Friday, July 31, 2015
Peace prospects The hopes aroused by the first round of peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and Kabul government, hosted by Pakistan in Murree on July 7 and attended by China and the US, seem to have been enshrouded in uncertainty since the revelation and confirmation of Mulla Omar’s death two years ago. Although varying accounts of how and where he died are still doing the rounds, ranging from the Afghan government’s claim that he died in a hospital in Karachi to the Taliban’s statement that he never left Afghanistan for the last 14 years and in fact died and was buried in a village in southern Afghanistan close to the Pakistan border, no one is disputing the fact of his death any more. Once the Taliban themselves confirmed the death, the next set of burning questions centred on the future of the movement in the absence of a binding force like Mulla Omar, possible deepening internal divisions over the leadership succession and support or opposition to the peace process, and the new factor of Islamic State’s (IS’s) entry into the Afghan quagmire. The immediate fallout of the announcement was the postponement of the second round of talks that were scheduled for July 31 and the uncertainly surrounding their revival. The postponement came at the behest of the Pakistan Foreign Office, with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has invested considerable political capital in the peace talks, urging Islamabad to reconvene the dialogue at the earliest. Reports say the Taliban Quetta Shura met to elect Mulla Omar’s successor. They chose, unsurprisingly, his long time deputy, Mulla Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, himself a successor in that position to Mulla Baradar, who was arrested by the Pakistani authorities some years ago and is believed to be still held. Mulla Mansour’s deputies in turn have been named as Siraj Haqqani and Maulvi Haibatullah. This combine appears to suit Pakistan as being amenable to influence and supportive of the peace talks. However, whether Mulla Mansour will be able to fill Mulla Omar’s big shoes and become the kind of universally acknowledged leader and authority that Mulla Omar was, remains uncertain. Mulla Mansour has rivals and challengers amongst the Taliban, not the least of whom is Mulla Qayum Zakir and the hardline group that has coalesced around him in opposition to the peace talks. They were backing Mulla Omar’s son Yaqoob, a 26-year-old graduate from a madrassa in Karachi, to succeed him. For the moment at least then, the pro-talks faction seems to be dominant, but that is no guarantee of smooth sailing in the future. Pre-existing divisions in the Taliban’s ranks may grow worse in the absence of Mulla Omar’s legitimising presence. They could revolve around pursuing the peace talks or continuing fighting to oust the Kabul government. Second, the new factor of IS in Afghanistan may accelerate and be taken advantage of by dissident Taliban to switch loyalties to a group that has proved highly successful in Iraq and Syria and is reputed to be flush with resources, two pluses that may prove irresistible to many Taliban. While those who have invested in the peace process such as President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan, China and the US may wish to see the process proceed, it is only when the dust raised by the belated announcement of Mulla Omar’s death settles that the scenario will become clearer. The US has urged the Taliban to stay engaged with Kabul. Whether that will be possible or transpire depends crucially on Mulla Mansour’s ability to rally the Taliban ranks behind him despite questions being raised about whether and why he hid the facts about Mulla Omar’s demise for so long. One extreme view amongst his Taliban rivals is that he himself may have done away with Mulla Omar to seize control of the movement. Whatever the truth, and it may well never be fully known, on Mulla Mansour and the new leadership of the Taliban rests the heavy burden of carrying the peace process forward in the interests of a settling of the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan and its deleterious fallout on Pakistan and the region (not to mention further afield all over the world).
