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Showing posts from December, 2011

Institutional infighting to be avoided

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani’s remarks about a ‘state within a state’ caused quite a sensation in political circles. It looked as if the premier’s indirect reference to the military and the ISI was a challenge to the establishment. General Kayani’s statement the very next day about the army being cognizant of its ‘constitutional obligations and responsibilities’ was welcomed by the prime minister. Mr Gilani also made it clear that there is no clash between the government and the military. Some analysts have called it a ‘retreat’ by the federal government even though it was only logical that the prime minister would accept and welcome the army chief’s positive statement at face value. But it is important to read between the lines. Prime Minister Gilani said his ‘state within a state’ remarks pertained to the attitude of the defence secretary. This seems to be a bit of a red herring. Tensions may have been defused but there are some questions that were left unanswered.

Things in th…

Nothing but a lie...

There are some people in this world who are just so brave, brutally honest and awe-inspiring that one cannot help but respect them. Many names come to mind when one thinks of Pakistanis who inspire these feelings. One such name is senior Baloch nationalist leader, Sardar Ataullah Mengal. A man of integrity, Mengal sahib is known to be a progressive, secular, liberal Baloch nationalist. When he was chief minister of Balochistan in 1972, he focused on education and industrial development for the neglected people of his province. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto dismissed the Balochistan government and Sardar Ataullah Mengal and other Baloch nationalist leaders were arrested. He spent many years in jail due to trumped-up charges in the Hyderabad Conspiracy Case. His 23-year-old son, Asad, was killed by intelligence agencies in Karachi, while his other son, Akhtar, who also served as chief minister of Balochistan, was arrested during the Musharraf regime. Despite his pers…

Benazir Bhutto: a symbol of resistance

December 27 will haunt Pakistan forever. On this day four years ago, our country lost one of its best leaders: Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, twice elected prime minister of Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto was not an ordinary leader. She was the head of Pakistan’s biggest political party — the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — with roots in all provinces, and represented the moderate democratic face of Pakistan. In an e-mail sent to her friend Mark Siegel, Ms Bhutto wrote that she would hold General Musharraf responsible if anything happens to her, apart from the names she sent in a letter to Musharraf (former IB chief Brigadier (retd) Ijaz Shah, PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Arbab Ghulam Rahim and former ISI chief General Hamid Gul). What happened to those names, nobody knows in the hustle bustle of power politics. Despite the PPP being in power, even her purported assassins have not been meted out a modicum of punishment. Those few who have been arrested in her murder case may have been involved…

No real ‘change’

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) rally in Karachi attracted, according to varying estimates, between 100,000 and 300,000 people on December 25. This was not a surprise given that PTI chief Imran Khan’s popularity has risen in recent months. Seeing the party’s rise as a ‘third force’, a lot of politicians have jumped ship and joined the PTI. Most of these are those who were either not happy with their former party or were sidelined. Former foreign minister Sardar Assef Ali has also joined the PTI, so it seems that the party is just new wine in an old bottle (read politicians). Reservations from the Christian community were shown when the PTI announced a rally on Christmas day but the PTI justified its decision since it also fell on Mr Jinnah’s birthday. Symbolically, the rally was held at the Quaid’s mausoleum. Though there is no bar on people with diverse views to attend a political rally, it was a bit disconcerting to see Dr Aafia Siddiqui’s posters at the rally. Not only were her …

Going against a democratic consensus

Prime Minister Gilani’s speech in the National Assembly ruffled some powerful feathers the other day. Army chief General Kayani was quick to allay the fears of the civilian government by stating that the army is fully cognizant of its constitutional obligations and responsibilities. On the other hand, General Kayani said that “irrespective of all other considerations, there can be no compromise on national security”. Now who defines ‘national security’ is completely another matter. But for the time being, Prime Minister Gilani is happy with General Kayani’s ‘clarification’ and is of the view that there “will definitely be an improvement because of it”. While there is a political consensus across the board — from Mian Nawaz Sharif to Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, from Altaf Hussain to Asfandyar Wali Khan — that democracy must be safeguarded, it was disconcerting to see Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif adopting a hawkish stance. On the one hand, the Punjab Assembly passed a resolution i…

No strangers to danger

A special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) highlights the dangers faced by journalists working in my country, Pakistan. According to the report, “Pakistan remained the deadliest country for the press for a second year … with the seven deaths in Pakistan marking the heaviest losses in a single nation.”

Wali Khan Babar, a young and energetic reporter of Geo TV, was killed in January this year. It is alleged that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was responsible for his murder. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, former Home Minister of Sindh, was probably the first person to openly allege this in public. Javed Naseer Rind, a journalist from Balochistan who worked for Daily Tawar, was killed last month – almost two months after he was abducted by unknown men. Pakistan’s military has been following a ‘kill and dump’ policy in the province of Balochistan and Mr Rind was another victim of that brutal policy. Syed Saleem Shahzad, Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, went missing …

Something is rotten...

