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Showing posts from December, 2010

A bed of nails

The PPP-led coalition government is in trouble, again. Not only did MQM leave the federal cabinet, it also issued a stern warning to the PPP. “If the government does not change its attitude for the better, then we will sit on the opposition benches,” said MQM chief Altaf Hussain. President Asif Zardari took matters into his own hand by ordering Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah to address the MQM’s reservations. Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza has even offered to step down if it would help save democracy. Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Qamar Zaman Kaira said that “one should not waste time when there are problems among friends. We [the PPP] are in contact with MQM and things will return to normal pretty soon.” Whatever the PPP leaders say, our political landscape is becoming more troubled with each passing day.

Coalition politics all over the world, but more so in Pakistan, is a bed of nails. On the one hand the PPP is trying to mend fences with the MQM and o…

MQM: testing the waters?

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has quit the federal cabinet but its parliamentarians will continue to sit on the treasury benches both in the National Assembly and the Senate so as not to “destabilise the government”. The MQM has two federal ministries – Overseas Pakistanis and Ports and Shipping. Despite relinquishing its two federal portfolios, the MQM will remain part of the Sindh Assembly as a coalition partner. This decision was taken late night by the MQM’s Coordination Committee. According to the MQM, “the ministries it has in the federal cabinet are of no use since the recommendations and proposals (of MQM ministers) are being ignored without citing any reason” and “a decision will soon be taken about quitting the federal government and future relationship with the Sindh government as a coalition partner”.

Now this is not an unimportant decision. On the surface, the MQM is not looking for better portfolios in the federal cabinet. If that is not true, then they will be per…

Benazir Bhutto: ‘tis tough to say goodbye

December 27, 2007 is a day that will haunt the people of Pakistan forever. On that fateful day, the country lost a great leader to a faceless assassin. Benazir Bhutto, scion of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was assassinated three years ago in Rawalpindi. It was not just the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that lost its leader; the whole nation and people around the world mourned at having lost a woman of Ms Bhutto’s stature. She is the only person in the country’s history who is known as a shaheed (martyr) by all and sundry. Ms Bhutto’s life reads like a Greek tragedy. At a very young age, she lost her father to a military dictator’s cruelty. For six years she remained imprisoned – in jail or under house arrest. Finally she went into exile in 1984 and ran the party from England. Her 27-year old brother, Shahnawaz Bhutto, died under mysterious circumstances in exile in Paris. Her other brother, Murtaza Bhutto, was also murdered a few years later in Karachi.

Ms Bhutto came back to Pakistan in 1986…

Remembering Jinnah

Every year we celebrate December 25 as Quaid-e-Azam Day. This is the day when Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was born. At his birth anniversary’s celebrations, we hear the usual rhetoric from our politicians about Mr Jinnah’s vision and how they are trying to follow his path. But if truth be told, Pakistan is anything but what the Quaid wanted it to be. It is time to revisit his August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. Mr Jinnah’s first observation was that “the first duty of a government is to maintain law and order, so that the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state”. None of our governments have been able to ensure the safety of the life, property and religious beliefs of its citizens. Not only was the independence movement hijacked by the religious right but during the bloody partition, we witnessed the massacre of Sikhs and Hindus on our side of the border. Most Hindu and Sikh families who had been l…

Lawsuits, terrorism and the economy

Last month, a lawsuit was filed against top officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and leaders of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) in a court in New York by the family of a couple who lost their lives in the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks. The lawsuit has alleged that the ISI “provided critical planning, material support, control and coordination for the attacks” to the 10 men who carried out the attacks. The Brooklyn court has apparently summoned ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Shuja Pasha and his predecessor Lieutenant-General Nadeem Taj, among others, to appear before the court next month. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani assured the National Assembly on Thursday that if the current and former ISI chiefs do not “agree to appear before the American court, nobody can send them”. He was responding to Opposition leader Chaudhry Nisar’s remarks that the government should not allow this to happen. Practically speaking, the inherent character of spy agencies and their covert operations…

More incursions in the offing?

Pakistan is already in enough trouble politically and economically. Terrorism has added to our woes and it seems like that in the coming days, more trouble may follow. According to a report published in the New York Times (NYT), “senior American military commanders in Afghanistan are pushing for an expanded campaign of Special Operations ground raids across the border into Pakistan’s tribal areas”. It is plain that this proposal has more to do with military strategy than with politics. Pakistan has been stalling a military operation in North Waziristan for some time now. Our argument is that the military is already stretched in Swat and South Waziristan, that we fear more IDPs, and we do not have enough money to conduct a large-scale operation. This delay has not gone down well with the US military commanders based in Afghanistan. The US-led NATO forces are running out of patience with us because of the safe havens that have been provided to the Afghan Taliban on our soil, particularl…

Reshuffling of the finance team, again

The government has reshuffled its finance team once again. Dr Waqar Masood Khan has been posted as the new finance secretary while his predecessor, Salman Siddique, has been appointed as the new Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) chairman and FBR chairman Sohail Ahmed has been transferred and posted as the Federal Planning and Development secretary. In less than three years, this government has had three governors of the State Bank of Pakistan, four finance ministers and five finance secretaries. This is an indication of the government’s difficulties in managing the economy. It is possible that in its preoccupation with other political matters, the government is having a hard time in focusing on economic problems. But perhaps the frequent changes in the economic team are not just whimsicality. There are deeper reasons behind it.