Monday, July 27, 2015
PTI's response The long awaited response of Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), to the report of the judicial commission that examined his allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections proved what many observers and analysts had anticipated. The report's findings have proved deeply embarrassing to the PTI generally and Imran Khan in particular. Most trenchant analysts who monitored and later looked at the 2013 elections' procedures and results had already come more or less to the same conclusion as the judicial commission finally pronounced. The judicial commission was not presented, despite the song and dance by the PTI and Imran Khan, with convincing proof or evidence of the alleged systematic, planned rigging (stolen mandate therefore) on which the PTI had constructed its whole case and staged the sit-in stretching over months in Islamabad. Now the party was confronted with the ticklish task of framing a credible response that would not do any further damage to the PTI's credibility, rather do damage control. Imran Khan, after discussions with his party leadership on the report and their response, braved the press in Islamabad and tried to put the bravest face possible on what can only be considered an unmitigated disaster for the PTI. First and foremost, he latched onto the fact that the judicial commission had not used its powers of setting up investigation teams to probe the rigging charges. Had the judges of the commission done so, Imran asserted, the truth of the rigging would have come out. Now the problem with this assertion is that the judicial commission had first to be convinced through evidence/proof that at least prima facie there were reasons to and grounds for such investigation. The PTI, however, on whom lay the onus to establish at least a preliminary case, failed outrightly to do so. In such an eventuality, to expect the judicial commission to send off investigation teams on a wild goose chase would have been an exercise in futility and a complete waste of time. Imran Khan and his party had their day before the judicial commission. The fact that they were unable to meet the demands of the burden of proof of their allegations is no one's fault but their own. Seeking scapegoats and making excuses now to somehow salvage a lost cause will bring neither credit nor credibility back to the party. In a sense, Imran Khan has been hoist by his own petard. He has looked every bit as immature, pig-headed, arrogant and foolish throughout this adventure as many who know him well claim is his real character. Impatient to rise to the pinnacle of power, he arguably blew the best opportunity his party had since it was set up to come closer to the fount from which all success flows. The 'tsunami' rhetoric went to his head and instead of appreciating his party's success in garnering 35 seats in parliament, he started the whole drama of crying rigging all over the place. The fact that one retired ISI chief's name has been quoted as the mastermind of the whole sit-in plan and another just retired ISI chief's as supportive of the sit-in despite the prime minister's instructions to combat the campaign only goes to show that Imran Khan has not lost his penchant for being used by the establishment. Clearly, despite his public apology for initially supporting dictator Musharraf, his playing into the hands of the establishment, and ending up being used for the latter's aims while losing out on his own, once again betrays his anti-democratic character and willingness to use whatever shortcut presented itself to the portals of power to throw all calculation and caution to the winds in his messianic belief in his own 'destiny'. Had he had a wiser and more patient political head on his shoulders, he would have focused (as he is claiming he will do now after the debacle) on model governance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and reorganisation and strengthening of his party to position himself as arguably the most credible party in the next elections in 2018. Instead, Imran Khan, in the wake of the judicial commission's findings, runs the real risk of the PTI becoming another 'also ran', rather than the great white hope youth and the middle class (increasingly disillusioned) saw Imran as. What a pity.
Monday, July 13, 2015
IS targeted A US drone strike in Nangarhar province near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border has killed the Islamic State (IS) chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan along with 30 militants. Hafeez Saeed, a former Pakistani Taliban commander, was named the IS chief for the region dubbed 'Khorasan' by IS in January 2015. He had initially declared the Tirah Valley as his headquarters but was forced to flee to Afghanistan under the pressure of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Nangarhar province was the scene of clashes of late between the Afghan Taliban and IS, with the latter finally pushing the Taliban out. The Taliban are rattled by the defections to IS from their ranks and have warned IS to stay out of Afghanistan. The drone strike that killed Hafez Saeed and 30 other terrorists targeted a meeting of the group in Achin district of Nangarhar province. His death and that of the other terrorists were confirmed by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security and two militant commanders who were eyewitnesses to the strike. Hafez Saeed is the fourth ex-Taliban joining IS to be killed in drone strikes in the last week. Three others killed included Gul Zaman and Shahidullah Shahid, former spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The residual US military in Afghanistan is concerned about the rise of IS in the area and is using its remaining military strength to target IS and prevent its rise in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the US military's view, the elimination of Hafez Saeed will prove a major blow to the embryonic presence of IS in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre. The blow comes less than six months after a drone strike killed Abdul Rauf Khadim, the IS number two in Afghanistan. These targeted blows to the Taliban-turned-IS militants reflect a number of current realities. First and foremost, the defections from the Taliban, both Afghan and Pakistani, to IS should serve as a wake up call to the Pakistani authorities, who remain in denial about the emerging IS threat. Second, the taking out of this newly emerging IS's top commanders through US drone strikes can be considered the fruits of the close collaboration emerging between the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Such collaboration may have been inconceivable during Karzai's tenure. It is the advent of President Ashraf Ghani that has paved the way and opened the door to cooperation, at considerable political risk domestically to President Ghani. The realisation by President Ghani that a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban could only come about through reaching out to Pakistan laid the foundations of this collaboration. On Pakistan's part, its own Taliban war has focused minds in Islamabad and Rawalpindi on the common threat from terrorists to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan is combating its own Taliban terrorists, which has put the 'good' Taliban, 'bad' Taliban binary finally to rest and made clear the nexus between the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, especially since the latter have found safe havens across the border in Afghanistan, hosted by the Haqqani network. Some of these Pakistani Taliban, as is evident from the case of the slain Hafez Saeed, have now gone over to IS, posing thereby a graver threat given the expansion, growth and capture of vast territory in Iraq and Syria by IS. The old adage holds that nothing succeeds like success. This certainly seems to be the reason why IS is managing to attract Taliban militants to its ranks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The terrorists have in practice an informal international platform, loose as it may be, which has proved in practice that it is no respecter of national boundaries. On the other hand, states afflicted by the IS presence have still to come together to jointly combat the IS menace. The exception that is emerging is the trilateral cooperation amongst Kabul, Islamabad and Washington. The recent successes stemming from this cooperation, particularly the targeting of the looming IS presence/threat, could be seen as a role model for other neighbouring and allied states throughout the region, particularly in the Middle East, on how to meet the IS challenge.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
Ufa summit On the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Ufa, Russia, Prime Ministers (PMs) Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi of Pakistan and India respectively have attempted to overcome recent frictions between the two south Asian neighbours and move forward to normalise if not improve ties by addressing all outstanding issues between them, such as Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, etc, to ensure lasting peace. In the light of the heavy exchange of firing on the Line of Control and the Working Boundary, both sides agreed the Directors General of the Indian Border Security Force and Pakistani Rangers should have an early meeting to use the set procedure agreed to by both sides for dealing with such flareups. The two PMs also agreed to release each other’s hapless fishermen who are arrested for straying within the other side’s waters in the absence of any indicators of where the maritime boundary lies within 15 days of their arrest. This would be a marked improvement on the situation that has obtained for many years, in which these poor people are detained in each country’s prisons for years on end before, if they are lucky, being eventually released. In the past, these releases have been tied to the state of relations between the two countries, with bad times yielding few if any releases and relative improvement in ties opening the prison gates for these unfortunate souls to return home. If the new arrangement is institutionalised, these long suffering fishermen’s fate will no longer be dependent on the state of relations between Islamabad and New Delhi but be dealt with under a normal protocol with quick results. The PMs also agreed to evolve a mechanism to promote religious tourism. While the idea is unexceptionable and perhaps even encouraging if handled well, the real improvement would be a softening of the often-draconian restrictions on citizens of each country visiting the other. Naturally, such openings depend crucially on the atmosphere prevailing between the two countries, but surely ways and means could be explored for a liberal visa regime, an idea oft mooted but whose time does not seem to have come just yet. Interestingly, it is a reflection of the difficulties faced by both Pakistan and India when attempting to move forward in their relations that domestic critics can and often are found in abundance. These are usually the political opposition in each country. For example, the PPP in Pakistan has been carping on about the lack of substance in the joint statements emanating from the interactions of the two PMs, while in India, not just the opposition Congress Party, but even the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally Shiv Sena see little merit in the interaction and perhaps much to decry. Unfortunately, while the Shiv Sena may be driven by its Hindutva narrowness, both the Congress in India and the PPP in Pakistan seem to be playing politics with serious matters. The criticism by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf regarding no mention of Kashmir