by his proposed alliance with the PML-N and Sherpao’s Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). Nawaz Sharif has shown maturity and statesmanship in rebuffing the Maulana and vowing to respect the mandate of the PTI in KP. PTI by now has the Jamaat-i-Islami on its side in a coalition government in the province, so that effort of the Maulana seems by now to be dead in the water. Reservations, doubts and challenges to the results in a number of seats notwithstanding, all the parties should emulate the example set by the PPP and ANP in accepting the mandate of the people even when it went against them. This is the true democratic spirit. The more gracefully all parties handle themselves in the aftermath of the elections, the smoother will be the task of government formation, and the sooner will the country settle down to the real task: confronting the myriads of serious issues afflicting the country. We hope the political parties will live up to the expectations of the people in this regard and behave with exemplary maturity and in a true democratic spirit.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Post-election scenario The PML-N has won almost a clear majority in the National Assembly (NA) according to latest reports. Of course this is still not official since the counting and declaration of final results is still awaited from the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). However, the trend and likely outcome is adequately clear. This conclusion is borne out by the rival parties of the PML-N gracefully accepting its victory, despite complaints and protests regarding rigging in a few constituencies. At the time these lines are being written, the top leadership of the PML-N under the chair of its chief Mian Nawaz Sharif is huddled together considering the formation of governments at the Centre and in the provinces. The PML-N, in recognition of the enormous challenges confronting the country, wants to get on with things as soon as possible. To this end, reports say portfolios are under discussion. A few things are clear. Nawaz Sharif will be prime minister and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif will return as chief minister Punjab. Ministerial portfolios have not been formally revealed (this must await the final results and the taking oath of the government). But it is widely accepted that Ishaq Dar will return to the finance ministry, which is a critical appointment given the state of the economy. The economic crisis brooks no delay in grappling with its deep-rooted problems, first and foremost energy. Tackling militancy is both crucial and inherently linked with trying to revive the economy. Since the PML-N is at last count close to a simple majority in the NA, reports say it is looking first and foremost at independent MNAs to secure a majority. However, party leaders are reiterating their commitment to working with all parties to resolve the country’s serious issues. Given Nawaz Sharif’s track record and approach, it is likely that privatisation and deregulation of the economy within a free market paradigm will define the new government’s policy. Pakistan’s looming balance of payments difficulties mean the country will have to approach the IMF soon for a bailout. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has been at pains to dispel the notion that results in some constituencies may have been tampered with. Most observers, and they include both domestic and international monitors, have concluded that though there were many flaws and anomalies in the arrangements by the ECP, the elections as a whole were relatively credible and barring a few constituencies, women in some areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and Ahmedis (who boycotted over the separate list ordained for them), the people of Pakistan’s will is reflected in the outcome. In the provinces, the picture is clear in Punjab (PML-N with a two-thirds majority) and Sindh (PPP with a simple majority and the option of inducting the MQM as a coalition partner). Contention lingers over KP, with jockeying for advantage continuing between the PML-N, JUI-F and PPP-S on one side and the PTI on the other. Balochistan’s picture is cloudy, with the PML-N claiming a majority, but the mandate as usual appears fractured amongst the Baloch and Pashtuns, and amongst all the parties in the field, with the BNP-M browned off about alleged manipulation and rigging against them. The legitimacy and credibility of whatever government emerges from the murky post-polls atmosphere in Balochistan may well be contested. While Imran Khan’s PTI has done well, its supporters’ disappointment owes more to unrealistic expectations of a clean sweep. Imran himself has been gracious in defeat and partial victory. However, he says his party will produce a White Paper revealing rigging and irregularities in the polling countrywide. Altaf Hussain’s MQM is, according to its supremo, “being driven against the wall”. This is a reference to the charges of rigging against the party in at least one constituency where partial repolling ha s been ordered, if not in more. Altaf came out with rather a strange statement to the effect that if someone did not like the mandate of Karachi, the city should be separated from Pakistan! The logic escapes one. The real crisis is being faced by the PPP, which did so poorly that heads should roll. Yousaf Raza Gilani has led the way and set a good precedent by accepting responsibility for the party’s electoral debacle and resigning from Senior Vice-President of the party. Others amongst the top leadership should emulate his example. Only an honest reckoning of the party’s failures holds out any hope of the PPP bouncing back from the depths of its ignominy. The electorate has punished the party for its real and perceived failures. Much introspection and corrective measures are required. Let the PPP leadership show the maturity and wisdom required of it in this regard.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
