Monday, April 8, 2013

Pakistan: Continuing disquiet over scrutiny process

The polity continues to express disquiet over the manner in which the scrutiny process is proceeding. Some big guns, including former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf have had their nomination papers for the elections rejected, although on questionable grounds. Further, the anomalies in the manner in which the Returning Officers (ROs) are accepting or rejecting nomination papers, often accepting a candidate in one constituency while rejecting him in others, speaks volumes about the chaotic and anarchic scrutiny process. To prove the point, Raja Pervez Ashraf’s papers have been rejected in his native Gujjar Khan on the grounds that there are charges and allegations against him in the Rental Power case, while General (retd) Musharraf’s have been accepted in Chitral (albeit rejected in three other constituencies) on the grounds that the charges of murder and treason against him have not yet been proved in a court of law. When we last checked, neither had Raja Pervez Ashraf been convicted in any case against him. Does the time honoured principle of ‘innocent until proved guilty’ still hold for all cases or is it to be applied selectively? So what are the criteria and principles on which the scrutiny process is supposed to be conducted, and is there any uniformity in it? The ROs have become a power unto themselves, without any guidance or training in how to conduct the scrutiny. Hence the lack of uniformly applicable principles on which the candidates are tested. As a result, absurdities such as testing candidates’ Islamic credentials and knowledge of religion, not to mention personal details, have crept into the scrutiny process with a vengeance. Unfortunately, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has chosen to distance itself from the way the process is playing out as the better part of valour. Nevertheless, the ECP cannot so easily absolve itself of responsibility for the mess. The ROs may be judicial officers in their other avatar, but in the scrutiny process they are acting as agents of the ECP. How then can the ECP turn its face away from the spreading chaos by trying to hide behind the facade of ‘no power to issue directions to the ROs’? So much for the loudly touted independence of the ECP headed by Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebraheem. On the other hand the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry feels no hesitation in addressing a series of meetings of ROs up and down the country in which he continues to encourage them to do their duty without fear or favour and according to the law. Quite apart from the inappropriateness of the CJP addressing the ROs per se, and that too at this sensitive moment in the middle of the scrutiny process, his words are having the effect of the ROs relying increasingly on the provisions of Articles 62 and 63 to judge the suitability or otherwise of candidates. We have repeatedly pointed out in this space that the credentials of these articles are, to put it mildly, suspect, since they were the brainchild of dictator General Ziaul Haq, are vague, subjective and legally unsound, and therefore cannot by any stretch of the imagination be made the basis for deciding the fate of candidates, the Supreme Court’s view on these articles notwithstanding. The other day, the architect of the 18th Amendment, Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP revealed that it was the JUI-F’s slippery Maulana Fazlur Rehman who opposed the deletion of these articles from the constitution. He might as well have added that the Maulana had plenty of support from the right wing forces in the parliamentary committee seized of the matter, not to mention some of the political ‘scions’ of the Zia dictatorship. The chaotic and anarchic scrutiny process has disappointed all the democratic forces. If some big and small guns nevertheless manage to slip through the ROs’ dragnet, it will owe more to luck and the particular RO rather than any systematic approach to what constitutes an acceptable or unacceptable candidate. Let us hope the country can be spared further angst through the process of appeals against the ROs’ decisions to the election tribunals, which appear to have their work cut out for them, given the possible volume of such appeals and the short time available for deciding them.

Flushing out the terrorism

In a fierce fighting against militants in Tirah Valley, the Pakistan Army has lost yet another 23 troops and sustained injuries to several others. A crucial military offensive launched to recapture the restive Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency has resulted in killing of over 30 militants. The TTP captured entire Tirah Valley after a fierce gun-battle with the Ansarul Islam (AI) during the last month that forced a massive displacement of locals from war-hit area. Hence a full-fledged military offensive was planned with the help of the SSG and local Amn Lashkar volunteers to root out the strong bases of the banned outfits of the TTP from the restive valley. Having back-up of gunship and jet planes, the forces are quite near to seize the area completely. In the most complicated hilly terrains of Tirah Valley, the support of the SSG and the local volunteers to the Army, pitched in the most difficult war, has lit up the hopes for retrieval. The hope against the hope is: the Army may well wrest back the control over the Valley that has become a stronghold for the TTP. The Army has entered into a decisive war against the militants. The Army advances in the Tirah Valley may gain new impetus if the political administration in the adjacent agencies and nearby settled areas also launches a serious hunt for the terrorists simultaneously. The joint action will restrict the movement of the terrorists. It is generally believed that the FATA is a strong hunting ground for the extremists whereas the fact is that the TTP network has spread across the country especially the province of Punjab. To ensure success in Tirah, the security agencies should launch a joint operation to flush out extremists across Pakistan. Otherwise, the militants, over the years, having caused a sporadic devastation every now and then, may continue to do so if they are not countered with a massive force. The militants have ruthlessly killed children, women and elderly persons; the Tirah Valley had been their last merciless endeavor. Unfathomed sadness is the political parties are engaged in political knitty-gritty to reach the power-corridors ignoring the cruelties of militants, and some of them even went on to support a political peace process through negotiations with the TTP. Thus it gave the TTP, an ample time to regroup and rejuvenate to launch a massive crusade on the Tirah Valley. Now it is time for all the political parties to show no sympathy with the TTP men rather extend all-out support to the Army to continue with its decisive offensive against the self-styled Islamists to teach them a lesson to abide by the writ of the State. Any sympathy or soft corner from any quarter at this point in time with the extremists and militants in any part of the country will jeopardize the sacrifices rendered by the Army Jawans fighting war on terror and on the other hand; it will hoodwink the holding of next general elections. The brave people of the FATA, apart from suffering massive loss of men and material, are pinning hope of their revival on forthcoming elections; and against all odds are preparing to exercise their right to vote in 190 polling stations set up to elect two members of the National Assembly. The political administration has enlisted 110 polling stations as sensitive. A comprehensive plan is afoot to provide stringent security cover to the polling stations to hold free, fair and impartial elections. The task is extremely difficult but not impossible. It, however, requires a firm political will to accomplish the job. There must not be any illusion that without taking the FATA in the mainstream, the peace cannot be established in the rest of the country. The deteriorated situation in Karachi and Quetta will come alive if the security agencies managed to flush out extremism from the country in the ongoing targeted operations; the militancy and the State, under any pretext, cannot go together especially killing in the name of the nationalism or the religion is a forgone phenomenon. All those up against the ruthless terrorism deserve unconditional support and appreciation of the nation and political leadership alike.

Karachi: Violence Overwhelms Pakistan's Largest City

Targeted killings, bombs, kidnappings and petty crime have become daily events in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and its commercial hub. The poor are living in a climate of fear while even security forces are getting gunned down. Suspected militants threw a grenade at Pakistan's paramilitary Ranger forces in Karachi in early April, killing four. It was just another attack in what has become Pakistan's most violent city. Roughly 20 million people live here. There are almost daily reports of people killed by hired guns or militants such as the Taliban and Sunni extremists Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Imran Shaukat, the Police Senior Superintendent of East Karachi, says it is a complex situation. "The targeted killing in Karachi is being done by various groups for various reasons," he explained. "There is gang warfare, groups involved in it, there are tentacles of terrorist organizations involved in it, and there is criminal elements involved in it as well." According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, more than 2,200 people died in ethnic, sectarian, and politically linked violence last year. In early March, a large bomb blast in a Shi'ite neighborhood killed 45 people. Militant Sunni Muslims, who consider Shi'ites to be heretics, were believed to be behind the attack. Imtiaz Raza, a Shi'ite who works in a small street stall, says his family lives in fear. "I am afraid to leave the house. When I leave my area, I am afraid a hit man is following me," he confided. "I'm afraid to go to the market. Something already happened to my family. My father-in-law and two brothers ran shops in the heart of a Sunni area for the last 32, 34 years, and they were killed in broad daylight." Police say they are trying to stop the killings. Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Center for Research and Security Studies, agrees with police officer Shaukat that the violence in Karachi is multi-dimensional. "The other dimension, of course, relates to the increasing presence and activism by religio-political parties, who also play host to a number of militant groups including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and many others," he noted. "[And] Because Karachi is a huge commercial and financial center, it also serves as an ATM for a number of militant groups who are out there challenging the writ of the state." People were too afraid to speak to us on camera about Taliban violence. Police since last August have arrested 191 target killers from different organizations, terrorist outfits as well as petty criminals. But none have been convicted. "There is a lengthy procedure that we have to follow. We don't have any witness protection program. Witnesses don't come forward, so we have to find some forensic evidence that connects them with the crime scene. We are working on it, and hopefully we will get them convicted pretty soon." But shopkeeper Raza says, while the wealthy of Karachi have armed guards and ride in armored vehicles, little is done -- even by the police -- to protect poor families like his.