Aug 29, 2009

Pak, India never came close to nuclear war: Jaswant

KARACHI: Senior Indian politician Jaswant Singh on Thursday refuted the impression that Pakistan and India came close to a nuclear war during the military standoff in 2002, while observing that the nations of South Asia should look forward and work towards expanding a ‘constituency of peace’ in the region.

He made these comments during a wide-ranging interview broadcast exclusively on DawnNews TV, in which the former Indian finance and external affairs minister talked about the raging controversy that has been ignited by the release of his book, Jinnah: India-Partition Independence, in India, as well as a host of other issues.

‘I do not subscribe to nuclear apartheid. India has a sovereign right’ to pursue its nuclear doctrine ‘as does Pakistan’, the former Bharatiya Janata Party leader told Jawed Naqvi, Dawn’s Delhi correspondent, when asked about the nuclearisation of South Asia.

He dismissed the impression that Pakistan and India were at the brink of nuclear war as a ‘canard’ spread by the US ambassador to Delhi at the time. ‘We did not come close to nuclear war,’ he said emphatically.

In a departure from the hawkish tone he often applied while in office, Mr Singh said he ‘wished Pakistan and Bangladesh the best. I want to work towards expanding the constituency of peace, not repeating the mistakes of the past and blaming each other,’ although he admitted relations between Pakistan and India ‘experienced frequent fractures’.

Asked about the fate of secularism in India, he said the ‘destiny of India Nehru spoke of had not been realised’, while repeating the claim that Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and the Indian National Congress had in fact contributed to partition.

It is in fact these remarks in his latest book that have caused a furore in India and led to Jaswant Singh’s expulsion from the BJP.

Regarding the burning of his book and the ban it faced in certain Indian states, Mr Singh said he felt ‘wounded’ as if an ‘innocent child had been burnt’.

In reply to a question regarding the 2001Agra summit between then president Pervez Musharraf and then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Jaswant Singh alleged that Mr Musharraf’s ‘grandstanding’ at a press conference before the document was due to be signed put off his colleagues in the Indian government and scuttled the agreement.

As for the confusion that arose last month after prime ministers Yousuf Raza Gilani and Manmohan Singh signed the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, Jaswant Singh said: ‘Better drafting could have helped’ prevent the ‘incident’. ‘We have to tread the path very carefully. There are unseen hidden traps.’

He added that both nations must stop living in the past as ‘we cannot change geography now’.

He said that a federal India was both Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s and M.K. Gandhi’s dream, but ‘we let the country be cut up. Patel and Nehru agreed to what Jinnah demanded but in a truncated form. Today we would have been a global power’.

Asked if he could work for a liberal polity considering the fact that he had up till recently been associated with a right-wing political party, Mr Singh said that ‘A liberal mindset needs to return to South Asia if we are to thrive and poverty is to be alleviated. But it has to be our own interpretation of liberalism. Not a western concept.’

He also claimed the classification of the BJP as a right-wing outfit was ‘simplistic’.

When asked if he regretted playing an instrumental role in the release of militants from Indian jails in exchange for the safety of passengers aboard Indian Airlines Flight 814 (which was hijacked by militants and taken to Kandahar in 1999), Jaswant Singh replied in the negative.

‘Governance is an extremely testing challenge. [Sometimes] decisions have to be made between two great wrongs.’

Brown reaffirms £665m pledge for Pakistan

Prime Minister Gordon Brown reaffirmed his government’s support during a meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari here on Friday. President Zardari stressed the need for strengthening Pakistan’s capability to combat militants.

The two leaders discussed measures to boost economic activity in Pakistan and increase Pakistan’s exports to European markets.

The return of illegal immigrants living in Britain, Pakistan’s relations with India, economic stabilisation, strategic support for fight against militancy and the forthcoming meeting of the Friends of Pakistan group were also discussed.

Britain said it would help Pakistan’s education sector by providing textbooks for schoolchildren in border areas and support 300,000 girls from poor families to attend secondary school.

Mr Brown praised Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and said national consensus against militants was key to the success of military operation.

According to presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar, the president urged the international community to help Pakistan fight militants and for rehabilitation of displaced persons.

He said that the Pakistan-India joint statement issued in Sharm El Sheikh should provide necessary impetus for resumption of composite dialogue between the two countries.

He said Pakistan was seriously investigating the Mumbai attacks, but bilateral relations should not be held hostage to the probe.

The president said that Pakistan would work with international partners to stabilise Afghanistan and expressed the hope that trilateral consultation involving the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan would gain strength after presidential elections held in that country.