When the world dipped into one of the worst financial and economic crises in 2007, Pakistan’s economy was not hit that hard because our banks did not have a lot …

An unfriendly act

Pakistan is in the midst of yet another controversy. Jonathan Banks, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief in Pakistan, had to flee the country last week after reportedly receiving serious threats to his life. An application against the CIA chief was submitted by a resident of North Waziristan, Karim Khan, to the Secretariat Police Station in Islamabad whereby Mr Khan has alleged that his son and brother were killed in a drone strike and since Mr Banks oversees the drone attacks, he should be held responsible for their deaths. It is now being reported that because of the police’s hesitation to take action against Mr Banks, he was able to leave the country. What remains a mystery though is who could have leaked the name of the CIA chief to the drone victims’ family. According to the New York Times, “The American officials said they strongly suspected that operatives of Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI], had a hand in revealing …

New realities of Pak-China ties

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was on a three-day visit to Pakistan last week, which ended on a positive note. The two countries signed 35 agreements and memorandums of understanding (MoUs) that are expected to bring around $25-35 billion worth of investment over the next five years. The strong ties between China and Pakistan have survived for almost six decades now and are still going strong. Mr Jiabao promised that “China and Pakistan ties will get deeper, closer and stronger”, while Prime Minister Gilani said that Pakistan “condemns any attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The two sides have decided to celebrate 2011 as the ‘Year of China-Pakistan Friendship’, whereby they will hold a series of bilateral activities in different fields to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Sino-Pak diplomatic relations. On the surface, our time-tested friendship with China has reached a new level, but if examined closely, the relationship has faced some problems over the…

Holbrooke’s legacy

Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, passed away on Monday. He was 69. President Asif Ali Zardari called him “a personal friend of Pakistan” and said that Mr Holbrooke’s “untiring efforts to enhance US-Pakistan relations and his assistance during the Swat crisis and the devastating floods that have affected Pakistan will never be forgotten”. The president conferred the Hilal-e-Pakistan upon Ambassador Holbrooke posthumously for his commendable services to strengthen Pak-US bilateral relations. Mr Holbrooke was indeed a valuable asset to Pak-US ties and was liked by both the civilian government as well as our defence establishment.

Richard Holbrooke was once described by former US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, as “the diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb”. His diplomatic career spans several decades during which he served the US around the globe. Apart from serving as a junior diplomat in South Vietnam and US ambassador to German…

Bitter truth

Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza is a loose cannon and, if rubbed the wrong way, will fire away. At the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Dr Mirza was hit by a barrage of complaints by the city’s industrialists and traders for failing to give them adequate protection. Obviously stung by the criticism, he said that “people cast votes for extortionists; they should now talk to their elected representatives for law and order”. Dr Mirza pinned the blame for the deteriorating law and order situation mostly on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). “Dr Imran Farooq was murdered in London, but buses of Pakhtuns were torched in Karachi. Did Asfandyar Wali kill Dr Imran Farooq?” asked Dr Mirza. He went on to allege that when “they [the MQM] want to kill any Pakhtun, Sindhi, Punjabi or Baloch in Karachi, they go about executing their plan methodically”. What Dr Mirza said is politically inappropriate given that the MQM is a coalition partner of the PPP government both at the Ce…

An idea whose time has come

If it were not so tragic, the case of a blasphemy-accused doctor would have made for comic reading. Reportedly, Dr Naushad Valiyani threw the business card of a medical representative “which had his full name, Muhammad Faizan”, in a dustbin. Mr Faizan then launched a blasphemy complaint against the doctor. The absurdity of the charges against Dr Valiyani exposes the nature of the draconian Blasphemy Law, which can be misused for any purpose under the sun. General Ziaul Haq left this country with a minefield in the shape of this law, which lends itself to abuse. The case of Dr Valiyani is just one of the many cases where the complainant is crossing all lines of common sense. ‘Muhammad’ is a popular name over the Muslim world. To say that the doctor committed blasphemy just because he threw a business card that had ‘Muhammad’ written on it is ridiculous. The issue was resolved between the parties when the doctor apologised, although not before Faizan and his friends had reportedly rough…

Many a slip…

Pakistan signed an agreement with Afghanistan, India and Turkmenistan on Saturday to finally put the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline on the map. The 1,680 kilometre long gas pipeline is projected to cost over $ 7.6 billion, would bring 3.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan to Pakistan, and end in India. The demand for energy generally, and natural gas in particular is growing in Pakistan. For the past few years now we have had to face gas load shedding every winter due to increased demand. Our gas reserves are fast depleting. Thus there is an urgent need to import gas to meet our demand-supply gap. The TAPI gas pipeline project, which has already been years in gestation, is a welcome step but it would be premature to assume that things will go strictly according to plan.

If wishes were horses and we lived in an ideal world, the TAPI gas pipeline would be a dream come true for us but realistically, we must take stock of the g…

The sad state of human rights

December 10 is marked as ‘Human Rights Day’ all across the world. Both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani reiterated on the occasion that Pakistan would protect and promote human rights. “We will stand committed for the promotion of all fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed in the constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said President Zardari while Prime Minister Gilani said, “We have undertaken legislative and political reforms which aim to protect the rights of women, minorities, and special people through affirmative policy action.” Though both the president and prime minister have shown their support for human rights, the ground reality is quite different.

Much of our country’s misery is directly related to feudalism. Our biggest misfortune is that the feudal landlords have found a convenient way to protect their vested interests, i.e. by entering politics. Hardly any political party in Pakistan can claim that it does not have feudals in its mid…

Don’t shoot the messenger

WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, surrendered himself to UK police on Tuesday, after which he was arrested formally for alleged sex crimes. Mr Assange was denied bail and will remain in custody until a fresh hearing on December 14. According to the London Metropolitan Police, Assange “is accused by the Swedish authorities of one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation, and one count of rape, all alleged to have been committed in August 2010”. Mr Assange’s lawyer called these charges a “political stunt” and many believe that he is being persecuted because of the sensitive documents his website has been releasing in recent months. More recently, WikiLeaks published US diplomatic cables that have rattled a lot of countries besides the US government. The timing of the charges against Assange and Interpol’s Red Notice for two cases of consensual sex that allegedly turned into abuse are highly suspicious. What is interesting is that the rape and mol…

Pak-Afghan ties

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s recent visit to Afghanistan ended on a happy note with both sides vowing to strengthen cooperation in various areas. Relations between the two countries have had their ups and downs and continue to do so. Terrorism is the common enemy of both neighbouring nations but our security establishment’s warped policy of pursuing a strategic depth policy in Afghanistan has led to bitterness on the Afghan side. Despite this, Afghan President Karzai said that “we need to work together to end violence that continues to hurt both of us and we should help each other with full knowledge of the reality.” It is this recognition of a common enemy that was translated in the joint declaration issued at the end of Mr Gilani’s visit. It said, “Terrorism and violent extremism and their international support networks are a major threat undermining peace and stability in the region and beyond.” Mr Gilani’s visit and President Karzai’s renewed pledge to fight militancy toget…

A ‘damage control’ exercise

The recently released US diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks continue to haunt Pakistan. The cables were not just limited to the political leaders in the country but the military top brass was also mentioned. In one of the cables, it was said that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani hinted at replacing President Asif Ali Zardari with ANP chief Asfandyar Wali while another cable said that General Kayani had learned his lesson from General (retd) Musharraf’s period. Thus instead of going for a direct coup he was doing backdoor politics. In what seems like a damage control exercise, the military is now denying all these allegations. “The army has a demonstrated policy of supporting the political process within the confines of the constitution of Pakistan,” said Director General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major-General Athar Abbas. Now this statement should be taken with a pinch of salt given the fact that Pakistan’s history is replete with military takeovers. T…

Visiting Afghanistan

US President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday and met US troops at Bagram Air Base. He asserted that the US “will never let this country [Afghanistan] serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again…This part of the world is the centre of a global effort where we are going to disrupt and dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.”

The Americans believe that if the Taliban manage to come back to power in Afghanistan, al Qaeda would once again be allowed to operate freely from Afghan soil. In order to pre-empt that, the US wants to damage the Taliban to such an extent that they are forced to negotiate on US terms. Mullah Omar’s Taliban faction is not ready to talk to the Karzai regime till the foreign forces leave Afghanistan but whether the Haqqani network shares the same view is not yet clear. On the other hand, the Karzai regime is under attack for rigging the elections. Before withdrawing its troops, t…

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

Ever since WikiLeaks started releasing US diplomatic cables on Sunday, we continue to discover one thing or another every day. Some new revelations about the power equation in Pakistan are not just interesting but quite revealing. In one of the cables, it is said that President Asif Zardari was fearful for his life and had made arrangements in case he met the same fate as that of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto. “Zardari revealed that, if he was assassinated, he had instructed his son Bilawal to name his sister, Faryal Talpur, as president” and he once told US Vice President Joe Biden that he feared the military “might take me out”. These may be the personal views of President Zardari and cannot be substantiated without proof if plans to assassinate him are indeed afoot but when the president of a country fears for his life, it is time to get worried. Another interesting revelation made in the cables is that during the lawyers’ movement, General Kayani hinted that he might have to “pers…