The Memogate issue, a political scandal at best, seems to have developed into a matter of great import because the Supreme Court (SC) has decided to hear a petition related to the controversial memo. It is quite embarrassing that two supreme institutions — parliament and the SC — are investigating the same issue. When the prime minister had already ordered an inquiry into the matter through the parliamentary committee on national security, there was no need for the matter to be taken to the highest court. According to Article 184 (3.1) of the Constitution: “Exercise of jurisdiction. Court has to see that discretion is exercised in such a way that mischief and chaos is prevented. It should be exercised only when necessary, for injudicious exercise of such power, might result in grave and serious consequences.” Is it appropriate that the court and parliament are seized of the same matter? Should the petition be heard when it involves a spurious unsigned memo? It is important that the ma…

Importance of democracy

Mian Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), urged the government to hold early elections in order to reduce uncertainty and save democracy. Mr Sharif was clear on one issue when he said, “Whether this government remains or not, the military’s role in politics is unacceptable.” He warned that the country is already facing isolation and another military coup would be a disaster. Over the years, Mr Sharif has been very vocal against a military intervention and an ardent advocate of democracy. This is the right approach but asking for an early election may not be feasible so long as the government enjoys an undisturbed majority. There are those who want new general elections by March 2012 to pre-empt the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) gaining a majority in the Senate elections, given the political arithmetic in the assemblies, federal and provincial. This is a worrying outcome for those who oppose the PPP because with a strengthened PPP presence in the Upper House,…

Mengal’s no-nonsense message

It was a rare sight to see senior Baloch nationalist leader Sardar Ataullah Mengal in the media. On Monday, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif went to see Mengal sahib in Karachi and later they held a joint press conference. While condemning the killings of Punjabis in Balochistan, Mr Mengal posed a very pertinent question: “People get killed in Karachi and Frontier [Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] every day but our ‘beloved’ army does not react on these killings. Why does it only react in Balochistan? Mutilated bodies [of the Baloch] are found only in Balochistan. I am sorry to say but this army is only for Punjab, not Pakistan. It only reacts when Punjabis are killed. Either that or I am not part of Pakistan,” said Mengal sahib. He further added that “Balochistan has reached a point of no return” and the youth of Balochistan are the ones in control of things and they do not want to remain with Pakistan “because they are being systematically eliminated and forced to see…

Hate speech at a bigoted rally

Difa-i-Pakistan Council (Pakistan Defence Council) held a grand rally in Lahore on Sunday. The cast of usual suspects was present, including PDC chairman Maulana Samiul Haq, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) chief Hafiz Saeed, former ISI chief General Hamid Gul, Ijazul Haq and Sheikh Rashid Ahmed among others. It is beyond comprehension why the Punjab government gave permission to the Difa-i-Pakistan Council to hold a rally when those who were going to address it are people with extreme views. They were bound to cause embarrassment to Pakistan in terms of their hardline stance and condemnation of a number of countries and this is exactly what happened. Vowing to attack the US, Russia, NATO forces and India, these extremists then turned the tirade completely against India. This was expected since the JuD is just a front for the banned terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

At a time when Pakistan is trying to normalise its relations with India in the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks sa…

Political stability

Memogate has brought the country to a virtual standstill. It is as if an unsigned memo has erased all other issues from our memories. The civilian government is under pressure while there is a motivated campaign to bring about a clash between state institutions. Rumourmongers might have had a field day with the Memogate issue but it is now clear that it was an issue that should never have taken up so much of our energies. Prime Minister Gilani is right when he said that the Memogate fiasco should come to an end following the statement of General James Jones. Those who were wishing for a clash between the military and the government would also be disappointed after army chief General Kayani called President Zardari and enquired about his health. At the time of writing these lines, President Zardari was reportedly coming back to Pakistan. Now that the president is coming back, the issue of his health should be put to rest once and for all. Tensions, if any, between the military and the …

Claims and counter-claims

The balloon floated through Memogate has now been pinpricked by its very own author, Mansoor Ijaz. The whole edifice built around the controversial memo is unravelling under the weight of Mr Ijaz’s own contradictions. General James Jones, the intermediary between Ijaz and Admiral Mike Mullen, has declared the memo as unreliable. General Jones said, “At no time during the call do I remember Mr Ijaz mentioning Ambassador Haqqani, and he gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message.” Mr Ijaz is not known for his credibility in the first place and with General James’ claim that he thought Ijaz himself wrote the memo, it further makes it clear how one man tried to manipulate many parties and tried to disrupt the system in Pakistan.

Prime Minister Gilani met army chief General Kayani for three hours to discuss the situation. Mr Gilani feels t…

Fall of Dhaka

December 16, 1971 should serve as a grim reminder to each and every Pakistani of how wrong policies pursued by our military led to the disintegration of Pakistan. Forty years ago, we lost half of our country because General Yahya Khan and his military junta tried to overturn the mandate of the electorate through military means. It may be an extreme example of the arrogance and stupidity of the military junta but at the same time it is a lesson that needs to be learnt if we are to survive as a federation. There was no investigation leading to the events of the brutality committed in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) by Pakistan’s armed forces. The Pakistani nation still remains unaware of exactly what happened, who was responsible for this disaster; instead they are fed lies through state propaganda. Even the findings of the Hamoodur Rehman Commission report were not made public and were indeed suppressed by the Pakistani state back then. When India invaded in support of the Mukti Bahini …

Putting up with bestiality

Madrassas (religious seminaries) in Pakistan are notorious for many reasons; some term them as jihadi nurseries while others lament the indoctrination of extremist views in young, impressionable minds. Around 50 students, adult men and young boys, were freed from a seminary in Karachi recently. They were chained and mistreated by those who ran the madrassa. “I was kept in the basement for the past month and kept in chains. They also tortured me severely during this period. I was beaten with sticks,” said one of the students. Apparently, most of these students were sent there by their families because of their drug addiction or their involvement in criminal activities. This particular madrassa served as some sort of ‘rehab’ centre. This is just the tip of the iceberg as mistreatment, torture, chaining is quite common in seminaries.

Pakistan is teeming with madrassas. While some of them may actually be doing good work, a lot of these seminaries train young men for jihad, suicide bombing…

Pragmatism instead of emotionalism

The envoys moot held in Islamabad to review Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially now that we have adopted a confrontational posture vis-à-vis our relations with the US, has delivered a cautionary message. One of the envoys reportedly said, “We want peaceful, positive and balanced relations with the US based on mutual respect and mutual interest as no relationship can be sustained for long if it is one-sided.” Reportedly, most envoys were in favour of adopting a considered, pragmatic approach rather than knee-jerk reactions. Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Sheikh warned that a complete breakdown of Pak-US relations would be nothing less than a blunder given that Pakistan’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, especially from the US. Ambassador Munter has recently given some positive statements regarding bilateral ties and underlined the need for reviving the relationship. Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that the final decision on foreign policy was parliament’s mandate. …

Peace talks, again?!

Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s controversial statement where he thanked the Taliban for not attacking the Shias in Muharram set off a round of speculations. Reports started to emerge that the government was in negotiations with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a tried and old policy that has so far failed to bring about any positive results. The TTP in Bajaur first announced that it was indeed talking to the government but another TTP spokesman denied this. It seems that the TTP is now speaking with many voices, which may indicate a splintering of the militants into various factions. This makes it difficult for the government to negotiate with them but at the same time may make it relatively easier to deal with the Taliban militarily. Mr Malik also denied any talks were underway and said, “If the TTP surrenders, the government would definitely consider talks.” Leaving the door open for those who want to come in out of the cold is wise in any counterinsurgency, but never have the…

Reorganisation of the PML-N

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif has tried to reorganise his party ever since he got back from his exile during the Musharraf years. The PML-N faced a major setback in all four provinces during those years and disintegrated despite being the country’s second largest mainstream party. After forming a provincial government in Punjab, the party was able to reintegrate in Punjabi politics but in order to be a national party, it knows that being a rump in central Punjab would not do the trick; all other provinces are equally important. Thus we saw Mian sahib going to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh from time to time. Mian Nawaz Sharif’s recent rally in Larkana, stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was an effort at mobilising support for his party in Sindh. Larkana is said to be a no-go-area for other parties because nobody can rout the PPP from that area. Thus it is important to place the PML-N’s rally in that context as it is another indic…

President Zardari’s comeback

President Asif Ali Zardari said that his “enemies will be disappointed” because he is recovering and will soon return to Pakistan. Mr Zardari told an anchorperson that those who run away do so with their families but he left his son in Pakistan. It is good to know that the president is feeling better now and we wish him a speedy recovery. This has also put to rest all those rumours, speculations and motivated agendas, the authors of which were frothing at the mouth about the president’s well-being and purported ‘developments’ in the offing. While such rumour-mongering must be condemned, it would be advisable for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) to learn a lesson from this furore. When the president flew out to Dubai, we saw contradictory statements coming from the presidential spokesman and other government and party officials. It would have been better if an authoritative official statement had been issued to scotch any rumours and speculations. In this day and age of the media revo…

Political maturity

If there is one thing in Pakistan that is constant, it is the interference of an-all powerful military establishment in politics. Thus it was good to see Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif asking the nation to stand united against another martial law, which he said the country cannot afford. Mr Sharif has shown political maturity over the years, especially after signing the Charter of Democracy (CoD) with late Benazir Bhutto. The opposition’s right to oppose the incumbents and/or expose the government’s failings is legitimate under a democratic order. If exercised within the bounds and norms of democracy, there is nothing wrong with it. Indeed, it is the duty of the opposition to point out misgovernance in order to improve the system. In the 1990s, this right was misused and in fact transgressed to derail the democratic system. Mr Sharif has been consistently asking for a redressal of the civil-military imbalance and civilian supremacy. This is why he recentl…

Rumours, rumours

President Asif Ali Zardari had not even reached Dubai when people started to speculate why he had ‘left’ Pakistan in such a hurry. The president was going to address the joint session of parliament after Ashura (the 10th day of Muharram) but now he had taken off just like that. News started to trickle in that Mr Zardari had been taken ill suddenly and thus flown out to Dubai to get some medical tests done.

In a country that is no stranger to palace intrigues, the president’s sudden departure, even if for medical treatment, triggered rumours. Rumours of an impending coup started pouring in on social media websites. As if that was not enough, a story in the American magazine, Foreign Policy, speculating about the president being on his ‘way out’ of power, led the local Pakistani media to come up with one theory after another. It was as if a section of the media could not wait for Mr Zardari’s ouster. Speculations by the ignorant and ill-informed is one thing but the game gets dangerous…

Ethics and responsibility

President Asif Ali Zardari’s sudden ailment led to a plethora of rumours. Instead of wishing the president a speedy recovery, rumourmongers had a field day with the news of his illness. From social networking sites to local and international media, everyone was off and running about the ouster of President Zardari and a ‘soft coup’ as he had left the country for medical treatment. In all this media frenzy, confusion ensued. Putting an end to speculations, the Prime Minister House released a statement that said, “The president went to Dubai following symptoms related to his pre-existing heart condition. The president will remain under observation and return to resume his normal functions as advised by the doctors.” President Zardari’s condition is said to be stable now and he will hopefully be discharged from hospital in the next few days. What remains unstable, though, is the condition of all those who are in the habit of churning out rumours in this land of the pure. What people fail…

Afghanistan’s future: looming shadows

When the US-led NATO forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, the world community put its weight behind the invasion and occupation and vowed to help bring democracy to the country. The foreign forces were able to get rid of the Taliban government and install in its place a democratic dispensation, but the pledges made at Bonn I and other such international conferences never materialised. Now the world community is regretting its decision not to implement a Marshall Plan in Afghanistan. Economic help aside, there were no measures taken for capacity building in the war-torn country. Now when the Afghan endgame is looming, these shortcomings are haunting the world. The world community has gathered in Bonn to discuss the future of Afghanistan. Pakistan decided to boycott the conference to protest the NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. It is very unlikely that the Bonn Conference will deliver any results, with or without Pakistan’s presence. At the recent Ist…

Muharram security and sectarian attacks

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has demanded that “the Pakistani government should urgently act to protect Shia Muslims in Pakistan from sectarian attacks during the Muslim holy month of Muharram”. In the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, not many people feel safe due to the rise in terrorism, but if you are an ethnic or religious minority, your life is even more at risk. Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and also the month when Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) and his family were martyred by Yazid and his forces. Muslims all over the world observe the month of Muharram to commemorate the supreme sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). Shia Muslims in particular pay special homage to Imam Hussain (RA). Majaalis, processions and other such activities are held all across Pakistan during this month; the first 10 days of Muharram are observed with great reverence. The Wahabi school of thought in Islam is intolerant towards the Shias due to theologi…

Isolation looms in pursuit of ‘strategic depth’

The anger in Pakistan over the deadly NATO attack that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers is justified but in its wake it has led to some unwise decisions being taken by our government and military leadership. In the midst of conflicting claims by the US-led NATO forces and Pakistan in the shape of accusations and counter-accusations, Pakistan has refused to cooperate in the investigations. If the foreign troops provided wrong information about the area of operation to Pakistani officials, it must be thoroughly investigated by both sides why such a huge mistake was made in the first place. By refusing to cooperate, Pakistan is losing its chance to press its point. Not only that, the decision to not participate in the Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, whether advertently or inadvertently, our leadership is giving an impression that it does not want to settle the Afghan issue but might want to take it in another direction altogether. If the international community and regional stakeholders reac…