A Downing Street spokesman said that security in the Pakistan-Afghan border areas was taken up as matter of high priority.

‘The prime minister and the president agreed to tackle the underlying causes of extremism. Mr Brown reiterated our support for Pakistan’s efforts and repeated the UK’s commitment for 665 million pounds over four years. Our development programme in Pakistan is our second largest in the world. We aim to spend around half of this in critical border areas.’ Mr Brown pressed Mr Zardari to ensure that the aid for the region was properly spent.—Agencies

Aug 25, 2009


Ahmed Quraishi

While we should thank India's former foreign minister for his courage in praising Mr Jinnah, we should stop behaving as if we are seeking validation and vindication. Mr Jaswant Singh's book is not a Pakistani victory. It is a sincere attempt by an Indian citizen to probe what is commonly known as partition, which itself is based on the false notion that a sovereign India was wrongly divided. For us in Pakistan, we should realise that our independence – and not "partition" – is steeped in both modern and old histories and requires no explanation.

Pakistani intellectuals continue to be afflicted with low self-esteem that prevents them from fashioning an interpretation of history supportive of the idea of Pakistani nationalism. In this, our intellectuals are far behind the thinkers in Israel, for example, who achieved the impossible by reviving a 2,000-year-old dead language to gel a nation of diverse peoples.

Our politicians and thinkers failed to make something out of Pakistan in the past six decades mainly because of the lack of pride that comes from a sense of being, a sense of destiny, a sense of history. This discussion is important because we have seen brazen attempts during the last two years, especially in the US media, to promote the idea of Pakistan's balkanisation.

Finding a nationalistic motivation, a sort of 'Pak-nationalism' -- is essential.

The first thing Pakistanis need to know is that Pakistan was destined to happen. Mr Jinnah made it happen through his sheer brilliance because he was there. But Pakistan was going to happen anyway, in some shape or form and at an opportune time, because of the force of history. Pakistan was not a historical coincidence that the common historical version suggests and which Mr Singh reinforced. There is no coincidence in the fact that a quarter of a century before Quaid-e-Azam's rise, a poet who wore a Turkish tarboosh (hat) and wrote Persian poetry predicted such a country. Pakistan's rise came exactly 90 years after the formal fall of the Mughal Empire, Pakistan's predecessor, which was the only India the world had known for centuries. Except for that 90-year-long gap, Pakistan had existed in several shapes and forms, and for at least ten centuries.

Our Indian friends have the right to debate the question of India's supposed division. But today's India, born in 1947, was never divided or partitioned. It is a historical fallacy to think that Pakistan was ever part of any united and sovereign Indian state. The only thing that was divided in 1947 was a British colony that, in turn, was based on a defunct Muslim empire. The Indian grievance about the "partition" that is at the core of Indian animosity toward Pakistan is without base.

What is more surprising is how Pakistan's intellectuals were drawn by Mr Singh's book to conclude that Pakistan's founding father was an "Indian nationalist" who did not want Pakistan as a first choice. This is incorrect, because it negates the force of history that favoured Pakistan. Tens of millions of people wanted to be future Pakistani citizens before the country even existed. The leadership of Mr Jinnah was an instrument, not the cause.

Sixty-two years later, Pakistanis shouldn't be discussing details. We know there was a Pakistan independence movement. We know it was anchored in history. We know that the fourth and fifth generations of today's Pakistanis are more integrated than ever.

This is the reality of Mr Jinnah's 'Pak-nationalism'. And this is the only thing that matters.

The writer works for Geo TV.

Science of computers

Part II Random thoughts

Dr A Q Khan

In Part I last week on the importance of computer technology I discussed the subject in general and gave a few useful related web sites. In this second part I would like to discuss artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, the professional scope for computer engineers and what is expected professionally from them. In addition to the disciplines mentioned in Part I, emerging technologies, applications and curriculum recommendations have appeared, which need to be mentioned as well.

1. Artificial intelligence (AI): The subfield of computer science that is concerned with understanding the nature of intelligent action and making computer machines, especially intelligent computer programmes, capable of such action is known as artificial intelligence. It can also be described as the performance by computer systems of a task that normally requires human intelligence, such as visual perception or decision-making.

Artificial intelligence combines computing with psychology, linguistics and philosophy. It is concerned with the design of intelligent computer systems and the study of intelligence in both people and machines. Using artificial intelligence techniques, computers are being programmed to do things previously done only by people. Artificial intelligence systems are already in use for such tasks as fault diagnosis, mineral prospecting and language translation and are not confined to methods that are biologically observable.

The main emphasis of computer science and artificial intelligence studies is on the principles and practice of software design. Distinctive features include human-centred computer systems, foundations of concurrent systems, networking and distributing systems, vision, national language processing, neural networks and artificial life. These study programmes are supported by powerful computing facilities running a wide range of software. The Stanford University website: jmc/whatisai/whatisai/html provides a description and applications of AI.

2. Bioinformatics: Bioinformatics is the application of computer technology to the management of biological information. More information on this can be found on websites like .

Some universities have added other subjects, like accounting, finance and law to their computer science curriculum.

Computer science and engineering graduates have perhaps the largest spectrum of jobs to select from. Computer architecture, computer-aided design and manufacturing of VLSI/ULSI circuits, intelligent robotic systems, computer-based control systems, telecommunications and computer networking, wireless communication systems, signal and information processing and multimedia systems, solid-state physics and devices, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), electromagnetic and electromechanical systems, data-storage systems, data mining, embedded systems, distributed computing, mobile computing, real-time software, digital signal processing, optical data processing, banking, insurance, healthcare and multinationals, to name but a few common careers.

After having followed a good university course in any discipline of computer science and engineering, graduates are normally expected to have learnt two types of skills:

Technical computing skills: Problem-solving ability, recognising levels of abstraction in software, hardware systems and multimedia. Practical skills such as building and using database management systems and other sophisticated software tools. Programming: using existing software libraries to carry out a variety of computing tasks, such as creating a user interface. Being aware of the uses to which computers are put, recognising issues to do with security and safety. Looking at innovative ways of using computers, creating tools, providing tools support, etc.

General professional skills: Communicating in writing, giving effective presentations and product demonstrations and being a good negotiator (both in traditional environments and electronically). Preparing for a job search; this involves building an impressive curriculum vitae and basing this confidently on technical and other skills. In addition, depending on interests, specialised domain knowledge such as business, medicine and biology will be acquired. Being an effective team member. Understanding the special requirements of a globally distributed project with participants from multiple cultures. Recognising the challenges and opportunities of keeping skills up-to-date and understanding how to do so. Knowledge of fundamental principles and their applications to develop software-based solutions. The ability to apply and implement appropriate theories and techniques to the design and development of computer systems and to use correct criteria and tools for the planning, development, testing and evaluation of software systems. The ability to recognise the capabilities and limitations of computer-based solutions as well as sources of risk. I still vividly remember the large, room-sized configuration of the IBM computer system, which used big stacks of punch cards that had been installed in Sweden at the Oxelosund Steel Mills, which I visited as a graduate student. It was the most modern steel plant in the world at the time, using the newly developed Kaldo Process for the purification of steel (reducing its carbon content). We were visiting educational and industrial institutions in Sweden in July 1964 as a delegation from the Technological University of Delft, Holland. Sweden was a beautiful, clean country – cleaner than any I had seen anywhere before. The people were extremely polite, hospitable and disciplined. At that time Holland was known as the cleanest country, of which the Germans never hesitated to inform me when I praised their cleanliness. They did have a point and I was duly impressed by what I later found in Holland. However, after seeing Sweden, I had to admit that their country was even cleaner.

We visited the Royal Institute of Technology, Uppsala University, Volvo, Husquarna, Scania Vabis, Oxelosund and Sandvik Steel Mills, etc. It was our first exposure to an operational computer system. The IBM computer configuration was the first of its kind and was installed and operated by the Americans for the automatic control of the steel mills. Nowadays a very small unit is more powerful and more efficient than that huge configuration was.

About 25 years after that memorable visit I heard the shocking news that the Prime Minister of Sweden, Mr Olof Palme, had been brutally shot down while walking back to his residence after seeing a film. How could anyone be so callous as to murder such a good human being, a pacifist, was beyond my comprehension. I wrote an obituary in a local English daily and was pleasantly surprised to receive a letter of thanks from Mrs Palme through their embassy in Islamabad.

I was lucky to have a team of experts in theoretical computation (Computational Fluid Dynamics, etc.), computer systems engineering (Control and Automation, etc.), complex process technology (fault-free running of the enrichment plant) and maintenance of these complex systems (hardware engineering) headed by Dr M Alam, Nasim Khan, Dr M Ashraf Atta and Brig. Rafiuddin, respectively. They, together with their other competent and able colleagues, managed to solve all the problems related to the centrifuge plant and the manufacture of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

(The information in this article is based on the available syllabuses of famous British universities.)

Taliban finally lay Baitullah saga to rest

It is the first time that the militant group has acknowledged his death. Two of Baitullah’s top aides, Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, called The Associated Press on Tuesday evening to say that he had died on Sunday of wounds from the Aug 5 strike near the Afghan border.

