Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Balochistan spending: Government unaware how its Rs170bn were spent

Federal government remains unaware how its recently allocated Rs170 billion to Balochistan were utilized. Briefing the federal cabinet on July 25 this year on Balochistan issues, the Minister for Law and Justice said that although a Commission on missing persons had been formed under the orders of the former Prime Minister and various committees had been set up to tackle other issue, yet no positive outcome had emerged. According to official documents, he said that in recent proceedings on the issue of missing persons, the Chief Justice had categorically expressed his reservations about the role of agencies concerned. The Law Minister informed the Cabinet that under Article 148(3), it was the duty of the Federation to protect each province against external aggression and internal disturbances. Although law and order was a provincial subject, yet the Federal Government could constitutionally facilitate the province under this extreme situation. He said that under Article 149 of the Constitution, the Federation could also give directions to the province, while exercising its authority, for the purpose of preventing a grave menace to the peace or tranquility of the country. However, the federal government had to be careful not to disturb the delicate balance of provincial autonomy, while giving these directions. He added that the federal government could not shirk away from its responsibility of giving suitable directions to the provincial government. The Minister for Science and Technology stressed the need for finding a way forward to the issues of Balochistan and said that the previous meeting of the Prime Minister and deliberations with the provincial government on the issues should also be kept in view. He was of the view that the situation in Balochistan had been compounded because of a lack of inter-agency coordination. An attitude of one-upmanship was affecting the smooth functioning in the provincial affairs, he said. He stated that the provincial government was incapable of handling the issue by itself. The Minister also advised that the development package announced in the past should be implemented. He said that there was confusion regarding the chairmanship of the Cabinet Committee constituted for the purpose, and as a result the committee did not meet at all. The Minister was of the view that water shortage in Balochistan was a serious issue and both Punjab and Sindh needed to address the issue on priority to give the Baloch people their due share. The Minister for Defence described the situation in Balochistan as complex. He stated that too many players were meddling in the provincial affairs, which complicated the matter. Stressing the need for devising a comprehensive policy in consultation with the provincial government, he said that the country could not afford to repeat the past mistakes and the people of Balochistan should not be treated as “children of a lesser God”. The Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan termed the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package and provincial autonomy granted under the 18th Amendment unprecedented reforms carried out by the government. He said that the situation was deteriorating despite the increase in allocation of financial resources, provision of many jobs and job quota increase. There was evidently no writ of the provincial or the Federal Government. The Minister proposed the following measures: A Special Cabinet meeting should be called to discuss Balochistan problems soon which should include all stakeholders. An All Parties Conference should be called and a Special Committee should be created on Balochistan affairs. The Minister for Overseas Pakistanis declared that national security is in a critical state. A consensus of all national parties to find a way forward was imperative, as it was beyond the scope of a single party to provide solutions to issues concerning Balochistan. Some tough choices, he said, should be made if “we have to save the country from insecurity”. The Minister was of the view that if the so-called nationalist/separatists parties boycotted the upcoming elections, it would send a wrong signal. He called for the holding of a Round Table Conference and strong economic reforms to counter threats to national security. External threat, he said, to the region could not be ruled out, as was obvious after recent border skirmishes on the Afghan border. A strategy should be worked out which should include intelligence agencies operating in the province. The Minister said that due rights to the province should be given. He felt that there was a need to revisit autonomy for Balochistan, with a new paradigm on development, on the pattern of the Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan Package. The Deputy Prime Minister/ Senior Minister for Industries reminded Cabinet members that the government’s focus had been primarily on energy and Balochistan issues. He was of the view that the Balochistan package was a comprehensive one. However, its implementation had been an issue, he said. Balochistan, he said, could not be viewed as a uni-dimensional issue. Instead, he said, there was a need for complete understanding, adding that implementation on the Balochistan package was critical. He was also against sending a message from the Cabinet’s platform which would further complicate matters. The Minister for Benazir Income Support Programme informed the Cabinet members of the utility of the programme, owing to its out-reach to the poor and under privileged segment of the society indeed. She stated that as a result of the interaction with the citizens, civil society, social welfare organisations etc, almost 100,000 Balochi women had made NICs, which was unprecedented and a major step towards emancipation of women. Over 500 youths had been given employment. A significant change is being brought about. The Minister stated that the people of Balochistan always respected the efforts of the federal government made for their benefit. She was of the view that although much more needs to be done yet we should view the glass as half full not half empty. The Minister for Safron focused his views, on angry Baloch Sardars sitting in exile and felt that they should be pacified through efforts of the pro-government Sardars. He stated that the situation in Balochistan was not a simple law and order issue but a full fledged insurgency that is spreading. The Minister for Information and Broadcasting stated that it would be embarrassing for the government, if in the ongoing proceedings of the Supreme Court on missing persons, the Court gives a ruling that the Federal Government has failed to perform. The Minister was in favour of 2- 3 members Coordination Committee sitting alongwith the military leadership under the Prime Minister to resolve the matters. He was against big forums deliberating such issues. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Petroleum and Natural Resources stated that the Balochistan issue needed a political, not an economic solution only. The Minister for Law and Justice felt the need for a legal-cum-political program. He was of the view that a sub-committee should be created to report on the reasons, ways and means, to resolve the issue which should be presented in a Special Meeting of the Cabinet. The focus on the report should also be on missing persons, the Supreme Court pronouncements and the dialogue with the dissident Sardars. Recalling the Balochistan crisis in the 70s, the Minister for Political Affairs stated that although the then government under Prime Minister Zulfikar All Bhutto in 1977, had worked out a solution along with the Opposition, General Ziaul Haq stalled its implementation and was thus responsible for the crisis. The current army leadership should be taken on board to find out the solution. The Minister for Defence Production stated that the federal government’s direct intervention might not be appropriate. A profile committee should be made to talk to the dissident elements. A committee under Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had made certain recommendations, which should be kept in view. The Minister for Postal Services viewed that priority should be given to talking with dissident Sardars. He stated that previously, Balochistan was allocated Rs52 billion and as a result of NFC Award, Rs118 billion had been given, but no one knew where the money was spent.

