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Posts from — January 2014

A dank departure, a cold welcome : edit in The News, Jan 1

We ended 2013 in dank darkness. Only a scouring of the meteorological records will tell us how high the current cold wave ranks but it certainly feels like the harshest winter in our history – perhaps because we lack the gas to heat our homes. If there was one thing that united a nation as deeply divided as Pakistan over the past year it was the collective punishment we were handed on a daily basis thanks to the power crisis. In the summer there was no electricity to give us a respite from the heat; during the winter no heating to shield us from the cold. For many in the north of the country, the last days of 2013 have meant cooking on wood fires by candlelight. Yet we had/have a government wanting to charge us even more for electricity and gas that we do not receive even as it stuttered in every attempt to increase supply. The Iranian gas pipeline shuddered to a halt and any talk of importing electricity from India was blown up along the Line of Control. If measured purely by the misery we had to endure as a nation, 2013 was not a year for the ages. Relentless gas and power shedding          seem to have hurled us back a century or so, and right now, with heating or hot water existing only in dreams for many, the arrival of 2014 does not bring with it much cheer. Along the way there have been some brighter moments: the peaceful transition of power; constitutional changes in top posts in key institutions, a decline in corruption according to Transparency International, further action ordered by the Supreme Court in the Asghar Khan case involving payouts to political parties and determined judicial action to track down missing persons. As achievements go, these may not seem like much but are rare enough in Pakistan to be considered achievements. There was a less peaceful transition in the tribal areas as the killing of TTP leader Hakeemullah Mehsud in a drone strike highlighted the gravity of our problems. On the one hand, there is an increasingly belligerent US that remained as unapologetic as ever about its continuous violation of our sovereignty and killings of the innocent and on the other the TTP and its affiliates stepped up its reign of terror, particularly singling out minorities like the Hazara Shia community and Christians. Through the daily barrage of bombings, our political class seemed as clueless as ever about how to tackle this threat.

Meanwhile, individual Pakistanis scaled new peaks, metaphorically and literally. Two young sisters from Gilgit-Baltistan made it to the qualifying rounds of next year’s Winter Olympics in skiing, teenager Malala Yousafzai won global accolades for promoting education for girls and Pakistani films drew attention signifying talent in a neglected area – whereas, once again, the resilience of people, and their humanity, stood out once more as families hosted new victims of conflict displaced from Khyber, Tirah and other areas, while in Awaran, hit by twin quakes in September, neighbours rushed to help each other survive calamity. It is these qualities of our people that we need to build on as we enter 2014. The potential is tremendous. It is the political leadership that has been lacking. The acrimony we have been seeing develop in recent months between political parties is unwelcome. It must be put aside so that the parties can work together to overcome militancy, which remains a huge threat and holds back the economic growth we urgently need. Beyond our own borders much in 2014 will depend on the regional situation that emerges as US troops quit Afghanistan and also our own relations with India. There has been sporadic progress in this, but we need more if we are to see the peace that is required. Such change is needed too at home to calm the quivers currently running down too many spines, both because of the cold and the sense of uncertainty that moves into the new year with us. There are many problems endured, from the unceasing inflation to the constant fall in the value of the rupee and even the power crisis. And as long as militants continued targeting the state we could never feel safe. A year from now, as we ponder the year 2014, we will judge it a success only if we become more secure. That is the minimum bar we must set ourselves as we enter this new year with cautious optimism. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-8-223700-A-dank-departure-a-cold-welcome

January 1, 2014   No Comments

Stepping forward : edit in The News, Jan 1

From the screens, behind which we have heard vague whispers of government-level contacts with the Taliban, something more definite is beginning to emerge, taking forward the hope that it may yet be possible to carve out the peace we so desperately need; the peace that could damp the constant threat of bombs and bloodshed and bring to the lives of people the stability they so desperately need to get on with lives. Our country needs that stability too so that it can move ahead in economic and developmental terms. As had been forecast for some time, Maulana Samiul Haq, the chief of his own faction of the Jamiaat-e-Ulema Islam and the head of major seminaries, has emerged as the man on whom attention will now focus in this respect.