‘He was wounded. He got the wounds in a drone strike and he was martyred two days ago,’ Hakeemullah said. Rehman later repeated the same statement.

Both also confirmed an earlier Taliban announcement that Hakeemullah was now leading the Pakistani Taliban, while Waliur Rehman would lead the movement’s wing in South Waziristan.

The Taliban had insisted for weeks that Baitullah Mehsud was still alive following the missile strike, while US and Pakistani officials said he was almost certainly dead and a leadership struggle had ensued.

Hakeemullah and Waliur Rehman, who had served as top aides to Baitullah, said they were calling together -– handing the telephone back and forth to each other -– to dispel reports of disunity in the Taliban leadership. They spoke to an AP reporter who had interviewed both and recognised their voices.

‘Our presence together shows that we do not have any differences,’ Rehman said.

Both men had been named as candidates -– and possibly rivals -– to replace Baitullah Mehsud as chief of the Al Qaeda-linked movement, which is blamed for dozens of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan and also for planning attacks on US troops across the border in Afghanistan.

The 28-year-old Hakeemullah commanded three tribal regions and had a reputation as Baitullah’s most ferocious deputy.

He first appeared in public to journalists in November 2008 when he offered to take reporters on a ride in a US Humvee taken from a supply truck heading to Afghanistan.

Hakeemullah claimed responsibility for the June 9 bombing of the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar.

He also threatened suicide bombings in Pakistani cities in retaliation for a recent army offensive in the Swat valley, which has been winding down in recent weeks.

The BBC’s Aleem Maqbool says the Pakistani government will be pleased that the Taliban has confirmed the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

It has been unable to provide tangible evidence of his death because of the remote and hostile terrain of Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan.

There were also claims that Hakeemullah had been killed in a clash with supporters of Waliur Rehman. The fate of Baitullah Mehsud has also been the subject of intense speculation.—Agencies

Aug 24, 2009

Sugar crisis

The agreement, which allows the mills to raise the ex-factory price to Rs45 a kilo from Rs28.28, is in violation of the Competition Ordinance, 2007. In order to facilitate the mills slash prices the government has also cut the general sales tax on their sales by half in spite of the serious threat that low tax-revenue collection can pose to the economy.

The commission finds the agreement ‘difficult to condone’ as this amounts to ‘legitimisation of practices (such as cartelisation) prohibited under law’. The commission says the government must not provide any patronage to anti-competitive practices and measures encouraging ‘collusive behaviour’. Thankfully, we have at least one institution that can rise to the occasion to protect the interests of the hapless millions.

Policymakers must understand that the market economy can function in the face of excessive government intervention on behalf of either the producers or consumers. The government must balance the interests of both. That is possible only if the market forces are allowed to function in a competitive environment, where the government neither fixes the prices nor allows the millers to form a cartel.

The commission is right in pointing out that the fixing of prices and output has always had ‘the most detrimental effects on competition’ that erodes or seriously reduces the benefits a competitive market can deliver to consumers. The ball is not in the government’s court. The consumers are watching and prodding the government to withdraw its ‘unlawful’ decision and show some respect towards public institutions.

Minus-one again

Dawn Editorial
Tuesday, 25 Aug, 2009

Prime Minister Gilani has added his voice to the growing chorus of PPP leaders rejecting the so-called minus-one formula, saying that there is no place for it in a democracy and that it is an attempt by the PPP’s ‘opponents’ to send the entire government packing.

Curiously though the prime minister left the country none the wiser about where precisely the minus-one formula originates from. So what are we to make of these recent ‘events’? First, it is significant that Mr Gilani has himself spoken out against minus-one — after all, were President Zardari to exit, the prime minister stands to be the major direct beneficiary.

The PPP has tried to paper over the cracks in the relationship between the president and the prime minister, but that has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks. The sacking of the chairman of Pakistan Steel Mills and then the removal of the acting chairman in quick order by the prime minister are particularly vivid examples of disagreements over key appointments. Yet, Prime Minister Gilani’s emphatic statement in defence of the president indicates that while he may want to strengthen the democratic system he does not want to do anything to Zardari’s detriment.

The fact is, given Zardari’s impregnable constitutional position, for minus-one to become a reality it would require direct military intervention in politics yet again. Therefore, the second point to note is that even Nawaz Sharif has emphatically rejected intervention in politics by the army high command. This is a welcome signal sent by the leader of the largest opposition party in the country and we hope that the politicians have finally learned the lesson that military intervention is in part triggered by the disarray and chaos that the politicians can unleash with internecine fighting among themselves.

Whatever differences the politicians have with one another, they can only defeat undemocratic forces when they stand united against systemic threats — a fact Sharif appears to have now understood, at least going by his public statements.The third point to note is that minus-one has another, more positive, formulation that has not gained much attention.

If parliament, which includes the president under the constitution, strips the presidency of its substantive powers through a constitutional amendment, Mr Zardari would become no more than a titular head of state. This benign version of minus-one has many pluses: the parliamentary system would receive a boost; a demand of all parties in the country would be met; and President Zardari could boost his poor ratings by fulfilling his pledges. This and only this formulation of minus-one is what the country needs.

Aug 23, 2009

Pakistan, US to revive strategic dialogue

Obama reaches out to religious parties in Pakistan ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and the United States have agreed to revive the Strategic Dialogue and upgrade it to ministerial level for rejuvenating their strategic partnership.

The fourth round of the Strategic Dialogue will be held in Islamabad during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Pakistan in October, diplomatic sources told Dawn on Wednesday.

Ms Clinton would co-chair the dialogue with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.

The US decision to have Ms Clinton as co-chair of the dialogue marks the upgradation of talks as far as Washington is concerned.

The notion that the US viewed its relations with Pakistan through the Afghan prism was further reinforced when Pakistan’s request for holding the fourth round of the strategic dialogue was cold shouldered at least on two occasions this year.

Moreover, after the appointment of Richard Holbrooke as special envoy for the region most of the interaction between the two countries was channelled through his office.

Helping Pakistan

Dawn Editotial
Monday, 24 Aug, 2009

Asked in an interview for the New York Times Magazine whether American military aid could ‘have been better spent on education and healthcare for girls and women’, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton replied: ‘Yes. The answer is yes’. And referring to the Kerry-Lugar/ Berman non-military aid in the pipeline, Ms Clinton added: ‘we hope to try to make up for lost time’.

The secretary’s comments have come on the same weekend that a team of American experts arrived here to assess the country’s ailing power sector and begin work on a long-term solution to the recurring crisis. Taken together, it appears that the US is looking to invest in the future of the people here and perhaps put behind it the ‘transactional relationship’ of years past.

While concrete plans have not yet been unveiled, the past does give an indication of what serious input from the Americans can help achieve. The Indus Waters Treaty, which even five decades later represents the high-water mark in Pak-India negotiations, was in large measure made possible by the pledge of American dollars for new mega-projects in the water sector. And nearly 35 nears since the construction of the Tarbela dam, the Mangla and Tarbela dams remain the country’s largest water reservoirs and significant sources of hydel power.

This is not to say that the Americans are contemplating something on a similar scale in the education and power sectors today, but with the right level of commitment, financial backing and technical expertise, Pakistan may finally be able to turn the corner in those critical sectors with American help. For example, consider that the long-term energy security of the country can only be achieved with the exploitation of indigenous options such as coal and hydel power, but these options require enormous amounts of capital that the state and the private sector will not be able to muster easily. American backing can make what may otherwise be a pipedream a reality.

But Pakistan must wait and see what the Obama administration comes up with finally in terms of non-military aid to Pakistan. There are some obvious hurdles, not least the fact that the security environment in the country is not conducive to the large-scale presence of non-military American experts. So even if the American will is genuine — and Washington will have to a lot more to convince Pakistanis that it is — that will not easily translate into meaningful, long-term commitments on the ground.

Aug 22, 2009

Water shortage greatest threat to Pakistan

book By Anwar Iqbal

Author Michael Kugelman argues that ‘while this assertion may be overblown, one can hardly dispute its underlying premise’.

The book points out that Pakistan’s water situation is extremely precarious. Water availability has plummeted from about 5,000 cubic metres per capita in the early 1950s to less than 1,500 per capita today.

According to 2008 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Pakistan’s total water availability per capita ranks dead last in a list of 26 Asian countries and the United States.

The book warns that Pakistan is expected to become water-scarce (the designation of a country with annual water availability below 1,000 cubic metres per capita) by 2035, though some experts say this may happen as soon as 2020, if not earlier.

Mr Kugelman, a programme associate with the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, warns that several dramatic demographic shifts are intensifying Pakistan’s already-rampant water insecurity.

The book notes that at least 90 per cent of Pakistan’s dwindling water resources are allocated to irrigation and other agricultural needs. This is not entirely surprising, given that Pakistan is an overwhelmingly arid country with an agriculture-dependent economy.

