Monday, June 11, 2012

U.S. pulls negotiators from Pakistan, no supply deal

The United States is withdrawing its team of negotiators from Pakistan without securing a long-sought deal with Islamabad to allow trucks to again supply NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan, the Pentagon said on Monday. The decision is the latest sign of troubled ties with Islamabad and was announced just days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience because of the safe havens Pakistan offered to insurgents. Pakistan's envoy to the United States had warned that Panetta's comments last Thursday in Kabul were unhelpful to efforts to narrow the differences between the two countries and came at a critical moment in negotiations. Pentagon spokesman George Little said the decision to withdraw the negotiating team was not imposed by Pakistan. He said the team of negotiators had been there for about six weeks and deserved a rest. "I believe that some of the team left over the weekend and the remainder of the team will leave shortly," Little told reporters. "This was a U.S. decision." Pakistan closed ground supply routes through its territory last year to protest a cross-border NATO air attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. As a result, NATO has turned to countries to the north of Afghanistan for land routes as the U.S.-led alliance begins a withdrawal of its forces from the country next year. But resupplying troops in Afghanistan through the northern route is about 2-1/2 times more expensive than shipping items through Pakistan, a U.S. defense official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. Little acknowledged that securing a deal with Pakistan remained a priority and said the team of negotiators could return at any moment. In the meantime, military officials attached to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad would be able to discuss the matter with Pakistani officials. "We will continue to work through the (ground supply route) matter with Pakistan. And the members of the team that are leaving, or have, left are prepared to return to Islamabad at any moment to continue discussions in person," Little said.

Polio may be returning as 'global' threat

The grave situation in Balochistan

Fateh Ullah Khan Kundi
The Balochistan dispute had erupted with the inception of Pakistan with many ups and downs have taken place throughout the course of time but it never received much attention neither at home nor abroad. It is now to be determined whether this new found attention would do some good to the misery stricken Baloch people. Balochistan issue has been discussed threadbare in parliament and the media, at conferences and lately also in the courts. Pakistan's assertive judiciary has also jumped into the ring to address and resolve the miseries and concerns of Baloch people. Chief Justice of Supreme Court Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry travelled to Quetta about couple of weeks ago to hear petitions regarding the dizzy law-and-order situation in the province. This will no doubt provide him an opportunity to know firsthand the issues of human rights violations in Balochistan, the disappearances of Baloch nationalists and the killings of non-Baloch civilians, mainly settlers. This is one place where there is an immediate and foremost need for judicial activism to set things right for the sake of both Balochistan and Pakistan. In the US and even Europe now, politicians, academics, human rights activists and sections of the media have gradually started paying heed to the worsened security situation in Balochistan. Such efforts have thoroughly highlighted the issue on international forums. Consequently the issue has gained much attention and is a hot topic for discourse these days. The arrival of some leading Baloch separatists seeking asylum in Western countries including the late Akbar Bugti's grandson Bramdagh Bugti, Khair Bakhsh Marri's son Hyrbyair Marri and the Khan of Kalat, Mir Suleman Dawood and their efforts to internationalize the Balochistan issue is having an impact now. This has brought the Pakistani government under greater pressure with regard to the human rights situation in the province. One man who has helped focus attention on Balochistan in the West is Dana Rohrabacher, the 12th-term Republican Congressman from California who regardless of whatever feelings of homage and obeisance the Baloch people have for him hasn't done it for the love or by the way being compelled by his profound sympathy for the Baloch people or Balochistan but only and only for the sake of safeguarding the US interests in the region. The same Rohrabacher, once a speech-writer for President Ronald Reagan, frequently visited Pakistan in the 1980s at the time of the Afghan jihad. It wasn't uncommon to hear him singing praises of Pakistan for helping the US to prevail against the communists in Afghanistan. In his view, Pakistan had risked its own security to promote freedom in Afghanistan and vanquish the Soviet Red Army and communism. That is history as Pakistan is presently being reviled not only by Rohrabacher but numerous other Americans as an enemy that needs to be brought to its knees. Having described Pakistan as "a hardcore, two-faced enemy of the United States, " largely due to what for the Americans is its unhelpful policy in Afghanistan where the US military strategy is failing, it is obvious why he is promoting the cause of Balochistan's independence. The only palpable intent that constrained Dana upon submitting the controversial, non-binding resolution on Balochistan in the US House of Representatives in February was to punish and harm Pakistan. This move augmenting the existing distrust between Pakistan and the US has proved itself very heavy for the US. Rohrabacher, who according to media reports pronounced Baloch as "Bal-ook" during a recent news conference in Washington, is clearly lacking in knowledge about the Baloch and Balochistan. But it is also a fact that he helped remind many indifferent Pakistanis about the grave situation in their own backyard. In fact, Baloch who are angry with Pakistan are beginning to like Rohrabacher as they consider his initiative of some benefit for their cause. However, they will have to conceive that mere resolutions, particularly ones that have no chance to be adopted even by the US Congress and are being piloted for ulterior motives by outsiders, won't serve their cause. A better approach to highlight the issue among the masses would be to forge unity in their ranks and gain the sympathies of the people of Pakistan so that they could collectively enforce the powers sitting in Islamabad and Rawalpindi to tackle with the Balochistan crisis while fulfilling the wishes and and keeping aspirations of the Baloch people. Mistakes and excesses by successive Pakistani rulers, both civil and military, have turned the Balochistan situation into a crisis and never bothered to sit and chalk out a long lasting solution to it. This irresponsible way to handle the issue on the part of Pakistani government provided Pakistan's enemies an opportunity to infuriate the Baloch people and use the Baloch issue to force Pakistan to do their bidding in context of their international strategic agendas. The Supreme Court's intervention in Balochistan is to be welcomed, but it will mostly have a moral impact. Just like the apex court's initiative regarding the Karachi violence that couldn't bring any real change due to political realities on the ground, its move in the context of Balochistan may also fail to deliver on account of issues of Real politico. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry surely knows a lot about Balochistan because he has a domicile from the province and has deep attachment to it. It was in Quetta that he received his early education, practiced law and presided over the Balochistan High Court as its chief justice. However, his good intentions need to be supplemented by all parties to the conflict to make an impact. One such party to the conflict is the intelligence agencies of Pakistan, which not surprisingly requested an opportunity to make a presentation to the Supreme Court on the Balochistan situation. The intelligence agencies have been blamed for many things in Balochistan and it would be right for the Chief Justice and his fellow judges to hear its side of the story.