in the joint statement can be seen with hindsight as premature and factually incorrect. The Kashmir issue should not be turned into a political football for mere point scoring. It is a serious, long standing, intractable problem that requires statesmanship and wisdom to resolve, not knee jerk and predictable reactions. Besides, the meeting on the sidelines of the SCO summit could hardly be expected to yield any ‘breakthrough’. The breakthrough, if there is any, is in the very fact that the two sides have eschewed the fiery rhetoric of the recent past against each other and reverted to the normal diplomatic tone and language for conducting serious business on difficult issues. Let us not be excessively critical of our leaders in Islamabad or New Delhi for purely expedient political reasons but rise above the relatively mundane considerations of domestic politics to see beyond the horizon of tensions and sabre rattling to the peaceful tomorrow that beckons just beyond sight. One undeniable positive gleaned from the SCO summit is the grant of membership to both Pakistan and India. The hope is that this will facilitate the two countries in bettering their mutual relations. SCO stretches over 30 million square kilometres, i.e. three-fifths of the Eurasian land mass, with a population of 1.5 billion souls. Imagine if this vast sea of territory and humanity were to find the path to mutual cooperation, peace, security and development that lie at the heart of the SCO charter, what a transformation that would wring in the greater Eurasian theatre as well as the world. Interactions on the margins of the summit with President Xi of China, Putin of Russia and Ghani of Afghanistan were simply cream on top. Given these positives to take home, we can ignore the 'bad’ cop role played on the day by Dar in parliament vis-à-vis India. Perhaps his aides forgot to inform him of what his PM had just accomplished with Modi in Ufa.
Friday, July 10, 2015
Summit in Russia The Russian city of Ufa is now on the map of the geopolitical world. Hosting the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and seventh BRICS summit, the city saw many luminaries and leaders converging on it. Though neither Pakistan nor India are members of either organisation, they enjoy observer status at the SCO and are on the verge of being admitted to full membership. BRICS groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a conglomerate that accounts for a fifth of the world’s economic output and 40 percent of its population. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who arrived in Ufa with his delegation from Oslo, Norway, thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for putting the SCO and BRICS families together under one roof, allowing extensive exchange of views and interaction amongst the guest countries and with their host Russia. As announced earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi met on the sidelines of the summit, promising afterwards they were ready to discuss all issues. The foreign secretaries of both countries had been summoned to Ufa and in a joint press conference announced that Prime Minister Modi had graciously accepted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s invitation to visit Pakistan for the 2016 SAARC summit being hosted in Islamabad. In reply to questions about the Mumbai attacks case that has incensed New Delhi over the release on bail of the main accused Lakhvi, it was announced that the matter would be expedited and the two countries’ national security advisers would meet in Mumbai to sort out the friction produced by the delay in closure of the case. It should be recalled that until recently, it seemed that Pakistan and India had once again fallen into the pit of mutual recriminations, a war of words and even worse, recent allegations by Pakistan of the Indian intelligence agency RAW’s involvement in affairs in Pakistan. Considering what had gone before, the mature and restrained outcome of the two prime ministers’ interaction felt like drops of cooling rain on a hot summer day. Prime Minister Modi, accused by the opposition Congress Party back home of being unnecessarily provocative in his attitude to Pakistan, came in for more stick for ‘having come to his senses belatedly’ vis-à-vis Pakistan. But domestic political considerations seemed as far away from Ufa as the geographical distance from Islamabad and New Delhi and it was a relief to see the beginnings of normal business between the two South Asian neighbours once again. In remarks to various fora at the summit as well as the media, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif outlined what he believed was the best approach to regional peace. His ideas revolved around four proposals: people-to-people contact, confidence building in peace and security, trade, and regional connectivity. The last in particular is these days a favourite theme of Nawaz Sharif’s government since it swung the agreement with China to build the potentially game changing China Pakistan Economic Corridor. Connecting people, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif argued, brought in its trail peace and prosperity. He emphasised Pakistan’s determination to combat and eliminate terrorism, implying an appeal to all regional countries to cooperate in this regard. In Pakistan and India the focus of the media and commentators has inevitably focused almost exclusively on the expectations, or lack of them, from the meeting between the two prime ministers. However, this narrow focus detracted from the historic and tectonic shift occurring in the world and in the region. The US-led west, which has been a dominant factor in the affairs of the countries of the region since independence, seems to be slowly but surely being replaced by two great powers, China and Russia. The addition of Brazil and South Africa gives BRICS its international outreach and consequent credibility. The groupings of SCO and BRICS, both sharing membership of China and Russia, may be a long way from emerging as the alignments of the future, but the steps already taken by them and the attraction these have for other countries near and far may itself prove a game changer for the world and the region. First and foremost, Russia and China are cooperating, with other countries alongside, in constructing a new architecture of global politics and economic and financial regimes that will challenge the dominance of the Bretton Woods institutions and provide the countries in these groups an alternative road to cooperation and development than the one inherited from colonialism and consolidated by neo-colonialism. A new world is truly being born before our eyes. We only have to open them to see it.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
