Thursday, August 14, 2014
Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery was detained by police on Wednesday while reporting on the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown by police over the weekend. (The Washington Post)
Armed men attempted to penetrate the Samangi airbase and the airport in Quetta but the attack was thwarted by security forces. One security man was injured in the incident and heavy firing was continuing around the premises of the attack. Helicopters were circling in the air space around the airport in the provincial capital and carrying out aerial surveillance. Military sources confirmed that the airport in Quetta came under attack. Seven to eight explosions were reportedly heard in the city. However, their nature could not be ascertained.
The aftermath of the Afghan 2014 presidential election confirms two problems of Afghanistan today. Firstly, democracy is at its nascent stage and elections are not without problems. Secondly, Afghanistan is still a fragile country and needs continued engagement of the international community.AFTER THREE presidential elections since 2001, Afghanistan is still a fragile state. Afghans and the international community hailed the most recent April 2014 election as a national voice against the militants and a manifestation of political maturity among the Afghan powerbrokers. But one of the two candidates boycotted the election process, which led to weeks-long standoff on the election and a threat of forming a parallel government. This indicates that Afghanistan is still suffering from political instability and serious political divisions. After 13 years in power, President Hamid Karzai’s inability to figure out a solution to resolve election standoffs that are acceptable to the contending parties forced the intervention of the United States. In the latest case, Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and forged a commitment from both the candidates to form a government of national unity.
Afghanistan-US Strategic PartnershipKerry urged a 100 percent audit of the votes in the presence of international observers. The audit process is not without issues but the American role shored up the need for a partnership with the US. It also shows that despite winding down its mission, the US still wields influence with the Afghan government and powerbrokers because Afghanistan receives billions of dollars in US aid. In November 2013, President Karzai convened the Afghan Traditional Assembly, where around 2500 religious scholars, tribal leaders and government officials from across the country voiced support for the strategic partnership with the US. President Karzai, however, held back his endorsement and left the partnership to be decided upon by his successor. This brought up a strong reaction from both the US and segments of Afghan society while Washington warned that refusal to approve the partnership would mean zero troop presence from all the NATO countries in Afghanistan. President Karzai argued that the strategic partnership with the US without negotiation with the Taliban would not succeed in ending the war in Afghanistan. He even remarked that the war in Afghanistan is a battle over Afghanistan’s geostrategic position. This means the US objective of denying terrorists sanctuaries in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is becoming secondary to its objectives of tackling the threat of an emerging China and a re-assertive Russia in the broader region. The US may well have such a broader objective. But in the meantime, what is crucial to Afghanistan is that without continued engagement of the international community, it is not yet ready to stand on its feet politically, militarily and economically. The country’s political fragility and the uncooperative neighbourhood necessitate a strong strategic partner. Such a partnership can be part and parcel of efforts to hold the country together and avert a repeat of the 1992 crisis as a result of the non-involvement in the peace process by the Taliban. Uncooperative neighbourhood For the Taliban strategic partnership with the US means continued fighting in the country. Their leader Mullah Mohammad Omar in his Eid message released in late July 2014 called on the candidates not to endorse the partnership and said that the war in Afghanistan would end when all the foreign troops pull out. But reservations prevail that the Taliban and their external backers may not cease violence even after a complete withdrawal of foreign troops. This is because the Taliban’s fight during last 13 years in Afghanistan centred on two agendas – one to defend the country against foreign invasion and the other to re-instate the Islamic Emirate there. The latter is an equivocal no to the current government system and the Afghan constitution, which suggests the possibility of continued fighting by the Taliban even after the complete withdrawal of foreign troops. Afghanistan also suffers from an uncooperative neighbourhood. In 2013 Pakistan said it charted a policy of “no interference and no favourites” towards Afghanistan but its apparent indifference to the presence of the Afghan Taliban on its soil proved the policy to be only rhetoric. Pakistani military is now positioned across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to only dismantle the anti-Pakistan militants. The ongoing operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) is an indicator of such a strategy; there is as yet no sign of the Haqqani Network being targeted in NWA. There have even been speculation that the Haqqani Network was allowed to evacuate from NWA prior to the launch of the operation and operate from Kurram Agency of FATA- which remains largely safe from the US drone attacks. The intensity of the ongoing spring offensive “Khaibar” launched by the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network in Afghanistan also shows the absence of any pressure on both these entities in Pakistan. These were the first operations of such a scale by the Taliban and the Haqqani Network since 2010 and the Afghan government claimed that Pakistani military and intelligence were also involved. Two options In such a scenario where the Taliban seems determined to sabotage the country’s stability with continued support from Pakistan and where the goal is to re-instate the Islamic Emirate in Afghanistan, there are only two options open to the next Afghan government. One is to proceed with the strategic partnership with the US and face the belligerent Taliban but with the potential to gradually neutralise them. Afghans in general do not want the Islamic Emirate and thus the future government must deliver to the people by closing the chasm with the public in the past 13 years. The second is to negate the strategic partnership and risk deterioration in the current political landscape as the 2014 election has shown. This option is clearly not feasible as it will lead to the military and economic dysfunction of the state. The West has already made it clear that no strategic partnership with the US means no troop presence from any country and that the responsibility for the consequences of zero troop presence lies with the Afghan government. Mr Abe will nevertheless need to pay greater heed to political undercurrents and public sentiment in the coming months as the legislation for collective self-defence is further debated, in effect placing limits on his ambitions to steer Japan to become a country with a more “normal” military.
