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Posts from — June 2014

As if there were no talks: by Taj M Khattak in The News, June 13, 2014

The writer is a retired vice admiral.

Despite unanimous support from all political parties at the All Parties Conference in favour of talks with the Taliban, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government’s approach towards negotiations remained ambiguous.

One opposition senator summed it all up when he described the talks as Taliban talking to Taliban. The security establishment was reported to be on the same page as the elected civilian political authority. No one, however, missed the different font of the military’s viewpoint even if it was on the same page. In essence, therefore, what one witnessed during the last few months was a bit of meaningless negotiations here and a spurt of fruitless military operations there, with little or no overall impact.

It was, therefore, no surprise that the Taliban struck yet again at the Karachi airport just the day after it was announced that they had agreed to extend the peace agreement with the government. This is familiar pattern where the Taliban and their silk-tongued supporters talk of peace only to buy time and strike at a time and place of their own choosing. The Karachi airport was their fourth successful breach of a high-value aviation facility after Peshawar, Kamra and PNS Mehran.

The prime minister’s anger about lack of strategy after intelligence is passed down by the interior ministry is misplaced as a ‘warning fatigue’ has set in the organisations downstream because of the generally vague nature of such reports. To be fair to the intelligence community, it is easy to point out intelligence failure but attacks such as these are planned well beyond the eyes and ears of run-of-the-mill intelligence operators and informers. The challenge staring in our face calls for a fresh approach.

It was obvious the CM Sindh was covering his flanks he said that there was no lapse of security. The commander of the Airport Security Force should now be a worried man since all the wrong questions are already being asked, which will inevitably lead to wrong heads being rolled. The people of Sindh deserve a more competent hand at the helm if only the former president would care to listen.

Most of the men who laid down their lives and carried the day for the provincial capital of Sindh hailed from small towns and remote villages in Punjab. They stood their ground when the call of duty came and demonstrated once again that they were all Pakistanis first and Punjabis later. One hopes this fact will not be lost on some Sindh cabinet ministers who routinely bring up ethnic bias.

The terrorists were killed within five hours but not before 30 lives were lost in the incident, many more were injured and some aircraft suffered unspecified levels of damage. It is true that the damage could have been far more extensive had the intruders not been slowed down by the lightly-armed ASF for a crucial few minutes before the regular troops arrived, thus altering the matrix. It will, however, be inadvisable to jump to any hasty conclusions as the negative wash of the incident has yet to hit the country.

The link between the TTP and the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) is important and should not be under-estimated. Intelligence assessments from CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) claim that Uzbek fighters are equipped with more advanced weaponry including night vision goggles and a high level of training. Is the TTP using Uzbeks for sophisticated attacks since its own cadre is more suited to a crude form of asymmetric warfare? Is the TTP getting a regular stream of fighters from its original base (Fergana Valley) in Uzbekistan or are these remnants of those who were driven out of Afghanistan after 9/11?

In a detailed report in the New York Times, Declan Walsh is of the opinion that the key to the Taliban’s strength and resilience is the web of alliances with fellow militant groups, chief amongst them being the Uzbeks who are increasingly becoming the vanguard of such audacious attacks as the recent jail breaks and attacks such as the one on the Karachi airport.

It is a well known fact now that former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, had learnt of the impending 9/11 attack from the leader of the IMU Tohir Yuldash, who was then very close to Osama Bin Laden. Muttawakil had dispatched an aide to forewarn the US through its consulate in Peshawar but was ignored.

The danger in the Uzbek-Al-Qaeda link is well-documented and clear and could create problems for the US in the withdrawal process from Afghanistan and have spill-over effects on Pakistan. We need to go after Uzbeks hideouts with full determination before this menace gets out of control.

It was reported that the arms and ammunitions used in the attack bore tell-tale signs of Indian origin. This prompted the Indian envoy in Islamabad to condemn the attack on TV. This could well be a possibility but it is not unusual to use an enemy country’s equipment to sow seeds of confusion. The matter, therefore, needs careful investigation before it creates more embarrassment.

By absorbing heavy losses, the ASF saved the government from grave embarrassment as its own handling of the crisis was dismally poor. The leader of the opposition in the National Assembly said it all when he disclosed that the prime minister was searching for his interior minister for the better part of the night and it was only in the morning that he visited the PM’s Secretariat. Another politician’s lament that the Sindh government sleeps during the day and is awake during the night also reflects a lot on the state of governance.

Some months ago, a young school boy stepped out voluntarily and stopped a suicide bomber from blowing up his school – sacrificing his young life in the process. The other day, a handful of lightly-armed ASF men stood in the way of terrorists armed to the teeth and determined to kill themselves.

We are lucky to have this advantage of resistance to terrorists at the grassroots level. But time is running out and it will be extremely unfortunate if one day the ordinary man realises that it is no use laying down one’s life for our incompetent and corrupt to the bone rulers.

The government needs to take advantage of the public mood while it lasts and lead the fight against terror – for once as if there were no peace negotiations.  http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-255746-As-if-there-were-no-talks

June 13, 2014   No Comments

Desperation without measures: by Saad ur Rehman Khan in The News, June 13, 2014

The writer is a research analyst at a think tank.

Fictitious beliefs, vain demands and radical laws all seem to be inherent in the incumbent government’s plan of action for the foreseeable future. From the infamous Protection of Pakistan Ordinance of 2013 to the National Internal Security Policy of 2014 (NISP), the government has employed a fusion of laws and policies with the aim of combating terrorism. The result: a manifest debacle.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan seems to have struck again by overwhelming our security forces and taking sufficient control of Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport . This was further exacerbated by their second attempt, a day after the Jinnah International Airport attack, at the Karachi Airport Security Force (ASF) Academy.

One would think that after the brutal attack on Geo anchorperson Hamid Mir, the security forces and those responsible for ensuring the allocation of security forces would play a more robust role in beefing up security around the metropolis. If the attack on Hamid Mir wasn’t enough then how about considering the potential sentiments of those enraged by Altaf Bhai’s recent arrest in London? Did that not call for more vigilance?

The true mandate of the PPO and the NISP is clear – to underpin the concept of upholding national peace and security against those who raise arms against Pakistan. The tenacious acts of the government in getting the PPO passed reflected its will in bringing about a change. Ironically, change is the least of their problems. The multiple attacks on the Karachi airport simply represent another failing on the part of the state in tackling terrorism. Sadly, the futile attempt at holding ‘talks’ with the TTP has resulted in more attacks. Attacks that appear to be becoming more destructive in nature; attacks that appear to target the masses; attacks that are so unpredictable that, despite the agencies having sufficient information, they still baffle the mind.

The state, however, has yet to uncover the mystery behind the perpetrators. Much like the previous attacks on the General Headquarters (GHQ) in 2009, the Minhas Airbase Kamra in 2012, the Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar in 2012, the Islamabad district court attack in 2014, the recent attacks on the Karachi Jinnah International Airport and the ASF Academy amplify the stronghold the TTP wishes to demonstrate before the state.

The attack may be perceived from different point of views. First, the state must and should accept that there has, indeed, been a breach in security. Merely playing the blame game whereby one executive body excludes responsibility by the fact that ‘warnings’ were issued to the Sindh government well in advance will not prevent the inevitable from happening.

Being pragmatic and accepting responsibility for the negligence displayed and the loss caused would be a better way to handle the immediate aftermath. What’s the point of raising fingers against each other when there is a common enemy? The state must work together in fighting those responsible for causing havoc on Pakistani soil.

Second, the manner in which the attacks were conducted displayed a very poor response on part of the security agencies. Day one, we take over your airport. Day two, we do the same just because we can.

Pakistan is already facing an unprecedented load of difficulties in discharging its responsibilities under various international conventions. The European Union has already hinted at withdrawing Pakistan from the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) Plus status granted to it last year. Pakistan, thus far, has failed to successfully implement 27 conventions on human rights in a manner compatible with international standards (a primary requirement under the GSP Plus status).

Further, there is the Reko Diq mining dispute, which may have severe ramifications if decided against Pakistan. Currently, the case is being heard internationally before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). Additionally, Pakistan may also face a challenge before the International Court of Justice in the near future as it has been implicated by the Republic of the Marshall Islands for breaching customary international law in failing to fulfil an obligation of nuclear disarmament.

Therefore, as a state, Pakistan already has its fair share of issues to deal with. We cannot afford to let non-state actors determine the fate of this country by waging war against it. Allowing such incidents will not only distract us from our existing international obligations, but also ruin ties with neighbouring countries for failing to combat terrorism effectively.

A number of international aircraft were present at the Karachi airport when the terrorist invaded and took control. Who’s to say that many international airlines will not consider reducing, or even ending, their flights to Pakistan? Who’s to say that those countries will not impose further restrictions on visa requirements for Pakistani citizens?

Pakistan is literally on the brink of survival. We cannot afford more drama at a global level. Perhaps, it’s time to consider a serious plan to defeat the enemy. How long till there is another similar incident?

Pakistan must rise from the ashes. The negotiations were just a distraction. We must not react but pre-empt what is coming. Our jawans have fought long enough. It’s time to honour those who have given their lives for the cause of this country. It’s time to fight back.http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-255747-Desperation-without-measures

June 13, 2014   No Comments

The immediate agenda to get us out of this mess: By Shaheen Sehbai in The News, June 13, 2014

DUBAI: This may sound a bit drastic to many interested parties and vested interests and some may say I have gone out of my mind, but the fact is that Pakistan and its critical institutions have collapsed and it is now time for a major, immediate, almost earthshaking, political and administrative renovation effort, to get back control before everything spins out of hand.

