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Showing posts from August, 2010

A cricketing sham(e)

A new scandal has rocked the world of cricket. The News of the World, a British tabloid, carried out a sting operation against a fixer, Mazhar Majeed, who has alleged that seven players from the Pakistan cricket team currently on a tour in England are “in his pocket”. Captain Salman Butt, wicket-keeper Kamran Akmal, and two bowlers – Muhammad Asif and Muhammad Amir – have been named by the fixer for allegedly being involved in spot fixing, a new trend in the betting world, whereby a player performs according to something that has been pre-arranged. This new form of cheating is different from match fixing where a complete match is thrown away in return for money.

Pakistan cricket team is no stranger to controversies. From ball-biting incidents to ball tampering accusations, from imposing lifetime bans on players to reversing the bans within a few months, from changing captains like one changes clothes to accusations of match fixing, our cricketers have been in the soup for quite some …

Flood management

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Nawaz Sharif has ruled out the possibility of another martial law and said that his party was ready to defend democracy. Mr Sharif also said that just because a government has failed does not mean that democracy itself has failed. Mr Sharif asked what had a martial law ever given to this country except for poverty, a frail economy, violation of constitutional rule and human rights, apart from an endless wave of terrorism. Mian sahib has indeed taken a laudable stand by vowing to protect the democratic system. A military dictatorship is inherently a disaster waiting to happen. Those who are calling for a military intervention are opportunists who are part of every government, be it a civilian set up or military rule.

On the issue of floods, Mian Nawaz Sharif was overly critical of the government. He warned the federal government not to bypass the provinces. Prime Minister Gilani has set up a National Oversight Disaster Management Council (NODM…

Losing faith in humanity

The Taliban have hinted at attacking foreign aid workers who are helping the flood victims in Pakistan, citing their presence as “unacceptable”. Hundreds of foreigners arrived in the country following the worst ever floods to hit Pakistan in living memory. In the wake of their arrival, US officials have warned of attacks by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after receiving some intelligence reports. According to US officials, the TTP “plans to conduct attacks against foreigners participating in the ongoing flood relief operations in Pakistan” and they “also may be making plans to attack federal and provincial ministers in Islamabad”. It was heartening to know that despite these warnings, the UN has decided to continue its humanitarian work. “We would find it inhumane for someone to target us and our work, effectively harming the millions of people whose lives we strive to save,” said UN spokesman Maurizio Giuliano.

The point to ponder is why the militants are so unhappy about the p…

The Altaf saga continues

In an interview with Time magazine, President Zardari ruled out the possibility of a military coup in the light of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain’s recent appeal to “patriotic generals”. The president said that the country is going through such a difficult phase that he does not foresee “anybody in his right mind will be wanting to take this responsibility. It is only democracy that can carry this yoke.” Mr Zardari does have a point but even then the MQM chief’s audacity to contemplate such a move is inexplicable. The furore over Mr Hussain’s remarks has not died down, and understandably so. In Pakistan’s 63-year old history, we have been ruled by military dictators for more than half of our existence. In 2008, Pakistan returned to democracy after nine years of General Musharraf’s rule. Thus, giving an open call to the generals to intervene directly or indirectly in getting rid of the incumbent civilian dispensation is a clear violation of the constitution and agai…

A fair share of the pie

A report has been published in The New York Times (NYT) about Pakistan’s real motives for arresting Mullah Baradar, a top Taliban commander, at the beginning of this year. The report alleges that Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, duped the CIA into helping them find Baradar and arresting him. Some American officials agree that this could have been possible given the ISI’s double dealing in the past while others claim that Pak-US cooperation is increasing and the arrest was the result of intelligence sharing. But some Pakistani officials have now broken their silence and claimed that the arrest was actually made because Baradar had been involved in secret talks with the Afghan government and was “trying to make a deal without us”.

The NYT report quotes one Pakistani official as saying, “We protect the Taliban. They are dependent on us. We are not going to allow them to make a deal with Karzai and the Indians.” The allegation about Karzai may be true but what interest India woul…

The Marc Steiner Show

I was part of a panel discussion on the floods in Pakistan on The Marc Steiner Show. You can listen to the one-hour discussion here.

