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Showing posts from August, 2011

Zulfi Mirza’s explosive ‘allegations’

Sunday is usually a slow news day in most countries but in Pakistan this is a rarity. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, a fiery Sindhi leader belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) who is known for his controversial statements, held an explosive press conference on Sunday. It lasted for more than two hours (apart from another unofficial press conference for almost two hours on a private television channel later at night), where Zulfi Mirza took oath on the Quran that whatever he said would be nothing but the truth. Dr Mirza was an MPA from the Sindh Assembly, senior provincial minister, PPP Sindh’s vice-president and member of the PPP’s Central Executive Committee (CEC). Not only did he quit all party and government posts (Mirza did not renounce his PPP membership and vowed to die as a PPP worker), he created ripples by certain disclosures about federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain and the MQM itself. Dr Mirza called Rehman Malik a compul…

Intriguing developments in Kashmir

Maulana Showkat Ahmed Shah, president Jamiat-e-Ahle Hadees, was killed in April this year in Srinagar by an improvised explosive device (IED). This was the third attempt on his life, the previous two being in 2006 and 2008. Maulana Showkat was known as a moderate Kashmiri cleric despite his closeness to Yasin Malik’s faction of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). In an interesting development, Pakistan-based banned organisation, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), conducted an internal investigation into and admitted that those responsible were from within its ranks. As per the LeT, “Earlier we thought the Indian army or its agencies killed Maulvi [Showkat Ahmed Shah] to defame the movement and create misgivings. We had not even imagined that the murderer would turn out to be our own men.” What is even more intriguing is that the LeT hinted at Pakistan’s hand in the assassination by stating that “it is possible that this order, this message [to kill Maulana Showkat] may have come from…

Balochistan: lies, lies and more lies

Balochistan Frontier Corps (FC) Inspector General (IG) Major-General Ubaidullah Khan is irked by a recently released 132-page report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) titled, ‘We Can Torture, Kill, or Keep You for Years: Enforced Disappearances by Pakistan Security Forces in Balochistan’. Major-General Khan rejected the HRW report and said that the security forces were not responsible for the enforced disappearances in Balochistan. He further said that such a report was an attempt to discourage the law enforcement agencies from doing their job while encouraging the ‘terrorists’. The FC chief’s statement might have been laughable had it not been so tragic. The so-called ‘terrorists’ Major-General Khan is referring to are the Baloch nationalists who have only been raising their voices against unjust acts by the military and its proxies. Terming them terrorists while calling the Afghan Taliban its ‘strategic assets’ shows how warped our military’s policies are. To discredit the HRW, a high…

Kashmir and Balochistan: some similarities

Indian Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), for the first time, has officially acknowledged that 2,156 unnamed bodies have been buried in mass graves across Indian Kashmir. According to the report, “There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances.” The SHRC report has asked for DNA identification apart from a thorough investigation; 574 bodies have been identified as local residents of Indian Kashmir and their families have been informed. Amnesty International has asked for an impartial investigation while J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah proposed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ascertain “who have been buried in these (unmarked) graves”. Mr Abdullah said the commission “should be given the agenda that whichever incidents have happened in the last 20-21 years whether (because of) militants or security forces, wherever que…

Dangers ahead

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has urged Pakistan to “take immediate steps” to probe the recent spate of disappearances and killings of journalists in the country. “In the past eight days alone, we have received reports on the killing of one journalist, Munir Shakir, in Balochistan on August 14, and the disappearance of another journalist, Rehmatullah Darpakhel, three days earlier in North Waziristan on August 11,” said OHCHR spokesman Rupert Coleville. Apart from the UN, Amnesty International also asked Pakistan to tackle the threats to journalists. “Authorities in Pakistan must ensure journalists and media workers are given adequate protection to carry out their jobs without fearing for their lives,” Amnesty International said. Such concerns have been expressed both at the local level and internationally.