This major effort would need input and agreement of everyone, whether within or even slightly outside the strict ambit of the constitution and whether someone likes it or not. Legal or judicial approval has to be and will be quickly obtained for this effort.

This has to be done quickly as the military launches a decisive operation against the terrorists, now in close coordination with the US/Nato help, definitely inviting a severe blow back from terrorists all round the country.

Politicians who know or have been given hints and desperate political forces have already launched what they think would be a decisive strike against the existing inefficient and collapsing political set up. Once these forces get unleashed, the steering wheels would get jammed and there would be no going back.

The collapse that I am talking about is at various levels and these include:

– Non-existent civilian control, direction, vision and responsibility on matters of national importance and survival, including national security, safety and protection of the people and safety of vital institutions, installations and organisations.

– Failure of parliament, federal and provincial governments to inspire confidence and give hope in the present supposedly democratic system, elected though it may be but dysfunctional as it is.

– Lack of leadership by giving confidence and assurance to the people that this leadership can handle and protect national, regional and international geo-political and strategic interests of the country.

– Failure to provide for the day to day lives of the people, their present, their future, their economy, education, health or whatever. The sense of despair has aggravated beyond limits.

– Failure of governments, political parties and organisations to take a high moral ground by taking control and accepting responsibility or carrying out any accountability at any level, be it for failure to perform their duty or for financial loot and plunder, in the past or the present.

– There is not one case when anyone in authority has taken responsibility for any big or small blunder or lapse whether while running the government, managing the economy or providing security.

– Failure of government and politicians to frame policies without keeping personal vested interests in mind. Every party, big or small has been showing lack of leadership and confidence, taking major and minor U-Turns and demonstrating a lack of wisdom, vision and authority. Except blaming others there is nothing common in uttered words and deeds and acts of omission and commission.

– Every major economic initiative has back-fired, including the hundreds of billions spent, almost wasted, on load shedding, circular debt, inflation, oil and gas prices, exports and remittances. At best the economy is drifting, big claims and fiddling with the figures apart.

– All government successes claimed have been in borrowing billions of dollars and signing long-term projects, which may end up in smoke if all other prerequisites like physical and economic security, infrastructure development and uninterrupted flow of goods and services, are not guaranteed. No one is in a position to do that.

– The military has been bogged down, unnecessarily on external, internal and even political fronts, pitched against the terrorists and the politicians lately, weakening its confidence and resolve at worst and confusing it at best. This is not a good sign for a major war against local and foreign terrorists that is about to be waged.

– With no one to lead, or take control or accept responsibility, the country is spiralling towards internal and social anarchy leading eventually to be declared a failed state.

-So what to do in such a mess. Here are some suggestions that are being discussed and debated in drawing rooms but many agree the time for action on these lines has come:

– An immediate declaration of national emergency is needed, administrative and constitutional

as well as on security and economic fronts.

– Security and running of all key installations must be handed

over to the army including airports, seaports, sensitive buildings like Parliament etc so that the verbal diarrhoea on the media exchanging blame and responsibility for failures can be avoided.

– Parliament should be suspended for six months to a year.

– Cabinet must be dissolved and a 10 to 12-member Emergency Council be set up, with honest, competent civilians (politicians or technocrats or both), representing each province and the centre, the judiciary and the army.

– This Council should hire competent, honest and experienced/tested people to run the affairs of key institutions and installations without political influence or favouritism. Short and Medium Term tasks should be given and strictly monitored. Those not up to the mark must be quickly replaced.

– Provinces should be handed over to similar Emergency Councils, with clean politicians, judges, technocrats and generals on the same pattern as the centre.

– The first task given to them should be to fight the terrorists and run the affairs through a clean, effective and transparent administration, with zero tolerance for corruption, past or present.

– All unnecessary and juicy mega projects must be scrapped or put on hold until the country settles down on the internal war front.

– The media should be told to understand the needs of the national emergency and cooperate.

– Politicians should be told to take a back seat for a while.

This agenda will, as obviously expected, be described by many as a recipe for a military takeover.

In fact what is needed is not a takeover but implementation of this agenda to prevent a military takeover.

Muscle and push to implement it must come from supporting political parties, the civil society, a responsible media, an understanding judiciary and a military not having political ambitions.The firepower to help this national agenda get on the track should be provided by the army, using force at times, if need be. The alternate to this will ultimately be a ruthless military intervention which no one will like. So better take a bitter pill now than face an invasive surgery soon. http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-30919-The-immediate-agenda-to-get-us-out-of-this-mess

June 13, 2014   No Comments

For the critics — Here’s why PTI protests make sense

By Shahzad Khan in Dawn blogs, June 13, 2014

The writer is a senior software engineer working for a multinational company in Boston, USA.

