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Posts from — April 2016

Fazl assures Sharif of support over Panama scam REPORT in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday and assured him of his party’s all-out support in the wake of Panama leaks crisis.

A spokesman for JUI-F chief, Mufti Ibrar, told Dawn that the two leaders discussed political situation in the country with particular reference to the opposition’s criticism of the prime minister over the allegations contained in the Panama Papers.

The JUI-F is a coalition partner of the ruling PML-N at the centre and its two members are part of the federal cabinet.

The JUI-F had earlier supported the PML-N government during the 126-day sit-in held in Islamabad by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in 2014. In return, Maulana Fazlur Rehman had to face personal attacks by the PTI leadership.

Mufti Ibrar said the JUI-F leader had advised the prime minister to remain steadfast and not to feel any pressure over the Panama leaks. He said the Maulana considered Panama leaks a non-issue.

The spokesman said the Maulana praised Mr Sharif for presenting himself and his family for accountability in the wake of allegations levelled by opposition parties.

http://www.dawn.com/news/1255164/fazl-assures-sharif-of-support-over-panama-scam

 

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Has PTI missed another chance? By Mubashir Hassan in the Nation, , April 29th, 2016

Lahore – Political observers are watching the current political scene with great interest as the opposition parties are competing with each other to get maximum political mileage out of the Panama leaks.

While the outcome is not clear as yet but many believe that PTI has missed yet another chance to capitalise on this issue by making a major political blunder. It has launched a general campaign against corruption in Sindh province, diverting focus from the main issue involving prime minister’s family.

The PTI decision has also provided a justification to the government to generalise the issue of Panama leaks through the Terms of Reference (ToRs) formulated for the proposed judicial commission.

Many believe that PTI leadership could not benefit from its previous political campaign on rigging way back in 2014 when it had the opportunity to force the government to bring about electoral reforms to purge the political system of the deep-rooted practice of electoral rigging.

By clinging onto its rigid stance on prime minister’s resignation, the PTI missed a fair chance of forcing the government to agree on a strict legislation to prevent rigging in future elections. This issue is still pending with a parliamentary committee which is yet to evolve consensus on a new set of rules to empower the Election Commission of Pakistan.

“Voters in Pakistan have never voted for parties who have been campaigning against corruption. Majority of people here vote for candidates who resolve their issues at Thana and Kachehri levels, provide jobs to their children and carry out development work,” Hasan Askari Rizvi remarked when asked to comment on PTI’s corruption campaign. “While the issue of corruption may be used for general mobilisation, but at the same time, political parties need to raise real issues of the people to get their support in elections. In his view, the PTI should have agitated the issue of farmers’ plight because they are not getting the right price of their wheat production with harvesting season at the peak.

Political analyst Sohail Warriach thinks that if the PTI succeeds in forcing the PML-N to hold early elections, it will be the major beneficiary of the Panama leaks episode. “But it is also true that any political government’s fall also benefits the non-political forces,” he observed. “In a scenario wherein non-political forces take over power from the elected government as a result of opposition’s agitation, the PTI may also be the beneficiary afterwards,” he added.

Mr Warriach saw little chance of the PPP getting any political advantage at this stage because of the corruption charges against its leadership.

Though the government has announced a judicial commission to probe the allegations, it seems to have tricked the opposition by extending the sphere of inquiry to all politicians. This has made the opposition parties unnerved because some of their key members also have their offshore companies. Resultantly, the divided opposition has got united on one point agenda to force the government to accept the ToRs of their choice.

Hassan Askari Rizvi, a noted analyst, however thinks that PPP was still indecisive whether to side with the PTI or to stand with the government notwithstanding its Punjab leaders’ anti-government statements. They may have their own political compulsions to revive the party in Punjab by forcing the PM to resign, he said.

“But as far as Mr Zardari is concerned, he has not given up his deal options with the government. He may take any decision any time during the agitation,” he opined.

To add to what Mr Rizvi believes, there is another conspiracy theory circulating in the political circles. It is about dragging the matter far too long till it fizzles out like many previous issues. The conjecture is that PPP leaders along with rest of the Opposition will continue to raise this issue in the media till consensus is achieved on the ToRs. The proposed judicial commission will then prolong the investigations and finally come up with recommendations with no clear directions to the government. People have already digested the outcomes of many previous inquiry commissions, the most recent being the commissions on memo gate and Abbottabad.

As the things stand at the moment, the government seems disinclined to changing the ToRs as per demands of the opposition parties. But Ishaq Dar’s recent statement shows that government may show some flexibility on it. It is also yet to be seen if the Chief Justice of Pakistan accepts government’s request to form a judicial commission whose jurisdiction to investigate is also questionable. Pakistan has not signed any agreement with the tax heaven countries to seek any information from them regarding the offshore companies. A recent briefing to Senate Standing Committee by Deputy Governor of State Bank should also be an eye opener. He has quoted local laws which allow individuals from Pakistan to take considerable amount of money out of the country with prior permission of the State Bank.

Besides, Protection of Economic Reforms Act, 1992 applies no restrictions on Pakistanis to shift their money to other countries.http://nation.com.pk/national/29-Apr-2016/has-pti-missed-another-chance

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Election campaign or a move to bury Panama leaks? by Ashraf Mumtaz in The Nation, April 29th, 2016

LAHORE – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s mass-contact campaign, at a time when a judicial commission is yet to be set up to look into the Panama papers allegations against his children and others, appears to be a well-calibrated move to relegate this issue of great national importance into the background.

And the development projects he is announcing for the areas he is visiting will make it increasingly difficult for the opposition parties to bring people out on the streets.

His speeches are just like the ones political leaders make during election campaign, although the thrice-elected prime minister is indicating that the polls would be held in 2018, when the assemblies complete their mandated five-year term.

From his body language the prime minister appears to be quite confident, and there is no sign of any burden of the Panama leaks on his mind. He is physically fit as ever and it is hard for anyone to believe that the fleshy cheeked leader had faced a heart problem only a couple of weeks ago, because of which he had to rush to London for diagnosis and treatment.

The premier will address public meetings in provinces other than Punjab, the province it is ruling. This is so because the PML-N is confident that the opposition parties will not be able to create any problem for the government in the country’s most populous province. And in other provinces he will try to wean people away from opposition by promising projects worth billions.

On the other hand, the opposition parties are scheduled to meet in Lahore on May 2 to decide their future course of action. And at a time when it is not clear whether the PTI and the PPP are allies or rivals and whether at the end of the day the PPP will stand by the PML-N or other opposition parties, it will not be easy for the participants of the May 2 meeting to prepare an effective strategy to mount pressure on the prime minister to have the Panama leaks probed to the satisfaction of the people.

The preparation of an appropriate strategy will become more difficult for the opposition parties also because of the PTI’s internal differences. Party chief Imran Khan who doesn’t know whether to disband the party organisations or keep them intact, or which time will be more suitable for party elections cannot be expected to devise a course of action that can bring the desired results. (On Thursday the PTI chairman revived the organisations he had dissolved earlier).

If opposition parties also hold public meetings in various cities an election atmosphere will be created, which may make premature elections unavoidable.

Does the government want early elections at a time when half of its term is still to be served out? Or the mass-contact campaign is just a temporary move to deflect attention from the Panama leaks to buy time to work out an appropriate strategy to deal with the awkward position the Sharifs find themselves in?

As things stand, the ToRs of the proposed judicial commission are too vast, to quote former chief justice of Pakistan Saeeduz Zaman Siddiqui. He thinks that it will take the proposed body a long time to complete its task. And the burden on it will go up further when the names of another 400 Pakistanis – to be made public by Panama papers on May 9 – are added to it.

The government is not willing to review the ToRs and the opposition is not ready to budge. In such a situation the course of future events is not easy for anyone to predict.

Many ministers and ruling party leaders insist that it’s not unlawful for anyone to set up offshore companies. One can argue that if the Sharifs have committed no illegality by maintaining offshore accounts then nobody named in the Panama leaks has flouted any law. And if this is the case, then what is this hubbub all about?

Had this matter been so simple, the PML-N leaders should have no objection to the demand for a judicial commission under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Pakistan. But it has done its best to make the establishment of such a commission impossible.

Initially, the prime minister announced the formation of a commission led by a retired judge. But when the opposition rejected it, he agreed to write a letter to the Chief Justice of Pakistan for the appointment of a commission of serving judges. And now he has come up with terms of reference (ToRs) which are not acceptable to the opposition.

What will happen if the judiciary refused to shoulder the responsibility? Not all parties are ready to accept a probe by a parliamentary body, which is being projected as an alternative.

Parliamentarians who dare not say anything that may annoy their leaders cannot be expected to proceed against them, no matter how strong the case. And when they cannot say anything against their party heads, who are legally empowered to take action against them, they will not be able to meet ends of justice.
http://nation.com.pk/national/29-Apr-2016/election-campaign-or-a-move-to-bury-panama-leaks

April 29, 2016   No Comments

PM lashes out at elements behind anti-govt plots NISAR AHMAD KHAN in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

MANSEHRA: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has said some elements are hatching conspiracies against his government, but he believes in prosperity and development of the country by launching mega projects.

“I was asked by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority to increase prices of petroleum products, but I refused to do so as prosperity and development of the country is dear to me.

“I will tackle those who are hatching conspiracies,” the prime minister told a public gathering after inaugurating the second phase of the Hazara motorway from Havalian to Shinkiari at Hazara University’s ground on Thursday.

He also inaugurated a project of gas supply to Oghi, Shinkiari and other areas of the district.

The prime minister focused in his entire 23-minute speech on counting of mega development projects which he had launched during his current tenure or before it.

He indirectly criticised his detractors, saying those hatching conspiracies were enemies of the country.

“You cannot believe how happy I am here to see shining faces as I am going to perform the groundbreaking of the historic second phase of the Hazara motorway.

“I am determined to put the country on the path of prosperity and development,” he said, adding that ending poverty and hunger and bringing the country on a par with developed nations were his agenda.

The prime minister said no change had been made in the original design of the Hazara motorway which was a six-lane motorway like other motorways in the country.

He claimed that duration of loadshedding had been brought down and it would completely end by 2018.

He said nobody could bring change to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it was his government which had launched major development projects in the province since 1990.

“Those who are creating hurdles in the way of prosperity and development should think many times before taking such steps,” he added.

Mr Sharif said that besides roads and other infrastructures, his government was giving equal importance to education, adding that Rs660 million had already been granted to Hazara University and it would be given another Rs1 billion for providing quality education.

He said he had refused to increase the prices of different petroleum products by Rs3 to Rs3.50 per litre despite the fact that it would cost the national exchequer Rs8 billion. He said he would soon announce a reduction in electricity tariff.

The prime minister also announced that all 300 schools which had been destroyed by the devastating earthquake in 2005 and could not be included in the reconstruction plan would be built from grants of the federal government.http://www.dawn.com/news/1255157/pm-lashes-out-at-elements-behind-anti-govt-plots

 

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Parliament Watch: ‘Accountability’ strains tense civ-mil equation KHAWAR GHUMMAN in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

Following Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif’s call for across-the-board accountability, the complex civil-military relationship is in the spotlight once again.

The well-timed dismissal of six army officers – including one Lt-General and a Major-General – on charges of corruption, is being seen by many defence and political analysts as a move directed at pressuring the civilian side to act.

The military’s checkmate move came after the release of the Panama Papers, which revealed that the prime minister’s three children – two sons and a daughter — own offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands.

Following the political storm that erupted once news of the offshore companies became public, the army chief’s statement calling for across-the-board accountability is said to have strained ties between the civil and military establishments. No longer was it possible for anyone to claim that both sides had reached an understanding of sorts to not interfere in each other’s domains.

Officials claim that the leaks have put GHQ at an advantage.For a senior PML-N lawmaker, who claims to be part of the ruling party’s inner sanctum, “at no point in time [since 2013] can one say that the prime minister and army chief developed an ideal relationship.”

Considering PM Sharif’s past experience with the military and his decision to try General Pervez Musharraf under Article 6, “the two sides naturally tend to be skeptical of each other and this is how it has been for the past three years,” the lawmaker said.

In fact, he argued that certain developments over the past year or so have only added to apprehensions on both sides. For example, the PML-N legislator explained, the military establishment wasn’t happy with the civilian’s handling of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

Reportedly, the military establishment suggested setting up an authority to oversee projects being carried out under CPEC, since a lack of political consensus continued to mar its progress. It suggested that a full-time authority will help all the stakeholders, particularly the provincial governments, to provide regular input.

A senior security official confirmed that the army leadership wanted an arrangement to smoothly address CPEC-related concerns. It’s worth noting that in an unprecedented move, the Chinese embassy in January this year, through a press statement, called upon the political leadership of the country to resolve its differences over CPEC.

The civilian government has so far ignored the idea. The prime minister has set up the special Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit (PMDU) to monitor CPEC. Established in April last year, the Ahsan Iqbal-led Planning Commission was initially its line ministry. However, Maryam Nawaz Sharif later took it upon herself to supervise the unit.

Such skirmishes, which take place away from the public arena, are not infrequent.

For example, in February, the military tried to push retired Lt-Gen Mohammad Alam Khattak for the position of KP governor. However, the government preferred a party loyalist and appointed Iqbal Zafar Jhagra.

This, perhaps, was not as serious an issue as the two sides’ disagreements over the operation in Punjab.

Since January this year, reports have been coming in thick and fast about the army’s assessment that Rangers should be deployed in the southern districts of Punjab since the Punjab police was ill-equipped to deal with the security challenges there.

In fact, more than once, the provincial apex committee formed under the National Action Plan (NAP) had detailed discussions on the issue. However, the PML-N led Punjab government was averse to the military’s deployment and argued that provincial law enforcement agencies could handle the threat.

However, the provincial government had to yield after the tragic Gulshan-i-Iqbal suicide attack, which resulted in more than 70 deaths in March. Shortly after the attack, the military leadership simply took the unilateral decision to launch a province-wide operation. If there were still any civilian claims about its law enforcement capacity, these were laid to rest with the fiasco in Rajanpur.

The army had to be called in once a police operation ended with the death of a dozen policemen and the kidnapping of thirty more.

However, this does not mean that the Punjab government has accepted defeat.

In fact, the province is still to give legal cover to the Rangers as has the Sindh government. The Rangers in Sindh have the powers to make arrests and investigate, whereas, in Punjab they are only assisting civilian government.

A senior security official confirmed that the Punjab government was yet to provide them legal cover. When asked, a PML-N office bearer argued that Karachi had been taken hostage by murderers and extortionists, while the problem was limited to some pockets in Punjab. “It’s unfair to draw parallels between Punjab and Sindh.”

In the midst of all this landed the Panama leaks, providing the military with another opening to land a blow or two. However, it’s not clear if it will now let the civilian government be or will continue increasing the pressure.
http://www.dawn.com/news/1255138/parliament-watch-accountability-strains-tense-civ-mil-equation?preview

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Shah Mehmood Qureshi all set to leave PTI Report in daily times, apr 29, 2016

ISLAMABAD: Shah Mehmood Qureshi is seeking excuses to quit Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf by boosting controversies with Ch Sarwar. Reliable sources said that Shah Mehmood has contacted Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) through Asif Kirmani. It was after that contact that Shah Mehmood spoke against Imran Khan’s close aides Jahangir Tareen and Ch Sarwar during a rally in Lahore. Qureshi had said if he needed their (Tareen and Sarwar) approval to get ticket for elections, he will leave politics. While realizing Qureshi’s intensions, Imran Khan delayed the intra-party elections and assigned Qureshi to lead a committee assigned to engage opposition parties in the wake of Panama leaks. Through this, Imran Khan failed Qureshi’s agenda. Shah Mehmood is now finding new ways to enter the PML-N by creating controversies with Ch Sarwar.http://dailytimes.com.pk/islamabad/29-Apr-16/shah-mehmood-qureshi-all-set-to-leave-pti

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Dividing MQM again: by Syed Kamran Hashmi in daily times, apr 29, 2016

The writer is a US-based freelance columnist.  Contrary to the common view, the old Roman aphorism divide et impera (divide and rule) did not originate from England. Indeed, we do not know where it sprang from as it has a long, convoluted past, more or less like the early Islamic history. Greeks accredit themselves for contriving it, while Romans praise their ancestors as the ones who devised the strategy. Not standing too behind in the queue, the old Middle Eastern authors too hint towards conceiving it on their own. In short, from Philips of Macedonia to Josephus Flavius, there are many who can claim the proprietary rights on the idea.

If true — which it is — then why are the British still credited for its birth? I think the perception developed because, in part, they benefitted from the policy the most while taking over the subcontinent, one piece at a time. And in part because of our own oblivion we just did not comprehend what was happening to us when it was happening. The basic tenet of the axiom is easy to follow: first you identify the real source of discordance within a given community. Then based on that issue you create a rift between its different factions. Divided, as the rift between them grows wider, they start fighting with each other. And, the more they fight, the more they strengthen you — the enemy — whether they realise it or not. The result? They lose, you win. But in order to recognise the true sore spot, and then to implement the rule successfully, you must know your opponent — his traditions, his fears, his strengths, his weaknesses, his insecurities –really well. If you don’t, you are doomed to lose, which is what has happened to us every time when we attempted to put the rule into practice. Thanks to our policy makers who turn a golden rule into garbage.

For example, a long time before the current operation in Karachi where seven policemen were killed after two and a half years of relentless campaign against terrorism, Pakistan army had launched a grand operation against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to eradicate organised crime from the city. Altaf Hussain, fearful of being incarcerated, just before the exercise had fled out of Pakistan, and applied for political exile in the UK. While trying to find a safe place for himself, he could not, of course, take all the MQM workers along with him, many of whom ‘disappeared’ soon not to be seen ever again, their mothers still missing them even after 20 years, their sisters celebrating their birthdays in their absence. The disappearance of hundreds (if not thousands) of MQM workers warned the Urdu speaking community about a problem that lay beneath the facade of reviving peace of the city. They feared it was to undermine their political identity.

Let me also remind you about the charges against the party. What were those? Same as today that the MQM is involved in organised crime; that the MQM has connections with the Indian intelligence agency, RAW; that the MQM wish to divide Pakistan and create a small state of its own, and that Altaf Hussain is an enemy agent. State-sponsored television programmes showed the torture cells and the maps of the ‘new state’. But the problem, even after months of propaganda against the MQM, remains unsolved without really affecting the popularity of the MQM.

What was our solution to lure the MQM supporters away from Hussain? You are right: divide and rule! We carved the MQM Haqqiqui out of the Hussain-led MQM, dividing it into two factions. As expected, the two groups — one with our backing — began to fight with each other, converting their political rivalry into a gang war, each faction geared up to seize control of a territory. According to the rulebook, everything moved in our favour, except that it did not in reality. The ‘foreign hand’ that was supposed to divide the party only boosted the image of Hussain as the ‘saviour’ of Urdu speaking people. Afaq Ahmed, the leader of the MQM-Haqqiqi, on the other hand, came across as an ordinary criminal, a ‘traitor’. The Result? The MQM went on to win every election since 1992 in which it has participated until 2013, and the Haqquiqi faction got maybe one or two seats.

The lesson that we learnt from the fiasco should have been that the people of Karachi may not like Hussain and decide on their own to vote him out, but if they perceive a conspiracy being hatched against him to dissuade his supporters, they will rally behind him every time. Did we learn that lesson then? Of course if we had, Mustafa Kamal would never have returned from Dubai to active politics. The new attempt in the form of his Pak Sar Zameen Party, as unsuccessful as it appears after its first and failed rally on Sunday, is not any different from the formation of the MQM Haqqiqui, and is being viewed as an unwanted intervention as its older version was viewed. What about Kamal’s personal charisma as a successful mayor of Karachi? Why wouldn’t it work? Sure, he is a much better candidate than Afaq Ahmed. The community likes him on a personal level too. In fact, people took a lot of pride in his performance as the mayor, but they do not trust his agenda when he stands against Altaf Hussain.
http://dailytimes.com.pk/opinion/29-Apr-16/dividing-mqm-again

April 29, 2016   No Comments

Seminaries boom in absence of govt checks KALBE ALI in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

ISLAMABAD: While the government’s plan to streamline the registration and monitoring of religious seminaries appears to be a pipe dream, the number of madressahs in the country, as well as the number of students enrolled in them, has been on the rise.

Even though seminary boards offer different reasons for the growing number of students and institutions in the country, the administrators of all five mainstream seminary boards believe that a lack of a clear policy was augmenting negative growth as well.

“The government is not doing anything, but it wants the five boards and the seminaries registered with us to be as perfect as a polished shoe,” said Sahibzada Abdul Mustafa Hazarvi, nazim-i-ala of the Tanzeemul Madaris Ahle Sunnat, the board for seminaries affiliated with the Barelvi school of thought.

“It was only due to misconduct that Wifaqul Madaris al-Arabia de-listed Jamia Hafsa in Islamabad in 2007, in wake of anti-state political activities. But what have the authorities done? The seminary still continues to hold classes, is increasing its branches, enhancing the number of students and even criticises the board for not registering it — this is the writ of government in Islamabad,” Sahibzada Abdul Mustafa exclaimed.

He said that there were around 9,000 madressahs affiliated with the Barelvi school of thought, imparting religious education to more than 1.3 million students. He said that there has been an increase of 10pc in the number of seminaries and students as compared to the previous year.

“To my understanding, the main reason for the proliferation of seminaries and seminary students is due to the growing population and a rise in poverty, since people cannot afford to send their children to schools,” said Mufti Muneebur Rehman, head of the Ittehadul Tanzeemat-i-Madaris-i-Deenia, an umbrella body of the five mainstream madressah boards in the country.

Four of the boards belong to the Barelvi, Deobandi, Shia and Ahle Hadith schools of thought, while the fifth, Rabtatul Madarisul Islamia, administers institutions affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami.

“There are around one million students in over 1,000 seminaries and that is because they are large institutions,” said Maulana Abdul Maalik, nazim-i-ala of Rabtatul Madaris, adding, “the number of students is on the rise because Western propaganda has prompted citizens to learn more about Islam.”

He said that the mass public participation in Mumtaz Qadri’s funeral was a clear indication that the people are against the policies of the present government.

“They might take up any issue against the seminaries to divert attention, because the government is weak and vulnerable and the Panama leaks have exposed them,” Maulana Abdul Maalik added.

Among the five mainstream boards, the largest network of seminaries belongs to the Deobandi school of thought, which are registered with the Wifaqul Madaris al-Arabia.

“Around 18,600 madressahs are registered with us countrywide, and they are imparting religious education to more than 2,000,000 students, both boys and girls” said Abdul Qudus Mohammadi, spokesman for the Wifaqul Madaris al-Arabia.

The board for madressahs belonging to the Ahle Hadith school of thought is the Wifaqul Madaris al-Salfia, which has 1,400 registered institutions with around 40,000 students.

Mohammad Yasin Zafar, the nazim of Wafaqul Madaris al-Salfia, said that the number of students was increasing as many Ahle Hadith communities, including those in Karachi, had established seminaries imparting both religious and contemporary education.

There are around 460 seminaries affiliated with the Wifaqul Madaris Al-Shia, with a strength of around 18,000, mostly boys.

However, the spokesperson for the Wifaqul Madaris al-Shia said that only a nominal increase had been witnessed in the number of students or seminaries and attributed it to an increase in the population.

“While we represent the wifaq, we still believe that the number of madressah students should be proportionate to the demand for them,” said Nusrat Ali, spokesperson for the board. “An oversupply of clerics will lead to a disturbance of the system and reduce their respect in society.”http://www.dawn.com/news/1255155/seminaries-boom-in-absence-of-govt-checks

April 29, 2016   No Comments

US lawmakers question Pakistan’s policies: report in Dawn, April 29th, 2016

WASHINGTON: Several members of the US Congress launched on Wednesday a multi-pronged attack on Pakistan, questioning its policies and priorities.

Pakistan had to bear this humiliation for the $742 million that the Obama administration has proposed for the country in the next fiscal year. The lawmakers suggested using this money somewhere else.

Two US officials, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Olson and US Agency for International Development’s Donald Sampler, made feeble attempts to defend the proposed aid but they could not match the angry legislators.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who chaired the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, set the tone, with a frontal attack on Pakistan.

“The Taliban operate freely because Pakistan refuses to take action against them inside its borders,” she said while calling Pakistan “a direct contributor to the Taliban success”.

“It makes little sense to continue giving Pakistan billions of dollars if it’s going to continue to work against our interests,” she said, urging the US administration to “leverage our aid” to make Pakistan “a better regional partner with Afghanistan”.

Ambassador Olson reminded the lawmaker that Pakistan was at a strategic crossroads and had made great progress over the past couple of years in addressing its domestic counter-terrorism priorities.

Pakistan had also taken robust action against those groups, principally the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, that threaten Pakistanis, he added.

But the US administration had “made very clear at the highest levels” that “there is considerable room for improvement in the application” of targeting all terrorist groups without any discrimination, said the senior US diplomat.

“We believe in particular that Pakistan has not taken as vigorous action against groups that threaten its neighbours as it has against those that threaten it domestically.”

Ambassador Olson said that Pakistan now had to make a strategic choice, “with the Taliban having refused to come to the table, it seems to us that it is time to address more robustly the question of groups that threaten Afghanistan”.

But Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen disagreed. “We need to leverage our military sales to Pakistan in order to get some more cooperation within the region,” she said.