Unfortunately, however, intensive irrigation regimes and poor drainage practices have caused waterlogging and soil salinity throughout Pakistan’s countryside. As a result, vast expanses of the nation’s rich agricultural lands are too wet or salty to yield any meaningful harvests.

With the lion’s share of Pakistan’s limited water supplies dedicated to agriculture, less than 10 per cent is left for drinking water and sanitation.

The book notes that some of the starkest manifestations of the crisis can be found in the parched regions of Sindh. As the country’s population has surged, large volumes of water from the Indus have been diverted upstream to Punjab to satisfy soaring demand for agriculture and for consumption in cities.

‘Consequently, downstream in Sindh, the once-mighty Indus has shrunk to a canal, and in some areas shrivelled up to little more than a puddle.’

The river’s disappearance throughout much of Sindh, the book argues, has snuffed out livelihoods throughout the river delta, particularly those of fishermen — who are now forced to gather firewood for a living and to buy their water (at high cost) from trucks.

The book quotes one Pakistani environmentalist as lamenting how the Indus Delta is suffering through ‘severe degradation’, sparking ‘coastal poverty, hopelessness, and despair’, causing great damage to the delta’s mangroves and destroying entire ecosystems.

Perhaps the most powerful accelerant of Pakistan’s water crisis is global warming. The Indus River Basin — Pakistan’s chief water source — obtains its water stocks from the snows and rains of the western Himalayas. However, few — if any — areas of the world are suffering from the effects of climate change as much as this legendary mountain region.

Many of its glaciers are already thinning by up to a metre per year. This rapid melting pattern — coupled with another consequence of global warming, high-intensity precipitation — is expected to aggravate river flooding. Once the glaciers have melted, river flows are expected to decrease dramatically.

What does this entail for Pakistan? According to the World Bank, it means an exacerbation of the ‘already serious problems’ of flooding and poor drainage in the Indus Basin over the next 50 years, followed by up to a ‘terrifying’ 30-40 per cent drop in river flows in 100 years’ time.

Bhasha Dam

Dawn Editorial
Saturday, 22 Aug, 2009

The dam, termed as the country’s future lifeline, will produce 4,500 megawatts of cheap electricity in addition to storing 6.4MAF of water and irrigating more than 33 million acres of land. It will help slow down the sedimentation of Tarbela, which has derated generation by 276 megawatts to 3,202 megawatts.

One theory that has been attacked by the lobby that is against big dams is that Bhasha must be constructed to save Tarbela that is threatened by silt. Nevertheless, the news must cheer up people in a country that is predicted to become water-scarce in the next two-and-a-half decades, where half the population has no access to electricity and where others are forced to live without it for up to 12 hours a day.

Many see the approval of the project as a realisation on the part of the government that a long-term strategy is crucial if the issue of persistent water and power shortages is to be addressed. The government claims that it has consulted all stakeholders before giving a nod to the project but such reassuring words are never a guarantee for smooth sailing.

The Bhasha water reservoir is to be located in the Northern Areas and power is to be generated in the NWFP. The dam could cause a heated debate between the two regions over hydropower royalties. It is not yet known what steps the government plans to take to guard against such an eventuality. Besides, the water storage is certainly going to reduce the downstream flow of the Indus waters. Such a possibility calls for greater transparency in the inter-provincial water-sharing mechanism under Irsa to prevent any new tug-of-war between the federating units.

Even if these problems are taken care of, the building of the dam presents a number of engineering, environmental and cultural challenges. The project will flood 100km of the Karakoram Highway, drown villages housing an estimated 35,000 people and could wash away prehistoric rock carvings in the Northern Areas in addition to disturbing the ecological balance of the area.

The government needs to consider and openly debate all these questions before undertaking the project. If these issues are not addressed in a transparent manner and well in time, the dam will add to the problems of the federation rather than prove a remedy for them.

PAKISTAN--Plan for 1,500MW rental power plants

Water and Power Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf told journalists after the meeting that in view of a requirement of 2,700MW generation through rental power plants (RPPs), the ECC had asked his ministry to arrange 2,200MW from 14 companies in order to get rid of loadshedding.

‘The ECC meeting today approved 1,500MW to be generated through the RPPs and directed the power ministry to seek 200 mmcfd of gas from the petroleum ministry to generate 700MW from the existing system,’ Mr Ashraf said.

He said that if the petroleum ministry failed to provide the required gas more electricity would be generated through the RPPs.

He said the average tariff for IPPs was 12.5 cents per kilowatt hour while that for RPPs was 13.5 cents per unit. He rejected opposition’s allegations and said no one had provided any concrete evidence of misappropriations against his ministry over the RPP issue.

