Monday, March 23, 2009

Western officials in plot to dilute powers of President Karzai

Hamid Karzai, installed as President after the 2001 invasion that toppled the Taleban, has disappointed Western governments by failing to halt corruption.The West is considering a plan to undermine President Karzai of Afghanistan by forcing him to install a powerful chief of staff to run the Government, diplomats say.The proposal, being looked at by British and American officials, would leave Mr Karzai in the presidency, but reduce him to a figurehead role as “father of the nation”. Day-to-day control of the Afghan Government would pass to a chief of staff or chief executive with prime ministerial-style powers.Possible candidates include the well-respected interior, agriculture, defence and economy ministers.Mr Karzai, the US-backed candidate installed as President after the 2001 invasion that toppled the Taleban, has disappointed Western governments by failing to root out corruption and incompetence.His half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, has been accused of involvement in the heroin trade — a charge that he strongly denies.Nevertheless, the Obama Administration believes that it cannot dump Mr Karzai, who is seen as likely to win re-election in August.Instead, Western nations, who hold a summit on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 31, are examining ways to transfer some of his powers to a newly appointed chief of staff.The Afghan Constitution follows the US model of a strong presidency. The Western plan would effectively dilute that power by establishing a prime ministerial-style system — long a demand of the Afghan Opposition — but without actually creating the role of prime minister.Diplomats concede that it would be too difficult to rewrite the Constitution to create the post of prime minister as this would require a Loya Jirga, or leaders’ assembly, that would take months of organisation.Islamic groups could also use the occasion to push for removal of constitutional provisions on democracy and women’s rights, favoured by the West. The president must endorse all laws under the country’s Constitution, a power that it seems highly unlikely that Mr Karzai would willingly give up.Instead prime ministerial-style powers would be exercised by a new chief of staff — a change that would not require constitutional reform.The US and Britain have considerable leverage over Mr Karzai because of the enormous amount of aid that they funnel to Afghanistan.
There is a precedent of sorts: Mr Karzai recently designated his Commerce Minister, Hedayat Amin Arsala, as Senior Minister in his Cabinet. But Mr Arsala later stood down to run against Mr Karzai in the August elections.
Leading candidates for the new post include Hanif Atmar, the Interior Minister; Mohammad Asif Rahimi, the Agriculture Minister; Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Defence Minister, and Mohammad Jalil Shams, the Economics Minister.Mr Atmar and Mr Rahimi in particular are considered highly capable, with Mr Atmar seen as one of the few Afghan political heavyweights who is immune to the temptations of rampant corruption in the political system.However, there was concern in the Kabul diplomatic community last night that the new post would be seen by a sceptical Afghan public as having been dictated by the West to what is in theory a sovereign nation.Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Brussels for talks with EU ambassadors, denied yesterday that the United States and its Nato allies wanted to sideline Mr Karzai.“It doesn’t reflect any views that I am aware of in the Government I work for and it’s certainly not a universal Nato plan or anything,” he said.
In Kabul, President Karzai’s spokesman Humayun Hamidzadeh called the proposal nonsense.The United States is also pushing to install a new deputy to the United Nations representative in Afghanistan.Kai Eide, a Norwegian who is the top UN official in the country, has been battling behind the scenes to block the appointment of Peter Galbraith, the son of the economist J. K. Galbraith. But UN sources say that Mr Galbraith, a trusted Holbrooke ally, will be named as the No 2 UN official in Afghanistan this week.

U.N. warns India against anti-Muslim prejudice

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights chief urged India Monday to counter suspicion against its Muslim minority following the Mumbai attacks and warned the country's strict anti-terror measures threatened human rights.

India is still on edge after gunmen killed 166 people in a three-day rampage on the financial hub last November.

Hundreds of Muslims were detained and questioned over the attacks, angering rights activists who said innocent people were caught up in the backlash.

"The horrific terrorist attack in Mumbai has also polarized society and risks stoking suspicions against the Muslim community," said U.N Human Rights chief Navanethem Pillay.

"Both internal and external terrorist threats have led to counter-terrorist measures that put human rights at risk," Pillay said in New Delhi during her India visit.

Religious and caste-based prejudices remain entrenched in Indian society, she said.

Secular India has a long history of tensions between its majority Hindus and minority Muslims that have exploded in deadly violence. More than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed in communal riots in Gujarat state in 2002.

After the Mumbai attacks, the government rushed through new laws in December to allow police to hold suspects for up to 180 days without charge and created a new FBI-style national police force, in what was seen as an attempt to soothe public anger.

But human rights experts at the time said India's main political parties ignored concerns the new legislation could be misused in the absence of an independent supervisory body to monitor its implementation.

Pillay also questioned India's human rights record in the troubled state of Jammu and Kashmir, where security forces have been battling a 20-year separatist insurgency that has killed more than 47,000 people.

Pillay said security forces have excessive emergency powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a law which lets them fire at civilians breaking laws in "disturbed" areas and make arrests without a warrant.

"In the past two decades, hundreds of cases of disappearances have been reported in Kashmir," Pillay said. "These cases must be properly investigated in order to bring a sense of closure to the families who for far too long have been awaiting news, any news."

Analysis: Democracy within parties

—Rasul Bakhsh Rais

Hybridism is an important feature of Pakistani politics, and largely explains the ability of military and civilian rulers to stay in power and justify their rule. They combine elements of democracy and authoritarianism, and present that hybrid as ‘genuine’ democracy

Family-based politics is one of main features of the political system of Pakistan, and also one of the factors adding to its political crises. It is this aspect of Pakistani politics that makes it dysfunctional and causes imbalance between the various institutions of the state. It is also a major source of political confrontations, the likes of which we are witnessing today, as it is the personal interests of the party boss or his vision for his party and the country that determine the party line and its policy orientations. Above all, this affects how politicians understand democracy and rule of law.

All political parties have a dynastic character. This includes the mainstream national parties as well as the ethnic-regional parties. Other, smaller parties that may appear free of the domination of a single family were, and are being, run by individuals in a dictatorial manner.

Pakistan cannot make the transition to democracy without a competitive party system, which fortunately started to develop in the colonial days. Parties are indispensable to how we translate the idea of popular sovereignty into representative governance. It is also true that the political parties of Pakistan, whatever their ideological and policy leanings, have a certain support base without which they could not have survived repeated attempts by the military to fragment and destroy them.

Each Pakistani party has a unique political identity as well as a recognisable ideological orientation, regardless of the degree to which it has faded. The country can be rightly proud of the multiparty structure of its politics, which is also a reflection of the multicultural character of Pakistani society.

However, these parties have not been able to meet the public’s expectations. Students and analysts of Pakistan’s politics generally refer to feudal culture, and family- and caste-based politics to explain political instability, confrontation and the failure of democracy in the country. The main weakness, thus, is the absence of democratic culture within the political parties of Pakistan. Regular military interventions for various reasons are another reason for the country’s enduring political crises, as they disrupted civilian rule and also caused decay of institutions and the political process.

Developing a party system with a good degree of internal democracy could repair the damage caused by military interventions. It is unfortunate that periods of civilian rule in the country under the main political parties have not been very different in attitude and behaviour from the military rulers. Both demonstrated two common traits: personalised rule and hybridism. First, party leaders in power have acted within the party like dictators, taking arbitrary decisions based on their own whims rather than the collective wisdom and opinion of the party rank and file.

Hybridism is an important feature of Pakistani politics, and largely explains the ability of military and civilian rulers to stay in power and justify their rule. They combine elements of democracy and authoritarianism, and present that hybrid as ‘genuine’ democracy. One the one hand, there is freedom of expression, open politics and protection of fundamental rights; and on the other, these freedoms have a marginal influence on decision making, policy formulation and administration. Party leaders of the PPP, the PMLN and the PMLQ have formed governments in the past without embracing democratic principles in running their parties or their governments, and the experience of the ethnic/religious parties is no different.

Parties in Pakistan are thus like family businesses, with the dominant families protecting their interests. This dynastic party system could transform itself like the Congress party in India; this could only happen if leaders felt secure enough to share power at different levels within the party structure and in the different tiers of their governments.

Beyond the party, personal/family domination damages governance, rule of law and democratic culture by reducing the country’s politics to a clash between egos and party interests. If any coalitions do get formed, they are based on political convenience rather than any ideological or policy compatibility. This leads to further destabilisation of the political system.

There are two other important dimensions of the undemocratic political party culture of Pakistan that foment political crisis: regular reneging on political commitments; and betraying pledges made to the electorate. Party leaders behave this way thinking that they can get away with it, since neither state institutions nor the electorate hold them accountable for their failures or misdemeanours.

The present crisis, too, is due to this traditional mindset of the supreme political bosses of the parties, especially those in power at the centre today. The harbour the delusion that they can keep the judiciary subordinate, pack the courts with party loyalists, then use these courts as instruments of political manoeuvring, and attack rival parties’ interests with impunity. This is what has resulted in the ongoing clash between the PMLN and the PPP in Punjab, in particular.

Traditional leaders like the PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari and his non-political advisors fail to recognise that Pakistani society has changed. There is, in fact, a generational change reflected in the vision and aspirations of the younger generation and the vastly expanded professional and middle classes; they now see themselves as real stakeholders in the affairs of state and society in Pakistan.

There is now a big gap in the cultural orientation and worldviews of the new Pakistani classes and the old-fashioned political leaders. Rooted in new social realities, there is an emerging democratic coalition that cuts across ethnic, regional and party lines. This movement simply wants a government subservient to the law; whosoever is in power should be constrained by and held accountable under the Constitution.

Victory of this non-partisan social movement may resolve the long-running crises of Pakistani politics, as party leaders may be forced to respect the law and accept constitutional restraints on the exercise of political power, and may realise that running parties like despots and manipulating the political system will only perpetuate confrontations.

Pakistan has entered a decisive phase in its politics, with a struggle between democracy and authoritarianism. There is hope, however, that counter-authoritarian forces are stronger than ever before and have gained enough momentum to overcome the old order and the authoritarian party bosses.

Dr Rasul Bakhsh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Oxford University Press, 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at

Suicide Bomber Hits Police Station in Pakistan Capital

A suicide bomber targeted a police station in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, Monday evening, killing himself and one officer.Officials say police tried to stop the bomber at a point before he detonated his explosives. It is not clear how many people were wounded in the attack.Militants have staged a wave of attacks over the past few years in Pakistan, including several in the capital. The government has recently signed two separate peace deals with Islamist groups in the tribal regions near the border with Afghanistan.The country marked its national holiday, Pakistan Day, on Monday. The holiday commemorates the 69th anniversary of the movement by Muslims on the Indian sub-continent to create a separate country.

US wants Afghanistan "exit strategy", meets NATO

BRUSSELS, March 23 - The United States said on Monday it had found an encouraging symmetry of views with its NATO and EU allies after outlining a strategy review meant to end a stalemate in Afghanistan.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke discussed the review with Washington's NATO and EU allies after President Barack Obama said it would contain an exit strategy and greater emphasis on economic development.

Holbrooke stressed the need for a regional approach to the Afghan problem, including Pakistan, and of stepping up both civilian and military efforts, a NATO spokesman said.

He also underlined the importance of plans for a significant boost in size of the Afghan police force.

"I found a very encouraging symmetry of views between our NATO allies and other troop-contributing countries and the United States," Holbrooke told reporters after the meeting in Brussels.

"They put a heavy emphasis on increasing the police, the size of the police in Afghanistan," he said.

With violence rising ahead of elections in August, Obama has already committed an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, but on Sunday he said military force alone would not end the war.

"What we can't do is think that just a military approach in Afghanistan is going to be able to solve our problems," he said in an interview with CBS TV's "60 minutes".

"So what we're looking for is a comprehensive strategy. And there's got to be an exit strategy ... There's got to be a sense that this is not perpetual drift."

Holbrooke, who met NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Monday before briefing the 26 alliance ambassadors, said the review would be completed "soon".

He told the BBC in an interview that the priority would be dealing with the situation in tribal regions along the border with Pakistan, which have been a haven for militants.

"That is the main message we want to get across. You cannot separate Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.


He also criticised the previous Bush administration for neglecting Afghanistan and vowed "more troops, more resources, more high-level attention".

"I can't promise you a timetable or guaranteed success in an area this difficult," he said. "But I can guarantee you that this administration is going to do everything it can to succeed in one of the most difficult situations in the world."

Some analysts say Washington is going to have to engage in dialogue with some Taliban elements, a point Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have conceded this month. However, in Afghanistan, other experts have dismissed that idea.

And Taliban-led insurgents such as the Haqqani network, which has admitted carrying out some of the most deadly attacks on civilians and foreign troops in Afghanistan, dismiss the dialogue proposals as a trick to weaken and divide militants.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday Sirajuddin Haqqani said no Taliban would engage with Washington or Kabul.

The deployment of 17,000 additional U.S. troops, on top of the 38,000 already serving there, is meant to help subdue a resurgent Taliban and stabilise the country.

Other countries have about 30,000 soldiers helping the Kabul government under NATO and U.S. command, but have mostly been reluctant to commit more forces.

NATO-led forces deployed in southern and eastern Afghan provinces bordering Pakistan are overstretched and many of the new U.S. troops will be sent to these areas to reinforce efforts to stem insurgent activity on the porous Afghan-Pakistan border.

On Monday, eight policemen were killed by Taliban insurgents while they were on patrol in southern Kandahar province in a district just inside the Afghan border with Pakistan, the Interior Ministry said.


Obama said the "destabilising border" between Afghanistan and Pakistan was a big military challenge. Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding out there using the remote region as a staging ground for attacks in Afghanistan.

"This is going to be a tough nut to crack. But it is not acceptable for us to simply sit back and let safe havens of terrorists plan and plot," he said.

U.S. air strikes on militants on the Pakistan side of the border have raised tensions with Islamabad, and the deaths of hundreds of Afghan civilians caught in the conflict have turned ordinary people against foreign forces and the government of President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

The issue has flared again, with Afghan officials launching an investigation into a new U.S. military operation in Kunduz which killed five Afghans that police officials said were civilians, but U.S. forces insisted were militants.

Peshawar police helpless against gangsters

PESHAWAR: By falling victims to criminals operating in the provincial metropolis, policemen have been giving a clear message to the public that the force has failed miserably to ensure security of life and property to Peshawarites.

There had been gestures from the top to low ranking officers on various occasions in the past that the force was struggling against the criminal gangs and militant groups that have been playing havoc with the peace of the city.

A recent incident, in which an official vehicle was snatched from a deputy superintendent of police (DSP-CIA) accompanied by his gunmen, has sent a negative message to the public and alarmed bells in the corridors of power.

Surprisingly, the officials supposed to protect public did not offer any resistance and preferred to surrender without firing a single shot.

Suchlike incidents might have happened in southern districts of NWFP and Swat, but in Peshawar - which houses the 11th Corps of Pakistan Army, besides the headquarters of Frontier Corps, Frontier Constabulary and Frontier Police - it proved that “criminals have gained utmost strength.”

Just two days before the shameful incident of snatching of car from a DSP and his armed guards on Ring Road, armed tribesmen traveling in around a dozen double-cabin pickups were seen patrolling the area. Most of them were armed with rocket launchers while a few were carrying AK-47 rifles. Many witnessed them walking near Ring Road-Bara Road intersection with rocket launchers on their shoulders. There was no uniformed man to challenge the heavily armed people, suspected to be militants.

This was the same area where an encounter took place almost three months back and police had gunned down a fleeing tribesman. The poor stands of IGP, CCPO and others forced the head of that police party, ASP Hayatabad, to transfer himself out to Punjab in the wake of frequent threats. A sub-inspector of the same party had to involve his elders to settle the issue with that tribal group after senior police officers did not extend any help to the cop.

A number of such measures have brought the morale of the low-ranking policemen down.

Since the law and order has taken an ugly turn in the late 2006, police and other security forces have taken several measures to secure their establishments. One can see barricades erected, walls constructed and new iron gates installed at the entrances to police and army headquarters owing to security concerns.

Many routes leading towards the Peshawar cantonment have been permanently blocked, while security cameras have been installed to observe suspicious movement in the vicinity.

No doubt these steps were aimed at protecting valuable assets. These defensive measures were enough to discourage the junior police officials and bother the public in one way or the other.

One would admit that militancy is not the problem of police and the military and paramilitary forces should handle it. But it is a fact that kidnappings for ransom, robberies, dacoities, car lifting and snatching is directly to be dealt by the police force.

People are surprised as to why police have completely failed to put an end or at least minimize the unprecedented incidents of kidnapping for ransom from the city and surrounding towns.

Criminals have not even spared women who are being picked by unidentified groups to receive ransom against their release or sell them at brothels.

The statistics collected by independent sources revealed that around 100 people, from the well-off citizens to poor cabdrivers, have been kidnapped from Peshawar and nearby towns during the first two and a half months of the year 2009. They could return after payment of ransom, ranging from Rs0.2 million to 30 million.

Like scores of kidnapped people, the snatched vehicle of the DSP is yet to be recovered. The force must be more careful after the incident as criminals can use the official van for terrorist attack on any key installation. Several official vehicles, after being stolen, were used in bombings by terrorists on a number of occasions in the city.