Are Pakistanis extremists?

BY:Zubeida Mustafa
THERE are two ways of effecting a change in a society: from top to bottom or from bottom to top. Conventionally, it has been believed — and development and political strategies are based on this notion — that changes at the top and the trickle-down effect will create an impact at the bottom, where it is needed. Unfortunately, this approach has failed in our case for two reasons. First, in the absence of statesmanship in the leadership and its corruption, the vested interests at the top support the status quo. Hence they obstruct changes in the system or their policies for the benefit of the majority. Second, there is no pressure or demand from below to force those at the helm to reform themselves and the system they administer. Most human rights activists fighting for change adopt the top-down approach. This means that any change in mindset comes about in a small class which the leaders can afford to ignore. Hence my scepticism of this approach, which includes advocacy as has been practised in Pakistan. This was my reaction when I received a lovely book from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Inteha Pasandi sey Nijaat Mumkin hai. The optimistic tone of the title at least forces one to read it in the hope of finding solutions. Experts such as I.A. Rehman, Dr Mubarak Ali, Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Mehdi Hasan, etc, give an excellent analysis of the extremism and militancy that plague this country today. Will those who need to be convinced read this book? Or will this be another attempt to preach to the already converted? If the idea is to get the authorities to accept the enlightened suggestions put forward in the book, it is doubtful if these words of wisdom will actually change anything. Policymakers are the ones who are supposed to act when you demand a new social contract, revision of our textbooks or the introduction of economic justice by reforming our social and political structures. Will they? Not without public pressure from below. Only when the masses feel the need for change will they create the demand that will force the government to act. In the absence of this demand the powers that be get away with all their anti-people shenanigans. This demand also has to be mobilised and channelised. Change has been slow in coming to our society because we do not have leaders of public opinion to create a progressive mindset and give a focus to opinion at the grass roots. This is basically the function of political parties. They have, however, failed to play this role because our democracy — even in the phases when it has existed — has been a sham. The political representatives have not felt the need to gather their constituents behind them as they have devised other ways of winning votes. Only activists with a liberal agenda working on the ground at the grass roots have managed to mobilise the people and effect some changes in their lives. But they have not made an impact nationally because their reach and resources are limited. As a result, our society displays a dichotomy that is mind-boggling. The visible layer that is organised, educated and affluent — but is in a minority — demonstrates a growing trend towards religiosity and extremism. Some sections even tend to be militant. For the masses that live below the poverty line, religion is limited to going to the mosque, fasting in Ramazan and observing the ‘Islamic’ dress code. Their opinions cannot even be defined as being extremist, intolerant or militant in the way some opinion surveys project them to be. As for disrupting law and order, that is beyond them. Parveen Rahman, director of the Orangi Pilot Programme Research Training Institute, who has been working at the grass roots in the low-income localities of Karachi and rural Sindh and Punjab, says she is surprised by the patience and lack of aggression shown by people in the face of extreme hardship created by the collapse of the state. Apart from the terrorism unleashed by Islamist militants who are driven by their political goal of seizing power, the violence that is tearing our society apart is related to issues not of a religious nature. The media, academia and the middle class have been penetrated by organised groups — be they the Islami Jamiat Talaba, the Jamaat-i-Islami, Al Huda — or parties that continue to play their proselytising role concertedly. They also provide welfare services through organised networks whose presence cannot be ignored. They win the confidence of the students and the mosque-going and TV-watching middle classes. Parveen Rahman confirms that only by interacting with the people, identifying with them and ensuring that some benefits accrue to them can you win their trust and mobilise them. In his insightful book, Pakistan: Social and Cultural Transformation in a Muslim Nation, Prof Mohammad Qadeer, a professor emeritus from Queen’s University, Canada, points out that developments in Pakistan have “widened the chasm between private and public spaces” with public interest being trumped by private commitments. This is reflected in pervasive corruption and inefficiency. This has left people feeling isolated and insecure. The religious parties are scrambling to fill the vacuum so created, while liberal and secular opinion lags behind as it lacks adequate structures to counteract the religious thrust. This is the area that needs to be addressed by liberals if the country is to be saved from the scourge of religious extremism. The poor are no problem.

