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Showing posts from July, 2010

Exporting terror

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent remarks about Pakistan promoting the “export of terror” have started a diplomatic row. On a visit to India, Mr Cameron said that “we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country [Pakistan] is allowed to look both ways” and is able to export terror to India, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. These remarks have led to a war of words between London and Islamabad, even putting in the doldrums President Zardari’s visit to London next week. Though latest reports suggest that the president would still go on a five-day visit from August 3, cancelling the trip altogether or deferring it had been considered. Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that “any suggestion that falsifies facts and tends to put the entire onus of terrorism on Pakistan” is “totally unacceptable”.

There may be a number of reasons that prompted the British prime minister to make such candid but controversial remarks. Mr Cameron visited India with one …

A nation in mourning

A one-day national mourning was observed yesterday after a private airline’s plane crashed in the Margalla Hills on Wednesday morning. There were 152 people on board, including the crew. Unfortunately, no one survived. This has been the biggest aviation tragedy in Pakistan’s history. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost their loved ones in the crash. The whole nation mourns their loss and feels their pain. According to some reports, the bad weather conditions and poor visibility could have been the reason for the crash. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that the pilot was given directions to land. “The plane was at 2,600 feet before landing but suddenly it went to 3,000 feet, which was unexplained,” he said. Why the pilot chose to abort the landing and instead kept circling around and then going off towards the no-fly zone is something that cannot be explained without a proper investigation. The real reasons for the plane crash will not be known for sure unti…

Quelling terrorism

The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2010 was tabled in the Senate by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to amend the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. The proposed bill aims at tightening the noose around terrorists in view of the terror wave that has gripped the country in recent years. The Ordinance had lapsed last month due to the government’s negligence. Fortunately, our leaders have realised the urgency of the issue and have tabled the bill instead. The amended bill, if passed, will empower the government to detain suspects charged with terrorism to be kept in preventive detention for 90 days and this detention will not be challengeable in any court; anyone possessing an explosive substance could be arrested; illegal FM stations being used for hatemongering would be seized; members of banned terrorist outfits would not be allowed to carry on their activities under some other banner, and not be able to obtain passports or travel abroad; arms licences that had been issued to terror groups would…

The leaky cauldron

WikiLeaks, an online whistle-blower, has released the ‘Afghan War Diary’, a set of over 91,000 leaked US military reports from 2004-2009. Some 75,000 reports have been released online while the release of some 15,000 reports has been delayed “as part of a harm minimisation process” as per the demand of their ‘source’. Apart from putting up the documents on its own website, WikiLeaks gave the Afghan war logs to The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel. Though these reports have created a buzz worldwide, there is nothing earth-shatteringly new in them. According to some of the leaked reports, the ISI is helping the Afghan insurgents; there has been an increase in the use of drones by the US-led NATO forces; more than 2,000 civilians have died due to the Taliban’s roadside bombing campaign; the Taliban have access to heat-seeking missiles; humanitarian aid is being pocketed by corrupt Afghan officials, among other things. Now all these revelations may be something new for the Ame…

A policy of reconciliation

Prime Minister Gilani has said that giving an extension to Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani was “an administrative affair to which the government did not feel necessary to hold consultations with political parties”. The PML-N claims that it was not taken into confidence about the extension while Mr Gilani maintains that he “called Mr Nawaz Sharif two hours before” his address to the nation “but his [Nawaz Sharif’s] son told me that he was travelling”.

The prime minister is right when he says that he did not need to ‘consult’ other political parties on this matter but since the PPP government has adopted a policy of reconciliation, it would have been better had Mr Sharif and other political parties been taken into confidence. Mr Gilani laid stress on the continuity of the government’s tenure and said that the coalition partners have to “understand that in future no political party will be in a position to secure two-thirds majority” and now we would all have to live wi…

Bloody streets of Karachi

In just 24 hours, over a dozen people have lost their lives in target killings in the metropolis of Karachi. Since the beginning of this year, around 686 people have been killed in the city in ethnic and sectarian clashes while at least 136 of those who died were target killed. Karachi bleeds, but instead of the authorities taking charge of the situation all we are witnessing is a war of words. The Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), both coalition partners of the PPP government in Sindh, are at daggers drawn amidst the tense situation in Karachi. Both parties have accused each other for the increase in violence. MQM’s Dr Farooq Sattar accused the ANP of harbouring the Taliban and said that “with the help of land mafia, bhatta mafia and weapons mafia”, the ANP is trying to “destabilise the metropolis”. The ANP leadership lashed back at the MQM for alleging an alliance between them and the terrorists. ANP Sindh President Shahi Syed said that the ANP had l…

Why should India talk to the army?

Most Pakistani opinion-makers find the growing demand to deal directly with the military silly, writes Mehmal Sarfraz.

After the recent India-Pakistan talks debacle in Islamabad, there were some murmurs that have turned into a crescendo from the Indian side that the real people to talk to are in Rawalpindi, not in Islamabad. This has surprised some analysts in Pakistan. According to editor of The Friday Times, Najam Sethi, “Governments can only talk to governments, regardless of the issue of their legitimacy or efficacy. Even when State institutions talk to each other across borders, they do so with the approval of their respective governments. In the past, Indian officials and political leaders have talked to generals and politicians and bureaucrats in Pakistan, depending on who was in power and who was authorised by the government in power to talk to India. Today, American political leaders and generals talk to Pakistan’s political leaders and generals only with the implicit or expl…

Demilitarisation of Siachen

President Asif Ali Zardari has proposed a withdrawal of both Indian and Pakistani troops from the Siachen glacier, the highest and costliest battlefield in the world. The two neighbours maintain a permanent military presence at a height of over 20,000 feet, which has led to more deaths due to the extreme weather conditions than to each other’s military might. It must be noted that human endurance is severely tested at altitudes above 26,000 feet, also known as the ‘death zone’ because no human being can acclimatise himself to such harsh weather conditions. Thus it would be wise to demilitarise Siachen rather than keep each other engaged on a battlefield that has proved to be disastrous both economically and militarily. Pakistan had been in control of the Siachen glacier till 1984 when India surreptitiously occupied it. The requisite political will has been absent, thus India and Pakistan have tantalisingly remained short of a resolution to this futile conflict. It is in this context t…

A season for extensions

Prime Minister Gilani addressed the nation late night on Thursday for less than three minutes but made an announcement that kept everyone glued to their television screens. The prime minister, after consultations with President Zardari, gave a three-year extension to Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. This did not come as a surprise to many who were already expecting that the government would stick with General Kayani rather than bringing in a new army chief at this point when our armed forces are engaged in an intense battle against the terrorists. There had been a review going on within the power corridors, both at the governmental level and consultations with the military top brass. To quell speculation, which could have led to uncertainty within the military quarters, the government decided to announce its decision sooner rather than later. This is an unprecedented length of extension, virtually another tenure. The interesting aspect of this extension is that Genera…

Hunooz Kabul door ast

The just concluded Kabul Conference ended on a lot of ‘promising’ notes but to translate all those promises into reality will be the real test for Afghanistan. The conference was co-chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and attended by foreign ministers and high-level representatives from over 70 countries. The international community endorsed the Afghan government’s plan to lead security operations in the country by 2014. This may be wishful thinking as the facts on the ground suggest otherwise. The Afghan forces remain weak in the face of the Taliban insurgency. Even with the help of the US-led NATO forces, it has proved an uphill struggle against the redoubtable Taliban. Granted that Afghanistan is a tough terrain but apart from overthrowing the Taliban regime, the international community has not been very successful in bringing about meaningful change on Afghan soil. In fact, the narcotics trade has increased in recent years and corruption i…

Carrot and stick policy

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan for the strategic dialogue had both its up and – as expected – down side. As is the norm with all Pak-US interactions, the US adopted its usual carrot and stick policy. The ‘carrot’ in this case was $ 500 million in new aid projects. The strategic dialogue focused on 13 areas covering energy, water, health, education, information, and even export of Pakistani mangoes to the US market. A joint statement issued after the second ministerial meeting said that the US supports Pakistan’s “socio-economic advancement” and the US “will also continue to assist Pakistan in reconstruction and rehabilitation in areas that have been affected by terrorism, especially Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan Agency.” These are all welcome steps of course. That the US is now prepared to aid us in critical areas points to the fact that the Obama administration has sensitised itself to the needs of the people of Pakistan. The US is cognizant of the fa…

The struggle is thy life

July 18, 2010, marked the first Nelson Mandela International Day. Nelson Mandela, an inspiration for many people around the world, turned 92 on Sunday. Last year the UN General Assembly declared July 18 as Mandela Day to celebrate the Nobel Laureate’s efforts and contribution in conflict resolution and promoting racial harmony. The UN resolution recognised Mandela’s “leading role in and support for Africa’s struggle for liberation and Africa’s unity, and his outstanding contribution to the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist democratic South Africa.” Mandela is revered as someone who fought for the rights of his people and against the apartheid in South Africa. His struggle against apartheid in his country culminated in a great historic victory. He was imprisoned by the white minority government in South Africa for being an anti-apartheid activist. After being jailed for 27 years, Mandela led the African National Congress (ANC) to pave the way for a multi-racial democracy. A new Sout…

Pak-US relations and Afghanistan

Islamabad is hosting another round of the Pak-US strategic dialogue. If looked at from a priority point of view, cooperation against terrorism and Afghanistan top the list of issues on the table. But there are some inherent problems in the terrorism equation. Ostensibly, Pakistan and the US are allies in their fight against terrorism but when it comes to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, the Pakistani military establishment has been playing a dual game since 9/11. It was more visible in the Musharraf era, to which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has alluded in the recent past. But it would be tantamount to fooling ourselves if we think that the previous era’s policy has been done away with. Our policy was and is that al Qaeda members should be caught and handed over to the US while the Afghan Taliban are given ‘protection’. This has led to many complications.

The biggest complication is the indigenous terrorist threat at home. It is being argued that the local Taliban …

Indo-Pak: out of sync?

The dialogue process between India and Pakistan has always been a tricky business. The Indian foreign secretary came to Islamabad last month to pave the way for foreign minister-level talks this month. Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna came to Pakistan on a three-day visit this week to meet his counterpart, Shah Mehmood Qureshi. There was a burden of expectation that the talks might deliver something concrete, but realism suggested there would be no breakthrough and that this was just the restart of the peace process. The dialogue process had been stalled after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, thus a resumption of dialogue in itself may be considered an achievement.

India and Pakistan have disputes on many issues, with Kashmir being the oldest and possibly the most intractable. The other issues include Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism and water, among other bilateral issues.

When Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao met her counterpart Salman Bashir in June, it was decided that no issue o…

Religious wars

Fifteen years have passed since the massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims en masse in Srebrenica by the Bosnian Serbs. Nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys were executed by the Serbs in just five days back in July 1995. Even to this day the dead are being recovered from the mass graves dug during the Srebrenica genocide and reburied by their loved ones who survived the horror. The massacre was termed ‘genocide’ by both the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia at The Hague and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It was a modern day ‘ethnic cleansing’. The reasons behind the genocide had more to do with the Islamic faith of the Bosniaks than anything else. They were as much Slavs as the Serbs, but on the basis of faith, the Serbs set off a religious war.

The roots of this faith-based conflict date back to the colonial era and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Those who opine that the rise of ‘Islamic terrorism’ is a result of the Israeli aggression against the P…

Towering shadows

President Zardari’s visit to China seems to have ruffled some feathers across the border. Some sections of the Indian media picked up a report from Beijing’s China Daily on the first anniversary of the bloody riots in Xinjiang province of China and how its separatist leaders were “reportedly fleeing to Pakistan and settling down there for future plots”. The omission of the word ‘reportedly’ from the said news reports in the Indian media and the timing of the picking up of this particular item point to the fact that the move to bridge the gulf between India and Pakistan is not acceptable to some sections in either country. President Zardari has vowed to fight the “three evil forces” – separatism, extremism, terrorism – along with China. Both countries held joint military drills for this purpose. Xinjiang separatists were nurtured by our establishment for jihad in the past, but now that our military is fighting a war for national survival, such elements are being sought and will be elim…

Shooting the messenger

Journalists all over Pakistan took to the streets yesterday to protest against the anti-media resolution passed by the Punjab Assembly on Friday. PML-N MPA Sanaullah Mastikhel tabled a resolution in the assembly condemning “some parts of the media” for “irresponsible propaganda being hatched against democratic institutions, political leaders and elected members”, which the parliamentarians believe “may prove consequential for the future of democracy as well as the supremacy of the constitution and the law”. The resolution was unanimously passed. Journalists covering the Punjab Assembly staged a walkout and protested outside the assembly.

No sooner had the resolution been passed that we saw a change in the attitude of all political parties, who started backtracking on this issue. In the past few days there was a spate of anti-media speeches made by the members of the Punjab Assembly, criticising the media for giving too much airtime to the fake degrees issue. Tempers were high, thus a…

A letter, of sorts

PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif dispatched a letter to Prime Minister Gilani before departing for London. The letter was written in view of the upcoming all-parties national conference on terrorism. Mr Sharif has given some suggestions to the prime minister on how to make the most of the proposed moot and what initiatives should be taken before the conference is called. He stressed that Prime Minister Gilani should hold meetings with the provincial governments, armed forces and intelligence agencies before convening a national conference to chalk out a strategy to counter terrorism in the country. In a welcome move, the PML-N chief has assured Mr Gilani of his party’s support in rooting out terrorism from our soil. It is good to know that despite how his party is being dubbed as being ‘soft’ on terrorists, Mr Sharif has expressed his solidarity with the government and people and recognised that this is a national war and needs a concerted effort on the part of all players involved.

Thos…

Judicial battles

Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad, former MNA from Kasur and a member of PPP’s central executive committee (CEC), expressed his distrust in the Lahore High Court (LHC) the other day. Mr Manzoor had filed an election petition against PML-N MNA Waseem Akhtar Sheikh, accusing him of rigging on polling day in the 2008 general elections. Chaudhry Manzoor appeared before an election tribunal and said that he had no hope of any justice from the LHC, which, “due to Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif, has become prejudiced as an institution”. Coming from a litigant, this statement raises some pertinent questions vis-à-vis the credibility of the incumbent judiciary.

Chaudhry Manzoor is not the first one to express his doubts about the courts in recent days. This does not sound good for the respectable institution of the judiciary but not very surprising in view of the recent statement made by LHC Chief Justice Khawaja Sharif at a ceremony in Hafizabad. Justice Sharif not only boasted about his close ties to th…

Of flawed democracy and dictatorship

July 5 is celebrated as a ‘black day’ by the PPP ever since General Ziaul Haq toppled Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government on that date back in 1977. Thirty-three years on and Pakistan is still suffering the after-effects of that fateful military coup. Before moving to Zia’s legacy, we should first look into the reasons why Z A Bhutto became so isolated that despite a coup, not many of his supporters came out on the streets to protest against this misadventure.

Mr Bhutto’s PPP came to power on the shoulders of the 1968-69 movement against General Ayub Khan. The Left’s contribution to the movement’s success was significant. In the general elections of 1970, the PPP got a considerable number of seats because of the support from the Left. When Bhutto actually came to power after the Bangladesh debacle, he turned on the Left both within his party and outside. There was a basic flaw in Mr Bhutto: his feudal streak. Coming from a feudal background, Mr Bhutto had some autocratic tendencies that …

National effort to rout terrorism

Prime Minister Gilani will convene a national conference this week in order to evolve a common strategy to rout religious extremism and terrorism. The leadership of all major political parties would be invited to attend the conference. Prime Minister Gilani took this initiative after a proposal was put forth by PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif. The prime minister will hold a meeting of provincial chief ministers and home ministers today ahead of the national conference on terrorism. While the prime minister and Mian Nawaz Sharif have come up with a good strategy in building a political consensus across the board on how to deal with the terrorist threat, we advise the politicians to stop their war of words. At a time when the people of Pakistan should present a united front against the terrorists, we see a blame game going on amongst our politicians. It is highly unfortunate that the politicians are busy in political point scoring when the nation needs a national consensus on routing terr…

Military-industrial complex

The US has offered India top-of-the-line weapon systems. The Pentagon has said that three agreements currently being negotiated between India and the US would allow the country to share key American technologies. That the Americans are pitching for a large market, India, to sell its latest military wares should not come as a surprise. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are the largest arms suppliers in the world, with the US topping the list. According to a CRS report, ‘Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations’, “During the period of this report, 2001-2008, conventional arms transfer agreements (which represent orders for future delivery) to developing nations comprised 64.8 percent of the value of all international arms transfer agreements.” The report said that Saudi Arabia was the leading recipient of arms deliveries among developing world recipients in 2008 while India ranked second.

In a capitalist world, the aim of all businesses is profit maximisati…

Attacking the ‘spirit’ of Lahore

Lahore is often called ‘Data ki nagri’ (Data’s abode) because of the shrine of Syed Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery, more commonly known as Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh. The three suicide attacks that rocked Data Darbar (Data’s shrine) on Thursday night shook the entire nation. More than 40 people were killed while more than a hundred others were injured after the atrocious attacks on the shrine of one of the most renowned sufis of the subcontinent. It is indeed a horrible tragedy that a sufi saint’s shrine had to bear the brunt of such gruesome violence, something the sufis have always denounced. The attack on Data Darbar is not just an attack on a shrine; it is an attack on our values. This attack was a reiteration of the open declaration of war by the extremists against all the tolerant sections of society.

For the past few years, we have seen a spate of terrorist attacks on security personnel as well as civilians all over the country. Many a time these terrorists have attacked places of worshi…

A not-so-veiled ‘warning’

“I am not using the word ‘warning’ for the government, but the time has come to take a decision,” is how Nawaz Sharif gave a not-so-veiled threat to the PPP government. In recent months we have seen that Mian sahib has made it a habit to stay quiet for some time and then suddenly reappear on the scene with a bang. Why Mr Sharif felt the need to reassert himself at this point in time could be for a number of reasons. One of them could be that the PML-N is being scoffed at for having been a ‘friendly opposition’ till now and the Sharifs are getting irritated by such accusations.

Another reason for this change of heart could be because of the impending by-elections after the fake degrees fiasco. Though Mr Sharif was the first one to haul up his party’s fake degree holders, it is now beginning to dawn on him that most of the 160 or so accused parliamentarians, be they in the provincial assemblies or the National Assembly, are from the PML-N. It seems like a classic case of being hoist wit…