Congressmen Matt Salmon and Brad Sherman reminded the administration that Congress had, in the recent past, withheld US aid to Pakistan because it was still holding Dr Shakil Afridi, who assisted US efforts in tracking down Osama bin Laden and later was jailed for 23 years for alleged links to terrorist groups.

By keeping Dr Afridi in prison, the Pakistani government was “thumbing their nose to the United States and the people of the United States”, said a third lawmaker, Dana Rohrabacher.

“Should we look for any other possible restrictions?” asked Mr Salmon, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

“What would be the Pakistani response if we cut all aid until Dr Afridi was released?” asked Mr Sherman.

Mr Sampler told the lawmaker that the administration shared his sense of outrage with regard to the plight of Dr Afridi and had raised this issue at the very highest levels.

“We have requested the release of Dr Afridi and we continually request updates on his health and his status,” he said while reminding the lawmaker that the tactics he suggested had not yielded any results.

But the congressman said that Pakistan should “take a second and third and fourth look at the incarceration of this man and look to his expedited release,” if it wanted to improve its ties with the US.

Congressman Salmon also raised the issue of the Panama leaks at the hearing, noting that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s family was named in those papers.

Mr Sampler refused to offer direct comments on Panama papers, but assured the lawmaker that the US was “in favour of greater financial transparency”.

Ambassador Olson said that the US had established a hotline in Pakistan to ensure that American financial assistance was not misappropriated.

Congressman Sherman asked why had the US administration routinely declined to certify that Pakistan was cooperating with the United States on action against the Haqqani Network and others.

“We have long had concerns about the fact that despite Pakistan having a stated policy of not discriminating between terrorist groups and the application of that policy, they have in fact not moved against actors that threaten their neighbours,” Mr Sampler replied.

Congressman Rohrabacher, known in Washington for his anti-Pakistan rhetoric, claimed that Islamabad was “killing the Baloch by the thousands and attacking their neighbours with the supporting terrorist incursions into India”.

“What more can Pakistan do that would have us cut off the military aid?” he asked.http://www.dawn.com/news/1255150/us-lawmakers-question-pakistans-policies

April 29, 2016   No Comments

F-16 sale on the line as US Congress stops USD 430 million aid to Pakistan Web desk in Pakistan Today, April 29th, 2016

Washington: United States (US) Congress Committee has interrupted financial aid worth USD 430 million to Pakistan putting sale of eight F-16 fighter jets on the line once again, local media reported on Friday.

Department of State stated to a British journal that Obama government is in favour of supplying F-16s to Pakistan but US aid would not be used for the purpose.

Pakistan cannot afford to pay around USD 700 million for eight fighter jets and necessary equipment. As per the previous understanding, United States was to grant USD 430 million while Pakistan was to pitch in USD 270 million.

On the other hand United States Congress has also halted provision of USD 740.2 million funds for Pakistan under military aid package.

Pakistani embassy’s spokesperson in the United States, Nadeem Hotiana said that the US administration has already supported F-16s sale to Pakistan however purchase of arms and ammunition is a lengthy and time-taking procedure.

He said that India had lobbied against Pakistan regarding the sale while some members of the Congress had also criticised the deal. They had said that F-16s could be used against India, he added.

Indian External Affairs Ministry had made it clear in February that it would not buy the argument that the deal would help Pakistan combat terrorism.

“We are disappointed at the decision of the Obama Administration to notify the sale of F-16 aircrafts to Pakistan. We disagree with their rationale that such arms transfers help to combat terrorism,” Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had tweeted.

Earlier in March, the motion to supply F-16s to Pakistan garnered success in the US Senate with an overwhelming 71 to 24 margin.

The deal between the two sides was kept alive for the past five years however, Obama government announced in February to go through with the sale formally.

In February, Secretary of State John Kerry, while testifying to the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee defended the deal.

Kerry lauded Pakistan’s efforts in war on terror and said that the country is an ally in fight against extremism and has been deeply engaged.

Senators had 30 days to express reservations in the matter after formal announcement by the United States on February 12. Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sharply questioned the plans to sell F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan within the given time.

It should be noted here that the deal is in accordance with US foreign policy s objectives and national security goals of improved security of strategic partner in the South Asia.

The deal involves sale of eight nuclear-capable Lockheed Martin Corp F-16 fighter jets, radar and other equipment.http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/04/29/national/f-16-sale-on-the-line-as-us-congress-stops-usd-430-million-aid-to-pakistan/

April 29, 2016   No Comments