The power struggle in Islamabad makes one thing clear: Pakistan is yet again missing the chance to become a civil economic power in the region, says DW’s Florian Weigand.. Pakistan's power struggle has all the ingredients of a classic drama: two peoples' tribunes, one a former athlete and man-about-town, now reformed and on the straight and narrow, the other a religious leader, down to earth, straightforward, but not an extremist, are both marching towards the capital city, accompanied by a growing number of followers, to topple a controversial ruler from power. The show being put on by ex-cricket star Imran Khan, Islamic cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was always the stuff of epics – what the bards once sang around the campfire is being played out today as a visually stunning TV story around the world. The two protagonists - Khan and Qadri - are aware of the power of image and are basking in their popularity. But they overestimate their influence: the classic plot would not be complete without higher powers secretly pulling strings, deciding when heroes should rise and fall. In Pakistan, these powers wear khaki and shoulder pieces.
The military feels provokedFor the generals, the "March on Islamabad" comes at the right moment. Nawaz Sharif's politics have been a thorn in their side for a long time. Firstly, Sharif puts former head of state and of the military, General Pervez Musharraf, on trial for high treason. And as if that was not already cowardly enough, Sharif joined hands with the arch enemy, India, for all the world to see, when he met with the new Prime Minister of the neighbouring country, Narendra Modi, at Modi's inauguration. Such gestures of reconciliation rub the Pakistani military violently the wrong way. The eternal enmity with its neighbor is part of Pakistan's founding myth since British India split into the two states in 1947 – and without this, the over proportional role of the military would be difficult to justify. But the military sees itself not just as a protective barrier for the subcontinent's Muslims against the Indian Hindu superior power. It is also still the biggest employer in the country. It runs hospitals, businesses and schools, army families live in so-called military cantonments, enclosed residential areas which offer a standard of living otherwise only enjoyed by the elite. Many urban middle class families have at least an uncle or an aunt working for the military. Lost potential These old structures may be comfortable for those who benefit from them, but they do not move Pakistan on in the globalized world. Because in the same urban families, obligatorily related to at least one ex officer, a well educated generation is growing up, young people with academic credentials - often achieved abroad. They are the potential basis for a civil economy, for change through trade in the region – but without reconciliation with the Indian giant, this vision has no real future. Many in Pakistan see Nawaz Sharif as corrupt and inefficient, however he does send the right signals in the direction of the country's neighbor. Regrettably, the young people feel more of a connection with the charismatic Imran Khan, who runs the risk of ending up as a military puppet along with Qadri. If the two get tangled up in a possibly violent power struggle with the present government, the military could emerge as the self-appointed last peace-keeping power and revolt again, as so often in Pakistan's history. Change of tack towards India But it is unlikely to go that far. Nawaz Sharif will give into the military and revise his policy regarding India, even if he withstands the mass protests put on by Qadri and Khan. Sharif will think back to his first term in office, which ended abruptly in 1999 when the generals seized power after he had once already stretched out his hand to India. It is almost unimaginable, that he is now risking a repeat of the event. India's Modi is also making life difficult for Sharif. After some skirmishes in Kashmir, an area disputed by both countries, Modi accused Pakistan of waging a proxy war with irregular forces – a move which does not lend itself to reconciliation. Whether these skirmishes were orchestrated by the Pakistani military or were just a convenient coincidence for them no longer matters – just as it does not matter who gains the upper hand in the march on Islamabad. In every possible scenario, the military will profit. And yet again Pakistan is missing out on the chance of becoming a regional economic power. Everything remains just as in the classic drama: as long as the military retain their power, why should they bother about the needs of the mere mortals?
The country celebrates its 68th Independence Day today with dazzling fireworks, singing competitions and a lot of other activities that are traditionally associated with celebrations known for this most significant day in the history of the country. Unfortunately, however, never before in its history has the Pakistani nation encountered such a seemingly grim Independence Day as today. Consider: The country is in ferment as its people nervously and fearfully await the outcome of this big day because our politicians have landed this nation in a situation in which further progress seems to be impossible: a blind alley, dead-end street. Needless to say, the situation that has evolved over the past many weeks, or months, has not happened by chance, unintentionally, or unexpectedly. The incumbent government of Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf of Opposition leader Imran Khan are equally responsible for this dangerous pass in the history of the country. The Prime Minister's last-ditch effort through which he sought to defuse the ongoing crisis that came as inadequate as a remedy and not in time to be effective for PTI chief Imran Khan has profoundly deepened the political turmoil in the country. More than half of the country is on lockdown where people are facing restricted access instituted as security measures. That the country's economy is going south is a naked fact that has translated itself into the recent stock slide or loss of 4.6 percent by Karachi Stock Exchange and a serious setback to the country's Eurobond prospects owing to growing political instability in the country. Moreover, dark clouds hover over scheduled IMF talks. Not only has the current upheaval adversely affected industrial output, exporters are finding it impossible to ship their consignments because of severe restrictions imposed by the government on the movements of people and vehicles. Various parts of Punjab, the largest province of the country, and the federal capital present pictures of areas that have been virtually placed under curfew, a regulation requiring certain or all people to leave the streets and be at home at a prescribed hour. According to an analyst, the intensity of security measures indicates as if, God forbid, the country has been attacked by our traditional rival, India. The situation shows that the present government's ineptness is grossly characterised by its narrow worldview because it has failed to articulate a timely response to the situation by looking at a bigger picture of the region. Aren't the country's policymakers aware of the happenings in the Middle East, Afghanistan and a likely reset in India-West and India-China relations following the election of Narendra Modi of BJP? Don't these developments underscore the need for greater political stability and improvement in the economy and the resolution of issues, particularly the simmering government-PTI conflict, in the shortest possible time? While the government of Punjab and, the interior ministry that is in-charge of federal capital's security, can be plausibly blamed for reacting disproportionately to perceived and real threats to law and order in their respective domains, Dr Tahirul Qadri's activists in particular have immensely contributed to the present woeful situation through their overt and covert threats of bloodshed on Independence Day in order to deliver for the nation a "Green Revolution". Although, Imran still seeks to remove the incumbent government through constitutional means, he has been increasingly relying on street power rather than the floor of Parliament. He too is now talking of a "revolution" - an objective that he seeks to achieve through his "Azadi March". Unfortunately, however, both of them have little understanding of real meaning of "revolution" as according to Chairman Mao, "A revolution is not a dinner party.... A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another". They must not therefore lose sight of the fact that neither Pakistan is Egypt; nor Nawaz Sharif is 'Hosni Mubarak of Pakistan'. Drawing parallels between these two countries and leaders manifests a profound lack of understanding of politics in the Middle East. Imran Khan, undoubtedly a charismatic leader, is often found excessively quoting from the founder of this country, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with a view to substantiating his arguments against the incumbent government. How ironic, however, it is that he is not aware of what the Quaid said in relation to similar situations. Addressing a public meeting in Dhaka (then Dacca), on March 21, 1948, the Quaid said: "It is in your hands to put the Government in power or remove the Government from power, but you must not do it by mob methods. You have the power; you must try and understand the machinery. Constitutionally, it is in your hands to upset one Government and put another Government in power if you are dissatisfied to such an extent". Last but not least, since our culture encourages us to fit the norm and the present situation underscores the need for greater political stability, the PTI chief must rescind his approach through which he seeks a change in existing system in a way which causes immense problems to people and endangers the future of nascent democracy in the country. Insofar as the incumbent PM - a poor student of history - is concerned, he is warned against making waves because if he continues to make too much waves, he may not last long.
Retracing some historical errors that pushed a nascent country with great potential towards disasters that still haunt the society.This August Pakistan is completing 67 years of its existence. While looking at this period one often wonders why this country with so much of potential went astray and ended up as a fragile and almost a failed state. Some blame General Ayub Khan for usurping power by derailing democracy, some accuse Iskander Mirza, the first president of Pakistan, for declaring the first countrywide martial law and abrogating the 1956 constitution. There are still some others who find fault with the shenanigans of Malik Ghulam Muhammad, the third governor general of Pakistan, for dismissing the second prime minister of Pakistan, Khawja Nazimuddin, and then dissolving the first constituent assembly. Yet if we look carefully, the rot started much earlier. The religion card that was so deftly played by the Muslim League led by Jinnah continued its spiral movement after partition. Forget about the warnings conveyed to the departing Muslims from the stairs of the Jamia Mosque in Delhi, just peep into the folds of initial years after Pakistan’s inception and you get a picture of what was inevitable to come. No surprises await you in the coming years if you untangle the web of postnatal squirms of the country. Let’s start from the day of independence when Jinnah decided to become governor general rather than prime minister of Pakistan. Everyone knows that in a parliamentary democracy head of the government is usually prime minister and being governor general as head of state is rather a ceremonial job. Being the strongest personality in Muslim League, it was well-nigh impossible for Jinnah to mutate into a ceremonial head of state. This decision perplexed many but ultimately paved the way for an ongoing tussle between the heads of state and the heads of government. Since 1947, this tug of war has marred the history of Pakistan in numerous ways; be it Liaquat Ali Khan and Khawja Nazimuddin or Muhammad Khan Junejo and Mir Zafarullah Jamali, almost all prime ministers have been expected to toe the line provided by the head of state, failing which they invited the wrath of the more powerful. In addition to opting for the governor generalship, Jinnah made another important decision on the Independence Day; for the flag hoisting ceremonies in Karachi and Dacca (now Dhaka) two Deobandi religious leaders — Maulana Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Maulana Zafar Ahmed Usmani — were given the honour of unfurling the national flag. Despite their common surname i.e Usmani, they were not related but both belonged to the Deobandi school of thought. It is pertinent to mention here that most Deobandi scholars were either with Congress (such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad) or with Jamiat Ulemae Hind (such as Maulana Hussain Ahmed Madni). Contrary to the mainstream Deobandi politics of Indian nationalism, the two Usmanis had supported the Pakistan Movement and by giving them the distinction Jinnah had rewarded them in kind. Interestingly, when the first cabinet of Pakistan took oath on August 15, 1947, there was an unlikely person to be inducted as the first minister for law. By choosing Jogendara Nath Mandal, a Hindu, Jinnah was probably trying to send a signal that despite the two Deobandis hoisting the national flag, Pakistan was not going to have a Muslim-only government. Though, ultimately the first signal proved to be long-lasting than the second and neither could Mandal survive for long nor his Hindu community had a bright future in Pakistan. In the final analysis, Deobandis seemed to have an upper hand. The same day i.e. on August 15, M. Ayub Khuro and Iftikhar Ahmed Mamdot took oath as chief ministers of Sindh and Punjab respectively. The provincial governments were taking shape and for a while it appeared that parliamentary democracy would take root in provinces as well as at the centre. A jolt came within a week when in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) Dr Khan Sahib’s provincial government was dismissed. This was the first provincial government to be dismissed in Pakistan. Dr. Khan Sahib’s full name was Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan and he was elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan — that indomitable freedom fighter from that region. The two brothers were supporters of the Indian National Congress and they had boycotted the referendum held earlier to gauge the popular support for the creation of Pakistan.
Even if the Muslim League could not tolerate a pro-Congress government in the NWFP, the rightful measure was to bring about a change within the confines of the provincial assembly rather than opting for the dismissal at the behest of the centre. This set an unfortunate precedence for all times to come and the establishment kept dismissing not only the provincial governments but the federal ones too. Examples are too many to repeat here. Another unpleasant example was set when after dismissal, Dr Khan Sahib was detained and barred from participating in political activities. He remained confined in Hazara for a couple of years. To top it all, in September 1947 the Red Shirt Movement of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was also banned and despite his larger than life stature in the freedom struggle, Ghaffar Khan was also arrested and put behind bars. In February 1948, Chaudhry Khalique-uz-Zaman was elected as the first president of the Pakistan Muslim League. Prior to this, it was called All India Muslim League and its last president was Jinnah who after becoming the governor general had relinquished the presidency of the Muslim League. In the same month, i.e. in February 1948 the Constituent Assembly met for the second time after a recess of almost six months. The second session was chaired by Jinnah himself (the first was chaired by Mandal, the law minister). An important decision taken at the second session was regarding the separation of the Muslim League administrative positions from the executive posts of the government of Pakistan. This decision was reversed later by Liaquat Ali Khan when he got himself elected the president of the Muslim League when he was still the prime minister. The second significant step was declaring Urdu as the sole national language of the country. Some members from East Bengal (the province had not yet been renamed as East Pakistan) demanded that the Constituent Assembly should meet alternatively in Dacca and they should be allowed to speak Bangla on the assembly floor. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan vociferously opposed this suggestion and reiterated his resolve to allow the use of only Urdu for the sake of ‘national unity’. This decision was to have long-lasting effects on the ‘national unity’. Another nail in the coffin of the ‘national unity’ was hammered when in March 1948, Jinnah while addressing the annual convocation of the Dacca University made it absolutely clear that there would be one and only national language in the country i.e. Urdu and no other language could be considered for a national status. We need to remember that the population of East Bengal constituted around 55 per cent of the total population of Pakistan and that Bengali populace was averse to adopting Urdu as the sole national language. Still, not even one year of independence had completed that in April 1948 the chief minister of Sindh, Ayub Khuro, was dismissed and Pir Ilahi Bukhsh was appointed as the new chief minister. It is pertinent to mention here that immediately after Partition, Pir Sahib had suggested that all the mosques in Pakistan should be advised to mention Jinnah’s name in the Friday sermons as was the practice in medieval times when the caliph’s name was mentioned in Friday sermons — luckily, nobody paid much attention to his idiotic proposal. Ayub Khuro had become the chief minister of Sindh when he had replaced Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah who was the prime minister of Sindh before Partition. Ayub Khuro was in favour of restricting the settlement of refugees in Sindh and this had created frictions with central ministers such as Malik Ghulam Muhammad and Ghazanfar Ali Khan. At the same time, some provincial ministers in Sindh e.g. Ghulam Ali Talpur and Pir Ilahi Bukhsh were hatching conspiracies against Ayub Khuro. As a first step, Sindh Governor Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah deprived Ayub Khuro of the provincial interior ministry portfolio prompting Khuro to complain to Jinnah. Khuro wanted to remove GA Talpur and PI Bukhsh as provincial ministers. On April 26, 1948, Ayub Khuro was accused of gross misconduct and corruption and removed from his post. The new CM, PI Bukhsh, was much more loyal to Jinnah and the central government. After the dismissal of Dr Khan Sahib’s government in the NWFP, the Sindh provincial government of Ayub Khuro was the second to go while Jinnah was still alive. To sum it up, at least six important seeds were sown in the very first year of the nascent country that grew into thorny bushes. First, the early signs of the power play between the head of state and the head of government became visible. Second, an unnecessary limelight was provided to the Deobandis who later on craved for even greater chunk of the pie and kept encroaching upon the social space. Third, the dismissals of the provincial governments in the NWFP and Sindh — without any vote of no-confidence in the assemblies — set the country on the path of similar dismissals. Fourth, the detention of political opponents and imposing bans on their activities could hardly cultivate democratic traditions. Fifth, the use of corruption charges became a hallmark of the establishment against political rivals. And last, the disregard shown to legitimate demands of provinces in terms of not recognising other languages has continued to this day.
Beneficiaries of a corrupt system huddle to save it.The divide in the country is becoming increasingly clear: the beneficiaries of the existent system on the one side and those fighting it for a share of the pie on the other. In between are a few who are banking on their pound of flesh irrespective of the direction the battle may take ultimately. The hurriedly-convened National Security Conference by the government was turned into an unsavoury platform for playing politics and advancing arguments favouring the continuation of a corrupt and decrepit system. The alternate arguments were available only outside the domain of the conference which was conspicuous by the absence of the interior minister and the Punjab chief minister. PTI had opted to boycott the conference. Notwithstanding the hyperbole emanating from both sides of the divide, the tactics used by the government to gag political protest can be safely construed as bordering on the fascist. Lahore has been under siege for over a week now and its link with other parts of the country effectively cut off. If the Sharifs were heading a genuinely elected democratic government, why do they live in mortal fear of political protest and why do they have to resort to imposing draconian curbs on the movement of people which is the latter’s right as per the constitution that the two brothers and their paid cronies never tire of quoting from? Blocking the roads would not stop the people from converging on the location of protest. It would only make life more unbearable for the ordinary people, thus adding further to the resentment against the government. Islamabad has already started looking like a ghost town with massive containers blocking the flow of traffic on all the city arteries. It has been completely sealed off for all incoming traffic from Rawalpindi and G. T. Road that will, in all probability, bring the main PTI procession into the capital, as well as from other parts of the country. This is all part of the fascist repertoire of the rulers who look absolutely disjointed in their response to the burgeoning crisis. It has also been virtually confirmed that the government does not plan to allow Tahirul Qadri and his people to leave Lahore and is determined to use the lethal state machinery to ensure that. PML-N’s anti-army and anti-ISI agenda keeps finding voice in their leaders’ discourses, the latest being an accusation that the former spy chief was advising the PTI. The Prime Minister himself alleged that protests against governments usually take three to four years to begin, but agitation against his government had started within one year. This fatalistic preoccupation has brought about their downfall in the past and may expedite another one this time around. The Prime Minister’s speech on August 12 was nothing but a painful harangue of what he claims his government is doing for the country. Towards the end of his speech, he offered to constitute a judicial commission, almost in passing, to look into allegations of rigging in the 2013 elections. I believe this to be too little, too late. If the Prime Minister was genuinely interested in averting a show-down, he should have taken steps a long time ago to engage the opposition in meaningful discussions with the help of intermediaries and well-wishers. But, given to indescribable arrogance and an emperor’s demeanour, he opted to remain aloof and left things to his decrepit and shameless foot-soldiers who, in addition to adding to the existing crisis, created a lot more by puking venom at other state institutions. It is also true that, with the Prime Minister in the saddle, there is little prospect of remedy. Having taken political birth in the lap of the vilest military dictator that this country has known, he is used to behaving like one himself and no amount of good advice has been able to prevail upon him to banish the demons of fascism from the manner of his governance. The democratic apron is only a camaflouge that he wears to deceive the people and hide his real spots. So, the offer of constituting a judicial commission to look into the allegations of rigging does not mark a step forward because there is a vastly pervasive feeling that the ills of governance including corruption and the lack of transparency and delivery can be traced directly to his dictatorial and overbearing style. This includes the conspiracy to rig the last elections and steal the people’s mandate through a combination of the administrative and judicial measures and the help accorded by people who were ensconced in positions of power and influence. That having been done to its most lethal effect, there is little that can be achieved by way of progress without the principal culprit first leaving the stage. It is only then that the prospect of any genuine remedial initiative would be possible. But leave Nawaz Sharif will not because he fully understands that, having stolen the last election, and with the crisis at hand and its possible repercussions, there is little that he would be able to do to influence any future election exercise either by way of securing votes on the basis of a credible performance of which there is none of, or by way of employing deceitful tactics and building mutually-beneficiary partnerships as he managed to do in 2013. So, in all probability, this appears to be his last stint in power and his coffers are not yet full. So, he needs a few more months in power to raise his financial stakes further – the principal objective of all his politics. So, what do we expect later today? With the opposition led by Imran Khan not willing to be brought over to the negotiations table without the Prime Minister first resigning, and the government hell bent on using the worst of the fascist tactics to gag the opposition and stop it from marching to the capital, the scene is set for a violent show-down that may result in the toppling of the so-called democratic government and paving the way for just what the PTI chief wishes to be done: the induction of a technocratic government to do a non-partisan accountability, the constitution of a judicial commission to enquire into the conduct of the last elections and punishing the perpetrators of fraud if any, incorporating the necessary electoral reforms and preparing for the next elections within a specified time frame. While everything else may be doable, even desirable, it is the time factor that may ultimately determine which way the country is headed by way of how it is to be governed. Notwithstanding the parliamentary system that we have, there is absolutely no harm in looking into its inherent drawbacks and reviewing options that may better suit Pakistan’s needs and requirements. A directly elected president with a cabinet comprising the best brains the country has may offer a better option for finding a way out of the quagmire that our leaders have so treacherously dug out. Pakistan deserves better than the pigmies that rule it today and whom the existent system may throw up, yet again!
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has turned down a proposal that called for removing Mir Kamal Marri, member finance of the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (Ogra) who was named in a multi-billion-rupee scam, and has directed that the case be referred to the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC). The premier’s directive came in response to a summary sent by the Cabinet Division to the Establishment Division, seeking the go-ahead for removing Marri over charges of misconduct, sources say. Later, the Establishment Division forwarded the summary to the prime minister. The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had named Marri with some other officials in the Rs82 billion Ogra scam. In a fresh reference before the Accountability Court, NAB surprisingly reduced the amount involved in the scandal to Rs26 billion, which put a question mark over impartiality of investigations. Marri had remained absent from the office for six and a half months and had gone to Switzerland during the probe. “The prime minister, however, refused to sign the summary to terminate services of Ogra’s member finance after coming to know that the FPSC had recommended that the member be ‘censured’ instead of throwing him out of office,” a source said. According to government officials, earlier the Cabinet Division had referred the case of member finance to the FPSC for initiating an inquiry into his absence from work from August 18, 2012 to February 28, 2013. After undertaking the inquiry, the FPSC suggested that the member be ‘censured’ for absence from duty without approval of the Cabinet Division, officials said, adding the Establishment Division then sent the summary to the prime minister for his removal, but it was rejected. Now, the prime minister has asked the Cabinet Division to refer the case again to the FPSC for its views. In its summary, the Cabinet Division also pointed out that NAB had initiated investigations into the conduct of Tauqir Sadiq, former chairman of Ogra, and others on the orders of the Supreme Court. NAB also filed references against Sadiq, Marri and others. The case is still pending. Marri had been part of an Ogra bench, which increased the unaccounted-for-gas (UFG) ceiling from 5% to 7% to bail out gas distributing companies in 2010. NAB has descried the move as illegal, putting the government under pressure. Now, the government feels compelled either to recover Rs49 billion, collected after the increase in UFG, from the utilities, which could result in their bankruptcy, or shift the burden on to consumers. In the case, NAB told different stories as it filed two investigation reports, which were challenged in court. In the first report, which took two and a half years, there was no allegation on a big brokerage house. However, in the second report which took only a few days, its name was included while some big names were removed. This came despite the fact that the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan had ruled out in May 2013 any insider trading by stockbrokers in shares of gas companies and a report in this regard had been presented to the policy board. The prime minister’s press secretary was contacted for his comments on the development, but he did not respond.
Nothing puts the miserable situation of minorities in Pakistan better than these words of PPP Minority Wing leader Napoleon Qayyum: “Minorities in Pakistan have got no benefit except for permission to mark August 11 as National Minority Day.” The event is relatively new in our history as the slain Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and the first ever federal minister for Minorities Affairs who was assassinated for criticising the blasphemy law, with his efforts to give minorities their rights, declared this day to be marked as National Minority Day in 2009 during the PPP government. Since then, this day is commemorated at the state and public level by organising seminars and events to remind the nation that all minorities are an integral part of this country. Though the rights of all minorities are ideologically and philosophically preserved in the constitution, their history as Pakistanis has an entirely different story to tell. All minorities in this country are facing either direct threats in the form of persecution by active militant organisations, or indirect threats in the form of social and political ostracism. The blind persecution of Hazaras, Ahmedis and Shias over the decades has qualified to be termed as genocide. The other, relatively less highlighted, form of violence is forced conversions, especially of Hindu women, which often goes unnoticed and uncommented on by the state. One does not need to look too far back to collect evidence. The recent killings of Sikh traders in Peshawar, the mob attack on Ahmedis in Gujranwala, Punjab and kidnappings of Hindus from Umerkot, Sindh bear witness to the unobstructed terror they are on the receiving end of. The culprits of the Joseph Colony Lahore incident, the Gojra incident, Abbas Town attack and several others are yet to be caught, let alone punished. Politicians’ pledges to protect the right of minorities according to the vision of Jinnah and similar such statements have lost meaning and turned Jinnah’s vision into a laughing stock. Last week a National Assembly committee was formed apparently to probe into the different attacks on minorities. These mere pledges and committees give little help to the aggrieved families who have lost their loved ones. The fact that some of these attacks were carried out not by extremist militants but vigilante mobs gives this issue a different dimension. The state has effectively failed to turn the tide of fanaticism and intolerance towards its minorities. Not only do we have to eliminate the hatemongering militant outfits, we also need to create an environment of tolerance. Starting from the curriculum being taught at educational institutions, which carries a narrow specific version of what amounts to being a Pakistani, the state needs to effectively implement a policy that ensures a society that is tolerant of all faiths and denominations.
Pakistan is a great nation, which was attained through the relentless and unwavering struggle of statesmen like Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah. On Pakistan’s 68th Independence Day, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari patron-in-chief Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) said leaders like Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto lived and died to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of the people and carried the torch of democracy for this great nation through its darkest hours. The restoration of democracy was the first step on Pakistan’s road to recovery, however a lot more still needs to be done. All our collective efforts should go towards serving the people. Full force of nations economy should be dedicated to eradicating poverty and unemployment. Solving the electricity crisis is key to nation’s development as shortfall of electricity has now crossed 7,000 megawatts that is 4,000 megawatts worse than the deficits we saw during the People’s government until 2013. Nothing improved since then except the churning out of inflated electricity bills that overcharged citizens for the power they rarely receive. The present government should come up with a proper strategy to deal with the crisis instead of fleecing the people, he added. Our Armed forces are engaged in operation against terrorists in North Waziristan and it is our duty to support our troops and do everything to ease the burden on internally displaced persons. All politicians should be focused on serving the people, not bringing Pakistan to a standstill over issues that could have been politically resolved at the right time. Bilawal Bhutto pointed out it was highly unfortunate the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan continued to selfishly argue over who should be sitting in the Prime Minister’s chair instead of doing what they were elected to do, which was to serve the people who voted for them. The only solution to Pakistan’s problems is democracy, not its derailment. Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif should not allow their fight for power to undermine our democratic transition for short term gains, he added. Charter of Democracy and PPP’s reconciliation policy are part of the sagacious vision and foresightedness of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and the rulers and politicians of today need to learn from her example. He demanded the government should announce a re-commitment to the Charter of Democracy as signed between Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to protect and strengthen the democracy that we all fought so hard for. Hailing the sacrifices of the workers and leaders of the PPP in their mission to gift democracy to Pakistan, Bilawal said it was a harsh reality our country was facing serious challenges like terrorism, extremism, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy. These burdens together pose serious risks to the very vision of our founding fathers and betrays their struggle for a democratic, prosperous and progressive Pakistan. He emphasised the norms and customs of democracy should be upheld under all circumstances. When faced with protests and political challenges, the government should have adopted democratic means of negotiations and dialogue to resolve the grievances of the opposition parties.
Sixty-eight years since the creation of Pakistan, the country will face its umpteenth political crisis today. Like most crises, if not all before it, this crisis was neither necessary nor desirable — but the democratic system can still emerge strengthened in the long run, if the chief protagonists do not let ego override good sense. For the government, the announcement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Tuesday that a judicial commission consisting of Supreme Court justices will be formed to investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s general election is another late gamble to try and find some middle ground with the PTI. There are rightful fears of renewed politicisation of the superior judiciary by drawing it into power politics again and also questions of whether a Supreme Court judges-led commission would nullify the necessary power of review of electoral disputes the court has. But it is also true that given the intransigence of the PTI and the stubbornness, at least until recently, of the PML-N, only the highest forums in the land can act as final and binding arbiters. Better that arbiter be a commission of Supreme Court judges than some anti-democratic force in the country. Immediately, Imran Khan swatted away the suggestion of a judicial commission, although the PTI has long held that the judiciary is the right forum to decide electoral disputes — notwithstanding the simultaneous allegation by the PTI that elements in the superior judiciary last year were responsible for some of the alleged rigging against the party. Rejecting the idea of a high-powered judicial commission could either be posturing by the PTI supremo determined to deliver on his promise of a grand Aug 14 rally in the federal capital. Or it could be that Mr Khan has decided that he will do whatever he can to bring down the government, electoral reforms only being a ruse to achieve the real goal. Either way, there is a very real responsibility on the shoulders of Mr Khan to ensure that his rally remains within the bounds of the law and that the PTI does not incite its supporters to violence, directly or tacitly. The PML-N government, while still trying to disrupt the PTI rally, has not used the kind of tactics it has against Tahirul Qadri and his supporters against the PTI. Furthermore, the PML-N has consistently talked of the need for a peaceful solution to the PTI’s demands and remained open to compromise. Mr Khan and the PTI therefore should press their demands in a way that they abide by their pledge to stay within the bounds of the Constitution and the law. The real X-factor today though may be Tahirul Qadri: neither he nor the PML-N seem inclined to compromise in any way with each other. Unhappily, the country has the tensest of Independence Days ahead of it today.
Co-Chairman Pakistan People’s Party former President Asif Ali Zardari has while felicitating the nation on the auspicious occasion of 68th Independence Day Thursday also warned the people to be watchful against looming dangers to democracy in the country. Following is the text of Mr. Asif Ali Zardari’s message. “I wish to facilitate the people of Pakistan whether living within the country or abroad on the auspicious occasion of the nation’s 68th Independence Day. “The Independence Day today is an occasion to celebrate and re-dedicate ourselves to the principles for which our nation was founded 67 years ago. However, these celebrations have also been clouded by looming threats to those pristine principles on which our nationhood was founded. “On this occasion therefore we need to be watchful against the sinister machinations of the enemies of democracy who seem to have suddenly and mysteriously become active again. “The actors and self proclaimed saviors of the people who have occasionally been rearing their ugly heads have only one object in mind namely to wind up democracy. It is not new and the nation has witnessed it before also. While changing guise, pretexts and diction from time to time, these elements have always sought to push their un-democratic agenda. “Let us on this occasion resolve to squarely face the enemies of democracy and not let them derail the democratic institutions of the state. Let us resolve to collectively protect and defend democracy and to make Pakistan a truly modern, dynamic and progressive country in which there will be no place for militancy, extremism and dictatorship. “On this occasion I also wish to appeal to all to be guided by patriotism, reason and rationality and not by narrow partisan considerations in facing the current challenges. Let no one do anything that will contribute in any way to undermining or weakening democracy in the country. “Let us resolve that we will never allow the Constitution to be subverted nor the democratic process derailed. Let us rededicate ourselves to the democratic ideals and principles for which Pakistan was created. Let us also reject those who exploit and misuse the name of religion for advancing their personal political agendas. “The PPP has made huge sacrifices for the cause of democracy and will resist any attempt to derail the democratic structures. Let there be no doubt or mistake about it. “On this day, I also wish to pay tribute to those valiant sons of the soil who have sacrificed their lives defending motherland from external and external threats. I also pay tributes to the courage of all those fellow citizens who laid down their lives or suffered grievously fighting against militancy and extremism”.