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Showing posts from June, 2010

The endgame is nigh

The news about Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s reported meeting with Pakistan-based Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani in Kabul has led to all types of speculations in the region as well as the world. According to Al Jazeera, Mr Haqqani was accompanied by Pakistan’s army chief General Kayani and ISI chief Shuja Pasha. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan have denied this. In a recent visit to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke said that it was “hard to imagine” any reconciliation with the Haqqani network. His assertion is based on the fact that the Haqqani network is believed to be close to al Qaeda. Its ties with the Afghan Taliban, however, suggest that it would not have undertaken such a major initiative without the blessings of Mullah Omar. CIA Director Leon Panetta has disclosed that he was aware of reports that Pakistan was assisting the Afghan government in negotiating with the militants, but said that there is no concrete evidence to suggest that “there is a real interest among the Taliba…

A shadow over SAARC

Some have called it a ‘tango’, some have dubbed it as a ‘cha-cha’ while others are calling it a ‘slow waltz’, but if truth be told, India and Pakistan’s dance moves are not making the other six member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) very happy. The Indo-Pak dilly-dallying has held the regional body hostage since its very inception. Yashwant Sinha, India’s former external affairs minister, thinks that the SAARC experiment has failed as it is “no longer a vibrant regional organisation like other global examples”. We would not go so far as saying that the experiment has failed, but we would concede that as is the norm with any SAARC event, the third SAARC interior ministers’ conference was overshadowed by the two nuclear powers’ bilateral talks. Sadly, not many were interested in the actual conference. As unfortunate as that may sound, it is a harsh reality that unless and until these two settle their disputes, SAARC would remain a rubber-stamp o…

Of embezzlements and scams

The Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) is yet again in the news for all the wrong reasons. A three-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) has rejected a report submitted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on the alleged Rs 22 billion PSM embezzlement scam. The SC has taken suo motu notice of the issue. The three-member bench termed the report unsatisfactory and directed the FIA to recover the money as soon as possible. The FIA has only been able to recover Rs 17 million so far. The SC has dubbed this scam the “largest dacoity” in Pakistan’s history. There are contradictory figures on the exact amount of the embezzled funds. The PSM management estimated the losses to be around Rs 22 billion; the auditor general’s special report said the amount was Rs 9 billion; while Barrister Zafarullah submitted the 2007-08 report of the Auditor General, which showed that around Rs 40 billion were embezzled, but since the report was only for a period of eight months, Mr Zafarullah said that a complete…

Gilani’s musings

Prime Minister Gilani made some rather significant points during his visit to Multan. Mr Gilani praised the 18th Amendment and said that it has defined the jurisdiction of all state institutions, thus they should all work within the given parameters. Granted that the 18th Amendment has indeed been a remarkable achievement of the parliamentarians, there is still no guarantee that it has put an end to conflicts between state institutions. It is a hope rather than a reality, at least for the moment. Having said that, the said amendment certainly paves the path for a settling of what has in the past been a contentious issue of where one institution’s purview ends and where the other’s begins. In many other developed democratic countries, this problem has arisen historically. Given that we are a young and insecure democracy, wary of military interventions, it will take some time before Pakistan can actually evolve into a mature democratic country. The continuity of democratic rule is imper…

Class-based society

That Pakistan has a class-based society cannot be more obvious than by looking at the way our political parties behave as far as party politics is concerned. The PPP’s decision to remove the party’s Women’s Wing Lahore Chapter president, Sajida Mir, from office on disciplinary grounds is a glaring example of how our society is plagued by a class system. The ‘disciplinary’ grounds in this case were only used against one of the members who violated party discipline and not the other one, in this case Ms Fauzia Behram.

The two MPAs had a scuffle on the floor of the Punjab Assembly recently, which included both verbal and physical assaults. Apparently, Ms Mir made a point about polls being rigged more often in the rural areas since most of the people are under the influence of feudals there. She praised a female MPA of the PML-N hailing from Chakwal for winning her seat despite feudal influence over the area. Ms Behram, a feudal who also hails from Chakwal, took umbrage at these anti-feu…

Holbrooke’s change of tune

Richard Holbrooke, US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan, was in Islamabad on a two-day official visit as a follow-up to the last round of the Pak-US strategic dialogue held in March in Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Pakistan next month. Mr Holbrooke was very forthcoming during his meetings with Prime Minister Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi. The US diplomat’s ‘changed’ attitude points to the fact that there is now a realisation in the US that Pakistan has some genuine considerations on pursuing the war on terror and therefore cannot be pushed beyond the point where negative returns start.

We have of course not reached the “end of the road” as Mr Holbrooke said, but we have certainly come a long way. Pakistan is fighting this war for its own survival now. The terrorists have hit us more in recent days, especially after the successful military offensives in South Waziristan and Swat Valley. US pressure for carrying out an…

The Taliban nexus

For years the Afghan Taliban have been considered an ‘asset’ in Pakistan’s establishment circles. They were trained and funded by the state so that we would not have an ‘enemy’ to deal with on our western border. But recent events should force the establishment to rethink its policy of nurturing them. A nexus between the local Taliban and their counterparts in Afghanistan has by now become obvious. More than 30 Pakistani troops are missing after an attack by the Afghan Taliban on a border checkpost between the Mohmand and Bajaur agencies. The Taliban have claimed that they are holding some Pakistani soldiers captive. This is quite alarming. It seems as if we are looking at another Frankenstein’s monster. After the US invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban, the Northern Alliance came to power. Musharraf adopted a dual policy when it came to handing over militants to the Americans. The Afghan Taliban were protected while members of al Qaeda were caught and subsequently…

Time to shelve the KBD

It is highly disconcerting to see the honourable members of the National Assembly waste their time and energies on a futile debate. The Kalabagh Dam (KBD) issue has been raised time and again in the past and we are now witnessing another recurrence. The parliamentarians from the PML-N and PML-Q not only raised this contentious issue again but also violated the decorum of the National Assembly. Verbal brawls and physical assaults have become a norm for parliamentarians, be they from the provincial assemblies or the Centre. These so-called ‘people’s representatives’ are demonstrating how uncultured they can be. Not only is it time to take a break from such uncouth behaviour but it is high time we put the KBD issue to rest once and for all.

There are a number of reasons for shelving the KBD project. Three provincial assemblies have passed resolutions against the dam unanimously. After the recent furore in parliament, the Sindh Assembly once again passed a resolution against the KBD. When…

United we stand

Two deadly attacks against the Ahmediyya community on May 28 have made many in Pakistan finally realise the gross human rights violations that have been going on for decades now. Those who dare to defend the rights of religious minorities are usually labelled as being ‘anti-Islam’. Mian Nawaz Sharif has been called many a thing in the past except this – until now. Mr Sharif was at the receiving end of the mullah brigade’s hateful tirade after he expressed solidarity with the Ahmedis and called them “brothers and sisters”. He said the Ahmedis are an asset for the country and are equal citizens of Pakistan. These comments drew the ire of many religious and political quarters, including the Wafaqul Madaris, Jamiat Ahl-i-Sunnat and Al-Hadith, Khatm-e-Nabuwat Movement, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami and the PML-Q.

Those who are criticising Mr Sharif want the PML-N chief to seek forgiveness from Muslims all over the world because Ahmedis are not Muslims and thus cannot be called a Mu…

Bringing back the ‘white’

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s website tells us that our national flag “symbolises Pakistan’s profound commitment to Islam, the Islamic world and the rights of religious minorities” and that the white stripe in our national flag “represents the minorities”. Unfortunately, for the last 25 years, Pakistan officially forgot the rights of its minorities to ‘freely’ “profess and practice their religions and develop their cultures”. General Ziaul Haq omitted the word ‘freely’ from the original text of the Objectives Resolution through the 8th Amendment. Nobody noticed it till now when the incumbent government was able to restore the word in the constitution through the 18th Amendment. It is shocking that not only was this omission never highlighted but even the reinsertion was ignored by many until the Supreme Court’s remarks on this issue on Tuesday. The chief justice remarked how strange it was “that not even a single member in the 1985 National Assembly noticed the mistak…

The art of the possible

“These are extraordinary times. Over the last two years the world has gone through the worst recession since the Second World War,” said Finance Minister Dr Hafeez Shaikh while presenting the annual budget 2010-11 on Saturday. Critics of the budget should keep this in mind before lashing out at the government for imposing more taxes and giving less relief to the masses. Prime Minister Gilani promised a ‘pro-poor budget’ but that has not come about given the circumstances. Despite that, the finance minister was able to present a balanced budget, which has given as much relief as possible. Development spending has been increased by seven percent, medical allowance for public sector employees has been raised and a 50 percent pay raise given to government servants. Due to the security threat, the government has raised the allocation for the maintenance of law and order by 48 percent.

The allocation of Rs 131 billion for hydel, thermal and nuclear energy projects “to augment generation and…

Afghan peace jirga

Around 1,600 delegates from across Afghanistan’s political and social spectrum participated in the recently concluded three-day national consultative peace jirga in Afghanistan. The peace conference took place at a time when Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s credibility in both the international arena as well as at home has hit rock bottom. Optimists have tepidly hailed the jirga as a success while others have called it a political ploy by Karzai to get back some of his lost credibility.

The US-led NATO forces are waiting for an honourable exit from Afghanistan after fighting a nine-year long war, which has not met with the success the West had hoped for. Now there is pressure on the Afghan government to reconcile with the Taliban so as to fast track the ‘exit’ of the foreign forces. But the Taliban are not interested. They could not have been more obvious about it when the jirga was attacked on the very first day. At least five rockets were fired by the Taliban but a suicide attack wa…

The Ahmadiyyas: Pakistan's silent sufferers

The people of Pakistan witnessed two simultaneous terror attacks in Lahore on May 28, 2010. Thousands of worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers at two Ahmadi mosques, ‘Baitul Noor’ in Model Town and ‘Darul Zikr’ in Garhi Shahu, when they were attacked by the terrorists donning suicide vests, wielding Kalashnikovs and hand grenades. More than 90 people lost their lives while hundreds more were injured. The most horrendous aspect of these twin attacks was that they both targeted the Ahmadiyya community, a religious minority that has suffered in silence for far too long.

The Punjab wing of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the Friday attacks. In a text message sent to journalists, the terrorists warned that if the Ahmadis do not leave Pakistan, they should be ready to face death at the hands of the lovers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It was a grim reminder of how the religious bigots have succeeded in promoting sectarianism and also pointed towards the v…