The shape of things to come The people have spoken. The results of the election are not yet fully in by the time these lines are being written, but the shape of things to come is already clear to a considerable extent. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N has triumphed at the Centre, and this has been graciously accepted by all rivals. With 125 National Assembly seats in the bag according to the latest reports of unofficial results, the party is edging close to a simple majority of 135 seats of the 268 being contested (four seats had their elections postponed because of the deaths of candidates). If PML-N reaches that mark, a strong government at the Centre will emerge, but even if it does not, the party has enough strength to make the best choices of the options for a coalition open to it, and may not be ‘blackmailed’ by opportunists. This is important given the tough challenges that will face the new government when it takes office. The PML-N’s main rivals, the PPP and PTI, were trailing according to the latest unofficial reports at 32 and 31 seats respectively. Imran Khan’s tsunami may not have swept the board, but the PTI can derive considerable satisfaction from its showing, including, as Imran said from his hospital bed, its demonstrated capability of enthusing and mobilising the charged youth. The PPP, according to most analysts, received a well deserved drubbing, being virtually wiped out in Punjab with many top leaders losing. The PPP faces a period of introspection to examine the reasons for its poor showing. Apart from the baggage of incumbency, which arguably brought the party crashing down from its previous heights, the PPP suffered because of lack of effective leadership and the demoralisation of its rank and file that had been alienated in recent years by the indifference towards them of the post-Benazir leadership. Terrorist threats persuaded the party to run a low key, largely media campaign rather than the massive rallies for which it was famous in the past. PPP’s coalition ally ANP was also virtually wiped out, not only in the National Assembly but also in its home province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where it ruled for the last five years. In the ANP’s case, as in the PPP’s, at the Centre, accusations and allegations of massive corruption alienated the support base. PPP has virtually been reduced to a regional party of Sindh’s rural areas. ANP’s future looks bleak when it has lost its home base. The MQM, another coalition ally of the PPP in the previous government, is being accused of massive rigging in Karachi, while the party’s defence is that of being a victim of the same. The Election Commission has admitted that it has been unable to conduct a free, fair and transparent election in Karachi and has ordered repolling in Karachi’s NA-250, PS-112 and 113. All rival parties of the MQM are pointing accusing fingers at the party for spoiling the electoral process in Karachi. Some have boycotted the elections while the PTI is protesting rigging in the metropolis. PTI is also protesting on the same grounds in Lahore against PML-N’s Khwaja Saad Rafiq who has been declared unofficially the winner. In the provinces, PML-N has unofficially won a thumping majority in its home base Punjab and will definitely form the provincial government. This will further strengthen its hands when it commands both the Centre and Punjab. In Sindh, the PPP is ahead with a simple majority, and it remains to be seen if it repeats its previous alliance to bring the MQM into a coalition. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI has surprisingly shown a strong performance and has legitimate hopes of ruling the province. However, Maulana Fazlur Rehman has, while congratulating Nawaz Sharif on his victory, suggested that the PML-N, JUI-F and PPP-S can form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, thus blocking the way of the PTI. This contention will only be resolved once the final official results are in and the tally will determine who heads Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Balochistan, the turnout was lower than the national big average of over 60 percent, with the best estimates ranging around 30-35 percent. Even this could be regarded as a good turnout for the province since there were great fears and apprehensions regarding the security situation in Balochistan, with the usual cast of terrorists on the one hand and the insurgent nationalists on the other threatening voters and candidates, some of whom had been attacked in the run up to the elections. However, procedural irregularities and anomalies have persuaded the BNP-M to reject the results of the election even before they are officially declared, arguing that its polling agents and workers were denied access to the polling stations in many constituencies and therefore the election in the province was a fraud perpetrated by the security establishment that virtually runs the province. The outcome and its acceptability by all stakeholders therefore remain in doubt. Nevertheless, the PKMAP has surprisingly performed well in the Pashtun areas of the province and will be difficult to ignore in the likely coalition government to be formed on the basis of a fractured mandate. According to election observers, women voters were denied their right to cast their vote in some constituencies of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a development not surprising considering the pre-election reports of some parties ‘agreeing’ informally not to allow women to vote in some constituencies. It is for the Election Commission to take note of this negative development and offer redress. The fractured mandate anticipated even before the elections on the basis of the respective areas of strength and influence of the parties in the fray has produced a result that may give pause to some. The PML-N is only a Punjab-based party because of Nawaz Sharif’s failure to revive the party in the other three provinces since returning from exile. Such a party will now rule at the Centre and in the largest by population and most developed and strongest province. This raises questions about the inability of a party enjoying such a mandate to be considered representative of the federation as a whole. Nawaz Sharif must try and reach out to