NAB list In response to the criticism by the Supreme Court (SC) hearing a petition against the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman and other officials to scrutinise the workings of the anti-corruption watchdog, NAB has filed a list of cases against 150 influential people, including political leaders, bureaucrats and businessmen. The list reads like a who’s who of these three categories of the country’s rich and high and mighty. The politicians named include the Sharifs, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, former president Asif Zardari, former prime ministers Yousaf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, former chief minister Balochistan Nawab Aslam Raisani, former interior minister Aftab Sherpao, former information minister Firdaus Ashiq Awan, former information secretary and ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani, and former top bureaucrats and prominent industrialists. The cases relate to monetary irregularities (and embezzlement), misuse and abuse of powers and land scandals. The list is neatly divided into 50 cases in each of the above three categories, which itself suggests the list is not a complete one but ‘doctored’ to show NAB in a good light. A breakdown or progress report has also been presented, showing that of the 50 monetary irregularity cases, inquiries are being conducted in 22 cases, investigations launched into 13, and references filed in 15 cases. Amongst land scandals, inquiries are in progress in 29 cases, investigations in 13, while references have been filed in eight cases. Under misuse of power, inquiries are underway in 20 cases, investigations continue in 15, and references have been filed in 15 cases. Amongst the prominent (and startling) cases cited, a reference dating to April 2000 charges the Sharifs with having misused Rs 126 million of public money to build a road from Raiwind to their farmhouse. Another reference from 1999 charges Nawaz Sharif with having appointed his favourites to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA). Ishaq Dar is on the NAB radar for possessing assets beyond his known sources of income, including three holdings of Pounds 23 million, $ 3,488 million and $ 1,250 million. Asif Zardari is similarly charged with wealth of Rs 170 billion beyond his known sources of income and with corruption cases involving $ 22 billion and $ 1.5 billion. Chaudhry Shujaat too is in the dock for possessing assets worth Rs 2,428 billion, beyond his known sources of income. Yousaf Raza Gilani is accused of misuse of authority in appointments in the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA), while Raja Pervez Ashraf stands indicted in the rental power plants case. Raisani too is charged with possessing Rs 100 million in assets, beyond his known sources of income, and with misusing his powers as chief minister. Firdaus Awan is in the dock for misuse of power/authority, as is Sherpao, who also is charged with possessing assets beyond his means. Husain Haqqani is in the shadows for funds embezzlement, of which the exact amount is not known even to NAB, and issuing illegal licences to three FM radio stations. Former top bureaucrats and businessmen too stand in the NAB spotlight for corruption and abuse of authority. Reports say the total amount involved in these 150 cases is to the tune of Rs 428.3 billion. While the NAB report may make for good bedtime reading, it failed to amuse the court since none of the cases cited revealed when the reference was filed, when verified, etc. Rejecting the report, the SC asked NAB to provide two columns setting out this information. The court has seen through the charade played by NAB. The burning question is, some if not all of the cited cases date back years. None of the people named are unknown. They have been around for as long as one can remember (with some politicians like the Sharifs having had to take a forced foreign ‘sabbatical’ for reasons beyond their control). Some have been in and out of power many times since NAB instituted these cases. Where then has NAB been all this time? The standard defence of politicians involved in such cases is that they are politically motivated, as proved by the fact that even after the passage of so many years, no prominent politician has ever been convicted. Accountability as a national endeavour has suffered a loss of credibility precisely because of such factors. When NAB is unable to prove a case in court despite the passage of years, the politicians’ defence assumes near verity. The current focus on NAB and corruption in the body politic is believed by some to be driven by the military establishment, keen to clean up the Augean stables of corruption and embezzlement of public resources, some of which are allegedly finding their way to criminal and terrorist gangs (e.g. in Karachi). Whether further details presented by NAB to the SC will restore the dented credibility of the anti-corruption regime remains a moot point and loaded with political undercurrents and ramifications.
