Friday, February 27, 2009

NAWAZ SHARIF: The genie is out of the bottle

Editorial:(Daily Times)

Addressing a protest rally against the disqualification of the Sharif brothers at Aabpara Chowk in Islamabad, the PMLN’s senator-elect Mr Zafar Ali Shah said on Thursday, “If Zardari wants to stay in the presidency, he will have to undo the SC verdict”. He warned the president against “the wrath of the masses” if he did not issue a presidential order to reverse the verdict. His chief Mian Nawaz Sharif was in Sheikhupura exhorting the “masses” to revolt against the government, a clear incitement to violence.Violence was committed by the PMLN activists in Rawalpindi and other cities, spearheaded by youths in their teens who hardly knew the political meaning of what they were doing. The style is still single-item, reliant on a calculation of anti-PPP factors, including the lawyers’ movement and the media. Given this posture of the Sharifs, the assurance given by the lawyers that their Long March would be peaceful is hardly credible. Pakistani politics is now headed for violence with unpredictable results.Mr Shah’s “demand” for a presidential edict of absolution for the Sharifs is issued late in the day and not in the language of democracy. No one in his right senses would offer a concession in the face of a threat. But concessions are routinely made in democracy through political compromises. The PMLN had many occasions to benefit from such compromises despite the all-black picture painted to the Sharifs by the hawkish section of their second-echelon leaders. Use of the language of violence was a clear precursor to the violence that is now in evidence. The genie is out and will not easily go back into the bottle.
In the first flush of a “new relationship” between the PMLN and the PPP, compacts were made, including the Murree Declaration pledging restoration of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, that have hurt the PPP before the media and the average citizen committed to the lawyers’ cause. But even if angels were to descend upon Pakistan as politicians they would not feel safe in the hands of a suo moto judge determined to undo everything that happened after November 2, 2009 under President Pervez Musharraf. No politician will commit suicide in the name of “principles”. Democracy takes care of this predicament by accepting the practice of compromise.
The PPP and the PMLN were well placed for this compromise. The Sharifs could have settled for a presidential pardon to give them safe passage in Punjab and in future elections. After that they could have agreed to a constitutional package to execute the Charter of Democracy which the nation wants. Instead of now “separating” Mr Asif Ali Zardari from the PPP and saying that only the former is to blame for the current crisis, the Sharifs could have treated the PPP members of their Punjab government well. Instead they took on the party in Punjab and relied on their relationship with Prime Minister Gilani to win a battle that they had in mind even in the days of their honeymoon with the PPP at the centre.A majority of the people looking on will finally come to the conclusion that both parties are to blame for the present crisis, even though most Punjabis hold Mr Zardari exclusively responsible. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the case, the two have simply gone back to the toppling pattern of the 1990s. The violence in the offing is going to hurt the economy and damage the livelihood of a lot of people whose businesses will be shut in the fortnight of the build-up to the Long March. The denouement of this upheaval will be in no one’s favour. If the PMLN thinks it can inherit even a broken Pakistan after the PPP is somehow ousted, it may be shocked to find that a “third option” may quickly take hold of the country.

PAKISTAN:No to a political war

The Frontier Post

The Sharif Brothers do have a grouse. We empathize with them and have even voiced our sentiments on this account. But protest is one thing; it is at once legitimate and acceptable. Confrontation is nonetheless altogether a different ball game; it is inherently destructive and hence absolutely unacceptable. And completely abhorrent is incitement of people to civil disobedience, as has done Mian Nawaz Sharif unforgivably. By provoking the civil servants and the police force in Punjab to defy the state writ and to disobey the state authority, he has definitely added no feather to his hat. Rather, he himself has torn asunder his donned mantle of martyrdom, showing himself to be what he intrinsically is: a power-hungry politico; no venerable statesman. By instigating the government employees to rebel and revolt, he indeed has forfeited much of the public sympathy that the apex court's ruling had drawn him and his younger sibling, Shahbaz Sharif. This foolhardiness he will keep ruing for long, as the hurt he has inflicted on his person in the popular public eye is hard to heal, so grievous is the hurt. Pakistan, after all, is no real estate or a fiefdom of Nawaz Sharif, as it isn't of Asif Zardari. Nor is it a battleground for the two to wage and fight their dirty political wars on. The homeland it is of 160 million people, who hold it dearest to their hearts and fret concernedly about its security and integrity at the slightest sign of a threat to it. And in these days their country is veritably pitched in a precarious existential threat, both internally and externally. Whichever direction they look at, they see this threat staring their beloved homeland in the face with its vile jaws wide open. So they are deeply worried. And it could only be a sweet delusion of Nawaz and of Zardari that the people are indulgent spectators of their political war. They are not. It is only scorn they have for their repulsive show. Indeed, they are angry and getting angrier; for, as their homeland is slipping deeper into an international conspiracy's lap to hurt it cripplingly, these two are getting embroiled irreconcilably in their own politically-motivated personal fracas. And why indeed should the people get involved in their squabbles when they find both the chips of the same block? Over a year has elapsed since the poll and the restoration of "democracy", whatever it is, they see neither of the two any much concerned about their weal and welfare. Nawaz is craftily touting up his own favourite causes as the people's causes, which they are not. The people's agenda is diametrically different from his agenda. It is their urgent needs and demands that come to them uppermost. But these figure only for lip service in his scheme, driven wholly by his own political appetites and power projects. And Zardari is yet to lay out a coherent state policy for the people's progress and advancement. His government is just chugging off without any direction, without any clear-cut destination. It is mere ad-hocism that characterises his rule. Not as yet has he unveiled any plan for educating the nation's children, for the citizens' healthcare, for the labour's welfare, and for the peasants' weal. No reforms in any sector has he announced and put in place. It seems as if he has abandoned the country to take its own course and the people to fend for themselves. So if Nawaz or Zardari thinks the people are dying for him, he is badly mistaken. They are not. Neither are they enamoured of Nawaz nor of Zardari. Both live in their own core party constituencies; beyond they are just nobodies. They would do well to face up to this compelling reality and act accordingly. With his stridency, Nawaz has just opened up the floodgate to street violence. Already, clashes between party workers of PPP and PML (N) have started, which potentially may flare up into a conflagration, if not scotched right now. One hopes sanity will prevail on both, sooner than later. Nawaz shouldn't overshoot himself; political avenues he should explore for his grouses' gratification. Zardari shouldn't go for an overkill, which surely will boomerang on him; he must be respectful of compelling political ground realities. Both must know that the nation has a resounding no for a political war. It already has too many monstrosities to grapple with. And it would do without one more.
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Dated: Saturday,February 28, 2009, Rabi-ul-Awwal 02, 1430 A.H.

U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan to Hold Regular Talks

WASHINGTON — Intensifying its focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States said Thursday that it would hold regular three-way meetings with top officials from the neighboring countries, which the Obama administration sees as the main front of the battle against Islamic extremism.

The plan was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after three days of meetings with high-level delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which touched on sensitive issues like American airstrikes in Pakistan, and the scope of the American commitment in Afghanistan.

Officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan expressed concern about civilian casualties from American military operations, according to people who took part in the talks. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, objected to airstrikes by Predator drones in tribal areas, part of a covert campaign against militants by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Afghan foreign minister, Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, voiced worries that the Obama administration, frustrated by escalating violence and corruption in Afghanistan, would scale back its efforts in development aid and nurturing democracy to focus on security.

Mrs. Clinton sought to reassure him that “we’re committed to the Afghan government and people,” said a spokesman, Robert A. Wood. “The Afghans wanted to get across that they’re serious about democracy.”

American officials said the exchanges, which included civilian, military and intelligence officials from the three countries, had been unusually frank and substantive, if somewhat general. The next meeting, scheduled for late April or early May, will delve into more specific issues.

Three-way meetings involving these countries are not new: former President George W. Bush held a tense dinner in 2006 for President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, then the president of Pakistan, during which the two guests said little and Mr. Bush did most of the talking.

But this week’s meetings involved a much larger cross-section of military and government leaders — among them foreign ministers and the heads of the Afghan and Pakistani intelligence services.

“These were not just photo ops,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. “Meetings in this configuration have not taken place.”

The chief of the Pakistani Army, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, met with leaders in Congress this week and faced questions about whether the military would step in if the political situation in Pakistan deteriorated. General Kayani — who unlike his predecessor, Mr. Musharraf, has pledged to keep the military out of politics — said the army would not intervene, according to a Pakistani official.

On a hectic day at the State Department, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustafa, also met with a senior American diplomat — a tentative step toward what analysts said could be an opening between the United States and Syria on the Middle East peace process.

Mrs. Clinton leaves late on Saturday for her first visit to the region, against a difficult backdrop of complaints about humanitarian aid in Gaza and continued negotiations in Israel to form a government.

On another thorny issue, Mrs. Clinton dispatched a new special envoy for North Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, to try to restart talks over the North’s nuclear program. Mr. Bosworth is to leave early next week for meetings in Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. He is not scheduled to talk with North Korean officials, but he left open the possibility of such a meeting.

A former ambassador to South Korea, Mr. Bosworth recently returned from a private visit to Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, during which he said he found willingness on the part of the North Koreans to talk to Washington.

“I found the North Koreans, I thought, quite inclined toward continued dialogue with the United States,” Mr. Bosworth said to reporters. “They see the benefits to them of continued engagement.”

On her first trip last week, Mrs. Clinton jolted diplomatic circles when she spoke about a succession struggle under way in North Korea. The jockeying to succeed Kim Jong-il, she said, could undermine the six-party talks intended to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons.

Obama: combat in Iraq to end in 2010

President Obama declared Friday that the U.S. has now “begun the work of ending this war” in Iraq as he announced plans to withdraw most combat forces by August 2010.

Ominous signals

The Frontier Post
After disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, PML-N workers took to the streets and staged demonstrations in Lahore and other parts of Punjab. In the wake of unrest and violence at some places, President Asif Ali Zardari imposed governor's rule in the Punjab on the advice of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani. Business community is worried that there would be deterioration in the already distressed economic environment. Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry President Sultan Ahmed Chawla said the decision would harm economy, and further hit already dismal economic indicators. Already, foreign and local investors are hesitant in making investments in Pakistan because of the situation in FATA and settled areas in the NWFP. People are suffering from inflation, unemployment and lack of basic facilities of health and education but ruling elite comprising jagirdars, industrial robber barons are unmindful of their conditions. Eminent lawyers are also part of the ruling elite who are spearheading the movement for restoration of deposed judges charge millions of rupees for one case, whereas notable lawyers also have sizeable income. They do not realise that shops and business centres are closed not because of love for certain political party and its leaders but because of fear of damage to their property in an environment of agitation and violence. Daily-wage workers cannot go about their vocations due to non-availability of transport, and a lot of vendors are deprived of the income they earn for their families. According to an official at Ministry of Finance, Pakistan is likely to experience negative growth this year in all sectors of economy except the agriculture sector. Growth in agriculture sector is expected to be around 4.5 per cent depending on wheat production provided the government takes measures to make fertilizers available to the growers without any delay. He reckoned that if targets of agricultural production are missed, the Gross Domestic Product growth rate would be even less than one percent. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan on Wednesday revised downward all macroeconomic targets, including scaling down of GDP growth rate to 2.5 per cent from earlier envisaged target of 3.5 per cent for the ongoing fiscal year to approve the second tranche of $800 million for Islamabad under Standby Arrangement (SBA) programme. Business community has been demanding the decline in interest rate because expensive credit and high rates of electricity and gas have made Pakistani products uncompetitive in the world market. But the Fund authorities has linked decrease in discount rates with reduction in core inflation, which means that the central bank is unlikely to scale down discount rates in near future. The GDP growth target was envisaged at 4 per cent for the next budget 2009-2010. The inflation, the official said, would be aimed at bringing down from 23 to 20 per cent by June 2009. For the next fiscal year 2009-2010, the inflation target was envisaged at 6 per cent. But these are statistics with which a man on the street is not concerned. He knows that it is difficult for him to eke out a living to keep his body and soul together. The partisans should stop the nasty wrangle and focus on solving problems faced by the people; otherwise they would lose faith in democratic process, which will be a bad omen for the ruling elite of the country.
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Dated: Friday,February 27, 2009, Rabi-ul-Awwal 01, 1430 A.H.

World crisis far from over, it hasn't reached its peak yet - Putin

NOVO-OGAREVO (Moscow Region), February 27 (Itar-Tass) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that the global financial crisis is far from being over. "We're closely watching the processes running in the world economy - whether good or bad - we depend on it, and have to state that the crisis is far from being over, and has not even reached its peak yet," the prime minister said at a meeting with the leadership of the United Russia party on Friday.

At the same time, the measures taken by developed countries "are not bringing visible results yet. It means such situation may remain for a rather long time," according to Putin.

"The scale of disproportions that accumulated in the world economy is too large, and in order to clear the path to a new upturn, much has to be accomplished together with our partners in international community, and on our own," Putin said.