At a one-on-one meeting with the prime minister in Islamabad on Tuesday, Maulana Sami was assigned the task of moving ahead with the talks process with the Taliban. He told the media after the meeting that the PM agreed that talks offered the best hope of peace. This had also been the verdict of the All Parties Conference on terrorism held in September, and the government has been under growing pressure to move ahead as per its recommendations. An important step has now been taken; some forward momentum gained. But Maulana Sami’s task, as he has himself made clear, will not be a simple one. The key reason for this is the ongoing drone attacks. The equation is a simple one: for talks to succeed, the strikes must stop. But does Islamabad have the persuasive abilities necessary to persuade Washington of this? It certainly lacks the clout. Then there is also the issue of differences in opinion amongst Taliban factions. We know these exist. How significant they will prove to be only time will tell, with the man chosen as mediator going into what will be an immensely significant dialogue attempt with the backing of both the civilian and military setup. How things move on from here is something we will all be watching intently. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-8-223701-Stepping-forward

January 1, 2014   No Comments

Fatal sense of entitlement : edit The Nation, Jan 1

A candidate in Sheikhupura, named Naveed Aslam, gunned a villager down for refusing to cast a vote in his favor in the slot of UC 77. An altercation took place between Aslam and Maqbool after the latter refused to vote for Aslam along with holding his family’s votes back. Of course, it doesn’t surprise anyone in Pakistan; intimidating and pressurizing unarmed citizens for votes is frequent – if not the conventional way to ‘win hearts and minds’ politically. However, this act of violence is emblematic of a larger problem in the country. In addition to the slew of promises we are flooded with, day in and day out, by aspiring candidates and established politicians, we are met with those with a special chip on their shoulder that allows them to attack civilians for their own gains.

Maqbool is one of the many Maqbools of this country who are pressurized by candidates like Naveed. And it isn’t just a dilemma indigenous to Pakistan; our neighbors on both sides of the borders have a history of candidates cornering weak citizens for votes. It only shows us how, due to a severe lack of law and order and with how skewed morals have become among the feudal and the elite, politicians view themselves beyond the reach of law and take lives for granted. This is the disturbing and socio-pathic sense of self-entitlement that encourages these self-proclaimed aspiring ‘leaders’ in the nation to secure votes without ever having to work for them.

One begins to sound like a broken record by saying this over and over again that our government needs to protect ordinary citizens from criminal violence, and that murder like this should be treated with swift justice. You cannot win votes by terrorizing citizens, let alone win hearts. This is not rocket science.http://www.nation.com.pk/editorials/01-Jan-2014/fatal-sense-of-entitlement

January 1, 2014   No Comments

LG poll mess: edit in Dawn, Jan 1

IT would be a pity if local government elections in Sindh were to fall victim to a legal tangle. The provincial government is in a quandary. On Monday, the Sindh High Court declared the amendments it made to the relevant law unconstitutional but decreed that the elections be held on time — Jan 18. Information Minister Sharjeel Memon said the ruling would be challenged in the Supreme Court and for that reason the elections would have to be postponed. Evidently, the three parties that went to court have won politically and legally. The MQM, PML-N and the PML-F had petitioned the Sindh High Court against the Sindh Local Government (Third Amendment) Ordinance because it was in conflict with several articles of the Constitution. At the same time, they pleaded that the polls be held on Jan 18. The court agreed with the three parties and declared the amendments ultra vires of the Constitution. The MQM’s plea was that the clauses added to Section 18 of the bill had created disparity in the delimitation of many constituencies, some electoral units having as many as 50,000 voters and some as few as 10,000.

The Sindh government has paid for its haste. Despite its majority in the provincial assembly, it should still have had the sagacity to amend the law after consulting the other parties. It ignored this vital principle of democracy and now has to face a negative court verdict. Although it followed the legal route, the MQM should also realise that it could have had an LG law acceptable to it if the party had joined the provincial government. Are municipal elections now possible in Sindh? Clearly, the answer lies with the Election Commission of Pakistan. Even if the Supreme Court grants a stay against the high court’s decision, elections will still be held on Jan 18 under the law the Assembly amended. In November, the Supreme Court upheld the ECP’s request for postponing the elections in three provinces. This breather should have enabled the ECP to get ready for the job. The body charged with the task of holding elections must now declare categorically whether it is in a position to hold the municipal polls on Jan 18 — something Balochistan did last month.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1077629/lg-poll-mess

January 1, 2014   No Comments

Bilawal House security: edit in Dawn, Jan 1

UGLY scenes were witnessed near Bilawal House, Asif Zardari’s Karachi residence, on Sunday as PPP and PTI workers traded blows after Imran Khan’s supporters showed up to protest against the barricades surrounding the premises. The clash was predictable as tension between both parties had been brewing after Bilawal Bhutto Zardari made uncharitable remarks about Imran Khan during his speech at Garhi Khuda Baksh on Dec 27. It was after this speech that the PTI suddenly felt the urge to protest against the encroachment on public roads for Bilawal House’s security. The violence could have been avoided had senior party leaders on both sides reined in their respective supporters during the protest.