Several people, and especially the PML-N government, seem to be deeply irked by PTI protests regarding the rigging of the May 2013 general elections. They are apparently having a hard time comprehending why PTI is rallying on the streets instead of resolving their issues in parliament.

Both parties and political pundits question what the party hopes to achieve with street demonstrations. Allow me to shed some light on this because it seems to be quite a complex issue for them.

I don’t want to repeat what has already been reiterated myriad times in news outlets, namely that when it comes to election rigging, the PTI has already tried all available options and given due time to the processes as well. They have tried election tribunals, courts and debates in parliament but to no avail.

Why we don’t resolve these issues in the parliament is an odd thing to ask because the parliament makes laws for the future, not for the past.

The parliament can of course make reforms for the next elections but that’s hardly what we’re protesting for.

We are in fact demanding an accountability of the 2013 elections.

What could the parliament possibly do to that end, given that the elections have allowed the PML-N a simple majority in it? Their constant invocations of the parliament as a platform for this debate are nothing more than a ploy to divert attention from election results.

The 2013 rigging allegations are no longer mere accusations; they are now a proven fact.

The FAFEN report; the leaked tape of ’35’ punctures and its reward for those involved; the forced resignation of the NADRA chairman, are all indications of a cover up. Every constituency investigated has revealed rigging. NA-256 has shown it, NA-258 has proved it, PP-107 has confirmed it.

In this context, PTI protests are not aimed at sustaining party popularity – they are about a real democracy that PML-N will perhaps never get their head around.

Remember how the PML-N mandate was also stolen in broad day light by a dictator and how their leaders signed an apology letter to flee the country?

They never stood up for democracy and for the people when their rights were snatched.

It may be the PML-N manifesto to run and seal their lips when democracy is stolen but it is certainly not part of the PTI manifesto. Remember zero tolerance for corruption and standing up for justice and against status quo? We actually meant that.

To actively oppose the evil of status quo, instead of waiting for an auto-fix – that’s the DNA we voted for and what you are seeing in action. I couldn’t have been prouder of the PTI initiative to stand up and rally crowds for free and fair elections in peaceful democratic demonstrations. This is the ‘Naya Pakistan’ that you have just stepped in, where injustice will not be tolerated.

I find the PML-N to be consistently in denial. We keep saying the elections were rigged, they keep saying they are working hard.

Sorry but that doesn’t cut it.

We aren’t protesting your performance (which is a discussion for another day), we are protesting against rigging. If the military takes over and does a better job than you, would that make the coup legitimate?

Let’s also discuss, for the sake of discussion, the prospect of debating reforms in the parliament. What kind reforms will the parliament pass? Can they guarantee zero rigging in all future polls? Most likely no.

This means the reform must have two components (1) actual measures to improve transparency (2) punishment for those who cheat the process. It is fair to say that the real power of this reform would lie in its punishment for offenders.

Now wait a minute…those provisions already exist.

The election commission and courts today have the powers to disqualify candidates and hold re-election in relevant constituencies. In fact, they already did that. So why exactly is PTI being asked to turn to the parliament?

The protests are not intended to derail anything but to empower the democratic system. All legislation required for justice is in place, but the system is tied up in the chains of status quo. We are protesting to ask the election commission and courts to do the right thing. We are protesting to counter the forces of status quo. We are protesting to give wings to authorities who have lost it.

We are protesting because if we don’t ask for justice, we will never get justice.

PTI demonstrations are a way to take matters to the court of the people after election tribunals, courts and parliament fail to address them. After all, it is the people who ultimately elect the new government and if PTI can keep the momentum, PML-N may have to go with the tarnished reputation and the upholders of a corrupt system. The day isn’t far when this awareness will be there everywhere; times are changing faster than ever before.

The current period is a major test for us. If PTI does not do anything, then we become the status quo as well. But if we resist and oppose, even if we don’t get very far, we will still go down in history as an anti-status quo party who fought its level best to get justice.http://www.dawn.com/news/1111191/for-the-critics-heres-why-pti-protests-make-sense

June 13, 2014   No Comments

Two parties, two realities: By Asha’ar Rehman in Dawn, June 13th, 2014

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

LIFE at the Karachi airport isn’t quite like the calm exchanges between parliamentarians belonging to the PPP and the PML-N. Down at the airport last week, Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah spent an entire night watching a mix of various security agencies take on the militants, and waiting for the federal interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, to ring him up.

The chief minister’s personal assistant turned out to be luckier on that count, being the proud recipient of a power-buzz from Chaudhry Sahib, at a time when so much else needed to be attended to.

The gap between Sindh and the centre on that horrifying night allowed some grumbling to creep in and some questions to be asked. The PPP’s senators showed their disappointment on the Chaudhry Nisar ‘no-show’ by asking him to resign, and the interior minister has in his turn reminded Sindh of all the terror alerts his staff had been routing Qaim Ali Shah’s way since November last.