Saturday, July 4, 2015
Where is NAP? A three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) hearing the case on Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) has taken the government to task for its failure to seriously implement the National Action Plan (NAP). The honourable judges characterised the NAP as a big joke devised to deceive the masses. The SC asked for a report from the federation and provinces by July 22 on the total number of registered NGOs (which we hope includes madrassas), details of their foreign and domestic funding, audit of their accounts and action taken against them. In the context of the NAP, the court ordered filing of the details of the budget allocated to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and other institutions for the war on terror. Further, the court wanted to know how many NGOs have so far been banned, the accounts of how many have been frozen and cases registered against them. These questions go to the heart of the widespread concern at the seeming maze into which the NAP has become entwined. It may be recalled that the NAP was supposed to, amongst other things, make NACTA the overall coordinating agency for all anti-terrorist campaigns; set up a Joint Intelligence Committee comprising civil and military agencies; ban all terror groups and prevent their reinvention under a different name (as has been happening since Musharraf’s time); stop religious extremism in all its manifestations; protect the minorities; reform and regularise the madrassas; block foreign financing of extremist groups, and carry out reforms in the criminal justice system. The mere listing of these tasks reads as an indictment of the government for its failure to even start taking steps towards, let alone completing these tasks mandated by the political parties meeting in an All Parties Conference (APC) early this year after the Army Public School, Peshawar attack in which our schoolchildren were horrifically massacred. The political consensus of the APC had the backing of the military, already engaged in Operation Zarb-e-Azb in the tribal areas. The seeming paralysis of the government in carrying out the tasks outlined in the 20 points of the NAP may be explained by reference to the possibility that its heart is not in the job. Let us not forget that soon after it came to power in 2013, the government sought to negotiate with the terrorists of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It was the TTP that brought those negotiations to an inglorious end by its attack on Karachi airport, which became the trigger for Operation Zarb-e-Azb. To the possible factor of sympathy for the terrorists may be added fear and, last but not least, incompetence. Where the will is lacking on the civil side, the military can rightfully claim success in its operations in the tribal areas. Operations Khyber-I and Khyber-II have concluded successfully with the redoubtable Tirah Valley all but controlled, while Operation Zarb-e-Azb has seen the army occupy the heights in the Shawal Valley, a position that gives it the ability to carry out aerial and ground operations to clean up the remnants of the terrorists in the area. COAS General Raheel Sharif’s visit to the area was meant to congratulate the troops, raise their morale further and see that the temporary displaced persons’ return and rehabilitation programme launched in North Waziristan is taken to its logical conclusion. General Raheel made no bones while addressing the troops that the military’s operations will continue until Pakistan is made terror-free. He was very clear that this campaign must be conducted without discrimination to arrest the terrorists and their facilitators, abettors and financiers, irrespective of the cost. The COAS was also very appreciative of the special integrated teams carrying out intelligence-based operations across the urban areas of the country, which had severed the links between the terrorist sanctuaries in remote areas and their sleeper cells in the cities. While there is little room for complacency in this regard and there is still some distance to be travelled to the final goal, the military has come through with flying colours, in sharp contrast to the slow, ineffective efforts of the government. What this does is provide ammunition to the critics of democratically elected governments and the democratic system per se to argue that the country should simply be handed over to the military. Pakistan has enough experience of the downside of such ‘solutions’ to remain wary of such suggestions. Nor does the military leadership pay heed to such foolish prattle. However, this does not absolve the government of its duty and responsibility to first explain what is holding it back from implementing the NAP and then actually carry out the task in practice.
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Normal ties at last? After 56 years of hostility and acrimony, the US and Cuba have finally decided to bury the hatchet. The restoration of diplomatic ties after 54 years has been signalled by both Havana and Washington. Cuba has indicated the reopening of their respective embassies in each other’s capitals will probably take place by July 20. The breakthrough comes after 18 months of behind the scenes talks brokered by Canada and Pope Francis and six months after both sides declared their intent to normalise ties in December 2014. US President Barack Obama called it a historic step forward. US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he will visit Havana later this summer to hoist the US flag over his country’s embassy, currently designated as the US interests section under the protection of the Swiss government. Cuban President Raul Castro has written a letter to President Obama setting out his country’s hopes that both sides will adhere to international laws and conventions in respecting each other’s sovereignty and independence and refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs. For President Obama the development constitutes a rare foreign policy success after setbacks elsewhere, particularly in the Middle East. Although he has asked Congress to undo the economic embargo against its southern Caribbean neighbour, the Republicans who dominate Congress have been resisting. The two sides have also agreed on a prisoner swap. Although the breakthrough in relations is a positive overcoming of a Cold War relic of confrontation between the Communist government of Cuba and the US, the apparent bonhomie cannot totally camouflage the real problems that both sides will now have to confront when they get down to normal business. Cuba has rightly and uncompromisingly asked for the 53-year-old economic embargo to be lifted and the Guantanamo Bay base occupied by the US since 1903 to be returned to Cuban sovereignty. It should not be forgotten that the prison at Guantanamo Bay has gained terrible notoriety for the prisoners of the war on terror being held there without legal or other rights. Cuba also wants the US to stop beaming radio and television propaganda into the island and refrain from other subversive actions that Washington parades as steps to encourage democracy in Cuba. The ostracisation of Cuba by the US started soon after the Cuban revolution under the dynamic leadership of Fidel Castro triumphed by overthrowing US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Within two years, relations with the then Eisenhower administration plummeted after Cuba nationalised American businesses on the island and Fidel declared himself a Marxist-Leninist. The economic embargo followed, and the Bay of Pigs invasion was not far behind in 1961. A global crisis was triggered by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, with US President Kennedy playing ‘chicken’ with Moscow over the Soviet missiles installed in Cuba to deter any further US invasions. Eventually the world turned back from the brink of a possible nuclear war amidst compromises by both sides. Khrushchev removed the Soviet missiles from Cuba on the basis of pledges by Washington never again to invade Cuba. Reports said the Soviet Union in turn extracted the withdrawal of nuclear missiles from its southern periphery in NATO member Turkey that directly threatened the Soviet heartland. While the two superpowers retreated into uneasy co-existence, revolutionary and national liberation movements in the third world attracted Cuban support and earned Havana Washington’s ire. Cuba’s revolutionary leader Che Guevara gave up power and position in Cuba to dedicate himself to revolution in Africa (Congo) and Bolivia, sacrificing his life in the latter country. His death made him a revolutionary icon and put him and Cuba squarely in the world’s eye, particularly youth rebelling against the given order in the 1960s. The anticipated collapse of the Cuban revolution in the wake of the implosion of the Soviet Union, disappointingly for the Cold Warriors of the west, did not happen. The brave Cuban people have withstood invasions, subversion, economic strangulation and attempted international isolation at the behest of the US and emerged triumphant and unbowed on the world stage. Such a people, such a revolution will not yield easily to the hopes of Washington that it can subvert the socialist orientation of Cuba through engagement and subtle manouevres. Under President Raul Castro, a worthy successor to his brother Fidel, the Cuban people are poised to move on to bigger and higher achievements now that Goliath has finally admitted the defeat of its irrational hostility.