the possible coalition partners in at least Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to allay the reservations of the smaller provinces in this regard (Sindh does not offer the PML-N the same scope). The tasks confronting a federal government either solely manned by the PML-N or a coalition led by it are unenviable. The economy, particularly energy, needs immediate attention. Terrorism will remain a great impediment in persuading capital, domestic and foreign, to invest in the country. Nawaz Sharif’s perceived soft corner for the militants will be put to the test to see how he handles the security situation. This issue will also bring him into a necessary cooperation with the military, which he has reiterated in recent interviews must remain subservient to civilian authority. In foreign policy, Nawaz Sharif is expected to improve relations with India, for which a visit invitation from Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has reportedly already been received. The Afghanistan 2014 transition too looms large on the foreign policy horizon, with the relationship with Washington also needing perhaps redefinition after the US/NATO forces withdraw next year. Pakistan needs peace at home and in the region if it is to develop and prosper. We can only wish the new prime minister good luck in tackling all these thorny problems that the country has been suffering from for far too long.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
A flawed but credible election The purpose of the consensus 18th Amendment was to provide an acceptable mechanism for a democratic transition. This was to be achieved by bringing in a consensus caretaker set up to conduct elections that would not fall prey to the usual allegations and accusations after most elections in Pakistan in the past that the elections had been stolen by rigging. The expectation also was that with the induction of an independent election commission, the past could be considered a closed chapter in a Pakistan firmly embarked on the path of consolidating a democratic system. Measured against these goals, and despite the fact that at the time of writing these lines the electoral contest’s final results are still a work-in-progress, the conclusion does not seem unreasonable that at least in certain respects, the elections do not meet the criteria of being free, fair and transparent, at least in part. The day of voting began with news from various constituencies that the exercise of their franchise by the electorate was subject to delays because of either the necessary ballot papers, etc, not having been delivered, or the polling staff being late. As a result, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) was forced to extend the voting time from the original 8:00 am to 5:00 pm by 1-3 hours in the constituencies from which complaints in this regard were received. This in itself was a negative mark against the ECP for having failed to ensure that all the necessary arrangements were in place well in time all over the country, a formidable task certainly, but not beyond human ingenuity or management, particularly since the army had been inducted to help deliver the necessary electoral wherewithal to many parts of the country. As the polling progressed through the day, complaints from sundry constituencies started pouring in that various players had seized polling stations and were rigging the vote through their muscle. Such accusations and counter-accusations were freely traded between rival parties. In all these shenanigans, the fact that stood out glaringly was the absence or lack of remedial action by the much touted law enforcement forces deployed to prevent just such occurrences. The result was that in Sindh at least, three parties declared boycotts of differing gravity. Whereas MQM at the time of writing these lines had boycotted elections in one constituency in Karachi, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had announced a boycott of the elections in Karachi and Hyderabad, effectively a major chunk of the JI’s area of influence and ambition. The Sunni Ittehad Council too, for similar reasons, announced a boycott of the elections per se. Violence attended the events of the day, although perhaps not at the level or intensity expected by analysts. Bomb blasts did occur, casualties were reported (17 dead, according to latest reports), and even violent clashes between rival parties, but all these incidents (reasonably marginal, it must be stated) failed to halt the forward march of the democratic exercise. In the most troubled parts of the country, terrorist and other threats may have kept the voters away, but taking the country as a whole, and particularly Punjab, it seems such apprehensions were trumped by the enthusiasm and spirit permeating many voters, particularly the youth. With all its warts and flaws therefore, it could be argued that the elections were held credibly, if not always fairly, freely and transparently. There were in fact reports in the media that the ECP had (privately perhaps) conceded its failure to meet the standards of a fair, free and transparent election. The ideal is seldom achieved in life. The historic nature of the conjuncture through which Pakistan is passing has by now been accepted across the board. Democracy as a system seems to be striking deep roots amongst our people, as the big turnout in this election despite the terrorist threat indicates. People are yearning for change, a turn away from the troubles afflicting the country for long years. Pakistan stands poised on the cusp of a new chapter in its history. The results of this election, no matter who wins eventually, are a marker along the journey of departure from a troubled past the country seems well embarked upon.