The plan had been approved by parliament after four days of debate on the RPP issue, he added. ‘Maximum tariff for any RPP is 15 cents per unit and that too for the barge-based generation plant for Karachi.’

In reply to a question about the financial impact of the RPP, Mr Ashraf said that when the plants came online the overall tariff would rise by six per cent.

However, he said, it would be the decision of the government to pass on the increase to consumers or to provide subsidy.

Mr Ashraf said the RPP policy had been adopted over the world and countries like Saudi Arabia and India were also getting electricity through RPPs. ‘We have to decide weather to get electricity or face loadshedding which is resulting in unemployment, low economic growth and protest demonstrations.’

The minister said that the energy mix consisted of hydel, thermal (both public and private sectors), nuclear and limited quantity of coal and wind.

He said the hydel power generation depended on water which was mainly controlled by the Indus River System Authority for irrigation and a new hydel project required at least eight to 10 years.

‘A thermal power plant requires five years and a coal-based plant six years. The country has no other option but to go for rental power plants.’

Mr Ashraf said that 14 per cent mobilisation advance payments were being made to the RPPs and the amount would be deducted from tariff payments when plants became operational.

He defended the advance payment and said it was being done to expedite the commissioning of the plants.

He said the government was also working on hydel power plants and projects like Bhasha Dam and Neelum-Jehlum power plants and it would soon start work on the Bunji dam project.

Aug 20, 2009

Local government blues

Most local government members, numbering in tens of thousands across the country, are not happy with their impending send-off. –Photo by APP Despite facing stiff opposition from those a notch above them in terms of power, the beleaguered local governments are getting a lot of support from elsewhere.

The PML-Q has emerged as their staunchest champion, as have some others under the leadership of Daniyal Aziz, a former head of the National Reconstruction Bureau that can take the credit — or blame — for the existence and performance of the current local government system. But is a struggling opposition party clutching at every straw to remain afloat or an individual that some say is still eyeing the job he had to relinquish not so long ago the only ones clamouring for the continuation of the local government system? Certainly not.

Most local government members, numbering in tens of thousands across the country, are not happy with their impending send-off. (After all, it is only too natural to be reluctant at the prospect of having to let go of the reins of power.) Civil society organisations, local and international donors and experts-cum-consultants — in fact all those who have invested time, money and energy in devising, financing and running the local government system — are also agonised.

So should be the proverbial man in the street. Even though his support for or opposition to the devolution of power has remained mute, it is he who is supposed to be the main beneficiary of the local government system that devolution intended.

Those who want to scrap these governments, therefore, should also keep the ordinary people in mind as they go about searching for alternatives. But before the scramble for alternatives starts, the existing system should be dispassionately analysed for what it is and what it could not be. If, even in its flawed current form, it turns out to have enabled relatively faster development and comparatively easier service delivery at the local level, then it would be advisable to retain it while making the necessary changes. Pushing the system off the cliff is not a smart choice when a pull here and a nudge there can make it work better.

Going Jinnah’s way

In a sense the fate that befell Jaswant Singh — his marginalisation within the rightwing BJP followed by his ideological disengagement with the party — had similarities with the denouement as it evolved for Jinnah. The difference was that while Singh may have moved from the communal politics of the BJP towards a reaffirmation of secular historiography, the insidious caste politics of the Congress behemoth had forced an agreeably liberal Jinnah to resort to patently communal agitation.

After his expulsion from the BJP ahead of the party’s brainstorming session in Simla on Wednesday, Jaswant Singh told reporters that he regretted his party’s decision to remove him from the organisation’s primary membership but he was not about to vacate the political space he has nurtured. What does that mean?

To begin with, he has created a royal mess for India’s two main parties. Who would have thought that the BJP and its ideological fountainhead, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, would find themselves defending their main quarry Jawaharlal Nehru, over the arch quarry Jinnah? Jaswant Singh’s clever, almost impish, juxtaposition of the two stalwarts has all but achieved the hitherto unimaginable. In one stroke he has put the Congress and the BJP on the same ideological plane. It would require an extremely delicate surgery, which neither party appears equipped for, to separate the arguments that he has made for and against Jinnah and Nehru, Gandhi and the British. He has studded his book with references rare and familiar that disturbs the neat communal historiography, which the establishments in India and Pakistan had been used to.

Jaswant Singh feared that the book Jinnah: India — Partition — Independence would create problems in Pakistan more than in his own country. He believed the dichotomy that emerged between the Quaid’s vision and the evolution of a sectarian state in Pakistan would invite state-sponsored censure. But the first barbs came from within India. Early reactions from the BJP and the Congress to his research verged on intolerance of intellectual inquiry. This is not new. Books have been burnt and banned, artists and writers sent into exile even earlier in India.