Journalists in Balochistan and the tribal areas have had to face a lot of dangers. In Balochistan, journalists are intimidated, harassed, kidnappe…

Venom spewing airwaves

Apparently, Mian Nawaz Sharif’s speech on August 13 at a South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) seminar riled up quite a few people. Rather than encouraging an arms race, Mr Sharif talked about peace and economic ties with India. Reactionary elements, both within the media and outside, flared up at his rational suggestions. A private television channel aired programmes on two consecutive days hosted by a certain female anchor who is well known for hate speech and inciting violence. The said host and some of her guests launched a diatribe against SAFMA. One of the panellists, Zaid Hamid, described correctly as a “so-called analyst”, accused SAFMA of being funded by Indian intelligence agency RAW and to be pursuing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Bal Thackeray’s agenda. SAFMA Secretary General Imtiaz Alam and other office bearers of various SAFMA branches in Pakistan have decided to issue libel notices to the concerned accusers “for their highly irresponsible and provocative co…

Complacency of the ruling elite

PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif recently gave a call for fresh elections. He asked the nation to stand up to the government and not allow anyone to play with their mandate. Mr Sharif was of the view that the problems being faced by Pakistan could only be resolved if elections were held immediately. Prime Minister Gilani rejected Mr Sharif’s call for early elections and said that the next elections would be held on time. The timing of Mr Sharif’s demand is interesting. For quite some time, members of the PML-N had been demanding mid-term polls but Mian sahib kept ignoring these demands and was quite content with letting this government complete its term. So why has Nawaz Sharif changed his mind now? There could be a few factors. One of them is that the PML-N’s popularity in Punjab has suffered greatly due to its mismanagement and misgovernance. If Mr Sharif thinks this is a good a time to go back to the electorate, he is in for a surprise. Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government has n…

Balochistan: false promises

The government is at it again: making promises it will never be able to fulfil when it comes to Balochistan. Apparently, the federal government has ‘authorised’ the provincial government of Balochistan to begin dialogue with all political forces in the province. This is akin to just going through the motions because the provincial government itself confesses to being powerless. On August 14, Prime Minister Gilani said, “The government is in touch with leaders of Balochistan and the effort and desire is that a uniform strategy should be drawn in consultation with the leadership.” Now this is something that we have been hearing for a long time but has the government made any effort to find someone who can reach out to the Baloch leadership is the question that needs to be asked. So far there are no signs on the ground that can point to the government’s ‘plan’ of reaching out to the Baloch leadership. As far as the provincial government is concerned, it has no power to stop the military …

Conditional aid

According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal, “The White House has started awarding billions of dollars in security assistance to Pakistan conditional on whether Islamabad shows progress on a secret scorecard of US objectives to combat al Qaeda and its militant allies and ease tensions.” As per the report, which US officials have denied, there are four ‘baskets’ or conditions that Pakistan must fulfil in order to get the desired military aid. These four baskets are: “Pakistani cooperation in exploiting the bin Laden compound; Pakistani cooperation with the war in Afghanistan; Pakistani cooperation with the US in conducting joint counterterrorism operations; and cooperation in improving the overall tone in bilateral relations.” The US recently suspended $ 800 million in military aid to Pakistan. The reasons are quite simple. The furore in Pakistan after the Raymond Davis affair and the Abbottabad raid led to stricter visa restrictions for US officials, removal of American…

Peace with India

On August 13 at a seminar, PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif made some rather interesting remarks vis-à-vis peace between India and Pakistan. He said, “I was ready to write a new story, but I did not know that General Pervez Musharraf was writing another story, a rather conflicting one.” Mr Sharif was obviously referring to his moves to restore peace in the subcontinent as prime minister of Pakistan through ‘bus diplomacy’, which brought Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore in February 1999. Nawaz Sharif stressed how our obsession with India led to an arms race, due to which Pakistan has suffered immensely. “We should have an economic race instead of getting into an arms race. It is a tragedy that Pakistan’s social sectors, health services, education, economic development, infrastructure have all suffered because our focus was to build up our defence sector.” Mian sahib’s views on peace with India are not new. Normalisation between India and Pakistan seemed to be making progress on his last watch bu…

Pakistan: still waiting for a new dawn

Pakistan celebrated its Independence Day yesterday. As is the norm, there were official ceremonies and colourful tributes were paid to our forefathers who struggled for an independent state. In 1947, Pakistan may have gotten its independence from the British Raj but 64 years later, with a moth-eaten country, we are still waiting for a new dawn. Every year, the people of Pakistan wait for some miraculous transformation of this country’s situation but with each passing day, things go from bad to worse. Once again Prime Minister Gilani reiterated Pakistan’s “unhindered moral, diplomatic and political support” to the Kashmiris for their rights but where is this ‘support’ for the people of Balochistan? Prime Minister Gilani might be “ready to go to all Baloch leaders” as the government wants “to bring them in the national mainstream” but on the day he delivered this address, and while the people of Pakistan were celebrating August 14, the people of Balochistan were mourning their dead afte…

FATA reforms

President Asif Ali Zardari on Friday signed two decrees: Amendments to the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), 2011 and Extension of the Political Parties Order 2002 to the Tribal Areas. The reforms in FCR carry immense importance for the people of FATA to bring the tribal areas into the national mainstream. The more than a century-old FCR is a remnant of the British Raj. Since then, the tribal areas have been administered through political agents (PAs). The amendments to the FCR have brought an end to the practice of collective responsibility and collective punishment for children, women and people over the age of 65. The people of FATA can now appeal against the decisions of the PAs. Under the old system, if an individual was accused of committing a crime, the entire tribe was penalised. It was, therefore, imperative to introduce political reforms in the tribal areas, as the tribal people are very much citizens and entitled to the same rights and privileges as enjoyed by people living…

Saudi support: at what cost?

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani termed his recent visit to Saudi Arabia as a ‘renewal of ties’. Now this is interesting. Why would Pakistan need to ‘renew’ its ties with its Saudi ‘lords’ who have wreaked havoc here in the name of Islam? But obviously this subject was not on Mr Gilani’s agenda. The discussions were focused on asking the Saudis to reactivate bilateral cooperation in the fields of science, defence, defence production, trade and commerce. The Pakistani side tried to persuade the Saudis to buy weapons from us. The defence production facilities in Pakistan produce more weapons than we need, which is why we try to sell the extra weapons to other countries. Prime Minister Gilani also requested the Saudi authorities for an extension in the deferred oil payment facility, which the Saudis will ‘consider’. Apart from performing Umrah, which seemed to be the primary purpose of the Pakistani side for visiting Saudi Arabia, it looks as if nothing substantial came out of the talks…

Concessions galore

Flying in the face of criticism from Sindhi nationalists and the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has once again restored the 2001 local government (LG) system in Sindh. Previously, the government had restored the 2001 LG system only in Karachi and Hyderabad in order to appease the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). This step greatly annoyed the ANP, Sindhi nationalists and also the PPP’s own Sindhi base, which protested against the imposition of two different systems in one province. The ANP and Sindhi nationalists were visibly angry at the government’s decision to restore the status quo ante. This is not to say that they were enamoured of the colonial commissionerate system but the re-demarcation of Sindh carried out under Musharraf to advantage the MQM was certainly not something they wanted restored. While Karachi may be a stronghold of the MQM, the PPP has a stake in the city and so does the ANP. As for Hyderabad, it is a mix of Urdu-speaking people and …

Tic-tac-toe

If ever there was a worldwide competition for political gimmickry, Pakistan would win hands down. The amount of political buffoonery in this country has reached a point where you never know which decision/act/incident qualifies as the biggest folly of all. The decision of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to restore the local government system of 2001 in Karachi and Hyderabad in order to appease its on-again/off-again coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is one such example of how our political parties have no qualms about making a laughingstock of this country. The MQM’s blackmailing tactics know no bounds but it is not the MQM’s perambulations that concern us today, it is the PPP’s ineplicable decision making that is worrisome for it is the PPP that is the leading party in the ruling coalition.

When the MQM gave a cold shoulder to the PPP, the latter tried to ‘tease’ it in its own way by imposing the colonial commissionerate system. This further aggravated the situ…

Pervasive violence against women

The people of Pakistan have to face different problems every day. From rising inflation to the energy crisis, from lawlessness to heightened terrorism, from sectarian violence to religious fundamentalism, the lives of Pakistan’s citizens have become an endless tale of woes. One thing that has remained constant in Pakistani society over the years is the subjugation of women. According to a report by Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN), there has been an 18 percent increase in crimes against women over a period of one year in the country. These crimes include forced marriages, sexual assaults, honour killings, etc. A society that does not treat its women well is the poorest of all. In the words of Mother Teresa, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” In a patriarchal society like ours, people dread the birt…

Short, sad history of Left in Pakistan

[Note: This was written back in 2007 as part of my work as a Saneeya Hussain fellow, PANOS South Asia]

The world today is in the clutches of strong imperialist forces. The United States is leading these forces with strong allies like the United Kingdom. Over the years, the sole superpower – the United States – has ransacked many countries by using military force. Afghanistan and Iraq are two countries that have borne the brunt of imperialism. The forces that can counter imperialism are not strong enough. Today people feel the need for a system to substitute capitalism. That system can only be socialism, but the world over, the Left movement was buried along with socialism when Moscow and Beijing turned towards capitalism.

The recent success of socialism in some Latin American countries, particularly in Venezuela, has revived a hope in the leftist circles of the world. But there are a lot of challenges for socialism to counter capitalism in today’s imperialist world.

In our part of t…

Bailout package for Pakistan Railways

The federal government has finally decided to help the Pakistan Railways (PR) by approving a Rs 11.1 billion bailout package. Of this, Rs 6.1 billion will come from loans from the commercial banks. Additionally, Rs15 billion development funds will also be provided for the railways on a fast track basis. Now that a bailout package has finally been put in place, it is up to the Railways Ministry to put the country’s rail transport system back on track. The federal government was not keen on giving out these funds since Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour could not come up with a plan to improve PR, which has accrued a deficit of Rs 52.5 billion. Even in the holy month of Ramzan, railway employees are waiting for their salaries due to lack of funds.

Railways all over the world have both a commercial and a social function – that of linking isolated areas suffering from neglect. It was one of the greatest communication revolutions in mankind’s history, which brought isolated communities …

Karachi: elusive peace

Last month, almost 300 people lost their lives in Karachi due to a turf war between rival political parties. There were hopes that during the holy month of Ramzan, violence may abate. Unfortunately, the bloodthirsty armed gangs of rival political factions have no regard for human life or any sacred month. President Zardari held three back to back meetings on Wednesday in order to resolve the Karachi situation. “We believe in taking along all political forces on the issues of national importance, and will continue to do so in future as well. We have to resolve this issue ourselves and at the earliest, keeping in view the importance of this city and its role in the economy of the country,” said the president. On the one hand the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is trying to resolve the situation but on the other we see Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain’s provocative statements. Mr Hussain said that since the government has failed to stop the ongoing violence, the army and …

Strengthening the federation

According to reports, the government “is considering making an announcement for a separate Seraiki province by the end of this month” or on August 14th. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has made this move in order to truncate the influence of its archrival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Not to be outdone by the PPP, Mian Nawaz Sharif has also formed a party committee related to the demand for new provinces. While this may be a political gimmick for the two mainstream political parties, the truth is that the idea of more provinces in Pakistan is indeed a good one. The PML-N has ‘threatened’ to ask for the division of Sindh along the lines of the Seraiki province but instead of threatening the government with such veiled remarks, they should think about the ground realities and how the creation of further provinces will help strengthen the federation.

Most politicians think that the idea of a Seraiki province is good for administrative purposes while missing the complete pi…

Nothing succeeds like success

The new developments in Turkey are interesting at many levels. Turkey’s chief-of-staff, General Isik Kosaner, resigned on Friday along with the army, navy and air force chiefs. These en masse resignations were a result of the escalating tensions between the military and the government. Senior military officers have been arrested amidst allegations of planning the staging of a military coup. More than 200 officers were charged with an anti-government conspiracy. “It has become impossible for me to continue in this high office, because I am unable to fulfil my responsibility to protect the rights of my personnel as the chief of general staff,” said General Kosaner. President Abdullah Gul appointed General Necdet Ozel as the new army chief. “As you see, everything proceeds on its own course and there is no gap in chain of command,” said Gul. This is quite a change from the Turkey of yore. Had such a crisis arisen in the past, it would have probably resulted in a military coup. But the ma…