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Nawaz Sharif’s views In interviews with foreign media, Nawaz Sharif has delivered himself of his views on diverse but critical issues. First and foremost, he has commented on Musharraf’s plight by saying what the ex-dictator is going through should be an object lesson for all would-be coup makers. Further in the same vein, he has promised that if returned to power he would set up a commission on the Kargil debacle, for which Musharraf bears the sole blame. In line with his well known penchant for Pakistan-India amity, the PML-N chief also promised a commission on the 2008 Mumbai attacks that derailed the Pakistan-India dialogue for ages before better sense prevailed. Perhaps more controversial than these statements, which arguably enjoy wide support amongst the people of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif says Pakistan should reconsider its commitments to the US war against militancy. It may be recalled that this too was an open-ended and one-man (Musharraf) decision that has increasingly, with the passage of time and the difficulties it has produced for Pakistan, become more and more controversial. Nawaz favours negotiations with the Taliban for an end to the spate of terrorism that has the country in its grip, arguing that bombs and bullets (a la the US) are not always the best way to deal with such phenomena. This position brings him disconcertingly close to his immediate challenger Imran Khan’s approach to militancy. While in principle the door should always be left open not only for talks with the militants but even an efficacious rehabilitation programme for former militants who see the error of their ways and wish to come in from the cold, it should not be forgotten that it takes two hands to clap. Both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, not without reason, are thought to have a soft corner for the extremists. While both have declared talks to be the way forward in resolving the issue of homegrown terrorism, neither has satisfactorily answered the question whether the other side too is prepared to contemplate meaningful negotiations. Both the track record of peace deals with the fanatics since at least 2004 and their current posture would suggest otherwise. Previously, repeated peace deals were used by the militants to regroup, strengthen themselves and come back even more viciously in their terrorist campaigns. Today, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) says kneel here first before our demands for an Islamic emirate and the imposition of our version of shariah before there can be any talks. If such a ludicrous demand were accepted by some stretch of the imagination, what would be left to talk about? The Taliban would impose their narrow, literalist and oppressive version of Islam to the detriment of enlightened society, women, the minorities and anyone daring to disagree. A dose of reality needs to attend both Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan’s naïve formulations about peace with the fanatics. Nawaz Sharif, stung by Musharraf’s coup, also wants to revisit and correct civil-military relations and the balance of power between the two. Reiterating his view that the civilian elected representatives of the people are supreme and the military and its chief must work as an attached department of the government under civilian leadership, Nawaz Sharif expresses what every right thinking Pakistani wants, not the least because of the disastrous consequences of military interventions in politics with which our history is replete. However, who will bell this particular cat and how remains to be explicated. Therein lies the rub. The Nawaz Sharif of yesteryear was a very different character from the statesmanlike maturity he exudes today. However, the flaws or cracks in his political positions, particularly vis-à-vis the Taliban, are cause for worry. As we are witnessing, while the three secular-leaning parties, the PPP, MQM and ANP were the original targets of the TTP, now even PTI and Jamaat-i-Islami are being targeted, albeit nowhere on the scale of the first three. If anything, this development underscores the perception that the fanatics do not tolerate anyone wedded to the democratic system we are trying to consolidate, not even those who publicly portray themselves as their ‘friends’. With ‘friends’ like the TTP, who needs enemies?
Sunday, May 5, 2013
A most violent election A Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) unit office near the party’s headquarters Nine Zero was hit by two blasts in sequence, killing three people and injuring 35, including children. The two bombs exploded within 20 minutes of each other, a tactic the terrorists have been resorting to for some time. According to the government’s bomb experts, the second bomb was deliberately exploded with some delay to target rescuers and the public that usually rush to the site of explosions. Both bombs were reportedly detonated by remote control. The attack, the ninth in a series of attacks against electioneering mainly by the MQM and Awami National Party (ANP) in Karachi, came just one day after ANP National Assembly candidate Sadiq Zaman Khattak and his four-year-old son were gunned down by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Karachi. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the country, a Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) candidate was targeted in Lower Orakzai Agency, but fortunately escaped, while an attack on a JI office in Peshawar injured two people. In the same city, a Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf office was bombed, fortunately without loss of life as the office was empty at the time. This election is turning out to be one of the bloodiest in our history. Since January till the end of April this year, 2,674 people have been killed, according to a report by a think tank. Admittedly, the toll includes militants targeted by the security forces and drone strikes, as well as personnel of the security forces engaged in operations against the terrorists, and also casualties on both sides in the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan. However the bulk of the dead are citizens and political leaders and workers of the three secular-leaning mainstream parties, the PPP, MQM and ANP. The toll now includes the JI and PTI after the incidents referred to above. This is an intriguing development since it was widely considered that these parties were respectively pro-Taliban and harbouring a soft corner for the