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Sher Shah Suri II While inaugurating the signal-free corridor of Islamabad Expressway, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resiled from claims associated with his government and tried a dose of realism to mitigate the criticism being heaped on its head regarding load shedding. While the heatwave combined with load shedding has led to the deaths of over 1,200 people in Karachi and interior Sindh, the prime minister found it necessary to finally admit that his government had no ‘quick fix’ for the energy crisis. Not only that, contrary to the general perception, he claimed he had never said load shedding could be overcome within six months, or a year or even two years. He claimed he had said the energy crisis would be overcome by the end of his government’s tenure. He asserted he did not believe in lying to get votes and had therefore not made such extravagant claims even during the campaign for the 2013 elections. In fact he had clearly said during the election campaign that the problem could not be overcome overnight. The prime minister’s claim that load shedding was less than last year can be questioned against the undeniable reality that the supply-demand gap is 5,500 MW. The prime minister followed this up with the classic advice to people to remain patient, not worry about temporary power cuts, and avoid coming out in protest in the streets armed with bricks and sticks as this provided no solution. People should realise, he added, that at least the government was moving in the right direction. He then quoted several power projects in the pipeline and claimed the credit for his government having reduced the electricity tariff by Rs 5.32 per unit. The superb irony in the prime minister holding out promises of ending load shedding by 2017 while inaugurating one more project of his favourite infrastructure -- roads -- obviously escaped him. Despite his rhetorical claim that ending load shedding by 2017 was his top priority, there he was inaugurating another expressway for the benefit of road users. The critique of the government’s priorities since it assumed power two years ago has centred precisely on the penchant of the prime minister, his federal government, and the Punjab PML-N government headed by his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif to prioritise showpiece projects revolving around roads, to the detriment, arguably, of energy and other dire social needs such as health and education. Soon after the PML-N government came to power, it conducted a presentation in Islamabad to the media, spelling out its plan for the energy crisis. The plan correctly identified three areas of focus and concern: the power deficit, nudging the energy mix towards affordability, and upgrading the creaking power infrastructure, national grid, etc. The only problem with the plan presentation was the conspicuous absence of a timeframe in which all these tasks would be completed, as well as the financial projections of cost and resources without which any such plan would remain pie-in-the-sky. Reliance was placed (more implicitly than explicitly) on the private sector coming forward to take up the tasks. The inability of the government to see that some tasks would not attract the private sector for reasons of low profitability was due more to its ideological blinkers against public sector contribution to the power sector, either by itself on in partnership with the private sector. Since the received wisdom for many years has been that all public sector enterprises are inefficient (not held up by empirical evidence), the idea that the slack in private sector contribution to the power sector could be taken up by public sector entities either did not occur to the bright minds in government or if it did, was shot down and dismissed out of hand as so passé. The result of this ‘fluffing’ two years down the road is that power projects in progress notwithstanding, the pace of increasing power generation nowhere near matches the gravity of the crisis. Nor is there a palpable shift in meaningful terms, despite some good work in renewables, towards a more affordable energy mix that could in turn relieve any real or perceived subsidy by the government. As for the national grid and power infrastructure, it seems to have been treated as the poor relative at the door begging for handouts. The obsession with roads and such infrastructure has been dubbed by the wags as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ‘Sher Shah Suri II’ syndrome. True or not, if the prime minister wants to avoid this appellation, he had better re-prioritise energy over all else or be prepared to suffer a fate not very different from the real Sher Shah Suri.