It is true that Mr Zardari and his family face significant threats, especially considering the former president’s and his son’s outspoken criticism of militants. And after having already lost Benazir Bhutto to an act of terrorism, the lesson is that the threat must be taken seriously. However, the question remains: does providing sufficient security to Bilawal House and its residents necessarily have to mean encroaching upon public space and causing inconvenience to area residents? Ever since Asif Zardari entered the presidency, those living and working around Bilawal House have had to suffer as access to homes and businesses has been severely restricted. During his tenure, the thick layer of security was perhaps justified. But now that he has left office, does he face the same threat level? Providing security to Bilawal House must be balanced with the right of local citizens to move about freely. While the PTI’s protest was motivated by political point-scoring, the inconvenience to area residents — in fact, to residents in all areas where streets have been blocked due to the presence of ‘important’ people in their midst — is very real. Hence the PPP should free up the roads around Bilawal House, even as the state continues to provide proper security to the party leadership. Other barricaded areas, too, must not be allowed to hamper public movement.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1077628/bilawal-house-security

January 1, 2014   No Comments

Fighting terrorism: Editorial in The Express Tribune, Jan 1

The government is planning to place before parliament new legislation which it hopes would help it combat terrorism more effectively. The prime minister is reported to have been considering the various proposals for the new laws drafted, we assume, by experts in the relevant departments.

The question, however, is whether we just need new legislation, or something a little beyond this. Whereas loopholes in existing laws may need to be filled in, the fact also is that we would appear to have sufficient laws on the books to tackle terrorism. Where there are gaps, these can, of course, be filled. What is far more important is the implementation of these laws and measures that can make sure they are followed through with. This happens too infrequently under the present circumstances.

Beyond this, we also need to look at the way our security agencies are structured and the training available to them. Upgrading their skills could take us a long way forward. Better use of forensic evidence and other modern means developed around the world to deal with crime would enable us to bring terrorists to trial more effectively, and make sure they do not get off free. Due to flawed evidence gathering, this is happening far too often. It is also a fact that improved intelligence could lead us into the heart of the hornets’ nest from where terrorists operate. It is unclear why these outfits have not, so far, been fully infiltrated and the information gathered in this way used to weaken them and capture top members. Such methodologies are commonplace around the world. Where legislation can help put such mechanisms in place, it must be drafted and put through the legislature without any delay. But laws alone can change nothing. They must exist beyond the paper they are written on if they are to have any real significance in battling terrorism and all that it involves. It is failures on this front that has held us back in the past. We must now overcome this barrier by making sure laws are enforced and that our law enforcement agencies have the capability to do so.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/653002/fighting-terrorism-4/

January 1, 2014   No Comments

Inertia abounds: Editorial in Daily Times, Jan 1

Two policemen have been killed while guarding an Imambargah in Rawalpindi on Monday. Four terrorists riding motorcycles shot the officers on duty with ease since the officers neither had any weapons to defend themselves nor were they alert to face an ambush. So much for the security of a place of worship that had already been attacked in November last year, killing 15 people. It seems that the sensitivity of Imambargahs has failed to sink in to the administration. Rawalpindi has witnessed some of the worst episodes of sectarian crimes since the start of Muharram yet complacency refuses to leave the policy makers, so far living in a world of their own. It is indeed unfortunate that terrorism has badly hit the law enforcement agencies of the country. We are losing our officers and men from the army, paramilitaries and police like sacrificial lambs. The police is perhaps the worst hit because of multiple issues, the major one being the incapability of the government to build the force into a potent institution, laced with new and appropriate training and equipment. The officers on duty at the Imambargah belonged to the Punjab Constabulary and had been called in to aid the Rawalpindi police during Muharram. They were not trained to counter terrorism. The shooters managed to escape as easily as they had entered the security zone of the Imambargah. Interestingly, the Closed Circuit Television was of no use since it was not working due to loadshedding. Where all this would land us is a question nagging every thinking mind in Pakistan today.

Realistically speaking, it is the domain of the police to combat urban terror-related incidents. It is the police with their entrenched linkages in cities that help them get into the terrorists’ sleeper, intelligence and active cells. Unfortunately the police in Pakistan has been developed and sustained for political purposes. The fault is deeper than what appears on the surface. The recruitment policies whereby illiterate and unsuitable persons are hired at the SHO and ASI level have made matters worse. The result is that the police remains a force to be feared and not to be depended upon.

Almost every fortnight a statement from the prime minister comes out showing his resolve to counter terrorism and instructing his team to develop a new road map to that effect. On the ground nothing tangible worth the name is visible. It is time to practically redefine Pakistan’s security polices through a change in the policing format and security paradigm. http://dailytimes.com.pk/editorial/01-Jan-2014/inertia-abounds

January 1, 2014   No Comments