Polio eradication setback: Another case surfaces in Khyber

The Express Tribune
Despite deadlines and determined calls for its eradication, polio is far from becoming history in Pakistan. Yet another case of type-1 poliovirus has surfaced in the Khyber Agency, the only tribal district in Asia where both type-1 and type-3 poliovirus are still prevalent. And in the absence of concrete anti-polio efforts, the disease can spread quickly through the region’s children and, in turn, the rest of the country. The National Institute of Health (NIH) confirmed the case from Khyber Agency on Sunday, raising the official national polio count to 22. This is the 9th case from Khyber Agency and the 7th from Bara Tehsil this year. The victim is 18-month-old Mudassir, a resident of Akka Khel area. The child had not received any dose of oral polio vaccines either through routine or supplementary immunisation activities. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) officials, extraordinary measures are needed to counter the spread of polio in Khyber Agency. They maintain that access is urgently needed to ensure that all children are vaccinated. The officials feel special counters set up at different transit points such as railway stations and bus stops are not enough to curb the plague. WHO’s senior coordinator for polio eradication, Dr Elias Durry, also feels special efforts need to be made to ensure that the virus does not spread. However, the prime minister’s focal person on the issue, Shahnaz Wazir Ali has repeatedly cited security concerns, saying many tribal areas cannot be accessed by polio teams due to the ongoing militancy.

The Arsalan affair

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry’s son, Dr Arsalan Iftikhar, has in a statement submitted in the Supreme Court (SC), strongly refuted any relationship, intimacy or acquaintance with real estate tycoon Malik Riaz, his daughter or son-in-law. The statement is a rebuttal of the allegations by Malik Riaz leaked to the media, that Arsalan had received Rs 400 million from him to influence the cases Malik Riaz faces in the SC, along with other benefits such as travel, accommodation abroad, shopping, etc. Dismissing the allegations as “baseless, frivolous and unfounded”, Arsalan argues that no “cogent and logical evidence” has been submitted to substantiate the accusations, and even the media persons who have been fanning the story admit they have no proof of the matter and therefore their statements should be dismissed as hearsay. If and when any cogent and admissible evidence is presented against him, Arsalan said he would furnish a comprehensive reply. Arsalan has prayed to the court to deal strictly with Malik Riaz according to the law for besmirching his name and dragging him into court. Arsalan stressed that whenever he had travelled abroad, it was always at his own expense. While the two-member bench hearing the case will no doubt take account of Arsalan’s refutation of the charges against him, it will have to wait until the ‘ailing’ Malik Riaz returns to the country and deposes, as he has promised, before the court. Strictly speaking, while the charge of besmirching Arsalan’s repute has weight, it cannot be said that it is Malik Riaz who has dragged Arsalan into court. It was the suo motu notice of the spreading scandal by none other than his father, the honourable CJP, that brought the affair into the legal domain. Initially the CJP seemed inclined to head the bench, attempting justifications by recourse to Islamic history examples, but then it seemed that better sense had prevailed and the CJP appropriately recused himself from the bench. Meanwhile Malik Riaz’s plea to constitute a larger bench to hear the case of immense importance with national level implications has been turned down by the CJP in his order of June 7. Other parties have by now also jumped into the fray. Barrister Zafarullah Khan of the Watan Party has petitioned the SC to issue a red warrant against Malik Riaz in order to bring him back to the country and present him before the court. That petition is still pending, but Malik Riaz’s counsel has stated that the ill Malik Riaz will return soon and depose before the SC. Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League General Secretary Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif wants a commission (‘tis the season for commissions methinks) to be formed with former judges and heads of investigation agencies to probe the allegations against Arsalan. He thinks a probe by the SC would not be within the parameters of justice, implying a lack of confidence in the impartiality of his brother judges in a case involving the CJP’s son. The Pakistan Bar Council has similar views, arguing for the SC to distance itself from the case and hand it over to any investigation agency. These objections and reservations on the matter being dealt with by the SC constitute a vote of no confidence in the impartiality of the SC bench in such a sensitive matter having ramifications for the CJP himself. Whether these reservations are valid or not, and without imputing any partiality to the honourable judges of the bench hearing the case, the argument that since the case involves the CJP’s son, it may be considered too close to the SC for it to be appropriate for the SC itself to conduct investigations and hearings into it, is not without merit. While there are two opinions about the appropriateness of the CJP’s swift response through a suo motu notice of the Arsalan affair, since the matter is sub judice, it would not be in the fitness of things to say more than plead for a thorough, impartial, fair probe. This is critical for the reputation of the CJP, the SC, the entire superior judiciary, and indeed, for the country as a whole.