Saturday, January 31, 2015
Terrorist carnage Either a suicide or planted bomb of great intensity blew away an imambargah in Shikarpur, Sindh, during Friday prayers when the faithful had gathered in high numbers. The death toll was 56 and expected to mount as some of the 90 injured were in critical condition. Hospitals and rescue services were overwhelmed in Shikarpur despite the efforts of citizens to pull the dead and particularly the injured out of the rubble the two-story imambargah had been reduced to. Some of the critically injured who could not be treated locally were shifted to surrounding cities and an airlift was arranged to take victims to Karachi for treatment. Jundullah, a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which last year declared its affiliation with Islamic State (IS), claimed responsibility. In a statement by their spokesman, the sectarian nature and purpose of the attack was triumphantly articulated. This is the second attack on an imambargah since the beginning of 2015, the earlier one claiming 20 lives in Rawalpindi. A reflection of the inadequacy of our security regime is the fact that the imambargah, according to surviving witnesses, had no security for the last three Fridays. Shia and other religious and political organisations called for a protest strike all over Sindh on Saturday, which at the time of writing these lines was in progress, and three days of mourning. Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah also declared an official day of mourning on Saturday and journeyed to Shikarpur where he announced the ritual financial compensation to the victims and their families, asked the IG for a report, and ordered DIGs throughout Sindh to secure places of worship. In other words, the usual reactive mode of all governments, provincial and federal, to such terrorist carnage. What is conspicuous by its absence is a plan, steps to implement it, and standard security protocols for sensitive sites such as houses of worship, particularly at their most vulnerable during Friday prayers. The Shikarpur tragedy could be seen as the expected riposte by the terrorists to the military operations underway in FATA. However, what distinguishes it are three aspects. One, since the anti-terrorism plan, flawed and inadequate as it may be, has taken steps to secure as far as possible the big cities, with the Karachi operation yielding dividends in terms of relative control and evoking praise from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while visiting the city, it is the smaller cities and towns that await similar security arrangements, protocols and standard operating procedures, especially since this attack indicates the terrorists may be shifting their attention to such areas. Second, like in Rawalpindi, the attack on a Shia imambargah kills two birds with one stone: slaking the sectarian bloodlust of the terrorist madmen and creating the fear and trepidation any terrorist attack is intended to provoke. Third, the attack in the interior of Sindh strikes a direct blow at the traditional tolerant Sufi culture of the province. This culture has been under pressure for years from the incremental radicalisation of interior Sindh through the spread of madrassas (especially Deobandi), desecration of Hindu temples and forced conversion of Hindu girls who are then married off to their torturers. Unfortunately, like so much else that is wrong with our (non-) response to the exponential growth of extremism and terrorism, not so benign neglect has been the order of the day for long. By now, the chickens of these negative trends have come home to roost. The armed forces in action in FATA are being appreciated for their clear thrust in taking head on the terrorists in their former bases. However, the civil side, and especially the federal government, appear weak, indecisive and incompetent. It is no wonder then that the usual worms have crawled out of the woodwork of late in the form of calls for the military to simply take over and do the needful. This may appear necessary at first glance to those frustrated by the conspicuous lack of credible actions by the government to meet the existential challenge to our country, but this is not a solution. It will only complicate Pakistan’s position internationally without necessarily yielding the results desired by those voicing such calls. Without the civil side pulling its weight, terrorism, particularly in the cities and urban areas, will not be overcome. Therefore the government has to lead and to be seen to be leading the charge. And while it stops talking and undertakes practical steps to boost intelligence-led operations against the terrorists, the crying need for a central organisation with a comprehensive data base on the terrorists and able to coordinate the plethora of civil and military intelligence and security forces in a holistic campaign has never presented itself more strongly than now.
Friday, January 30, 2015
Idealism and reality The ‘sudden’ resignation of Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar did not come as a complete surprise. Reports had been circulating for many months about the Governor’s unhappiness. Some of that ‘dirt’ came out during his press conference on Thursday in which he delineated his reasons for quitting. The Governor said he felt powerless and helpless to do any of the things that had motivated him to accept the gubernatorial appointment in the first place. Amongst these things he mentioned his desire to bring about an end to inequality, barbarism, inflation, lawlessness, the power of the land mafia who he said were more powerful than any Governor, and contribute to education (he mentioned that 23 million children were still out of school in Punjab alone), health, clean drinking water, equal rights and the rule of law. Quite a menu, and for anyone familiar with the ground realities of the country, a well-intentioned but virtually impossible agenda from the platform of Governor of a province. Mr Sarwar had perhaps himself arrived at that conclusion after a few months in office since he confessed during an interview on television that perhaps his decision to accept the office of Governor was a mistake. Chaudhry Sarwar according to reports had difficulties working with Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, who not only has a reputation as a hands-on head of the provincial government, but also guards his turf assiduously. So much so that even an initiative by Chaudhry Sarwar to set up a clean drinking water project with the help of expatriate friends was perceived by the chief minister as stealing his thunder. He therefore sabotaged that initiative by starting a government project along the same lines, which put paid to the private initiative. The fact that Shahbaz Sharif started that project is not a bad thing from the perspective of the citizens of the province, but the timing and motivation indicate that it was not done for the most altruistic of motives. Shahbaz Sharif reportedly was not happy with ex-Governor Sarwar’s role in mediating with Tahirul Qadri at the latter’s insistence during the diversion of Qadri's flight to Lahore drama. Nor did Sarwar’s meeting with Altaf Hussain in London without the prime minister’s consent go down well. Contradictions and conflict between the Governor and chief minister have also been reported on, for example, running Aitcheson College and other issues. These differences reportedly led to the Governor’s powers and wings being clipped. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was the criticism by Governor Sarwar of the failure of the government’s foreign policy reflected in US President Obama’s visit to India while ignoring Pakistan. In principle, such comments did not fall within the Governor’s purview, but this may have been partly frustration on his part and partly intended to provide the exit he seemed to have decided on. The episode of Chaudhry Sarwar’s induction and departure by the leadership of the PML-N points to certain lessons. Sarwar had been kind to the Sharifs in exile, which may have won him their favour. However, what Sarwar was perhaps not fully cognizant of or sensitive to was the Sharifs’ proven record of demanding loyalty above all else. Dissidence, and that too publicly, is a no-no in the Sharifs’ playbook. The fact that Sarwar played a role in getting Pakistan the coveted GSP Plus by using his contacts in the European parliament proved insufficient when weighed against his ‘sins’ in the Sharifs’ eyes. If proof of this assertion of the Sharifs’ rule that loyalty counts above all else is needed, one only has to glance at the contrast between the treatment of the Governor and certain blue-eyed federal ministers. Whereas the former may have been guilty in the Sharifs’ eyes of not being sufficiently loyal and docile, the latter have literally got away with blue murder in the energy and petrol crises and are still being protected. Chaudhry Sarwar’s future is now up for grabs. If he chooses to enter the political fray (for which the rules say he will have to wait before being able to seek elected office), an inclination he has mutedly indicated, there are at least two parties that are takers waiting in the wings: PPP and PTI. The only problem is whether, if Chaudhry Sarwar still carries the flame of the reforms dear to his heart within his breast, such parties can provide the enabling platform he seeks.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Legal challenge The legal community has initiated its expected challenge to the 21st constitutional amendment, the amendment to the Army act 1952, and the setting up of military courts that flow from these. First and foremost, the Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) has moved a petition to the Supreme Court (SC). Again not unexpectedly, the petition bases itself on three broad grounds. First, the 21st constitutional amendment changes the basic structure of the constitution; second, it violates human and fundamental rights, and three, it sets up a parallel judicial system for which there is no provision in the constitution. The basic structure argument revolves around Articles 2 (independence of the judiciary), 8 (fundamental rights) and 175 (3) (separation of the judiciary from the executive). A three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Nasirul Mulk and comprising Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Mushir Alam hearing the petition first and foremost rejected a verbal plea by the LHCBA president Shafqat Mehmood Chauhan to stay the formation and functioning of military courts, which the government was on the verge of implementing. Instead the CJP, acknowledging that questions of great constitutional and legal importance have been raised in the petition, issued notices to the law officers of the federal and provincial governments, i.e. the Attorney General and the Advocate Generals respectively, to submit detailed replies to the petition’s arguments within two weeks. Justice Alam sought the opinion of the LHCBA counsel Hamid Khan on the admissibility of the petition considering Article 239 (5) bars challenges to constitutional amendments duly passed by parliament before any court on any grounds. Hamid Khan said he would argue the point at the next hearing. The issuance of notices to the executive through their top law officers seeking detailed replies means the battle royal anticipated between parliament and the military in one corner and the judiciary and lawyers’ community in the other has now been joined. This is a case of fundamental importance having multifarious implications for the government, military, judicial system and the struggle against terrorism. The Pakistan Bar Council too has entered the fray by holding a black day on Thursday and announcing its intent to also challenge these laws and steps before the apex court. Seven petitions are reported to be with the Lahore registry of the Supreme Court already. It is possible that the SC may club all these petitions since they relate to the same or similar matters. Meanwhile the cast of usual suspects defending the interests of our religious lobby and thereby indirectly the terrorists has also put in its two cents worth. Imran Khan and the Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith have both separately come out against the ‘deception’ of keeping the focus of the military courts only on religion- or sect-based terrorism at the insistence of the secular parties who feared their dissident views may invite the unwanted attention of the military courts. What these honourable defenders and supporters of the madrassas and the people who run them miss or deliberately ignore is the plethora of reports and facts that trace not all, but a substantial number of terrorists over the years to one or the other madrassa. The very nature of the religious education provided in most if not all these institutions inclines their charges towards extremism and worse. Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan would increase funding to madrassas, based on the notion that before the British advent in the subcontinent, these were the main educational institutions amongst Muslims that were later destroyed by the colonialists. Here too the narrative misses or ignores what has happened to the madrassas since, and particularly after the Afghan wars spawned a whole industry of madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries churning out thousands of seminary students, many of whom ended up in the ranks of the terrorists. Whatever their historical contribution, the madrassas of today, as they have evolved, cannot be simply wished away on the notion that they can be restored to their past positive role. That will take more than increased funding. It will take, amongst other things, a return to the spirit of learning and free inquiry that informed Muslim education historically and which led to the enormous fund of old and new knowledge Muslim scholars and scientists brought forth, an outpouring that later fuelled the west’s transformation towards modernity. If the Muslim world went into decline and lost the plot, wishful thinking cannot turn the clock back to an ideal past. Serious and concrete examination of the present day role of the madrassas is needed to salvage from their extremist bent what is salvageable and developable and rejecting trends that lead to the terrorist gate.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Cleansing terrorism Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif has returned from his visit to China considerably bolstered by the expressions of solid support from our Chinese all weather friends. On Tuesday, General Sharif visited troops in Mohmand Agency to review progress in the operations against the terrorists infesting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and elsewhere. Addressing the tribals of the Mohmand Agency, General Sharif vowed not to abandon FATA until the entire area had been cleansed of all the terrorists. This statement of support to the tribals prepared to back the army’s drive against the terrorists is of immense importance in the backdrop of the lack of adequate support to lashkars (tribal militias) that took up arms against the terrorists in the past but were slaughtered wholesale. General Sharif’s statement of support to the tribals indicates the lesson has been learnt. Without the support of the local populace, the terrorists will be difficult to beat. General Sharif’s ringing declaration of intent will warm the hearts of the whole country, still reeling from the shock of the Peshawar massacre of school children that helped galvanise a united front against terrorism extending from the political class to the public to the military and security forces. The country now stands solidly behind the army’s campaign against the purveyors of bloodshed and barbarism. General Sharif, while addressing the troops, praised their courage, sacrifices and achievements in this difficult campaign. He stressed the need for a uniform policy of rehabilitation of all internally displaced persons to ensure the military successes translate into a contented and confident populace. All counterinsurgency strategies have to wean away the people from the militants. In this case, the militants are the worst form of reactionary extremism in the name of faith, a common affliction by now all over Pakistan and many other countries. The COAS acknowledged operations against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) elements sheltering across the border on Afghan soil, including the bloodthirsty Mullah Fazlullah. General Sharif expressed the hope that these operations would help better coordination of military activities against the terrorists on both sides of the border. On the day of his visit, the news from the battlefront was that airstrikes had taken out 76 terrorists in North Waziristan, the Shawal Valley and Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency. There is little doubt of the efficacy of the air force’s operations against terrorist hideouts and fighters since Operation Zarb-e-Azb started. While we wish the army and their supreme commander, General Raheel Sharif the best in the difficult task they have shouldered to cleanse the country of terrorism, there is room for reflection about what must follow in the badlands of FATA if the areas cleared are to be consolidated and inured against any return of such unwanted elements. It should be clear by now that regions like FATA cannot simply be returned to the previous arrangements inherited from British colonial rule days, not the least because those arrangements had a different purpose: keeping the frontier tribes quiet while the British pursued their aims in Afghanistan. What should have happened soon after independence was that the people of FATA and other similar areas should have been mainstreamed, embraced as citizens of the new state with equal rights and given every opportunity to acquire the accoutrements of a modern state and society. Instead, the colonial structures were retained for expedient reasons, not the least of which were the concerns about a hostile Afghanistan that rejected the international border running along the Durand Line as a legacy of colonialism. The tribes were deliberately left to their own devices and the overarching and unjust law called Frontier Crimes Regulation allowed successive governments to run affairs in FATA through the political agents and tribal maliks (chiefs). These maliks no longer enjoy the same pre-eminence in the tribes. Hundreds of them have been assassinated by the terrorists, leaving a vacuum that could also be seen as an opportunity. After the area has been cleansed of the terrorists, the long overdue embrace of the people of the area and their empowerment with the full panoply of rights interred in citizenship would go a long way towards preventing any potential resurgence of terrorism.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Greek breach Greece has followed the election script widely touted for it, albeit not completely. The left wing party Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as prime minister at the head of a hybrid coalition with the right wing Independent Greeks (IG) party. Two more unlike partners, akin to chalk and cheese, could not be imagined. While they disagree on many social issues, for example immigration, the new allies have found common ground in their opposition to the austerity-based bailout programme Greece has been in for five years, with budget cuts dictated by lenders such as the IMF and the EU, the latter’s policy heavily influenced by Germany’s insistence on financial discipline to put ailing economies like Greece’s back on track. The necessity for the coalition was the results of the election, which gave Syriza 36.3 percent of the vote but this meant it fell two seats short at 149 in a house of 300. The IG garnered 4.7 percent of the vote. By coming together, the two unlikely allies ensured the extreme right wing Golden Dawn party, which came in third, would not be able to get a niche in power. The significance of Syriza’s win has both domestic and external facets that bear examination. Domestically, the Greek left victory has denied, for the first time in 40 years, power to the two mainstream centrist parties, New Democracy and PASOK that had dominated between them the Greek political firmament since the military junta fell in 1974. That implies that the centrist consensus is fragmenting amongst the public. One major reason for this turning away from the centre is the inability of these traditionally dominant parties to bring to a close the protracted debate on how to pull Greece out of the pain of the lenders’ austerity straitjacket, a vise that has produced over 25 percent unemployment and pushed millions into poverty. Now that the 19-nation European Union (EU) is faced for the first time with a member led by parties rejecting German-backed austerity, it could prove a stern test not only for Tsipras but also for an EU still struggling with the consequences of the global recession. Syriza’s coming to power in Greece will reignite the fears of new financial troubles in the country that was at the centre of the 2009 regional crisis. However, the austerity programme imposed on Greece as part of a Euro 240 billion bailout programme has caused widespread misery, especially amongst the young, as social spending was slashed. However, Tsipras’ ambition to dig in his heels with Greece’s lenders may not turn out easy. Greece faces its first challenge in persuading its lenders to unlock Euro seven billion of outstanding aid it needs to make debt payments in summer. So far, all the indications are that the election campaign demand of Tsipras for a debt write-off has been given a cold shoulder. The Greek political development is no less than a breach in the wall of right wing or centrist parties in power in the EU countries since the recession bit. It was to be expected that Syriza would speak for its people, but it remains to be seen how and to what extent the needs of the suffering Greek people can be balanced against the EU’s received wisdom that only fiscal discipline can pull stuttering economies out of the woods. In fact the debate has seen challenges to this view by dissidents arguing that in fact a stimulus is required to put purchasing power in people’s pockets so that demand, and with it industry and commerce, can be boosted. Critics of the German-led EU consensus point to the US as an example of successful calibration of a stimulus package that has seen a partial economic recovery. However, these ideas have travelled badly across the Atlantic and fallen foul of the conservative tight fisted approach characteristic of countries like Germany. The problem though is that the EU’s dark underbelly has been exposed by the crisis. What has become increasingly clear is that the EU is not a grouping of equals, but rather one in which some are more equal than others. Germany in particular, because of the size and dynamism of its economy, is considered first among equals. The flaw this exposes is that what may make perfect sense for economies like the German may be nothing short of disastrous for other countries, amongst whom Greece is part of other suffering peoples on the southern rim of the EU. These strains within the EU have raised fears for the survival of the common currency, the euro, as well as, in more alarmist circles, the very notion of the EU. Without a dialogue and compromise that goes some way towards meeting the demands of Greece and other countries suffering because of the austerity programme, the EU project faces conflict and possibly a bleak future.
Monday, January 26, 2015
Obama in India The much hyped US President Barack Obama’s visit to India on Prime Minister’s Narendra Modi’s invitation has yielded breakthroughs in some stalled areas, iterations of intent in others and some unspoken but important implications vis-à-vis Pakistan’s role in the region and Islamabad’s relationship with New Delhi. First and foremost, the roadblocks in the path of finalisation of the 2008 civil nuclear trade deal have been overcome. Two in particular were jamming the works in this regard. Both sides made concessions, the US by giving up its demand to track nuclear materials supplied to see where they are used and where they end up finally, India in no longer insisting on nuclear suppliers’ liability in case something goes wrong. The former should be seen in the backdrop of India’s diversion of civil nuclear materials in the past to build a bomb, sparking off the nuclear arms race in the subcontinent. Whatever assurances were forthcoming in this regard seem to have satisfied Washington. Of course the development will displease Pakistan, being seen as discriminatory. Obama committed during discussions with Modi to support India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC). Without denying the need for reform of the UNSC, India becoming a permanent member will permanently put paid to any resolution of the Kashmir issue, since India will then be in a position to veto any attempt to raise it in the UNSC. India and the US have voiced their hopes for an enduring strategic partnership, a development that will put the final seal on India’s abandonment of its traditional non-aligned status. The development obviously carries implications for Pakistan too, not the least whether US willingness to supply weapons and allow some defence equipment to be manufactured in India will tip the strategic balance in South Asia in favour of New Delhi. Like the elephant in the room, there were either no references or only passing ones to Pakistan in the joint statement. The non-reference was in relation to the US and India’s intent to expand connectivity, maritime, air and overland, in the region, including Central Asia. The last, to be reached overland, the only affordable option, implies transit through Pakistan, which may still be some distance away given that Pakistan-India frictions have so far not allowed Kabul’s desired transit trade with India through Pakistan. The only way Washington and New Delhi can achieve their heart’s desire vis-à-vis Central Asia is if Pakistan is on board, and that implies at the very least the restart of the dialogue between Pakistan and India. Desirable as such a restart is, and historically necessary, it is crucially dependent on Pakistan being able to satisfy both Washington and New Delhi regarding past (Mumbai 2008), present (conflict on the LoC), and future (proxy jihadi groups operating in Afghanistan and Kashmir) activities of terrorist groups from Pakistan’s soil. While acknowledging and encouraging recent developments of Pakistan showing intent to take on all hues of terrorists on its soil without discrimination, the dead weight of past suspicion will take consistency and constancy to be finally cleared. Therein lies the key to Pakistan’s own future, its ties with neighbours in the region and further away, and its reaping the dividend of peace and stability through connectivity, trade and investment that could prove a transformatory development for Pakistan, the region and the world, not to mention normalising relations and ushering in cooperation across the board with India. But there may still be miles to go before all this can be taken for granted. One indicator of present realities as opposed to dreams of a better future is the visit of COAS General Raheel Sharif to China at the exact moment Obama and Modi were hugging each other in New Delhi. Ordinarily such a visit might not have raised any eyebrows. Nor did the statements from Beijing go beyond the familiar ritual of solidarity, friendship and mutual support. However, it is the timing that could be intended as a message to Washington that its attempts to get cosier with New Delhi could be offset by Islamabad’s enhanced reliance on, and support from, Beijing. Whether this is a correct interpretation or not, the fact remains that the US sees India with an eye to close cooperation across the board for the future, while viewing Pakistan with a jaundiced eye to the past. Pakistan’s paralysed diplomacy is reduced to platitudes about US influence persuading India to return to dialogue. Beyond that, Islamabad appears to have no strategy to cope with the fast changing dynamic of relations between the US and India.