militants. If their ideological ‘friends’ are now turning on them, it merely reflects their naiveté in believing they would be spared the unwanted attentions of the terrorists or that the fanatics could be persuaded to cease terrorist actions and be peacefully integrated into the mainstream. For these parties and the widely acknowledged front runner in this election, Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N, this reality is, or will, bite sooner or later, much to their chagrin. Surprisingly, while former ANP information minister in the previous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has rounded on the caretaker government and the Election Commission of Pakistan for their failure to provide security to his party and the other two parties hitherto being exclusively targeted by the terrorists, the caretaker federal cabinet, if Information Minister Arif Nizami is to be believed, seems to be living in cuckoo land. According to Mr Nizami, the cabinet believes law and order and security are satisfactory or at least improving. This sanguine head-in-the-sand attitude contrasts sharply with the everyday lived experience of most citizens and the political parties. The caretaker government needs a reality check, followed by some evidence it takes its responsibilities vis-à-vis security for the elections more seriously than has been in evidence so far. We have the strange conjuncture of arguably one of the bloodiest and most violent elections in our history and a seemingly toothless caretaker government attempting to paper over its manifest failure to discharge its primary duty – the holding of free, fair, transparent elections in an enabling secure environment where parties and voters are not cowed into submission, either during campaigning or on polling day. With five days to go for the exercise of the electorate’s right to freely express its will, the prospects for the situation on May 11 are grim and frightening.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
A troubling development The murder of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) prosecutor investigating the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto raises many troubling questions. He was gunned down while driving to the anti-terrorism court hearing the Benazir Bhutto case. It may be recalled that this is the case in which former president and chief of army staff (COAS) Pervez Musharraf has been arraigned and sent on a 14-day judicial remand just days ago. Reports say the prosecutor, Chaudhry Zulfikar Ali, was set to oppose the expected bail application by Musharraf in the case on Friday. The timing of the assassination therefore raises many questions and suspicions. His co-prosecutor Azhar Chaudhry has said he and Zulfikar had received threatening anonymous calls for some time warning them to stop pursuing the Benazir assassination case or face the consequences. Two witnesses in the same case, Inspector Ilyas and the Civil Lines Police Station SHO Ijaz Shah, had also received warnings not to appear as witnesses. Azhar also revealed that the intelligence agencies had traced the threatening calls to different areas of neighbouring Afghanistan (although this is not necessarily conclusive proof of their origin). He went on to lament that both he and Zulfikar had repeatedly requested the government for extra security in the light of the threat, but unfortunately only received one Frontier Corps (FC) guard each. It was Chaudhry Zulfikar’s FC guard riding with him in his car in the back seat while Zulfikar was driving who returned fire and injured one of the attackers but they got away after doing the dastardly deed. This would be considered one more failure of the caretaker government on the security front, with the proviso that the perpetrators may not be the same elements that have made it their daily business to attack and kill politicians and political workers of the three parties under attack, the PPP, MQM and ANP. Logically, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the usual suspect these days in such incidents, has nothing to gain from carrying out this kind of attack on the most vigorous prosecutor of the cases against Musharraf, whom they hate from the bottom of their hearts. They are probably quite pleased by the manner in which the former COAS is being dragged over the coals in the courts. Why should they therefore kill the prosecutor responsible for Musharraf’s current discomfiture? Give the sensitivity of the cases he was investigating and prosecuting over the last at least four years, Chaudhry Zulfikar's murder smacks of something quite sinister. In the manner of whodunit mysteries, the questions to be asked are the usual: what was the possible motive and who were the beneficiaries? Reports have been circulating since some time after Musharraf’s troubles mounted that the military is very unhappy to see the ‘humiliation’ of a former COAS. Now it needs to be thoroughly investigated who is responsible, without eliminating any possibility. If the finger of circumstantial speculation points in the direction of a powerful institution or its intelligence arms, this would be a very ominous development indeed, and that too on the eve of the elections only a week away. It is interesting to introspect about the message being delivered through the assassination of the prosecutor. Are the perpetrators trying to demonstrate the fate of anyone involved in investigating or prosecuting the cases against Musharraf? The deep state has much to answer for from the past and arguably the present. Skulduggery has not been beyond it. This line of thought is troubling and ominous. We can only hope that the fresh approach in evidence for some time that the military and the deep state are no longer pursuing their usual path of dealing with awkward problems is not just a will o’ the wisp. Times have changed, and if the prosecutor’s murder is traced to what he was engaged in currently, it would represent a body blow against the halting progress towards becoming a more open and civilised state and society. The only safe position to take is to hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst.