Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pakistan: 'living dangerously' in 2012

By CNN's Tim Lister

Pakistan once more finds itself enveloped in overlapping crises. Daggers are drawn between the civilian government and the military brass; the Supreme Court is reviving corruption allegations against President Asif Ali Zardari; the Taliban and other militant groups continue to carry out suicide bombings and assassinations at will; and the economy is in dire straits.

Added to which relations between Pakistan and its most important partner, the United States, are at their lowest ebb in years, according to long-time observers of the relationship. This week, Ambassador Marc Grossman, the State Department’s lead diplomat on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is visiting several countries in the region – but not Islamabad, at the Pakistanis’ request.

"His visit could fuel anti-American sentiments and create trouble for the government which is already surrounded by storms", a Pakistani official told CNN.

One of those storms is dubbed "memogate" and is being probed by a commission set up by the Supreme Court. At the center of the furor is Pakistani-American financier Mansoor Ijaz. He says that in the aftermath of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden deep inside Pakistan last May, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, telephoned him with an urgent request. Haqqani asked him to contact the White House – to prevent a possible coup in Pakistan.

Ijaz says a memo "was crafted" and passed to the then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, on May 10th. The intermediary was former U.S. National Security Adviser General James Jones. The memo was unsigned but Ijaz insisted it was authorized by "the highest authority" in Pakistan.

Its most explosive passage promised that "a new national security team will eliminate Section S of the ISI [military intelligence] charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network etc. This will dramatically improve relations with Afghanistan." The United States has long contended that the ISI supports militant jihadist groups, but such a move would have been a direct challenge to the military’s authority.

General Jones acknowledges that he "felt obligated to forward" the memo as requested, but in an affidavit sent to the Supreme Court in Pakistan last month says: "I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."

He adds: ‘My personal opinion was that the memo was not credible."

After the memo’s existence came to light last fall, a spokesman for Admiral Mullen – who had by then retired – said "he did not find it all credible and took no note of it then or later."

Haqqani has also denied drafting the memo, complaining of an "artificially created crisis over an insignificant memo written by a self-centered businessman." But he resigned his position as ambassador to the U.S. And the most powerful members of the military establishment, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Lt.-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, have told the Supreme Court they believe Haqqani was behind the memo.

In a telephone interview this week with CNN, Ijaz said he would lay out all his evidence to the commission in Islamabad "soon" once his security arrangements were assured. He maintained that in May, ambassador Haqqani assured him he had presidential authority before he forwarded the memorandum to General Jones, but acknowledged there was "no smoking gun" to prove Zardari was behind the memo. Today, with the hindsight of the past 90 days' disclosures, he believes Zardari gave "blanket approval" to have the missive delivered to Admiral Mullen.

Whatever the origins of and motive for the memo, its publication has contributed to a sharply deteriorating relationship between the government and military leadership. Last week, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked defense minister General Khalid Naeem Lodhi, alleging "gross misconduct" after Lodhi passed the affidavits about 'memogate' from Kayani and Pasha directly to the Supreme Court – rather than through the Law Ministry.

It did not help that Lodhi also told the Court in effect that his ministry had no control over the military. Lodhi has since launched a legal appeal against his dismissal while General Kayani has issued a sharply-worded statement warning Gilani of "potentially grievous consequences for the country."

Opposition parties have also joined the fray in an effort to embarrass the government.

The Pakistani press is – as always – full of speculation about who will survive the current storm, who might perish and what (if any) course could ease the sense of crisis. Writing in the leading English-language newspaper Dawn, commentator Mahir Ali says: "A compromise on early elections may be the least painful route out of the present crisis, but preventing its recurrence will require a great deal more."

He and other commentators are not inspired by the alternatives to the current government led by the Pakistan People’s Party. "The trouble is there’s no guarantee, or even a strong likelihood" Ali writes "that the next coalition to take office will be a substantial improvement on the present variant."

Few observers expect a military coup. Hassan Abbas, a senior adviser at the Asia Society, told CNN: "Prospects of a military coup in near future are very low the as army leadership is well aware that the newly empowered judiciary, increasingly influential media and – most importantly- a great majority of political parties with significant public support will openly and strongly resist such a move."

Abbas also believes that the Movement for Justice led by Imran Khan, Pakistan's former cricket captain, could benefit from the current imbroglio.

"No party is likely to win clear majority," Abbas says. "However, another six months of planning and strategizing will enhance the prospects of Imran Khan's Justice Parry. His movement is gaining momentum among the young people and that can be a critical factor in next elections."

In the meantime, the word "paralysis" is on the lips of many Pakistan-watchers, as a three-cornered battle between the judiciary, civilian government and military ebbs and flows. So preoccupied are all parties with this domestic struggle that prospects for Washington to begin repairing its relationship with Pakistan seem dim.