Synopsis: An update on the flooding in Pakistan

Deadly floods continue to spread across Pakistan. Over the past 3 weeks, almost 5 million people have been displaced by the worst flooding in Pakistan's history. Joining us to discuss the humanitarian and political implications of the flood are:

Mehmal Sarfraz - Op-ed Editor of the Daily Times in Lahore, Pakistan

Sahar Shafqat - Professor of Political Science at St. Mary's College of Maryland

Tahir Shad - Director of International Studies at Washington College

Todd Shea - Executive Director of Comprehensive Disaster Response Services

Marching towards tyranny, again?

Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has appealed for a “martial law-like” intervention by “patriotic generals” against “corrupt feudals and landlord politicians”. Coming from someone whose party is known for its ethnic exclusivism – despite pretending otherwise of late – and various other crimes like land grabbing, bhatta (protection money), torturing and/or murdering dissenters, Mr Hussain’s statement could have been laughed at for its sheer absurdity. The only problem is, this is no laughing matter.

When General Musharraf was in power, we witnessed a militarisation of the state and society. Because of this, the people lost respect for the army. Ever since General Kayani became the chief of army staff (COAS), he has tried to portray himself as a professional soldier with no interest in politics. Under General Kayani, the army has refurbished its image by protecting our territorial integrity and internal security, which is its primary task. Apart from fighting…

Prompt response needed

More than 20 million people have been affected in one of the worst floods to have hit Pakistan. It took some time before the international community woke up to the magnitude of the disaster. International aid is now pouring in, though still not as much as is needed. At a time like this, it is pertinent that the people of Pakistan stand by each other and help those who have been affected by the floods. It was in this backdrop that Prime Minister Gilani agreed to PML-N chief Mian Nawaz’s proposal to “set up an independent commission, comprising impartial, non-controversial and principled individuals” to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the flood victims. But it seems that there are some technical problems due to which this commission cannot be set up. Prime Minister Gilani said that the “provinces did not agree to the centralisation of funds so the proposal of Nawaz Sharif regarding the formation of an independent commission is not applicable”. The provinces did not agree to contri…

Convicting terrorists

In recent years, Pakistan has seen an increase in the number of terrorist attacks on its soil. The terrorists have not only targeted the security forces, politicians and their families but civilians have not been spared either. Sacred places like mosques and shrines have also been hit widely, yet we have not seen a single terrorist being convicted for these gruesome attacks. There are many reasons for this, the foremost being the lacunae in our judicial system.

Pakistan’s security agencies, particularly the police, lack basic investigative skills and with little or no knowledge of forensics, most of the evidence in a terrorist attack is lost or wasted. Even when the police catch the terror suspects, the legal system sets them free. When the prosecution fails to provide enough evidence to indict the terrorists, the courts are left with no choice but to let the terrorists go. The judges do have the power not to grant bail to terror suspects, but we have not seen this judicial discretion…

Lost in translation

‘Secularism’ is the most mistranslated word in Pakistan’s history. It is thus unfortunate that not only do the right-wingers define it wrongly to further their own agendas, even the Supreme Court (SC) seems to be afraid of secularism for some odd reason. Our respected lordships were quite vocal in voicing their doubts about secularism this week while hearing the 18th Amendment petitions. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry questioned the sovereignty of parliament and asked if it is acceptable “if tomorrow parliament declares secularism, and not Islam, as the state polity”. This question, coming from the highest adjudicator, should certainly ring alarm bells for those who wish to see Pakistan progress into a secular, democratic country based on the principles laid down by its founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

Our misfortunes started when Muslim nationalism entered the independence struggle and slogans like ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya? La ilaha ilallah!’ (What is the meaning o…

Joining forces against the floods

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) have joined forces to “set up an independent commission, comprising impartial, non-controversial and principled individuals to raise funds for rehabilitation of flood victims and to monitor the damage assessment process for judicious distribution of resources to the provinces”. This is indeed a welcome development given the situation on the ground. Pakistan has been hit by the worst-ever floods in living memory with more than 14 million people affected according to UN estimates while Prime Minister Gilani said that the floods have “affected some 20 million people, destroyed standing crops and food storages worth billions of dollars, causing a colossal loss to the national economy”. Mr Gilani might be right and the toll could actually be around 20 million given the fact that a lot of villages have been wiped off the face of the earth and we may never know how many people have lost their lives until the flood…

Pall of gloom

On August 14, 1947, Pakistan got its independence from British colonial rule. Sixty-three years later, a moth-eaten Pakistan is struggling to fight all sorts of calamities, both man-made and natural disasters. The country has gone off in a completely different direction from the one envisioned by its founding father. Even in his wildest dreams, Quaid-e-Azam would not have envisaged how his country was on the verge of collapse.

It is the holy month of Ramadan, a month that is full of blessings for mankind. Alas, our fortunes are such that this blessed month has brought with it more doom and gloom. Unprecedented floods have unleashed their wrath on hapless Pakistanis. In view of the gravity of the catastrophe, all institutions of state called off the usual Independence Day celebrations, in other words, all the trappings of nationalism. A pall of gloom has descended on all of us what with one crisis after another hitting us with full force, the latest accretion to this tragic list being …

Kalabagh Dam: RIP

Pakistan has seen one of the worst floods ever in its history but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, our leaders are making matters worse by digging up skeletons like the Kalabagh Dam (KBD) issue. Prime Minister Gilani recently said that the deaths and destruction caused by the floods could have been averted had the KBD been built but he also admitted that “the issue of KBD should not be raised now” as the nation is passing through critical times. It was gracious of Mr Gilani not to raise the ‘KBD issue’ by actually raising it. One wonders why some leaders have come out with pro-KBD statements days after the massive floods hit the country. Have they no consideration for the sentiments of the other three provinces, which have passed several resolutions in their respective provincial assemblies against the dam, especially in this time of high crisis?

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain called the KBD project “a dead horse” and said that it goes against …

The horror continues

The Awami National Party (ANP) has been under threat since the day it came to power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa after the 2008 general elections. That the ANP stands for secular values and human rights is anathema to the religious extremists. An attack on Dr Gulalai, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan’s sister and daughter of the late Khan Abdul Wali Khan, is an indication of the grave threat the cadres of ANP and now their families have to face. Fortunately, Dr Gulalai was not critically injured and escaped this attempt on her life. In the past few weeks we have seen the assassination of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain’s son, a suicide bombing outside Mr Hussain’s house while he was still in mourning, and now an assassination attempt against Dr Gulalai. All this points to the fact that we must fight this war against the terrorists till the very end so that the lives of millions of innocent people are not at risk from these barbarians. By targeting Dr Gulalai, they …

Weapons of mass levity

To say that President Asif Ali Zardari’s visit to Britain was controversial would be putting it mildly. He was vilified by both the national and international media and to add insult to injury, the shoe-throwing incident in Birmingham served as the icing on the cake. Despite reports to the contrary, it seems likely that a shoe (or two) was thrown at Mr Zardari while he addressed the PPP supporters in Birmingham. There are speculations that the president’s adversaries may have been behind this humiliating incident.

Whether or not these charges are true, the accusations against the PML-N should not be taken lightly. The PPP has claimed that the PML-N is playing politics on the floods issue. If looked at from an objective angle, there is no smoke without fire. The PML-N has trained its guns on the PPP, particularly President Zardari. The gloves are finally off as far as the Nawaz League is concerned and the PPP in response has also jumped into the fray. This in turn has led to an embitte…

A call for peace

Prime Minister Gilani has been at his pragmatic best by finally going to Karachi and bringing the PPP’s coalition partners together to resolve their issues instead of allowing the bloodbath to continue. More than 90 people have lost their lives in less than a week after the targeted killing of Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM’s) Syed Raza Haider last week. The violence in Karachi is a cause for concern for the entire country, which is why the prime minister finally had to intervene. On Saturday, the MQM, the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) signed a 10-point code of conduct. The important points covered in the code of conduct will ensure that the political parties will assist the law enforcement agencies to take action against the drug mafia, the land mafia and those on a killing spree. Terrorists belonging to banned outfits will be identified, action taken against them, and the Sindh government will constitute a judicial commission to probe Mr Haider’s …

The rational miser

The National Trade Union Federation has demanded that the government implement the minimum wage of Rs 7,000 and give a 17 percent raise as per the new labour policy unveiled by Prime Minister Gilani this year. This policy, announced on May Day, had a lot of positive aspects like free medical treatment and legal support for workers. But as with all good laws in Pakistan, the real test is implementation. Over 250 workers gathered in Lahore the other day to protest the lack of implementation by both the public and private sectors. It is highly unfortunate that the government has not been able to fix this problem even three months after the policy was announced. Unfortunately, the government has had to face some man-made and natural disasters after the policy was announced and could be forgiven for the lapse in the public sector given the precarious economic situation, but there is no explanation for why the private sector continues to resist implementation. In plain words, the private se…

A reversal of fortunes?

The results of three by-polls for the National Assembly were quite surprising for many political pundits. The PML-N, which suffered a defeat in a provincial assembly seat in Sargodha’s PP-34 by-poll last month, was able to turn the tables this time around by winning the election in the same district’s NA-68. In Lodhran’s NA-155, an independent candidate, who had the backing of the PML-N, won the by-poll while the PML-N lost to the PPP in Gujranwala’s NA-100. To the casual observer, this might not be of importance but in political circles, these by-polls results have many angles to them. Though the PML-N has only won one seat in its own name, it was backing another independent candidate who won as well, making it two out of three for them. The PPP, on the other hand, has only managed to bag one seat.

PPP’s central information secretary Fauzia Wahab has accused the PML-N of rigging the by-polls. Ms Wahab has said that the PPP has evidence of the rigging, which will be presented to the …

Political meltdown

Karachi’s situation is getting worse with every passing day despite the government’s claims that normalcy is returning. More than 60 people have been killed in the aftermath of MPA Raza Haider’s targeted killing on Monday. Karachi is our economic hub and due to the recent wave of violence, suffered a loss of billions of rupees in just one day of lost business activity. Pakistan is already going through a crunch financially; add to it the flood relief efforts and the situation in Karachi and our economic woes are getting worse.

The spate of targeted killings in the largest metropolis is definitely a cause for concern. Despite a heavy presence of the Rangers, the city is too big for the security forces to maintain peace everywhere. There are other worrying aspects to this whole mayhem. As we have previously pointed out, a conflict between the MQM and the ANP in Sindh would inadvertently hurt the government both in the province and at the Centre because they are the PPP government’s coa…

The crack of doom

Almost all the cities of Sindh are in turmoil following the assassination of Syed Raza Haider, a member of the Sindh Assembly, on Monday. Mr Haider was attending a funeral in a mosque. His guard was also shot down. Raza Haider was an active member at the organisational level of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and also a member of the Sindh Assembly’s standing committees on the board of revenue, cooperation, local government and planning and development. The MQM gave a call for three days of mourning after the targeted killing. More than 40 people have been killed since then and almost 200 injured.

Karachi was already going through a turbulent phase due to a spate of target killings in recent days but some people are of the view that Mr Haider’s death has sounded the death knell. The MQM has openly laid the blame on the Awami National Party (ANP) for targeting its members. The MQM’s coordination committee accused the “armed terrorists of the ANP” of killing Mr Haider and his guard.…

Opiate of the masses

The news of a band of clerics from a religious party constructing an illegal mosque on government property in Green Town, Lahore, served as a reminder to our authorities that their writ was being challenged. It was good to see that the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) took quick action late night after Daily Times’ exclusive reportage and demolished the illegal building. A case has also been registered against 50 people and so far seven people have been arrested. Since the clerics in Green Town had threatened to kill people on blasphemy charges if the illegal construction is stopped, they should be locked up behind bars. More such illegal encroachments should be identified and demolished. When religion is used as a tool to create fear amongst the masses, it is time to think logically and aim for a secular state instead of letting the state be a tool in the hands of vested interests.

Building illegal mosques is not a new phenomenon in this land of the pure. In the not-so-distant past…

Kashmir’s intifada

The Kashmir Valley is up in flames again amidst violent protests. An indefinite curfew was imposed across Indian-Held Kashmir (IHK) on Saturday. The recent spate of unrest exploded when a 17-year-old student died after being hit by a police teargas shell on June 11. For the past two months, more than 20 civilians have died in clashes with the security forces. Six people have died since Friday and more than 80 have been injured.

The scenic Kashmir Valley has been called ‘heaven on earth’, but for the past six decades the people of Kashmir have seen nothing but bloodshed and terror on their soil. In the past the Indian government used to blame Pakistan’s intervention in Kashmir for violence in the Valley, but over the years this blame game no longer has resonance. In 1989, in reaction to one more rigged election, the armed resistance broke out in Kashmir. This escalated tensions between India and Pakistan, the latter’s security establishment being accused by New Delhi of supporting the…