Recalling these warnings projects the efficiency of the federal government just as it adds to the provincial government’s reputation of not being too bothered about the work at hand, however pressing the assignment..

These exchanges may not be uncommon in the relationship between the PML-N in Islamabad and the PPP in Karachi, but they — as yet— do not quite rise above unavoidable sparring. The closest thing to a conflict, in recent weeks, where the PPP has found reason to be suspicious of its partner in democracy have been the legal cases against some PPP stalwarts such as Yousuf Raza Gilani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Makhdoom Amin Fahim.

The slight stiffening of tone and the doubt-tinged messages have so far not had a profound impact on the debate inside parliament where the atmosphere is sometimes incredulously cordial. The PPP, again in the name of establishing democracy on a sound footing, has so far been more than willing to bail out the ruling PML-N from some tough spots. Indeed, so potently friendly have been the ties between the two that some analysts believed the PPP was even willing to forego a lashing-out opportunity over the already infamous Protection of Pakistan Ordinance.

The latest closing of ranks between the two arch rivals of the past has come over the need to have electoral reforms. Reports last week said the treasury and the PPP as the main opposition party in parliament had “agreed on the constitution of an all-parties parliamentary committee on electoral reforms”. “The consensus was evolved at a meeting between the government team led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar and the opposition team lead [sic] by Khursheed Shah. The proposal for the parliamentary committee was put forward by Shah and the government side agreed to it.”

A report said the “government has already started working on setting up such a committee and … all political parties will be taken on board before its formation.” And then, of course, was mentioned the reason behind the urgency for the call: “Both sides also agreed to resist any move that may put the democratic system in danger” — a clear reference to the challenge posed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, which has, through its own method of repetition, been able to create quite a lot of noise about all that it sees bad with the electoral system in Pakistan.

The PML-N has been urging the PTI and Imran Khan to take their case to the parliament. By coming up with its own sober, non-combative initiative in the elected houses, the PML-N is trying to act as a grown-up party in contrast to the PTI’s loud, inter-city chorus in the streets. And the PPP, so far, is willing to play a supporting role in getting the PML-N what it wants.

It doesn’t take too much of digging up to trace the causes for this PPP strategy, over and above the high slogans to save and nurture democracy. The PPP bosses obviously realise they must keep a good enough relationship with the federal government to be able to continue governing Sindh with as little friction with the centre as possible. Power in Sindh is what the PPP was willing to be content with a year ago and the party probably sees no reason to change its opinion about its prospects in practical politics up-country.

If the PPP thinks it has not much to gain from stirring a dispute with the PML-N, it is not far off in its estimates of its standing in parts of the country outside Sindh. But the cases against the PPP’s big leaders can be a problem. That will have to entail some protest, if for no other purpose than to avoid further erosion in the party’s already depleted ranks.

Now this is a potential breakup point in the relationship between the PPP and the PML-N, a delicate issue for the Sharif camp as well since it cannot distance itself from this court matter as simply as it seeks to distance itself from Gen Musharraf’s trial. Unlike the Musharraf case, the trial of the PPP leaders could push it into confrontational politics within the parliament, which the PML-N politicians tirelessly advocate as the go-to forum for resolutions to problems in their current fight with the ‘anti-system’ PTI.

There is also some merit in the argument that describes the PPP-PML-N partnership in parliament as largely ceremonial that offers little in terms of a combined thrust for solving the people’ s issues. The absence of a link between the Sindh government and the interior ministry in Islamabad on that scary night at the Karachi airport would inevitably embolden talk about a grand façade that ill conceals a lack of real common purpose.http://www.dawn.com/news/1112295/two-parties-two-realities

June 13, 2014   No Comments

Pakistan’s Long March to Democracy: by Sheila Fruman in Foreign Policy, June 12, 2014

(The writer , a former Senior Resident Country Director for the National Democratic Institute for Pakistan, based in Islamabad, is Visiting Research Scholar at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at City University of New York)

The transition from dictatorship to democracy is never smooth. One need look no furtherthan the set-backs in most of the “Arab spring” countries for proof that overthrowing dictatorship is no guarantee that democracy will follow. The situation can even become worse than it was before, like it has in Egypt,where the unintended consequence of the protests in Tahrir Square is the establishment of another dictatorship that may be more repressive than the one that was so courageously overthrown.

Pakistan has come further than ever in its long march to democracy, but the arc of that transition is currently encountering setbacks that have the potential to derail its eight years of uninterrupted momentum. The military’s old game of “divide and conquer” once again threatens the institutional strength of the country’s democratic set-up. Talk is rapidly growing of a challenge to the government amid mounting apprehension about the very future of the country.

One of the keys to the early success of Pakistan’s transition was the willingness of rival political parties to set aside their own political ambitions and unite around the common goal of restoring democracy for the good of the country.This bold commitment to strengthen democratic institutions, enshrined in the 2006 Charter of Democracy, provided a shared roadmap for the future, which led to unprecedented achievements, including two successive democratic elections, major amendments that strengthened the constitution, the establishment of an independent judiciary, and a lively independent media.

But in 2014, a democratic drift is eroding the earlier strong commitment to democratic values. Despite his rhetoric, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is doing little to consolidate hard-won democratic gains. Now serving an unprecedented third term in office, Sharif has barely set foot in parliament since he was elected over a year ago. His government also has the unique distinction of not passing a single law during its first year in office. Decisions are instead made behind the closed doors of Sharif’s office,without the benefit of transparent public debate or opposition scrutiny.

Although approximately 50,000 Pakistanis have been killed in acts of terrorism, for example, there has been no debate on the subject in parliament. The opposition, the media, and voters are left to glean information from ad hoc public statements;  by various cabinet ministers and officials, which are often contradictory.While the Minister of Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan,  is adamant that the issue will be resolved through dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban, the army is mounting increasingly aggressive attacks on militants.The public is confused about who is in charge and parliament is kept entirely in the dark.

Treating public affairs as a private matter diminishes accountability and sends a clear message that parliament — the purported supreme law-making body in a democracy — is simply not important.The lack of transparency has needlessly fueled rumors, conspiracy theories, and fears of another military takeover.

The pattern of personal rule the government is pursuing, and its disinclination to take parliament into confidence on key issues, is doing more harm to the system than the rant of militant adventurers, according to long time human rights activist and noted columnist I.A. Rehman.

Instead of complying with democratic norms as the best bulwark against the kind of unwanted “interference” of the past, Sharif recently asked political rivals to wait “patiently” for the next elections in four years, claiming that “the politics of the 80s and 90s won’t work now.”

Sharif’s warning was targeting Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party, and his latest threat to rock the democratic system with a massive “long march” challenging the legitimacy of the last election, but it applies just as well to his own style of government, which is also reminiscent of those earlier times.”The people do not like their elected representatives to behave like kings” notes Rehman, referring to Sharif’s style of personal rule.

Sharif’s style is a sharp departure from 2009, when the government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), initiated a parliamentary debate about militant attacks in Swat. Parliament unanimously passed a resolution supporting military action, which provided an opportunity for the public to hear all sides of the issue and for the army to play its due role under the political guidance of civilian authorities.When the successful military operation was undertaken, it was with the full support of parliament and the public.

The country, meanwhile, is drifting toward a 1977-like state, according to PPP Sen. Raza Rabbani, one of the drafters of the Charter of Democracy, who charges that nothing less than the survival of the federal system is at stake: “Making the election commission controversial; questioning the role of the former Chief Justice of [the] Supreme Court; infighting within the media; curbs on media; creating hatred against each other…all these things are interlinked [and] all these remind one of [the] Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) Movement of the 1970s.”

Such concerns were heightened last week when the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam and Pakistan Awami Tehreek, parties, former allies of military dictator Pervez Musharraf, held a joint press conference in London to announce the formation of an alliance to overthrow the present system and replace it with what they call “genuine democracy.”

Yet the official PPP opposition, despite the growing threat, has limited its focus exclusively to the halls of parliament in an apparent failure to grasp that everything now depends on the capacity of the politicians to mobilize the people who are outside parliament in support of the democratic system.

This has left the field open to Khan, who has bypassed parliament entirely, using the media instead to spread his pro-Taliban message and mount mass demonstrations against the government.

Unlike Khan, neither the governing nor other opposition parties have reached out to the millions who voted for them.They still treat politics as an elite private club for elected members,failing to recognize that a strong democracy includes political activism and public participation between the five-year election cycles.

With this unprecedented era of democratization, there was a unique opportunity to open up and strengthen political parties through a process of internal reform and membership empowerment.Neither of the mainstream parties, however, seized the opportunity to fundamentally change their organizations’ internal status quo.

During the four years I worked with political parties in Pakistan, the high level of interest in political activism among rank and file party members was inspiring.Yet party leaderscontinue to ignore the tremendous value of empowering their members.This resistance to sharing power and decision-making is a failure of imagination that isolates the elected leadership, undermines the overall strength of the democratic system, and leaves it more open to unwanted interference.

Pakistan has come further than ever in consolidating its democracy,but these hard-won gains are facing a threat which may not offer a chance to restore them if they are lost.”Democratic drift” is dangerous at any time but now,when the country is facing an existential crisis, it is especially so.

The government must strengthen the institutional framework, not ignore it, and democratic parties must go beyond parliamentary chambers to mobilize broad-based support for the democratic set-up. A renewed joint strategy from united democratic forces is needed if the long march to democracy is to reach its logical end. http://southasia.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/06/12/pakistans_long_march_to_democracy

June 13, 2014   No Comments

The Dasu gain : edit in The News, June 13, 2014

Approval from the World Bank for a $700 million loan to begin work on the Dasu Dam is an important milestone in this government’s strategy to increase power generation in the country. Although the loan is relatively small compared to the estimated $7 billion cost of the project, the unanimous approval by the World Bank’s executive board, including the US, was needed to stave off complaints from Afghanistan that the location of the dam infringed on their right to use water from the Indus-Kabul river. Ironically, Afghanistan was making the same accusations that we routinely level at India, even though in this case there is no binding water treaty. The government will point to the World Bank funding as a sign that it is making progress in the battle to overcome our power crisis but there are still many questions that need to be answered. China has provided $2 billion for the Dasu Dam and, as it has in many other projects it bankrolls, will undoubtedly want management control and profits from the dam. This will lead to further price increases and still leave us on the hook to repay the World Bank and others like Deutsche Bank from which we have borrowed $1 billion to construct the Dasu Dam. The project itself will take years to have a significant impact with only three of its proposed 12 turbines expected to be operational by the end of the decade, and the dam will be fully functional only by 2037.

Then, as with all mega projects, there is the question of compensating and relocating those whose homes and land will be hit by the project. Our track record in that regard is far from stellar and already the signs are there that we are going to cut costs by ignoring the rights of the people in the area. A report submitted to the World Bank regarding the project claimed that 90 percent of those who will be affected have voluntarily decided to relocate and so no compensation will be required for them. This smells of a whitewash with the government looking to lower costs on the backs of the poor. The benefits of big dams are controversial to say the least, given the land they destroy and lives they uproot, but they are being heartily pursued by the government and have always been a major part of the World Bank’s development ideology. We don’t know if we need the Dasu Dam but it now looks like we will end up getting it.http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-8-255741-The-Dasu-gain

June 13, 2014   No Comments

‘Super-bureaucrats’: edit in Dawn, June 13th, 2014

IT’S the oldest approach to institutional reforms in Pakistan: if something is broken, instead of fixing it, bolt on something new. This time, to attract professionals from the private sector to serve in the public sector, the PML-N brain trust has come up with the idea of the ‘National Executive Service’, a cohort of super-bureaucrats who will be more empowered, paid more, judged against professional-sounding key performance indicators, and so, in theory at least, will deliver better results. The reason for mooting this new cadre is old. Real talent and true professionals will never opt for the public sector if offered only a fraction of what they could earn in the private sector, and bureaucrats already in the governmental fold are either not trained enough or not competent enough to take up the most technical and specialised of public-sector jobs. Yet, there is little reason to take the government at its word — because everything it is setting out to do now has been attempted before and all of it has failed.

Call it the National Executive Service, call it the Management Position Category 1 pay scale, call it whatever any government decides to call such ad hoc attempts to slow down institutional decay, the problems are largely the same. Most critically, what powers will a NES member have to ensure that his or her brilliantly crafted plans to salvage moribund public-sector organisations or departments are implemented? Inevitably, a member will have to rely on the bureaucracy to get things done. But why would the very bureaucracy deemed too inefficient and incompetent to get the job done itself respond to the orders of a lavishly paid outsider imposed on them? Almost as relevantly, given the ruthlessness with which the senior bureaucratic cadre protects and promotes itself, how will the PML-N ensure that the NES does not just become a post-retirement sinecure for senior civil servants with the right connections in the corridors of power? Given the PML-N’s tendency to rely for all things on a very small number of favoured bureaucrats, the problem of bureaucratic capture is hardly theoretical.

Unwise as the move is, the plan, as mooted by the government, betrays a larger problem: the PML-N’s near-total lack of interest in meaningful reforms of state institutions. Six consecutive years of running the country’s largest, most developed province and one year into a third stint in power at the centre is more than enough time to roll out serious solutions to well-known problems. But the centralising and controlling instincts of the Sharif government have had the opposite effect. Governance is more opaque, less reliant on merit and professionalism and more dependent on favouritism and whims of the party leadership than before. Why, for example, would any true professional and serious talent join the NES when few can possibly believe they will have the freedom to do the job they were hired for?http://www.dawn.com/news/1112313/super-bureaucrats

June 13, 2014   No Comments

US ‘bribing govt’ for N Waziristan operation, says Imran : The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2014.

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek Insaf chief Imran Khan condemned US efforts to ‘purchase the services of the Pakistan government’ to carry out a military operation in North Waziristan.

By linking military aid and the Coalition Support Fund (CSF) payments directly to an operation in North Waziristan, the United States is bribing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government while seeking to discredit the Pakistan Army, said Khan in a statement issued on Thursday.

He was referring to the Carl Levin National Defence Authorisation Act for fiscal year 2015 in the US Congress, which links providing military assistance to Pakistan with Islamabad conducting military operations in North Waziristan.

Under the act, the US administration will also have to submit, twice a year, a report on the security cooperation with Pakistan, certifying that action is being taken against terrorists.

Imran pointed out that conducting such a military operation when most of the groups in North Waziristan are open to talks is ‘suicidal’ as it would result in the displacement of 0.7 million people.

“Those groups who have delinked themselves from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and want dialogue will be turned against Pakistan, uniting the militant forces again”, he maintained.

On behalf of PTI, Imran Khan put forward a set of demands. First, he urged the government to reject this move by the United States and inform the political leadership of the status of the dialogue mandated by the All Parties Conference in September last year.

He also demanded the government ensure that those seeking dialogue are separated from those continuing to carry out acts of terror and to isolate the latter. It must also ensure that all civilians are evacuated from the area of the operation.

Mazari scoffs at Nawaz’s letter to Modi

PTI’s Central Information Secretary Dr Shireen Mazari condemned the prime minister’s approach of continuing to pursue Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She also expressed disapproval at what she termed the premier’s indifferent attitude towards the state of affairs in the country at this crucial time.

Talking to the media, Mazari said that instead of focusing on the deteriorating law and order situation, the PM seems busy in writing letters and sending gifts to Modi’s family.

Unfortunately, Mazari stated the PM seems oblivious to the fact that the Modi government has shown no positive response to his overtures, and ironically the PM’s letter to Modi comes in the wake of discovery of Indian weapons in the Karachi airport attack.http://tribune.com.pk/story/721140/new-congress-legislation-us-bribing-govt-for-n-waziristan-operation-says-imran/

June 13, 2014   No Comments

Ominous clouds hovering over democracy: Achakzai

By Raja Asghar in Dawn, June 13, 2014

ISLAMABAD: Citing “clouds” threatening democracy, a leading government ally, Pakhtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) chief Mahmood Khan Achakzai, passionately urged political parties in the National Assembly on Thursday to immediately form a pro-democracy front to fight the perceived danger.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif joined cheers from both sides of the aisle for Mr Achakzai’s speech in a general debate on the new budget in which he also called for the government and the military to come “on the same page” for democracy, a pact between Pakistan and Afghanistan against allowing sanctuaries for rebels from either country, and interfaith harmony.

Strangely, on the fourth day of the budget debate, which saw some hard-hitting speeches by some female lawmakers from both sides of the house, nobody spoke about this year’s first reported US drone strikes in North Waziristan that killed a number of Uzbek militants based there — a departure from the previous routine of protests over violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty whenever such an attack happened.

Mr Achakzai began his speech with a call to parliamentarians to focus on what he called “clouds hovering over democracy” in Pakistan and appeared referring to the military’s role in politics in the past when he talked of an unexplained “our only dispute with the establishment” and pressed the wish: “May God make our armed forces the best armed forces in the world — as the armed forces and agencies of other countries are.”

In what appeared to be a reference to much speculated recent troubles in the relationship between the civilian government and the military, he urged both Prime Minister Sharif and army chief General Raheel Sharif to “give a clear message to the world together that Pakistan is a democratic country and its political and military leaderships are on the same page”.

Ridiculing Allama Tahirul Qadri for demanding that the army take control of the Islamabad airport for his safety when he arrives there on June 23, Mr Achakzai said, amid cheers: “If I were in place of Nawaz Sharif, I would order that person (Mr Qadri) arrested and sent back to Canada.”

He recalled sacrifices by Pakistani politicians and political workers and said “we are going to fight anyone” who tried to derail democracy.

“Immediately, before anything happens, we should form a pro-democracy front,” he said, suggesting the convening of a joint session of parliament if needed and consultations with opposition politicians like Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan and Leader of the Opposition in National Assembly Khursheed Ahmed Shah of PPP .

“We have to protect democracy whatever the circumstances,” was the emphatic statement from Mr Achakzai whose party supports the PML-N government in the centre without having a ministry, but is a partner with the PML-N in coalition government in Balochistan with his brother being the provincial governor.

PACT WITH AFGHANISTAN: The PkMAP leader said that he could bring the outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai or contenders Abdullah Abdul­lah and Ashraf Ghani in this weekend’s runoff presidential election to make a pact with Pakistan not to provide sanctuaries to Pakistani armed insurgents in their country if Pakistan made a similar commitment about Afghan armed insurgents and sincerely accepted Afghanistan as a sovereign state.

Such a pact, he said, could help end insurgency in the Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Some female lawmakers like PML-N’s Marvi Memon and PPP’s Shazia Marri seemed to carry the day in defending or denouncing the budget mainly vis-à-vis its impact on the poor people. Ms Marri had brought with her a potato and a tomato she repeatedly showed to the house while blaming the government for high food prices, but received warning from Deputy Speaker Murtaza Javed Abbasi, who said bringing or displaying articles which could be described verbally as violating the house rules of procedure.http://www.dawn.com/news/1112336/ominous-clouds-hovering-over-democracy-achakzai

June 13, 2014   No Comments