In the wake of the U.S. air-strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Pakistan-Afghan border on November 26th, a parliamentary committee in Islamabad is examining ties with the U.S. The government has already rejected a NATO report that blamed misunderstandings on both sides for the deadly incident, amid growing anti-American sentiment in Pakistan.

Despite a massive U.S. aid program, a poll by the Pew Research Center last June found that 68% of Pakistanis saw the U.S. more as an enemy, while only 6% saw it more as a friend. Ahmed Rashid, author of "Descent into Chaos: The U.S. and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asia," says that anti-Americanism has been fanned by the Pakistani military, despite its close ties with the Pentagon.

Writing in the current edition of the CTC Sentinel, published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Rashid argues: "As each crisis point with the United States played out, the military ensured that Pakistan's elected, civilian government was sitting under a cloud of uncertainty and paralysis."

U.S. diplomats appear resigned to a long and bumpy process, even as they explore the possibility of talks with the Afghan Taliban. "There is no other solution here other than to work through our differences," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"We absolutely view Pakistan as an essential partner to this Afghan-led reconciliation process," he added.

Hassan Abbas, author of "Pakistan's Drift into Extremism: Allah, the Army and America's War on Terror," says the U.S. needs to think afresh. "The U.S. – Pakistan relationship is in doldrums as both sides have undue expectations from each other," he says.

"Pakistan is in the process of a major overhaul of its policy towards the U.S. and U.S. policy-makers are advised to re-evaluate, rather than merely 'review', their long-term interests in the region," Abbas adds.

In the CTC Sentinel, Ahmed Rashid sums up the situation in these stark terms. " An already weak and paranoid civilian cowed by the military one day, terrified by an angry public the next," he writes.

"Other days it is defiant and threatens the army, while at the same time it is in danger of being thrown out of office by the Supreme Court."

In the words of another commentator, "In Pakistan, this is the year of living dangerously."

Begum Naseem Wali announces come back in politics


Veteran politician Begum Naseem Wali Khan

on Saturday announced to make a come back in practical politics after absence of around seven years, DawnNews reported.

Speaking to DawnNews, Awami National Party (ANP) founder Wali Khan’s widow said that she has serviced her party well. “I have so many services for ANP,” said Naseem.

Wali Khan’s widow said she did not quit practical politics but was kept away from it.

She said that she has submitted an application to her party for contesting the senate elections. “It is my right to get a party ticket for the senate polls,” the ANP leader added.

School blown up by IGNORANT Taliban

The number of destroyed schools rose to 64 in Khyber Agency on Friday when another government-run school was blown up by suspected militants at the Torkham border, official and tribal sources said.

The sources said unidentified people had planted explosives in the Government Primary School at Bacha Mina, the border village in Pakistan’s Khyber Agency that went off at 8:40 pm. Three rooms and a veranda were destroyed by the blast while the boundary wall suffered minor damage, the sources said.

It was the only government school built at the Torkham border in the 1980s after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. At the school 95 percent children were from the Afghan refugees families residing in the border town for the last four decades.

Tension in Bara forces migration

Tension has gripped Tehsil Bara of Khyber Agency that is forcing residents to migrate from the area, Geo News reported Saturday.

According to sources, the residents of Tehsil Bara are shifting to safer places due to unrest. Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said that so far 138 families have shifted to Jalozai camp where they have been provided with food and shelter.

Sources told Geo News that there is a possibility of approximately 3000 to 5000 families migrating from the disturbed area.

PDMA has called an emergency meeting of UNHCR, WFO and UNICEF to discuss steps for the provision of facilities to new IDPs.

School in Graveyard

US envoy in Kabul for talks with Karzai on peace

US envoy Marc Grossman arrived in Kabul Saturday for talks with President Hamid Karzai on preliminary peace negotiations with Taliban insurgents.

"The United States stands ready to assist in any way we can an Afghan-led reconciliation process to find a peaceful end to this conflict," he said in a statement.

"I look forward to calling on President Karzai and discussing next steps."

Grossman's visit comes in the wake of an announcement by the Taliban that it planned to open a political office in Qatar ahead of talks with Washington on ending Afghanistan's 10-year war.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dispatched Grossman to Kabul to discuss the development with Karzai, who was reportedly concerned that he would be sidelined in the Qatar talks.

Washington has consistently said that any talks with the Taliban to end the war could only take place with the agreement of the Afghan government, which eventually should lead the process.

Pakistan likely to charge $1000 for every NATO truck

A firm run by the Pakistani military will collect a fee of 1,000 dollars for every container truck passing through the country under new conditions for the reopening of NATO supply routes, according to a media report today.

The government is contemplating the imposition of the fee to be collected by the army-run National Logistics Cell (NLC) as a condition for reopening the supply routes that were closed in retaliation for a cross-border NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

There is no proposal from the Federal Board of Revenue to impose a transit fee on ISAF and NATO containers but the government is considering a proposal to allow the NLC to charge a fee for transportation charges and for providing No Objection Certificates, sources privy to the development told The News daily.

With the approval of Parliament, the Federal Board of Revenue introduced a provision in the Customs Act of 1969 to collect a transit fee last year.

The mechanism and rate for this is yet to be finalised. "The proposed fee is not to be imposed by the FBR despite getting approval in the Finance Bill 2011," an unnamed senior official of the FBR told the daily.

Instead, the NLC will be tasked to collect the fee and to ensure that no pilferage of NATO supplies occurs during transit through Pakistan.

The NLC currently charges a small fee for granting NOC and a proposal is being considered to raise this fee to 1,000 dollars per container in case NATO supplies are restored, sources told the daily.

Under an agreement signed by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf after he joined the US-led war on terror, NATO and ISAF forces were allowed to transport goods through Pakistan without paying any transit fee.

Karzai says he met with Afghan insurgent faction

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he personally held peace talks recently with the insurgent faction Hizb-i-Islami, appearing to assert his own role in a U.S.-led bid for negotiations to end the country's decade-long war.

Karzai made the announcement hours before he was to meet with American special representative Marc Grossman to discuss progress and plans for bringing the Taliban insurgency into formal talks for the first time.

"Recently, we met with a delegation from Hizb-i-Islami ... and had negotiations," Karzai told a meeting of the Afghan parliament, adding, "We are hopeful that these negotiations for peace continue and we will have good results."

Hizb-i-Islami is a radical Islamist militia that controls territory in Afghanistan's northeast and launches attacks against U.S. forces from Pakistan. Its leader, powerful warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, is a former U.S. ally now listed as a terrorist by Washington.

Karzai's statement was also a reminder that any negotiations to end Afghanistan's war will be more complex than just talking to the Taliban. Besides Hizb-i-Islami, there is the powerful Haqqani network. All the insurgent factions have separate leaderships and priorities.

By showing he can bring other factions to the negotiating table, Karzai may hope to increase his standing in a tentative peace process that has recently been dominated by Washington. The U.S. has repeatedly said that formal negotiations must be Afghan-led, but Karzai is reportedly uneasy with his government not being directly involved in recent preliminary talks with Taliban representatives.

"It should be mentioned that the Afghan nation is the owner of the peace process and negotiations," Karzai said. "No foreign country or organization can prevent (Afghans) from exercising this right."

U.S. representative Grossman recently stressed that any future negotiations would include Afghanistan's government, and said he would meet Karzai on Saturday to discuss the way forward.

PML-N workers want elections in party


Calls for intra-party elections and not selections are growing in the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) as several leaders have urged the leadership to allow them a fair chance of contesting for district party offices.

Background interviews show the non-elected cadre of the party feels it has been cornered as neither the leadership nor parliamentarians listen to them.

A leader seeking anonymity said assembly members not only clash with each other but also with non-elected leaders on various party matters as well as utilisation of development funds.

About the polling process, one of the leaders said that candidates should be given an opportunity to speal< to the general council before voting about their plans.

This `pro-democracy` group believes that intra-party elections, as enshrined in the party`s constitution, will strengthen democratic traditions.

They say a party that cannot abide by its own constitution cannot protect the Constitution of the country.

Some of them even plan to move a court of law under the Political Parties Act if the leadership resorted to a dummy polling process.

Naeem Mir, a member of the `group`, has written to PML-N Chief Nawaz Sharif and other senior leaders suggesting several measures to strengthen the party, particularly in Lahore, by creating a balance in organisational responsibilities between elected and non-elected cadres.

Naeem Mir is a trader leader who recently resigned from the PML-N basic membership in protest at the `arrogance` of Hamza Shahbaz.

Three days ago, he retracted the decision after Hamza and he patched up their differences on the intervention of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif. In his letter, Mr Mir suggested that either the president or the general secretary at the district level should be a non-elected senior member.

Starting from Lahore, he wrote, all other offices should also be equally divided among the elected and nonelected cadres.

Mr Mir said his suggestions did not aim at promoting group politics or a party within the party. Rather these were aimed at informing the leadership about the frustration senior members felt in the party folds.

Punjab province ‘hell’ for minorities

Daily Times

Takeover of Christian property: Opp minority members decry government in PA

Opposition members from minorities lashed out against the provincial government over its possession of Christian properties, saying that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had made the province ‘hell’ for minorities.

Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q) MPA Shahzad Elahi on a point of order raised the issue of Christian’s property, Gosha-e-Aman, located at Garhi Shahu in Lahore and said that the Punjab government had made the demolition of churches its mission.

He also referred to other properties which had been grabbed by the provincial government, including United Christian Hospital in Liberty Chowk and church property in Garden Town, and added that due to such illegal acts, the province had become a “living hell” for minorities. He strongly condemned the demolition of a 20-kanal portion of a church located in Garhi Shahu. Elahi said that the Bible had also been desecrated during the demolition of the church and the windows of the church had also been smashed.

The minority member of the provincial assembly also termed the day of demolition of the church as “the darkest day in the history of Pakistan”, and said that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had also assured that the rights and property of the minorities would be protected in the country. He said that the white on Pakistan’s flag gave minorities the right to live peacefully and speak for themselves.

When the opposition member began speaking in a high tone against the provincial rulers, the speaker switched off his microphone saying that the issue would be taken up if he brought something written before the House.

At this point Elahi became more aggressive and following a heated exchange with the speaker, he pointed out the quorum in the House, adding that he would not allow the House to run smoothly unless the grievances of Christians were addressed.

After counting the shortage of required members for quorum, the speaker adjourned the session until 3pm on Monday evening.

Friday’s session began more than an hour later than its scheduled time under the chairmanship of Speaker Rana Iqbal Khan. In the beginning, only 26 members were present in the House. The treasury benches also faced criticism over the absence of its ministers in the house.

After recitation of Holy Quran and Naat, Provincial minister Nadeem Kamran answered members’ queries about the culture department during the question hour. He ensured the House that all recruitments and appointments on government seats in southern Punjab were being made on merit and all employees of grade-4 were being picked from local areas. He also said that the government would hold an inquiry concerning the theft of antiques from Jhang and other museums, especially Lahore Museum.

The provincial minister also informed the House that the government was sending its recommendations for deserving artists to the federal government, and Art Councils were also providing financial assistance so that the artists could meet their needs like children’s marriages and illness. He informed the House that the government was giving stipend of Rs 10,000 to Rs 25,000 to 21 deserving artists on monthly basis.

After the adjournment of the session, opposition members led by minority MPA Shehzad Elahi held a protest outside the Punjab Assembly and demanded that a case be registered under Article 295 (A) against Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif over the demolition of Christian property. He said that Shahbaz Sharif wanted to establish “Kalsoom Nawaz Trust” at the Christian’s property in Garhi Shahu. He also criticised the role of treasury members belonging to minorities for their silence against the violation of minority rights in the province.

Nawaz Sharif and Sindh


Nowadays, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif is worried for the people of Sindh as evident from his speeches delivered during his recent frequent tours of Sindh but those who know his past, they are not much surprised about his changing colours like chameleon.

Nawaz Sharif is responsible for neglecting Sindh miserably particularly during his two tenures as Prime Minister (total period about six years). He did not launch or complete any single mega development project in Sindh. On the contrary, he eliminated two mega development projects launched in Sindh by Shaheed Benazir Bhutto as prime minister. They were construction of Keti Bunder meant to save Indus delta – the sixth largest in the world and construction of Power Plants there and also utilization of gigantic Thar Coal Projects to produce electricity to cater the need of the whole of the country. Therefore, for the present power crisis in the country, only Nawaz Sharif is mainly responsible.

Nawaz Sharif is always talking about good governance but he should remember, he had appointed person like Jam Sadiq Ali as Chief Minister of Sindh who was highly corrupt and cruel person. He was known as Mr. 90 per cent.

Further, if Nawaz is so well wisher of Sindh, he should ask his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of Punjab to get released 10 MAF water downstream Kotri to save Indus delta as envisaged in “Water Accord – 1991” as he is not deliberately implementing it after signing of 21 years of the Accord. Nawaz Sharif, therefore, has no right to call himself as national leader.

‘PPP proves its respect for judiciary’

Federal Minister for National Heritage and Pakistan People’s Party Lahore President Samina Khalid Ghurki said that PPP has proved once again that it respected the judiciary more than others after the appearance of Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani before the Supreme court.

In her statement issued here on Friday, she said the PPP leadership always faced the allegations by appearing before the courts and proved those allegation false.

She said the prime minister himself drove to the courts by keeping the respect of the courts in his mind and had presented his point of view before the court.

The minister said the PPP leadership would prove that the propaganda against the party by the opponents was baseless and it would never take any step against the law and the constitution.

In another statement, Abid Siddiqui, PPP Lahore Information Secretary said the PPP was maker of the constitution as its founder Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had given a unanimous Constitution to the nation.

He said the coalition partners of the PPP-led government also proved that they respected the judiciary as well and they expressed their confidence in the policies of the PPP leaders including President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani.