Posts

Showing posts from March, 2011

Shifting the responsibility

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court (SC) asked the additional advocate general to take up the missing persons’ issue with the government and ask parliament to legislate in order to resolve the matter. The SC observed that the issue was sensitive in nature and parliament should come up with legislation to deal with it. With all due respect to the apex court, the missing persons’ issue was taken up by the SC and it should have been pursued by the court to fruition. Shifting the responsibility at this critical juncture to a weak parliament will not necessarily resolve the issue. The missing persons’ issue is a very critical one. It involves our intelligence agencies like the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Military Intelligence (MI) and other such agencies, particularly in Balochistan where the Frontier Corps (FC) is running a parallel government. Families of the thousands of missing persons, especially from Balochistan, believe that our intelligence agencies are behind their disappearances…

Let the ‘mother of all games’ begin

A semi-final between India and Pakistan is as good as it gets in a cricket World Cup, more so when the tournament is taking place in South Asia. This year’s Cricket World Cup has generated a lot of hype because of this one match alone. Cricket is as big, if not bigger, as religion for the people of the subcontinent. Thus it is no surprise that this semi-final has made both Pakistanis and Indians so emotional. The mood on both sides of the border is full of both excitement and dread – one can literally smell the fear of losing to the other side. Millions of cricket fans all over the world cannot wait to see the outcome of today’s match. In a few hours we will know which one of the two teams, Blue or Green, has qualified for the finals.

The rivalry between India and Pakistan is as old as their respective independence. Relations between the two neighbouring countries have remained sour most of the time since, but there have been patches where relations normalised relatively. Unfortunate…

Strained relations

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thanked the Pakistan government for its cooperation in the release of CIA operative Raymond Davis. The Davis episode had further strained the relations between the US and Pakistan. Ms Clinton admitted in an interview that the US had “a very difficult relationship” with Pakistan “because there have been some problems”. She was obviously referring to the war in Afghanistan where the US-led NATO troops are fighting the Taliban. Pakistan, despite being a frontline ally of the US in the war on terror, is known for supporting the Afghan Taliban. This has ruffled the feathers of our western allies who want Pakistan to end this double game. In our quest for ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan, we continue to outwit our own allies by our contradictory posture on the Afghan Taliban.

On the other hand, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has expressed regret over the death of civilians after a drone strike in North Waziristan this …

Cricket mania and borderline hysteria

Pakistan will face India in the Cricket World Cup 2011 semi-final on Indian soil tomorrow (March 30). In a welcome move, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh invited both President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani to come and watch the match with him at Mohali. Prime Minister Gilani has accepted his counterpart’s invitation and will be going to India to watch the semi-final. This is cricket diplomacy at its very best. At a time when the relationship between India and Pakistan is at a low after the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, Dr Singh’s hand of friendship must be appreciated. This is not to say that cricket diplomacy will lead to some big breakthrough but at least it will create a good environment for both countries. Indo-Pak interior secretaries met yesterday for the first round of talks in Delhi. The talks went relatively well as can be seen by the positive statements made by both Indian and Pakistani interior secretaries. Indian Home Secretary G K Pillai termed the talks as “ext…

Libya and the ‘international community’

Finally Pakistan has woken up to the disastrous military intervention by the western forces in Libya. On Saturday, Pakistan’s Foreign Office expressed serious concerns over the foreign forces’ strikes on Libya. Briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir said, “Pakistan’s position is very clear and principled. Everyone should respect a country’s sovereignty.” Mr Bashir said that the UN resolution on Libya was faulty and allowed the west to do “anything”. He further stated, “The prescription of democracy, pluralism and human rights is acceptable but it has to be done as people want and through peaceful means.”

The UN resolution on Libya is indeed faulty and quite vague. The consequences of passing such a resolution can now be seen. Even though it was not mandated in the UN resolution, the west now wants to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The mandate of the resolution was ambiguous. We also need to question the term ‘international …

Bloodshed in Afghanistan

“I lost my moral compass,” said 23-year old US Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock when he apologised for killing unarmed Afghan civilians in cold blood last year. Mr Morlock is the first of five US soldiers charged with this crime. He got 24 years in prison after his confession. The US has done well to convict Morlock and for pursuing this case. It is no secret that war is inherently cruel. Even in conventional wars between states, when the opposing armies face each other in the field, cruelty and aberration from the rules of engagement are not unheard of. In civil wars or foreign colonial imperialist wars, such tendencies exacerbate. There are many reasons for this but one of the top most reasons is the frustration against the guerrillas. The strategic plank of guerrilla warfare is that it is a war of attrition meant to wear down the opposing army politically, militarily and psychologically. The guerrillas whittle away and nibble away at their enemies until either the political will of t…

Terrorism and the World Cup

According to Interpol chief Ronald Noble, a terror plot has been foiled with the help of Pakistan. The target was the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2011. “Last week, through the cooperation from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we were able to identify, locate and arrest a terrorist, who had left Karachi on his way to the Maldives with criminal intentions,” said Mr Noble. He was briefing reporters in Islamabad alongside Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “Thanks to the cooperation of your country [Pakistan] and other countries, we were able to make sure that the World Cup remains safe,” assured the Interpol chief.

This terror plot is definitely worrying but perhaps not surprising. Global terrorist networks now seek to use any opportunity to wreak havoc. Sporting events, especially one as huge as the Cricket World Cup, seem like ideal targets given the fact the whole cricketing world’s eyes are on this tournament. Imagine the destruction if a terror attack does take place at a World Cup…

Men in Green

Pakistan is the first team to have reached the semi-final in the ongoing Cricket World Cup 2011. On Wednesday, the men in green beat West Indies by 10 wickets after bowling them out for 112 runs. Pakistan seems to be peaking at just the right time. Our initial performances were not confidence inspiring but later on we have improved and are playing like a real team. The team spirit under the captaincy of Shahid Afridi is soaring. Afridi’s innovative captaincy inspired him to give the new ball to Hafeez against West Indies and it worked wonders. The West Indies’ side is known to struggle against spin and that is what we saw on Wednesday. South Asian wickets are generally good for spin bowling. Pakistan has plenty of spinners in its side and Afridi himself has been the highest wicket-taker so far in the World Cup. He is bowling a lot of top-spinners and googlies, which is bamboozling the batsmen. But there is no room for complacency now that we have beaten Australia to be the top team in…

A fractured coalition

The US and its allies are under a lot of pressure just days after their military intervention in Libya. US President Barack Obama is finding it difficult to defend his country’s involvement in yet another war, even if it is his first. “Unless he [Gaddafi] is willing to step down, then there are still going to be potential threats towards the Libyan people and we will continue to support the efforts to protect the Libyan people,” said Obama. “But we will not be in the lead.” The US’s reluctance is for obvious reasons. One, the US is not well liked in the Muslim world, especially after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Attacking another Muslim country is bound to increase the anti-American sentiment in all Muslim countries. Two, the US is already overstretched – financially and militarily – in Afghanistan and Iraq. The American public is not in favour of another war given war weariness and the global recession’s impact on the US economy. As if the US does not have enough problems convin…

Water scarcity: cause for concern

It is a sobering thought on International Water Day that Pakistan has been dubbed as one of the most “water stressed” countries in the world by the World Bank (WB) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and is likely to face an acute water shortage over the next five years. This should ring alarm bells for the authorities because water scarcity will make life miserable for every Pakistani. There are many reasons for the lack of water availability and if the government does not take proper measures right away, the future will be literally ‘dry’.

One of the reasons for this acute water shortage is the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty, which is our water-sharing treaty with India. As per the treaty, India has exclusive use of the three eastern rivers – Sutlej, Beas and Ravi – while Pakistan is allocated the three western rivers – Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Pakistan has been complaining for a long time now that India is manipulating the flow of the three western rivers by building da…

A long war in Libya

Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi has vowed that the western forces that have invaded Libya are in for a long haul. “We promise you a long drawn-out war with no limits. We will fight inch by inch,” warned Gaddafi. He also said, “You are unjust, you are the aggressors, you are beasts, you are criminals.” French aircraft led the campaign by firing the first shots, Britain joined in as well in the air and sea attack and after its initial hesitation, the US too has now joined the invasion.

The foreign forces are hitting Libyan airfields and air defence systems to implement the no-fly zone part of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Libya. But they have also resorted to attacking the Lybian government’s tank and armoured columns, especially around Benghazi, ostensibly on the pretext of protecting citizens. Despite the Libyan regime’s announcement of a ceasefire, the Libyan opposition claimed that Gaddafi’s forces were still attacking the rebels. The Libyan government claimed …

Bitter-sweet offerings

Saudi Arabia’s security forces arrested several people who were demonstrating at the Interior Ministry in Riyadh on Sunday. In recent weeks, small protests have broken out in different parts of the Kingdom to protest against the monarchy and its heavy-handed rule. Saudi King Abdullah had made a short speech on television on Friday and promised to bring about reforms to placate his nation. He announced billions of dollars in handouts; the reform package includes a minimum wage of 3,000 riyals ($ 800) a month for government employees. The king also announced 500,000 new housing units to which around $ 67 billion would be allocated besides other social benefits such as offering employees two months extra salary, higher unemployment payments and better healthcare.

On the one hand, the Saudi monarch offered all these ‘perks’ to his people to bolster their morale and quell the demonstrations, while on the other he also warned them of dire consequences in case of ‘disobedience’. King Abdull…

Another imperialist intervention?

With the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Libya authorising all UN members “to take all necessary measures [notwithstanding the previous arms embargo] to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory”, the stage was all set for a foreign intervention. A no-fly zone was also announced in the UNSC resolution. In view of this, the Libyan government took a pragmatic decision and declared an immediate ceasefire. Libyan Foreign Minister Mussa Kussa announced that the government wanted to protect civilians and it was ready to open “all dialogue channels with everyone interested in the territorial unity of Libya”. The UNSC’s resolution is another stark reminder of how imperialist powers can manipulate the world system to their advantage. Muammar Gaddafi’s blood-curdling rhetoric on crushing the rebel movement in Benghazi did …

Shoaib Akhtar’s cricketing goodbye

“Today, I step ahead from the most significant part of my life and walk forward. I have decided to say goodbye. This World Cup is my last and the remaining matches here will be the last few in my international career,” is how Pakistan cricket team’s star bowler, Shoaib Akhtar, announced his retirement on March 17. Akhtar’s illustrious cricket career spanning 18 years has been punctuated with much controversy, yet he remains one of the most loved cricketers around the world. Akhtar exudes confidence and charisma, on the field and off it as well. Even when he is not performing well, there is a certain alacrity about him that makes him so endearing to all his fans. And when he performs to the best of his abilities, Akhtar can overshadow even the best bowlers of the cricketing world. Akhtar idolised Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. His dream was to be a cricketer and finally when he achieved it, like many other cricketing stars today, he could not believe it. When asked about his…

End of the affair

The Raymond Davis issue has finally been settled. The CIA contractor who was charged with double murder in Lahore was finally set free on Wednesday after the families of the two victims pardoned Davis and settled the issue by accepting blood money. Each family was paid Rs 100 million in compensation. Davis left the country the same day. The case was settled as per Pakistan’s Qisas and Diyat laws, which are ostensibly shariah laws. Qisas allows retaliation/retribution while Diyat allows the heirs of the victim to grant pardon to the accused in return for blood money. It is ironic to see that the same Islamists and right-wing forces who wanted Davis hanged are now twisting themselves in knots over the court’s verdict that was as per the same shariah laws they have been advocating for decades. Like other shariah laws in Pakistan’s statute books, human rights groups and progressives have been critical of the Qisas and Diyat laws as they are inherently pro-rich and anti-poor. These laws ha…

Jalib’s Pakistan

March 12, 2011 was Habib Jalib’s 18th death anniversary. Jalib was not just a revolutionary poet, a Marxist-Leninist, a political activist but he was a visionary who wanted Pakistan to be a country free of military dictatorships, religious fanaticism and class differences. Urdu poet Qateel Shifai summed up Jalib sahib’s life beautifully in these words:

“Apney saarey dard bhula kar auron ke dukh sehta tha,
Hum jab ghazlain kehtey thay woh aksar jail mein rehta tha,
Aakhir kaar chala hee gaya woh rooth kar hum farzaanon se,
Woh deewana jisko zamana Jalib Jalib kehta tha.”
(He hid his own anguish and languished for others,
When as we rhymed for damsels and composed lilting songs, he was the one who pined behind the bars,
Now at last he is gone, leaving us sane and mandarins behind,
The one who went by the name Jalib).

Jalib sahib was committed to freedom of expression and he was not afraid to voice his opinion. He was imprisoned in General Ayub Khan’s time for the first time because he voci…

Ignorance is not bliss

Balochistan is in turmoil, more so than ever before. President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahangir has voiced her concerns regarding the alarming situation in the province. “Balochistan is burning; if this fire is not brought under control, it will engulf the entire country,” Ms Jahangir warned. The SCBA president addressed the Balochistan High Court Bar Association, a seminar and a protest rally in Quetta. It is astonishing that many people, including the president of the SCBA, have understood how volatile the Balochistan issue is but our government remains oblivious. Ms Jahangir further said, “Use of police powers by the Frontier Corps (FC) is illegal and the FC should be stopped from using these powers…We demand from the government to send paramilitary troops back to their barracks, otherwise the lawyers will start a protest campaign from Quetta involving major political parties and representatives of civil society.” Ms Jahangir accused the government of not being se…

Shahbaz Sharif’s wrong call

Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s recent statement about involving the army and the judiciary to “discuss a strategy to steer the country out of the current situation” has come in for a lot of criticism. Mr Sharif had apparently suggested this to Prime Minister Gilani on PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif’s advice. Mr Shahbaz Sharif said, “The need for unity, solidarity and national harmony in the current situation is greater than ever before. Collective efforts are needed to resolve the problems faced by the country.” PPP members like federal Law Minister Babar Awan and Punjab Assembly’s Opposition leader Raja Riaz have said that Mr Sharif wants a judicial martial law in the country. As far as reports suggest, dubbing Mr Sharif’s remarks as asking for a judicial martial law is a non sequitur. After the military coup by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 against the PML-N’s government, it is highly unlikely that the PML-N would want the khakis back in power. Mr Sharif might have been implyin…

The games Maulana plays

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-Fazl), has apparently shifted his stance on the misuse of the blasphemy laws. He said, “If a law is being misused against minorities we are ready to discuss this (matter).” It took the deaths of two political leaders, Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer and federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, to make the maulana realise that the blasphemy laws are indeed being misused and have also led to such mindless mayhem. Maulana Fazl also condemned the murder of Mr Bhatti and said, “Such acts (of violence now) amount to taking the law and constitution in one’s own hands.”

It seems that Maulana sahib is now reconsidering his previous hardline position on the blasphemy laws and extrajudicial killings in this regard. The religious right and the religio-political parties supported the blasphemy laws to such an extent that it had become difficult to even debate on this issue. The extreme lunatic fringe resorted to killing thos…

Then they came for me...

Pakistan's federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was shot dead on March 2 morning in Islamabad. This news was not just shocking but mind-numbing. Bhatti’s murder is also a rap on the knuckles of all those who had chosen to stay silent or were indifferent at the brutal assassination of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer just two months ago. On January 4, we lost Taseer at the hands of a religious extremist. The reaction to his murder was as appalling as the murder itself. Many people celebrated Taseer’s murder; lawyers showered his murderer with rose petals; rallies were taken out by the religious right to warn every liberal, secular and progressive Pakistani who dared to speak up for the rights of minorities and asked for the amendment or repeal of the controversial blasphemy laws.

Taseer and Bhatti raised the issue of the misuse of blasphemy laws. It was in response to this that both men were killed in broad daylight by religious zealots. When Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman, …

A bloodstained flag

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti’s assassination echoed what every sane Pakistani feels. “I was shocked and outraged by the assassination…I think this was an attack not only on one man but on the values of tolerance and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds that had been championed by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan,” she said. On Wednesday, Pakistan lost Mr Bhatti to the extremist forces. In two months, we have lost a serving governor and a serving federal minister. This is certainly not the Pakistan our forefathers dreamt of. It has been hijacked by the very same forces that were once against the creation of this country. Mr Bhatti’s assassination has been condemned worldwide and has sent shockwaves everywhere, especially in Pakistan.

The reaction to Governor Taseer’s murder was shocking for another reason as most Pakistanis were either ambivalent or glorified his murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. But Mr…

Shahbaz Bhatti: a great loss

Federal Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was gunned down on Wednesday morning in Islamabad as he left his house to attend a cabinet meeting. According to reports, Mr Bhatti was ambushed by unknown assailants who shot him several times. Mr Bhatti succumbed to his injuries while he was being taken to hospital. No group initially took responsibility for the assassination but pamphlets left by Mr Bhatti’s body were attributed to the Pakistani Taliban. Later in the day, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab (TTP) claimed responsibility and issued a statement that “those proposing amendments in the blasphemy law will meet the same fate”. President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani have strongly condemned the incident and ordered an inquiry into it. Within two months, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has lost two of its prominent members. Mr Bhatti’s assassination comes almost two months after Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer’s murder in Islamabad. Being a member of the minority community, Mr Bha…

Excuses galore

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said on Monday that foreign powers and elements were involved in Balochistan and Pakistan has solid evidence to that effect. Mr Gilani’s statement about the involvement of ‘foreign hand’ in Balochistan is akin to undermining the struggle by the Baloch people against decades of state oppression. Instead of addressing the genuine grievances of the Baloch, Prime Minister Gilani is hiding behind the usual excuse. Mr Gilani, and all those who allege that the Baloch insurgency is funded by external powers, should put their money where their mouth is. The promised evidence, which has been doing the rounds ever since Mr Gilani’s meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Sharm el-Sheikh, has still not materialised. Mere assertions to this fact are less than convincing since we have not seen a shred of such evidence. It is time that this so-called evidence is shown to India and the people of Pakistan. If there is no such evidence, which is more likel…

Political mumbo jumbo

The claws are out and all our political actors are ready to pounce on each other. The PPP and the PML-N are busy outdoing each other in the war of statements. President Asif Zardari, who heads the PPP, says he wants to protect the democratic system. The PML-N, meanwhile, is not so sure about its stance anymore. On the one hand, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif keeps assuring the electorate that he does not want to destabilise this government but on the other hand, he has threatened to start another ‘long march’. In the situation in the country, which has achieved democracy after nine years of dictatorial rule, is it not a disservice to our democratic system to issue such threats at this point in time? President Zardari was concerned about the horse-trading allegations in Punjab and called it a violation of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) signed between (late) Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif in 2006. He said that the CoD was “binding” on the PPP as it has always “been a democratic par…