AIDS-free generation in Pakistan

BY:Waqas Banoori
The stigmatization of HIV/AIDS has been made so much in our society that it has resulted in the hatred and disgust of any infected individual. It has reached to a point that an infectee would never come out to speak that he has been infected with the disease. Caring less that it is just a disease, similar to cancer, tuberculosis, hepatitis or any other epidemic that is life taking; we have developed a behavior that secludes the affect­ees from the normal life. At present, Pakistan has few testing centers and a total of fifteen treatment centers all over the country. The prevalence is low; however the number of cases is growing. According to the statistics of National AIDS Control Programme, around 4,000 HIV positive people are receiving care at their treatment and care centers. Yet, the number of affected people is unknown due to the general stigmatization, lesser inclination towards testing and the foremost being an unaware society. Let us be clear that no country can possibly know the strength of any epidemic without proper testing system. HIV is an epidemic, and we are unaware of the number of people who are infected with the virus, and who need to be taken care of. The testing system is easy to use, and the advanced research allows a person to test it privately in one’s privacy also. However, it’s better to go for the testing centers to get authentic result. The most common testing systems are the saliva based tests and a series of blood tests to identify if someone is positive or negative. The statistics show that everyday 7,000 new HIV infections occur in the non-affected people. Moreover, the HIV is constantly changing its make-up, and it has not one but millions of viruses-and that is the very reason that the medical research could not find a lead to its cure as yet. However, the scientists believe that there are some promising leads, and they would one day be able to find a cure; yet the promotion of preventive measures is the best way to fight the menace at present. We have to be clear that it is a virus which can be attained only through bodily fluids, and it can pass through the semen or blood, and that all the preventive measures should be ensured at personal and governmental level to stop the spreading of the epidemic. As soon as the virus enters a body, it forms antibodies; and here it is that it can be verified if a person is positive or not. However, some people show the infection immediately, and some may show a little later. Once the infection occurs, the virus causes CD4 count to get lower. The normal count of CD4 in an unaffected person can vary from 700 to 1400, but the person infected with HIV has relatively a lower count. Researchers believe that CD4 count at 350 must be treated, and proper healthcare along with usage of drugs should be followed. For instance, if a person has a CD4 count at 350 and he doesn’t use therapy, it would result in developing other allied diseases. It would also cause further lowering of the count, taking things to worst. However, if a person starts drug therapy at the same count, the CD4 count is expected to reach to 500 at average, which is pretty normal. Let us put another instance where the CD4 count is 200 and this is the point where one contracts AIDS; it brings in various AIDS defining illnesses which include lung diseases, pneumonias, TB and other viral diseases. If a person gets into this stage, the life span is left for 6 to 8 months. Even yet, if a person starts therapy at this stage, the chances are that one can live for up to another 10 years. It brings in chances of reasonably healthy life for a good number of years. Let me put up that the scientists have found people with a CD4 count of zero, and even then those people came back in life using the drug therapy. What matters is the treatment; if the treatment begins at the CD4 count of 350, one can expect a very normal life. It adds that the pain also disappears with time. The drug therapy normally achieves a count of 500; however there are instances where people have been able to take the count back to 700 or higher even. It surely confirms that country like Pakistan is very much able to control the disease at its early stages, and that it can employ resources which can ensure the barring of the epidemic at this very stage; and impede any situation which is worse in the future. As much as HIV infected people are concerned, we have to consider their bodies as machines which are infected by a virus. So, if one takes antivirus to stop the assault of virus on the machine; the virus shall be unable to harm the machine. Similarly, if HIV infected people use the drug therapy, and lead a healthy lifestyle, they can surely force the virus of HIV not to harm them. Now let us understand, the drug therapy helps in prevention only and it is not a cure; however the drug prevents virus to be made in the body. The point is that HIV exists in the body, and that it cannot produce virus while using the therapy. It makes the virus non-infectious. With time, the virus gets fully suppressed and it takes almost 6 months for a virus to be fully suppressed with proper drug therapy and a healthy lifestyle. Coming to the point, HIV testing is the first part of the subject if someone needs therapy. We have to turn the tide against the epidemic, and fight along with the world to handle any unforeseen troubles in the future; for Pakistan is already fighting a number of epidemics. For this, we have to bring in general acceptance to the infected individuals. We have to accept that HIV/AIDS is a disease, and we have to fight it, rather than to stigmatize it. We have to take steps to ensure that the people are tested, the infected ones are dealt with the therapy, and that full suppression of the virus has to be attained to ensure an AIDS-free generation.

Pakistan: Religious freedom and blasphemy

The US State Department’s Religious Freedoms Report for 2011 makes an interesting study of minorities’ position in Muslim countries (and beyond), particularly with regard to political changes brought about by the Arab Spring. Despite what the western press, public and polity have embraced as positive advances, particularly in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, there are growing concerns among religious and ethnic minorities in these countries about freedoms generally, and religious freedoms in particular, under increasingly rightist and Islamist setups. These are not the easiest of these societies’ features for the wider world to understand at a glance, yet the report rightly notes their significance for the months and years to come. As regards Pakistan, our controversial blasphemy law seems to have touched a raw nerve, and rightly so. Few arguments, if any, can be seriously circulated that disprove its misuse, if not abuse, for purposes as far removed from its original elan as it is possible to imagine. It was unfortunate, to say the least, that civil society watched dumbfounded when former governor (late) Salman Taseer’s bold stand for a poor Christan female victim of the law earned him a fanatical assassin’s bullets. And the tragedy degenerated into a bigger travesty of justice when the deranged murderer was lauded, even lionised by people whose minds can only be described as warped. It bears noting that conspiracy theorists tracing the genesis of Islamic radicalism to the west’s need for a ‘replacement’ global enemy after the fall of communism miss the real thrust of the problem. It is more an unintended consequence of relying on extremist elements to achieve overtly political gains, particularly the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, a leg of the Great Game of which we were an integral part. That since then these militias mutated into well-knit fighting machines, thronging to wherever there is the slightest chance of conflict, is by now more or less widely accepted. And once their global jihad ideology began attracting extremists from across Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and even mainland America, they developed dynamics of their own that have had the world’s best military and intelligence agencies behind the curve for some time now. The west’s xenophobic reaction, particularly in France and Belgium, also finds few adherents save extremists of another kind. Such policy, though a product of economic, social as well as religious tendencies, is counterproductive, and needs checking. In our own neck of the woods, there is an urgent need to reinvent the secular, tolerant, multi-religious, multi-ethnic Pakistan of the Quaid’s vision, a country that favours coexistence, not confrontation, internally or externally. A Pakistan at peace with itself and the world was what the Quaid envisaged. We have long been critiqued for the influence we export. Perhaps a return to a more rational political equilibrium will merit similar attention, and import.

US warns of Lashkar-e-Taiba threat

Expressing concern over continued threat posed by Lashkar-e-Taiba to stability in South Asia, the United States has asked Pakistan to take more action against the terrorist group responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks. "We've urged Pakistan to take more action against Lashkar-e-Taiba," Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism told reporters in a special briefing on the State Department's annual terrorism report. "We'd certainly like to see more progress on that trial regarding the atrocities in Mumbai," he said noting that LeT "remains a major concern on the terrorist landscape, without a doubt." Benjamin said he had not seen any decrease in LeT strength and "the threat to stability in South Asia that it poses." The State Department report itself also warned that "terrorist opponents of better Indian-Pakistan relations, such as the LeT, have long planned to derail any progress by launching new attacks." The overview of terrorism and terrorist groups around the world found that Osama bin Laden's death in Abbotabad, coupled with the killing of top al-Qaida operatives in Pakistan, "puts the network on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse." The report says the June death of Iyas Kashmiri and the August killing of Atiya Abdul Rahman, al-Qaida's second-in-command after bin Laden's death, are among the top blows dealt to the organization in Pakistan. But it warns that "despite blows in western Pakistan, Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and its adherents remain adaptable."