Saturday, January 24, 2015
Change of guard King Abdullah is dead. Long live King Salman. This marks the change of guard in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Abdullah, 90, had been ill for some time. The royal ruling family of Saudi Arabia has been careful over the years to settle issues of succession well in advance to prevent any rivalries within the family causing disruption. In that respect, the present transition is as smooth as the planners of the succession may have desired. Not only has the succession of King Salman (aged 79) been seamless, the appointment of his youngest half-brother Prince Muqrin (69) as crown prince and heir apparent and that of his nephew Mohammad bin Nayef (55) as deputy crown prince has ensured that the succession is settled for years to come. Meanwhile the funeral rites of King Abdullah were conducted with simplicity and frugality with no pomp and show as enjoined by the strict Wahabi culture. Although many world leaders descended on Riyadh to pay their respects, Saudi Arabia itself did not declare any official mourning, although many Arab and Muslim countries, including Pakistan, did. While former president Asif Ali Zardari sent condolences, the Sharif brothers arrived in Saudi Arabia to condole the death of the king who was their host when they were exiled by Pervez Musharraf. Even Iran, with whom Saudi Arabia is in conflict over influence in the region, sent its foreign minister. Smooth transition aside, Saudi Arabia’s new monarch faces a sea of troubles. Regional turmoil, with Iran gaining in one neighbouring country, Yemen, through its support to the Shia Houthi insurgents, firmly entrenched in Iraq, but with Islamic State’s rise threatening Saudi Arabia while it gains ground in Iraq and Syria, and plunging oil prices are formidable challenges. Domestically, even the conservative kingdom had to respond to the changing dynamic of its society. King Abdullah was regarded as a cautious reformer. King Salman too, like his predecessor, will have to strike the right balance amongst conservative clerics, tribal power and the aspirations of youth that by now numbers 60 percent of the population and amongst whom women are now in a majority in higher education and many young people have studied abroad. For the moment at least, with an eye to ensuring a peaceful and smooth transition, King Salman has declared that Saudi Arabia’s present course will be maintained, meaning no immediate change in energy or foreign policy. The former implies that the course Saudi Arabia, as the major exporter of oil in the world, has set in the midst of an oil glut globally and its consequent plunging oil prices, will be maintained. This is probably intended to hurt Iran, a cause close to Saudi hearts, as well as Venezuela, which should bring smiles to the faces of its ally the US, embarked as Washington is on a collision course with the Venezuelan Maduro government. This ‘killing two birds with one stone’ may on the one hand underline the continuation of the close alliance with the US, but on the other promises a blowback in the form of a first ever budget deficit for Saudi Arabia itself. It seems that Riyadh has decided the higher strategic purpose far outweighs any short-term economic pain. The new King Salman, crown prince Muqrin and deputy crown prince Mohammad bin Nayef are old hands who have held top important positions and portfolios in the Saudi hierarchy. They are therefore eminently qualified to see the kingdom through the transition phase by adhering to continuity in domestic and foreign policies and ensuring Saudi Arabia continues to enjoy its pre-eminent position in the Arab and Muslim world and the wider region. Unfortunately, this continuity spells trouble for rival Iran, secular left wing regimes like Syria, and even Pakistan if it fails to put its guard up against Saudi funding for madrassas that has fuelled terrorism in our country. Close as the relationship between Islamabad and Riyadh is, this should not be allowed to trump Pakistan’s security in the midst of its anti-terrorism war.
Friday, January 23, 2015
Consistent policy? The struggle against terrorism that ostensibly everyone from the military to the political class and the public are now united behind, requires at the very least consistency in policy in a departure from the duality that attended our approach in the past. It was therefore of great interest to everyone when reports started circulating that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Haqqani Network (HN) had been or were in the process of being banned. These two groups are the focus of particular attention because they represent, if the reports are true, the first signs of a change of policy from ‘strategic assets’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to treating all terrorist groups by the same standards. The routine briefing by the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Ms Tasnim Aslam on Thursday therefore turned electric when the issue of the reported ban on the above two organisations came up. One would not have been remiss in expecting a clear and unequivocal statement on the issue. Instead, either the spokesperson’s words, or the way they have been reported, have confounded confusion even further. All the FO spokesperson was willing to say was that in conformity with Pakistan’s international obligations, the country had to place restrictions on any organisations proscribed and on the UN list of terrorist groups worldwide. However, although the JuD has been on that list since December 2008, Ms Aslam ‘announced’ that JuD’s bank accounts had been frozen (now?) and restrictions placed on JuD leader Hafiz Saeed’s travel abroad. The HN somehow got lost in the welter of confusion this FO statement produced. What was not clear is whether the two organisations have been proscribed or not. There is no official notification to that effect. And even if there were, no one would know since according to the Supreme Court (SC), the government has failed to provide any list to the public of the proscribed organisations. An SC bench hearing a case regarding inaccuracies and errors in law books and publications was taken aback when, having instructed court officials to examine if such a list existed on any government website, they were informed that no trace of such a list could be found. Justice Jawwad Khwaja was interested to know how a citizen was supposed to know that the ‘charity’ to whom he was donating money was not a proscribed organisation in this situation. The SC reminded the government that the country was in a state of war against terrorism and admonished it to produce the required list of proscribed organisations, make it public after translating it into local languages and ensure it became public knowledge. But to return to the issue at hand, the FO spokesperson failed to state categorically that JuD and HN were proscribed organisations and reports revealed that the freezing of the bank accounts of JuD and travel restrictions on JuD had only now been carried out. This is borne out by the JuD statement in response, in which it has stated it will challenge the freezing and restrictions in the SC since it is ‘only’ a charity. At the time of writing these lines therefore, we are no wiser whether the freezing of bank accounts and travel restrictions on the JuD mean it is proscribed or not. And even less wise regarding the HN’s status. Ambiguity rules okay, as usual. The world is already wary of Pakistan’s past duality of policy of ostensibly being an ally in the war on terror but in practice supporting groups that fall within the rubric of ‘terror’. The airing of views after the Peshawar attack from the military through the political class to citizens seemed to suggest that we had turned a corner from the past and were now firmly wedded to a non-discriminatory drive against all groups classifiable as terrorist. That, it would now appear, was a premature hope. The FO needs to clarify the confusion it has created by unequivocally declaring whether these groups and all of their ilk are proscribed or not and the government needs to follow the SC’s advice to so inform the public. Ambiguity may or may not have had its utility in the past, but now it can only weaken the credibility of our ringing declarations against terrorism per se.
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Damage control With Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif personally taking charge of overcoming the petrol crisis, the situation has started to improve. Reports say petrol supplies have been diverted to Lahore at the expense of the rest of the province. Whether there is any weight in this assertion or not (the rumour mills have been working overtime since the crisis started), it is undeniable that the country as a whole has seen the lines at filling stations reduce. There are still areas of the country awaiting a similar easing, but the overall supply situation is definitely improving and more is on the way. The petroleum ministry has drawn up a plan for the demand/supply equation till February 28. However, despite imports, some of which have arrived at Karachi port, some are on their way upcountry, and more ships bearing oil are expected by end January, only 59,100 metric tonnes (MT) of petrol will be available till January 31. The usual average supply of petrol for the country as a whole is around 12,000 MT per day. But that was before the shortage hit. Imports of oil of 0.25 million MT are planned but the Letters of Credit for five cargoes in February totalling this amount could not so far be opened because of funds constraints. The petroleum ministry says at least Rs 70-80 billion need to be released by the finance ministry and the power sector within three days to meet the objective. The oil refineries too are cash-strapped because of circular debt and therefore only able to offer 35,500 MT in February, 16,800 MT below capacity. The monitoring room set up in the petroleum ministry is giving the PM daily reports on the supply situation. On Wednesday they reported 18,000 MT had been supplied, 6,000 MT over the norm, which may explain the easing. Meanwhile, taking cognizance of the serious damage to the government’s credibility because of this debacle, the PM has cancelled his trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. He has also ordered that reserve stocks of petrol be increased from the normal 20 days to two months to ensure such a crisis does not recur. On the other hand, the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) is reportedly under pressure from the National Transmission and Dispatch Company to increase water discharges and thereby help boost hydel power generation to control load shedding, which is currently running at 12-14 hours a day in urban areas and more than 16 hours in rural areas. IRSA has so far increased discharges by 5,000 cusecs a day until January 25, when Mangla Dam will add an additional 10,000 cusecs per day in response to higher irrigation demands from the provinces and the reopening of canals closed for annual maintenance will boost hydel generation from 700 to 1,500 MW by January 31. The energetic response of the government to the crisis has to be praised. What looked like a crisis that would linger for weeks if not months has largely been overcome within days. This would perhaps not have been possible without the PM taking charge, an outcome to be expected after the incredibly inept performance of some concerned ministers. Unfortunately, these ministers are still being shielded and another scapegoat in the form of the chairman OGRA is about to have a reference sent against him to the Federal Public Service Commission to take action against him. This evasive approach will not help the government; on the contrary it can be argued it will weaken its battered credibility even further. Even within the ruling PML-N ranks, voices are being heard that emphasise the necessity of sacking a minister or two or at the very least changing their portfolios so that the government, or at least the PM, is seen as taking responsibility. Awkward as such a course may be for Nawaz Sharif, given the blue-eyed status of these ministers responsible for bringing the image of the government crashing down into the dust, he must weigh the costs of inaction against the painful necessity to hold his ministers accountable for gross neglect, inefficiency and passing the buck.
Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Scapegoating The preliminary report of the two-man inquiry committee comprising officials of the Oil and Gas Development Company looking into the petrol crisis blamed first and foremost the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA) for the debacle, endorsed Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s suspension of four senior officials, and suggested that the Deputy Managing Director of Pakistan State Oil (PSO) was equally responsible. That led to the PM suspending that gentleman too, bringing the total suspensions to five. But surprisingly, the report had nothing to say about the three ministries being blamed for the crisis: petroleum, water and power, and finance. As a result, their ministers stand absolved of any blame. Presiding over a meeting to review the crisis, the PM directed the ‘concerned authorities’ to take necessary steps to avoid the recurrence of such a crisis. He directed the petroleum ministry to report on the petrol situation throughout the country on an hourly basis. All this is fine, but failure to pin the blame on those actually responsible or negligent is the missing step if the crisis is to be controlled, first and foremost, the proper lessons learnt from the experience, and those widely deemed responsible sacked if they do not resign. None of the three ministers is willing to accept responsibility for the crisis, the petroleum and finance ministers ducking the issue, blaming ‘others’, and the latter falling back on the time honoured but discredited gambit of conspiracy theory. By now, the whole story has been done to death and precious little is left unknown. PSO, as the major oil importer and distributor, was starved of necessary funds to carry out these critical functions over months (if not years). Falling prices may have produced an uptick in petrol demand, but this does not explain the sudden shortage. That can only be laid at the door of the disruption of the supply chain, with PSO centre-stage and the other oil marketing companies (OMCs) secondary players, despite pleadings and warnings by PSO amongst others of the critical situation of petrol supplies. All these pleas and warnings fell on deaf ears. OGRA, singled out for the major blame, has denied responsibility (this denial business threatens to become an epidemic in the country) and pointed to its warning on December 28, 2014 about the dire situation of petrol supplies. Stung to the quick by being blamed, OGRA has in turn come down with notices on the OMCs for failing to keep adequate stocks as required. A contributory factor may be that the post of Member Oil in OGRA has been vacant for six months because the previous incumbent has gone to court on his removal. All this smacks of going round and round in circles without being able to catch one’s own tail or truthfully and impartially lay the blame where it is due. Unfortunately, the principle that the buck stops at the top has gone abegging in Pakistan generally, and in this case in particular. What should have happened is that the three ministers, petroleum, water and power, and finance, who were the central figures in this whole mess should have resigned, and if they did not, been sacked. It is the failure of the PM to do so and his attempts to find scapegoats amongst officials while leaving his blue-eyed ministers in place that have swung the finger of accusation finally on him. The PPP has categorically said the PM himself is to blame as the head of the government. It has reminded the public that it had warned of an impending petrol crisis in the last session of parliament. It has now summoned a session of the National Assembly precisely to discuss the debacle. The Senate in the meantime has planned a joint meeting on January 23 of its three committees on petroleum, water and power, and finance, and summoned the relevant ministers, officials, oil companies, etc, to attend the hearing. Other than these developments, PSO claims an easing of the critical petrol shortage but the situation on the ground in the shape of the still winding long queues before filling stations erodes the credibility of the claim. The crisis has badly exposed the failings of this government in ministers taking responsibility, the lack of coordination between them, and the overly centralised manner of running the government, with the PM’s absence from the country perhaps contributing to a situation where no one seemed to be minding the store. Nawaz Sharif should stop living in his dream world of having an ‘experienced team’, get a grip on reality, sack incompetent cabinet members, induct replacements on merit and apportion cabinet posts only on the basis of competence. Politics can be a hard mistress, and if the PM fails to show resolve and responsibility, the buck eventually will stop at him.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Balochistan’s issues The Balochistan government of Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has been making efforts to frame the development needs of the province and project these at the national level. On Monday, it brought its roadshow to Islamabad. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, in his address at the forum, delineated the problems of Balochistan stemming from its neglect in the past and the steps the federal government was taking to alleviate some long standing problems as well as the new initiatives the federal and provincial governments had undertaken to change the fate of Pakistan’s largest province by land area but its poorest and most underdeveloped by any criterion. The PM stated that the development of Balochistan was close to his heart and despite constraints, the federal government had provided substantial resources to supplement the efforts of the provincial government to address the needs of its people. For example, the PM pointed to the 7th National Finance Commission (NFC) Award increase of Balochistan’s share from 5.11 to 9.09 percent and the recognition of the principle of inverse density. This last means that the traditional measure of development allocations under the NFC Awards, based on population alone, had been modified in Balochistan’s case to take account of the fact that its population was relatively low (around seven percent of Pakistan’s total), while it lived in a large province in scattered communities, some of which still practised their nomadic way of life. The PM also made reference to the 18th Amendment, which has transferred many powers to the provinces but which the recipients, including Balochistan, have yet to fully take advantage of because of institutional capacity issues. In addition, the PM mentioned the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan package initiated by the previous PPP government and which the present incumbents have continued. This package essentially aims at providing educational and employment opportunities to Baloch youth to reduce their sense of deprivation and thereby keep them away from nationalist militancy. Amongst the infrastructure projects the federal government is financing and implementing, the PM listed the M-8 (Gwadar-Turbat-Hoshab and Khuzdar-Ratodero) and N-85 (Hoshab-Basima-Sorab) roadways to greatly improve Balochistan’s connectivity with the rest of the country. In collaboration with the provincial government, the Centre had launched a project worth Rs 4 billion to construct houses in earthquake-hit Awaran district. To meet the electricity needs of Balochistan, a 300 MW power plant was planned for Gwadar, while two additional transmission lines, 220 KV Dadu-Khuzdar and 220 KV D G Khan-Loralai had been completed. Allocation of the Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) this year for Balochistan had been enhanced to Rs 61 billion, 37 percent higher than last year. Rs 15 billion was earmarked in the PSDP for 2014-15 as a special development package, the highest among all the provinces. The PM shared his vision of Balochistan’s geographic location favouring it becoming the regional hub for trade in goods and energy for both the east-west and north-south routes. It would be the main beneficiary of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Developing Gwadar Port, Gwadar Port City, a modern new airport and improved inland connectivity would make Gwadar the hub of regional trade. Free Trade and Special Economic Zones would make Balochistan an attractive destination for foreign and domestic investment. In other words, said the PM, these initiatives would bring about nothing less than a socio-economic revolution in the lives of the people of the province. Balochistan was rich in natural resources, including large deposits of hydrocarbons and minerals. It had huge potential for development of agriculture, fruits, vegetables, fisheries and livestock. While the pronouncements of the PM can only be welcomed, all these fine aspirations still do not answer some pertinent questions. First and foremost, even the cash-strapped federal government may not be able beyond a point to make a dent in the huge development deficit Balochistan suffers from because it has been left out of the development paradigm over decades. A still largely tribal and nomadic society requires a special dispensation to reach these scattered communities and bring development to them in creative ways that differ from the traditional modes of development in more settled populations. The question of finance, as always, despite improvement in the province’s share, remains an impediment. The PM’s address reflects the priority being given to infrastructure. That is not unimportant, but there are many more urgent tasks too. Water is a scarce commodity in the largely semi-arid area of Balochistan, which geologically is an extension of the Iranian plateau. Extremes of climate dictate revisiting the traditional manner of providing water in the rural areas, for example karezes (underground water channels to save evaporation under the fierce summer sun). The water table in Balochistan has by now fallen to unaffordable depths. Rainfall is sparse and fresh water sources will have to be created through innovative measures. Without this, the idea of prosperity through agriculture and other grown products will remain a pipe dream. Last but not least, while the PM spoke of cleansing Balochistan (and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA) of terrorists, the elephant in the room remained the nationalist insurgency, which the chief minister has not been able to engage, discouraging the investors required to uplift the province’s economy. Dialogue with the nationalists in the mountains and abroad is nowhere to be seen. In its absence, the whole paradigm of development could be at risk.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Government disarray Nothing has exposed the government’s incompetence and bad governance like the ongoing petrol crisis. It took Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country and taking ‘notice’ of the issue before the government even seemed to wake up from its somnolent state to become aware that a severe crisis was at hand. Naturally the question arises whether the prime minister is the only ‘man’ in the federal cabinet? Where were all the concerned and responsible ministers till then? Naturally, the prime minister is furious at the neglect on display. He has vowed not to spare any culprit responsible for bringing the government into such disrepute. The whole country will be watching closely to see if the prime minister delivers on his threat. Some reason for scepticism resides in the fact that even some of his own PML-N leaders ascribe the debacle to the well known penchant of the Sharifs to rely on bureaucrats and their ‘close’ politicians rather than on merit to run the country. Some reports speak of the style of governance that restricts every decision of every ministry to final approval by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and virtual deputy prime minister, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. This triumvirate, if the reports are correct, is ‘family-based’. Loyalty may be an old and reinforced after 1999 view of the Sharifs, but it is not the best way to run a government, and certainly not in a Pakistan today so very different, very much more complex and troubled than their tenure in the 1990s. It seems these leaders of the PML-N are either stuck in a time warp or so insecure that they cannot appoint people purely on merit and delegate powers to run things smoothly. Virtual ‘three (or one) man rule’ is a recipe for disaster in the 21st century. Presiding over yet another high powered ‘emergency’ meeting, the prime minister was visibly unhappy, not the least because neither the Petroleum Minister Khaqan Abbasi nor Finance Minister Ishaq Dar were prepared to accept responsibility for the crisis. Passing the buck was on display. This was further deepened when the two worthy ministers held press conferences on Monday. Khaqan Abbasi refused to concede any official negligence, whitewashed his ministry as not being responsible, and ascribed the whole crisis to the increased demand for petrol because of falling prices and the non-availability of CNG. Dar also sang the ‘not responsible’ refrain, denied that his ministry had delayed any payments to PSO, blamed the oil marketing companies for not maintaining minimum stocks, and finally fell back on some imaginary ‘conspiracy’ against the government. While Abbasi at least tried to allay the agitated concerns of the public by making soothing noises about shipments on the way that would ease the crisis within 5-8 days, Dar failed to explain why, if his claim about not owing PSO “even one rupee” is true, the country’s largest state-owned importer of oil reportedly defaulted 26 times in October-December 2014. Sad to say, whatever their mea culpas may or may not have done for the two ministers’ credibility, their fulminations only served to expose the incompetent underbelly of the government that now appears in disarray when two senior members of the federal cabinet act so irresponsibly, then deny responsibility, and finally pass the blame to ‘others’. It is no wonder then that the prime minister has set up yet another investigative committee to get to the bottom of the issue, fix responsibility and make recommendations on fuel management. A visibly perturbed prime minister seemed to have finally realised how deeply this debacle could damage the credibility and popularity of his government. Having barely breathed a sigh of relief now that Imran Khan has seen better sense and decided not to continue his sit-ins, the government has immediately lurched into another crisis that could knock the rug from under its feet, particularly if the rising public anger finds expression in agitation on the streets, which its opponents may seek to exploit. As it is, the PPP, PTI and PML-Q have already demanded Khaqan Abbasi’s head. From there to the Finance ministry is only a small step. What then of the prime minister’s team?
Sunday, January 18, 2015
Deepening divide The feared spread of conflict because of Charlie Hebdo’s insistence on continuing to publish caricatures considered blasphemous by most Muslims is unfolding. In Niger on the second day of riots, stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police in the capital Niamey and other towns, yielding by the time the smoke cleared to at least eight churches being burnt and the Christian community, particularly French nationals, fearing for their safety and lives. This followed the deaths of five people the day before. If the situation in Niger and other Muslim countries in northwestern black Africa is increasingly incendiary, the same apprehension of a gathering storm in many other countries of the Muslim world is gathering pace. In Pakistan, although the religious parties were initially and expectedly in the forefront of protests against the caricatures, there is no gainsaying the fact that sympathies for those killed in Paris by the terrorists notwithstanding, there is deep disgust amongst all Muslims at the unnecessary provocation in the name of freedom of the press, with blind and uncritical support by western governments. In this emerging scenario, the attacks in Paris could embolden other terrorists to mount more such attacks. One incentive for doing so is being provided by the knee jerk reactions most western governments are guilty of. They uphold in mechanical fashion freedom of expression unalloyed by any sense of responsibility. Even if it is conceded for the sake of argument that when the Danish paper first published such caricatures in 2005-6, the reaction in the Muslim world and further abroad could not be accurately predicted, in 2015 such excuses no longer hold water. All journalists in the west by now know the likely consequences of going down this precarious path. If a publication continues despite this to put out such material, what are we to make of its motivation? The west has arrived at its present secular, democratic system through a long struggle and much bloodshed. Having achieved it, does it wish to impose the same kind of bloodshed on the Muslim world and beyond? Is freedom of expression such an absolute principle that a sense of responsibility has no place in it? Knowing full well the consequences of pursuing such a course, arguably the insistence on an abstract principle devoid of the context of today’s world borders on hate speech. That is something the west is very careful about, in a selective manner though. Anti-Semitism is rightly punishable in Europe with jail in some cases, particularly given the history of Hitler’s Germany. Denying the holocaust however, instead of being refuted by facts and arguments (of which there are plenty) is also punishable because it is interpreted as anti-Semitic, a stretch of a principle if ever there was one. If hate speech on this issue is so sensitive that the law forbids it, why does the same sensitivity (if not law) not apply in the case of matter that inflames Muslim sentiment? While we decry the extremist mindset of the terrorists and condemn their bloody deeds, does not deliberate provocation in the name of freedom of expression too not answer to the charge of ‘extremist thinking’? Today’s interconnected world requires such sensitivity not only to peoples far away, but also those who now are part of European societies from other cultures and sets of beliefs. A world at peace cannot be constructed on the basis of an extremist-terrorist and extremist-liberal binary. The task of combating terrorism worldwide (and it has certainly spread because of, amongst other factors, western actions and policies) requires an inclusive, respectful approach to differences, not incendiary provocation. The latter can only lead to the deepening of the divide that is opening up between different cultures and religions. That outcome only serves the purposes of the fanatical jihadis who wish to see their provocations duplicated (in print if not in action) by their perceived western enemies so that the whole world is plunged into a new firestorm of hatred ad bloodshed. Despite the commitment of western democratic societies to freedom of expression, their governments need to take pause and consider where their present course could lead if irresponsible and repetitive provocations are allowed to prevail.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
Rage against the machine Around 200 protestors of the religious parties in Karachi joined protestors throughout the country on Friday against the caricatures published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The magazine’s journalists and cartoonists were among those targeted in the attacks in Paris recently that killed 17 people, including 12 journalists. Condemnation of the attack and expressions of solidarity and sympathy with the victims lasted only so long as Charlie Hebdo’s next issue, which chose to replicate the caricatures in a show of defiance in the name of freedom of expression. Although the issue sold millions of copies in France, arguably the decision also sparked off protest throughout the world against such insult to religions and the deeply held beliefs of millions of Muslims all over the world. Fortunately, most of these protests have been peaceful so far, the exception being a clash between protestors of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT), the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), and police before the French consulate in Karachi in which one photographer was shot and wounded while others, including policemen, suffered injuries. Despite denials by the IJT that its members opened fire, eyewitnesses say the agitating crowd is where the bullets came from. Some violence was reported against a French consulate in Niger, but other than that, the protests throughout the Muslim world and beyond passed peacefully. And that is as it should be. The moral high ground belongs to he who in the face of extreme provocation, remains calm and peaceful and employs the weapons of language and argument rather than the language of weapons. But this distinction is lost on parties like the JI and its notoriously violent student wing, the IJT. The black day announced by the religious parties is to be followed by another day of protest on January 23 throughout the country again. Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan has warned that events since the Paris attacks are moving in the direction of fulfilling the often-derided concept of ‘clash of civilisations’. To the extent that the gulf between the absolutist protagonists of unfettered free speech and those advocating a responsible calculation of the consequences of expression of derision or mocking of personages or beliefs regarded as holy, incapable of being rendered visually, and beyond such frivolous tomfoolery is widening by the day, President Erdogan may have a point. In Europe and the wider western world, the response to the Paris events has been confined to a reiteration of freedoms and values held dear by developed societies and a firm resolve to crush any attempt to foment terrorism in Europe or the west. As a consequence of this position, a widespread operation is in progress in Europe to round up suspects and pre-empt any terrorist plans. In this latter category falls the killing by police of two men suspected of planning attacks on police, etc, in Belgium. In parallel, security, surveillance and the deployment or readying for deployment of the military are in evidence. ‘Fortress’ Europe may be raising the metaphorical drawbridge in preparation for a siege of the castle, but whether the continuing provocations of Charlie Hebdo and other publications repeating the caricatures is serving any meaningful purpose or simply stoking the fuel of hatred for such acts amongst even moderate Muslims who do not like their Prophet (PBUH) or religion mocked, yet condemn killing because of it. Racial and religious profiling, already in evidence since we entered the brave new world post-9/11, now seems not only a certainty but a spreading action that will no doubt exacerbate the alienation of young Muslims in western societies and may even impel them precisely in the direction of the jihadis that most governments want to wean them away from. US Secretary of State John Kerry put in an appearance in Paris to make up for the absence of any senior US official at the solidarity march fielding 40 heads of state. However, what French President Francois Hollande said after their talks has a deeper meaning than perhaps even he was aware of. Calling the Paris attacks “France’s 9/11”, President Hollande argued for an “appropriate response”. Now what that appropriate response might be is for world, and especially western leaders, to ponder. If they do not come together to heal the wounds that have opened up on both sides after Paris, they will have fallen into the trap set by the gunmen to stoke a worldwide conflict between faiths in the name of their perverse and extreme interpretations of Islam. Gentlemen, do not bring grist to the mill of the fanatics. Transcend knee-jerk and emotional reactions and move towards a global architecture of anti-terrorism. The failure to do so will prove very costly.
Friday, January 16, 2015
A done deal? The government and the military are at pains to argue that the military courts were a “last resort” and a “stopgap arrangement” because of capacity issues in the civilian judicial system. Thus the first quote above is from a statement from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from Riyadh, where he has gone on a private visit to inquire after the health of the Saudi monarch and hold discussions with the Saudi leadership. The second is from a talk by ISPR Director General Major General Asim Bajwa to the Royal United Services Institute in London, where the General is accompanying COAS General Raheel Sharif on his visit to hold discussions with the British higher authorities. The thrust of both explanations is that the military courts are a necessity in the context of combating terrorism after the Peshawar attack, limited in time and scope, and will be done away with after two years. While the setting up of military courts has been given legal cover through the 21st constitutional amendment and the amendment to the Army Act 1952, reservations about the measure are to be found lingering not only amongst the political parties that went along (some openly reluctantly) with the legislation, but also amongst thinking observers of the national scene as well as the Bar associations. The critics rely on the arguments that the military courts are essentially violative of the basic structure and provisions on fair trial and due process of the constitution and may lead to miscarriages of justice, particularly since no appeal lies against their verdicts, including death sentences. Since the moratorium on executions has been lifted, the critics fear innocents may be hanged on the basis of the summary procedures of military courts without a proper right to defend themselves and without any recourse to appeals. The Bar associations in particular are girding up their loins to challenge the amendments in the higher civilian courts. A right royal legal battle looms. Difficult as the case against a constitutional amendment passed unanimously by a two-thirds majority in both houses of parliament may prove, it may not turn out to be an open and shut case either. The mood of the judiciary is not positive, not the least because the entire blame for setting up military courts (even as an inescapable necessity in the extraordinary circumstances confronting the country) is being heaped on the heads of the civilian judicial system because of the mountain of backlog in cases and alleged tardiness and/or fear when adjudicating terrorism cases. A reflection of the ‘push back’ by the judiciary that feels it has unfairly been put in the dock on the issue are the statements in court by Supreme Court judges Justice Asif Saeed Khosa and Justice Jawwad S Khwaja. Hearing separate cases on separate benches, both honourable judges of the apex court expressed their dismay and irritation at the judiciary being blamed for the conundrum. In parallel remarks, both judges squarely laid the real blame on the executive/government on a number of counts. First and foremost, they were of the view that the backlog of cases invited the appointment of more judges (some higher courts are still under even their sanctioned strength) but the executive always pleaded scarcity of resources for avoiding the same. Justice Khwaja went so far as to argue that if this trend persisted, far from reducing, the mountain of backlog would only increase. While Justice Khosa seemed to be referring to the prime minister’s remarks during a meeting with President Mamnoon Hussain that criticised the performance of the judiciary in reminding the executive that it would have to fulfil its obligations and responsibilities (instead of shifting the blame), Justice Khwaja referred to weak prosecution, lack of protection for witnesses, prosecutors and judges as the reason why, despite being incarcerated unjustly for years on end, the accused finally had to be acquitted by the courts in conformity with the law since the case against them could not be proved. Those who may have complacently been relying on the seeming consensus on the amendments and the consequence of setting up military courts as a result may be in for some rude shocks. The legal challenge could create difficulties for the government and the military. Challenges to the verdicts of the military courts, despite being debarred, may also follow. Were these developments to unfold, the consensus could prove ephemeral. No ‘done deal’ here necessarily.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
NAP implementation The implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism seems to be crawling along. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif chaired yet another meeting at the PM’s House on Wednesday to review progress in the implementation of the NAP. While the ritual expressions of resolve to eradicate the menace of terrorism were trotted out as usual, the PM’s ‘direction’ to all the provincial governments to take proactive measures for ensuring speedy and effective implementation of the NAP cut closer to the bone of the truth of the country’s situation. Gone are the days when Pakistan had a strong Central government and weak provinces. Over time, and especially after the 18th Amendment, the Centre is weaker and the provinces, despite devolution of powers, are weaker still in terms of taking up the new tasks and challenges thrown up by changed circumstances. Law and order is a provincial subject, in which terrorism is both enfolded and also outside ‘normal’ law enforcement. The danger is that a country seemingly united and mobilised after the Peshawar tragedy of December 16 last year still lacks the wherewithal to counter what has emerged as an existential threat. On the evidence of practical steps and measures taken since December 16, the apprehension has arisen that the counterterrorism drive may fall into the cracks between the Centre’s limited powers and the provinces’ limited capacity to handle the task. The argument therefore for a strong centralised platform from which to direct the NAP has never appeared stronger than now. Unfortunately, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that was billed as such a centre in the government’s national security policy remains populated by literally ‘two men and a dog’. NACTA or some equivalent has to plug the gaps between the civilian and military sides of the counterterrorism strategy, organise a centralised data base on the foundations of intelligence sharing and then work towards discovering the strengths, links and operational capabilities of the terrorist organisations in order to pre-empt their plans and smash them. Without bringing the entire resources, human and material, of the state and society together, the enemy will always be one step ahead of us. The change in mindset and traditional modes of working requires nothing less than a revolution if we are going to get anywhere. Take for example the information shared by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar regarding the growth to 95 of terrorist groups in Punjab alone, arguably the most developed and efficient of all the provinces. This exponential increase beyond even the list of proscribed organisations (reportedly 72) indicates a benign neglect and even co-habitation of the Punjab government with the new and old groups. And this at a time when the PML-N is in power at the Centre and the PM’s younger brother in Punjab. The other provinces have different governments and they may or may not be as amenable to the Centre’s directions as Punjab is expected to be. Yet such a large number of terrorist groups has not been reported from any other province, presumably because these groups found it expedient to retain their ‘safe havens’ in Punjab while carrying out their murderous activities in the rest of the country. None of this is new, except perhaps for the alarming increase in the terrorists’ strength. Reportedly their greatest presence is in south Punjab but by now they are said to have influence all over the province. Have the authorities in Punjab been asleep at the wheel while these developments were taking place right under their noses or did they choose like the ostrich to bury their head in the sand, hoping the ‘nightmare’ would go away of its own accord? The figures presented by Chaudhry Nisar in the meeting regarding the drive to net suspects revealed nothing more than the ‘blind, one-eyed’ approach to the anti-terrorist drive. The cast of usual suspects is picked up in the hundreds here and there on suspicion and then the obviously innocent are weeded out while the still to be cleared are detained. This is the classic pattern of law enforcement of the police when under pressure from above to deliver. But it is as far away from what is needed against terrorism as it is possible to imagine. Time, resources and effectiveness are more likely to be frittered away on such ‘red herrings’ while the actual terrorists are probably chuckling into their beards at our misplaced concreteness. The federal and provincial governments have an opportunity to sort out seriously their inadequacies in the meeting with the chief ministers the PM has called for next week. Let us hope they have the guts, gumption, will and wisdom to rise to the occasion.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Kerry’s parting gift After the two-day talks in Islamabad under the Pakistan-US strategic dialogue, US Secretary of State John Kerry held a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz. Reading between the placatory homilies on either side of rosy relations between the two countries going forward, there was unmistakably the stink of something rotten in the State of Denmark. It seemed as though, having failed to get the assurances he wanted, Kerry was at pains to reiterate the US’s position on Pakistan’s policy on terrorism and his reservations on the same. On the other hand, Sartaj Aziz seemed bent upon underlining Pakistan’s commitment to the desired non-discriminatory treatment of all terrorist groups and bent his back to assert this. The other side, however, in the person of John Kerry, seemed singularly unimpressed with these verbal gymnastics and perhaps even a little irritated. While Kerry emphasised that Pakistan must fight out the enemies of the US, Afghanistan and India, who does not remember the interview not so long ago by none other than Sartaj Aziz in which he argued it would not be in the interests of Pakistan to take action against and make enemies of the enemies of the US. The context of course was Afghanistan and the ‘enemies’ referred to the Afghan Taliban that Pakistan has been harbouring and allowing to operate inside Afghanistan since 2001. Kerry’s wish is that the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani network, Laskhar-e-Taiba and other such groups should be pushed back into the recesses of Pakistan’s memory. Pakistan on the other hand has a slightly different take on this. Sartaj Aziz boasted in the press conference that the Haqqani network’s infrastructure had been “totally destroyed” and its operational ability had virtually disappeared. Should one take this on faith? It did not seem Kerry did, since he countered the assertion of a non-discriminatory action against all terrorist groups by saying, “the proof is going to be in the pudding”. While Kerry sympathised with the victims of the Peshawar attack and promised $ 250 million for the internally displaced persons in Pakistan, this should be contrasted with the provisions of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act’s generous commitment of $ 7.5 billion over five years, which is by now bogged down in delays because of Washington’s uncertainty about Islamabad saying what it means and meaning what it says. Kerry, the main moving sprit behind the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, must have found it extremely frustrating to be regaled by ‘stories’ about the Haqqani network being virtually put out of action while there was a pregnant silence on the Afghan Taliban or the jihadi groups girding up their loins against India. Even friend of Pakistan Kerry will find it impossible to sell Pakistan’s dissembling approach to the burning question of dumping the good/bad Taliban binary. As Sartaj Aziz put it in the press conference, our defence forces are going to be engaged for the foreseeable future in operations against the domestic terrorists (almost entirely the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan) and would welcome coalition support funds from Washington for the same. Such demands ignore the dynamics of how the situation in the region and bilateral relations with the US are playing out. The US is in retreat from its failed intervention in Afghanistan, not the least because of Pakistan’s role in providing safe havens and rear bases to the Afghan Taliban to operate from, and the wounded superpower will not take kindly to Pakistan’s continued attempts to pull the wool over its eyes over the discriminatory policy of distinguishing between good and bad Taliban, statements to the contrary notwithstanding. Pakistan’s turning a blind eye to the Afghan Taliban and jihadi groups oriented towards a struggle against India is not about to win any brownie points in Washington, especially since the US’s residual role in Afghanistan means it can no longer be held over a barrel by Islamabad. Pakistan is on tricky ground here, with talk about cooperation amongst Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US camouflaging the real alignment in which Pakistan still sees its strategic interests tied up with the Afghan Taliban and other proxies operating eastwards. Islamabad should be cautioned that it risks an adverse reaction from Washington if it fails to take on board the US’s concerns.
Tuesday, January 13, 2015
‘Do more’ again US Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived for meetings with the top political and military leadership and to participate in the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue. This conversation between the two countries began in 2010 and saw three rounds before deteriorating relations in 2011 brought it to a halt. In 2013 the dialogue restarted, with the first round in Washington in January 2014. This second round arrives at a critical moment, given the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and concerns regarding the future of that country. It also includes discussions on energy, security, strategic stability and non-proliferation, defence consultations, law enforcement and counterterrorism, economics and finance. Working groups comprising both sides are to delve into these areas to formulate ways and means to further cooperation between Washington and Islamabad. Mr Kerry also wants to sound the US’s concerns regarding the struggle against the common enemy, terrorism on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The US would like to see constraints through action on the ability of groups such as the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba in the context of Kerry’s stopover in New Delhi before arriving here. While Mr Kerry condoled with Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif on the tragedy of the massacre of school children in Peshawar, he reiterated the US’s support to Pakistan on terrorism. Meanwhile the US State Department spokesman in Washington, on the eve of Kerry's visit, acknowledged the Pakistan army’s offensive against terrorists in FATA, stressing it had disrupted the enemy’s capabilities. Simultaneously, CENTCOM commander General Lloyd Austin is also here. He met COAS General Raheel Sharif and expressed similar sentiments regarding the Pakistan army’s actions. The US wants Pakistan to continue on this path with even greater vigour and consistency, stressing the indivisibility of the terrorist phenomenon. Pakistan on the other hand, cognizant, as the PM put it, of the importance of its relationship with the US, wants economic aid, market access and US investment to build a future on sound lines and not merely the transactional relationship of the past. But there may be many a slip between the cup and the lip yet. Crucial to the success of the kind of relationship desired by Islamabad will be Pakistan’s willingness to take on board the US’s concerns, including cooperation to nudge the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table with Kabul, restraint on the eastern border vis-à-vis infiltration of militants into Indian-held Kashmir, leading hopefully to defusing the eastern border while Pakistan tackles the fraught security situation on its western flank. Some positive signs are visible in the relationship. For one, this is reflected indirectly in ISI chief Lt-General Rizwan Akhtar’s dash the other day to Kabul for discussions with an amenable to cooperation President Ashraf Ghani, which resulted in (hopefully not ritual) declamations of intent to cooperate and coordinate against the Taliban that want to overthrow the government in both countries, and two, directly in General Lloyd Austin’s assurance to General Raheel Sharif that Mullah Fazlullah’s days in Afghanistan are numbered. But given the past tensions between Pakistan on the one side and the US and Afghanistan on the other for harbouring the Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil since 2001, the jury is out how far and fast the declarations of joint cooperation will be translated into practical reality. Pakistan’s hopes for a future relationship of benefit with Washington rest crucially on the role Pakistan plays from hereon in helping things settle down in Afghanistan and curbing, if not shutting shop of the proxies operating against India. In other words, the sooner Pakistan says goodbye to its past adventures with proxies, the better and quicker will the whole gamut of Islamabad’s desires, including economic cooperation, be realised. Pakistan can no more afford to rile up a US in which even Mr Kerry is having difficulties persuading a Republican-dominated Congress to open its coffers to help Pakistan (the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act disbursements are on hold) and which faces a possible Republican president next to replace President Obama on the run of political currents in the US. That is the context in which the reiterated demand to ‘do more’ needs to be seen.
Monday, January 12, 2015
Paris fallout Many world leaders, including Muslim and Jewish statesmen, joined President Francois Hollande in a silent march of hundreds of thousands of people in Paris on January 11 to show solidarity with the victims of the recent attacks that killed 17 people, including journalists and police personnel, and to send a message of defiance to the perpetrators. The march is being considered the largest in modern times in the French capital, reflecting the shock over the worst militant assault on a European city in nine years. For France, it raised issues of free speech, religion and security and for the wider world, the vulnerability of states to urban attacks. If security was high at the silent march, it was nothing compared with the deployment of some 10,000 troops and police on the next day to reassure people that they would be safeguarded. The fears of a similar assault in other European countries proved a self-fulfilling prophecy when German daily Hamburger Morgenpost’s office was the target of an incendiary device thrown into the building. Hamburger Morgenpost had reproduced Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons as a show of solidarity. Europe’s struggle against radicalisation of disaffected young Muslims is not being helped by the media’s defiance of the terrorists by going on reproducing material considered blasphemous by most Muslims, but of whom only a fanatical minority choose to respond to violently while the vast majority, unhappy as they may be at the provocation, choose to ignore it. The eternal dialectic between freedom (of expression) and responsibility remains unresolved therefore. The danger is of falling into the trap laid by the fanatics, who want to paint the ‘conflict’ as a war of the west against Islam. Implied in this formulation is their attempt to hijack and monopolise the mobilisation appeal of Islam for young Muslims, including those in the west, alienated and angry over what they consider blasphemous treatment of holy personages or the religion itself. There is clearly a historical and conceptual divide here, reflected increasingly in the actual gulf opening up between Muslims, including those in the west, and the rest. This is the binary the fanatics preach and desire to see emerge. It brings grist to their propaganda mill, fresh recruits in increasing numbers, and the polarisation of societies and the world into the trenches dug by the terrorists. Part of this opening up of the ground under the feet of modern society is the rise of Islamophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in many countries of Europe. Perceptive observers have been warning of the implications of racial or religious profiling on the health and peace of European societies. Although US President Barack Obama’s was a notable absence at the solidarity march in Paris, the White House plans a global security summit on the challenge of terrorism on February 18. And that is as it should be, since jihadi terrorism has burst the bounds of nation states and emerged as a global phenomenon with links backwards and forwards across borders. In Pakistan we can sympathise with the victims of terrorism in heartfelt fashion, particularly when eyes became moist and breasts choked at the reopening of the Army Public School on Monday in Peshawar for the first time since the December 16 massacre. COAS General Raheel Sharif made it a point to attend the school’s assembly, interacting with the students to boost their morale. The courage on display by students and faculty simply brings a lump into the throat. While the Army Public School Peshawar and educational institutions throughout the country tentatively open their doors again after December 16, spare a thought for the soldier beheaded in D I Khan by the Pakistani and Afghan supporters of Islamic State as seen in a video released by them. The barbarity refreshes memories of how these monsters played football with the severed heads f soldiers not so long ago. The barbarity is bad enough. Recording and releasing it on the media shows both callousness beyond description as well as the effort to terrorise through such horrible images. Pakistan and the world must quickly grasp that the terrorist monster can no longer be fought within the confines of the borders of nation states. Just as terrorism has gone global, so must the fight against it.
Selective drive The Jamatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has claimed responsibility for the bombing of the imambargah (Shia mosque) in Rawalpindi on January 9 that killed eight worshippers and injured 18. It stands to reason that the target suggests a sectarian motive. Despite the claim of responsibility, investigators are pursuing the possibility of close coordination in the atrocity between the TTP and the fanatically sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), reportedly after a telephone tip-off. Two background facts lend weight to this line of inquiry. Some sectarian terrorists have been hanged in recent days, so this attack may be the beginning of blowback from the LeJ and affiliates. Amongst those with the hangman’s noose hanging over their heads was LeJ’s Akram Lahori, who received a last minute reprieve when the victim’s family pardoned him. However, the authorities are convinced Lahori will swing one of these days as there are 28 murder cases against him. Lahori is considered an important leader of LeJ. His and other LeJ terrorists’ impending execution has put the LeJ under pressure and it may be mounting a concerted campaign of terrorist attacks to try and stave off the inevitable. Second, the attacked imambargah lies in the area of Rawalpindi where a fierce sectarian clash between a seminary located in the area and the 10th Muharram procession occurred in November 2013, a clash that led to full-blown riots in which 10 people lost their lives. That too may provide a backdrop to the simmering sectarian tensions in the area that may have brought on the hit on the imambargah. But lest anyone rest sanguine that this is only a localised phenomenon, we need to remind ourselves of a grim reality of long standing. Shias have been targeted all over the country for many years in what some have categorised as a ‘slow genocide’. As though to drive home the point, another Shia doctor was assassinated in his clinic in Peshawar on Saturday. An area of concern is the reopening of schools today all over the country after their winter vacations were extended in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre of school children. The authorities, school administrations, parents and even children have the dread of what happened in Peshawar on December 16 still weighing heavily on their minds and hearts. Reports say schools and higher education institutions that are considered sensitive or are seen not to have adequate security procedures may not open along with the rest. However, that is insufficient to completely lay to rest the anxiety surrounding the safety and security of our little charges. God forbid that we live to see the black day of December 16 ever repeated. That can only be achieved if the drive against the terrorists is comprehensive, transparent, holistic and without discrimination. On this last condition, doubts and questions linger regarding the establishment’s practically continuing to turn a blind eye to proxies on our soil operating against neighbouring countries while paying lip service to having abandoned the good Taliban/bad Taliban binary. Of the 72 banned organisations in the country, only a few are planned to be moved against, those that are considered to have taken up arms against the state. Their cases would be tried by the recently set up military courts. Does this imply those that do not attack the state per se but challenge its writ by attacking people on a sectarian basis are absolved of all sin? And what if the suspected nexus between the TTP and the LeJ is found to be true in the case of the Rawalpindi imambargah bombing? Where will the ‘dividing line’ be drawn then? Another anomaly that has emerged is that while the religious parties are banding together to defend their madrassas and the constituency they represent from any drive to bring them into line and prevent them from feeding the terror machine, and while the government seems to be fumbling and indecisive regarding this basic task, non-religious civil society NGOs are being harassed by investigating their personnel, sources of funding, programmes, etc. If ever there was a case of misplaced concreteness, this would be hard to beat.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Imambargah blast A suicide blast at an imambargah (Shia mosque) in Rawalpindi has killed seven worshippers and injured 18, amongst whom some are in serious condition. The bomber tried to enter the imambargah while a majlis (religious gathering) was in progress and, when challenged at the entrance by guards, blew himself up. The target obviously indicates a sectarian attack. Shia organisations have announced three days of mourning. The tragedy cannot be described as a complete surprise since blowback from the terrorists as a response to the military and security drive against them was predictable and expected, especially after the Peshawar atrocity against school children. Following he Peshawar massacre and in response to the newfound unity throughout the country for confronting the terrorists, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah had sent a blood curdling message from his hideout across the border on Afghan soil that more attacks like Peshawar would be mounted. There really is very little left to say after this about the nature and barbarous, fanatical character of the TTP. We should thank the TTP for clearing any lingering confusion about its aims and methods, thereby uniting state and society against its murderous intent. However, the challenge is immense, not the least because the festering wound has been left unattended for far too long, but also because inherently such struggles take years to finally put down. There is therefore a long and tortuous road ahead. If the requisite unity and political will remains intact, this road can be traversed successfully. Interior Minister Chaudry Nisar’s statement that the terrorists would be “completely eliminated” may sound like music to the ears of our countrymen appalled by the TTP’s blood soaked avatar, but can this ‘elimination’ be achieved by military means alone? Consider. First, the lessons to be drawn from the imambargah suicide attack, some of them mere reiterations of what we have been arguing in this space for a very long time. It has been demonstrated time and again that it is virtually impossible to stop a suicide bomber unafraid of death, in fact welcoming it in a skewed justification of ‘martyrdom’ conferring a holy status and a straight passage to heaven for the perpetrator, once he has embarked on his deadly mission. Providing foolproof security for the entire country too is too tall an order. What may be considered in this regard is the prioritisation of the most likely and vulnerable targets and concentrating scarce resource s of manpower, etc, to these marked terrorist ‘bull’s eyes’. But the real issue is to once again imbibe the wisdom that the only way a suicide bomber prepared to embrace oblivion is to pre-empt him before he is launched. Inevitably, this suggests a better level and operationalisation of intelligence than appears to be the case so far. After all the toing and froing in the All Parties Conferences and scores of meetings at all levels, it is still not clear where the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), supposed to be the centre of the anti-terrorism effort, stands. Nor is it clear whether the military intelligence agencies have overcome their traditional suspicion of their civilian counterparts and agreed to cooperate with them at the level of intelligence sharing and joint operations under the umbrella of NACTA. Without putting these basic measures in place, the initiative will remain with the terrorists and bombers, who have a surfeit of riches to choose from as far as possible targets are concerned. Although the first nine military courts to be set up in the four provinces, three each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Sindh and one in Balochistan seem to be on the verge of becoming a reality, there is still a lingering conspicuous absence of a coherent, coordinated, holistic strategy against the hydra-headed monster of terrorism. Military operations in FATA will evoke counter-attacks of a terrorist nature in the cities and the rest of the country. While the citizenry is by now braced for this possibility, there still appears a long way to go before the authorities catch up with the terrorists, let alone move ahead of them in delivering blows that would permanently cripple their capabilities to sow havoc amongst ordinary citizens attempting to go about their business.
Friday, January 9, 2015
Now Fazlur Rehman It is well known that Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a diehard rival of Imran Khan, particularly since the latter’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) won the 2013 elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and formed a coalition government there with the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). But in an ironic twist, the Maulana, miffed over his inability to sway the vote in favour of the 21st constitutional amendment and the amendment to the Army Act 1952 to set up military courts for two years to try terrorists basing their activities on religion or sect, and which his party eventually boycotted, has now threatened to take a leaf out of bitter rival Imran Khan’s book to stage a dharna (sit-in) at D-Chowk Islamabad, made famous last year by Imran Khan’s rallies from on top of a container, if his demands are not met. Rivalry aside, the container ‘revolution’ seems to have captured the imagination of some dissidents. And what exactly are the ‘demands’ the Maulana is agitated over? Basically it is the narrowing of the definition of terrorism in the two amendments mentioned above to acts in the name of religion or sect. The Maulana would have preferred a ‘non-discriminatory’ measure against terrorism without the distinction insisted on by the PPP among other parties. The reason the Maulana was unable to win the day for his point of view was the apprehension of the objecting parties that a blanket provision would have brought into the military courts net, nationalists and other dissidents, possibly extending thereby the limited tenure granted of two years through a sunset clause to an open-ended and indefinite future. Reservations about the setting up of military courts per se could not resist the pressure of unanimity throughout the country for effective action after the Peshawar massacre of school children, but parties such as the PPP attempted to soften the blow by restricting the scope of the measure to religion or sect-based terrorism and also insisted on the sunset clause. For Maulana Fazlur Rehman as for the JI, the fear was annoying their constituency and what the Maulana has categorised as the targeting of madaris (religious seminaries). Fazlur Rehman has called the amendments draconian laws that will promote terrorism without explaining how he arrives at this conclusion. He plans a seminar of religious parties in Lahore on January 22 to highlight the “negative impact” of these amendments. Through such steps and the threatened dharna at D-Chowk, the Maulana wants to “mobilise the masses” against these anti-terrorist measures. So far he has gathered the JI, JUI-Pakistan, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, Shia Ulema Council and the Wafaqi Madaris on this platform. With the exception of the JUI-F and JI, none of the others has a significant presence in parliament and some have none whatsoever. However, this does not mean we should underestimate their capacity for street agitation. No doubt these parties/groups can easily mobilise their committed cadres and supporters, but whether their appeal lies beyond to a wider audience is open to question, particularly when the national consensus seems to be running against their stance. Despite the amendments having been adopted by both houses of parliament by a two thirds majority without a single dissenting vote, the notable absence from the proceedings was that of the JUI-F, the JI and the PTI, the last being in the middle still of a boycott of parliament over its allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections. Whereas the support of the PPP, particularly in the upper house, was critical as without such support the measures may not have passed muster, the greatest dissent from within those parties that supported the amendments, openly reluctantly or silently resentfully, also came from the PPP. It is therefore not surprising perhaps that its members (among others) raised the issue of bringing the dissidents on board to support the amendments rather than continue to leave them out in the cold. Well intentioned as the argument may be and informed by the desire for national and political unity in the face of the terrorist challenge, it seems unrealistic to expect the JUI-F to modify its vocal and the JI its more circumspect opposition to what they perceive as amendments meant to target only those ‘with beards and chadors’ as Maulana Fazlur Rehman put it. The Maulana owes the country an explanation whether all those involved in terrorism over the years in the country were found dressed in Saville Row suits?
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Terror proliferation The attack by at least three gunmen on the offices of a French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on Wednesday that killed 12 people and left scores injured has brought home with a vengeance to France and the world the predicted blowback from the civil wars in Syria and Iraq. Amidst persistent reports over time that young men (and even women) were being recruited for these wars on the side of Islamist extremist groups, the intelligence agencies of a number of European and other countries have been warning that these recruits could pose a terrorist threat to their home countries when they return. Given that the videos available of the Paris attack show the men had military training, that warning seems to have come true. This is the worst terrorist attack in France in living memory. Two brothers have been named as suspects. Cherif and Said Kouechi have been reportedly spotted at a motorway service station north of Paris. A massive manhunt has been mounted amidst a high security alert throughout the country. On Thursday early morning, another attack was reported in Paris that killed a policewoman and wounded a sanitary worker, but French authorities were cautious about linking the two incidents on two successive days. No claim of responsibility has come forward so far, so it is difficult to pin down which of the plethora of extremist jihadi groups that dot the Middle East and further abroad was behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Condemnation has come thick and fast from virtually the entire world, notable amongst which are Saudi Arabia and Al Azhar University in Cairo. Journalists and wide swathes of opinion in France and all over the world have reignited the debate about freedom of expression after the attack on the magazine. In one corner of this debate are the upholders of the freedom of unfettered expression, whose renewed defiance of the terrorists’ intolerance and violence is imbedded in the deeply held values of a democratic state and society. In the other corner are the fanatics who regard any caricature, cartoon or satire on Islam or its Prophet (PBUH) nothing short of insult and blasphemy, for which they do not shrink from killing the offender. In between these polarised positions are those who support freedom of expression, but do not agree it should be unfettered by any sense of responsibility. In 2006, when the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH), it sparked off riots in the Middle East that killed 50 people. Charlie Hebdo, in trying to drive home its point about freedom of expression, reproduced those cartoons, opening itself to attacks and threats from jihadi terrorists over the years. Police protection for the magazine proved inadequate in the face of a determined assault by attackers clearly well trained for their mission. Charlie Hebdo, other papers and journals and particularly cartoonists in Europe and the rest of the world defiantly showed their solidarity with the magazine and vowed to protect their freedoms from all such attempts at silencing them. That posture suggests we should brace ourselves for further such attacks on publications that fall foul of the jihadi terrorists. Pakistan is still reeling from the attack and massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar on December 16. While the country is wrestling with the challenge thrown down by the terrorists on our soil, we cannot remain unmoved at the fate of fellow journalists in Paris, whether we fully agree with their position on freedom of expression irrespective of its consequences or not. After all, Pakistan is widely labelled the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. The statistics of media workers killed over the years in the country bear out the integrity of that description. Both the Peshawar and Paris attacks show the world is not yet sufficiently prepared to face what can only be described as spreading terror proliferation. A quick glance at the news every day would be enough to convince even the most uninformed of this growing menace worldwide. Logically then, Pakistan and the world need to come together to face this menace together and crush it out of existence. That task requires not only military and security means, but perhaps even more importantly in the long run, the credible and persuasive counter-narrative that can wean away actual or potential recruits to the terrorist cause. Muslims in particular need to revisit the Prophet’s (PBUH) response/example in the face of insult and provocation to understand that those who wield the language of weapons actually lack a convincing argument and those who choose to combat them with the weapon of language will win out in the end.