But Jaswant Singh is not quitting politics, much less the country. In fact an endorsement of his quest will be palpable as early as this weekend when Ramazan, the month of fasting for Muslims, begins. In Lutyens’ Delhi, the hub of India’s power dynamic, the circus of feasts will see robed clerics from diverse Islamic clusters getting invited to the prime minister’s house to break bread. Government ministers, party leaders, MPs, power peddlers, middlemen, in a nutshell everyone who lives by the 13 per cent Muslim vote in India or those who need to flaunt their secularism will take turns to rustle up an appetising Ramazan menu. Of course, only a minority of India’s 150 million Muslims are mullahs and so a few of the less pious variety would also be given a slot in the meandering queue to rub shoulders with the high and mighty.

Had Jinnah had his way, there would be no need for the pathetic lottery of Ramazan invitations. There would be no need for the Justice Sachchar Committee, set up to investigate why Indian Muslims continue to be economically and socially backward six decades after independence from colonialism.

In other words, had there been no partition there would not be a need for communally driven dinner invitations, even though they are usually claimed to strengthen secularism. Indians would be less self-consciously tolerant and eating or not eating with each other of their free will in an India that Jinnah had dreamt of. Jaswant Singh has been penalised for implicitly asserting this.

As a matter of fact, Justice Sachchar offered remedies that reminded me of the crisis once faced by the International Committee of the Red Cross when its representatives visited prisons in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. They recommended hot water baths for the inmates, which startled the jail warden who hadn’t had the luxury of one in a fortnight himself.

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules in this. Political power does not flow from the numerical superiority of a community over another. The partition of 1947 wrote this in blood. As a maverick college friend remarked, in capitalism man exploits man and in socialism it was the other way round.

In predominantly Muslim Pakistan, Muslims are exploiting, and now killing, Muslims. Hindus have fared no better in India. Seventy per cent of India — predominantly Hindu India — has been marginalised to create the illusion of a superpower for the 30 per cent, possibly less. More Hindus — if the tribespeople inhabiting Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand or those fighting pitched battles in West Bengal with paramilitary men are considered Hindu — are the next targets of the state’s neocon agenda.

Jaswant Singh may not have listed these examples to make his case, but they do underscore the unacceptable failures of the founding fathers and their heirs in both countries.

If Jaswant Singh is lucky and has got the proposed Urdu translation of his controversial book on Jinnah out before the weekend, there is a good chance that the Ramazan iftars would become the battlegrounds between status quo and refreshing new ideas for India, and also possibly for Pakistan, to explore.

A Bengali edition of the book is expected to ignite debate in a region that has revelled in questioning everyone that we easily worship, be he Jinnah, or Gandhi, Nehru or Suhrawardy.

In this sense Jinnah’s inspiration may well have come from Rabindranath Tagore’s song: Jodi tor daak shuney keoo na ashey tobey ekla chalo rey. (If none heeds your cry to march together, just walk alone, no if or whether.)

Jaswant Singh may well have embarked on a lonely journey to begin with.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Justice or reconciliation?

As the country prepares for its second presidential election, the challenge thus lies with the Afghan people to forge their peace process and rebuild their nation after 30 years of bloodshed. Who will emerge the winner on August 20 – or a subsequent run-off within a fortnight – and will the election be conducted securely: these are the questions all Afghan people are asking.

On the security front, there has been a sharp rise in the number of civilian and military deaths in the country recently. Indeed, on August 15, Kabul was rocked by a car bomb, killing seven and wounding almost 100. Again, on August 18, two days before the election, 15 people were killed in suicide attacks in Kabul. Afghan politicians too have not been safe, with President Hamid Karzai’s vice-presidential candidate escaping an ambush while campaigning. Officials have even told the AFP that 10 per cent of polling stations may be closed for security reasons.

Despite these attacks, contacts between the government and the Taliban have led to the militants agreeing to a truce in the Badghis province ahead of the poll. Under the truce ‘the Taliban agreed not to attack election candidates in the province and to allow them to set up campaign offices.’ Although that ceasefire fell apart hours after it was struck, with clashes erupting between militants and policemen, presidential spokesperson Seyamak Herawi told Reuters the government hopes to strike similar deals in other parts of the country, adding that ‘the Taliban can also take part in the elections.’ Peace however, cannot come without a price and in all likelihood that price will have to be justice.

In post-conflict situations, the issue of pursuing justice or reconciliation is central. With the pursuit of justice, those guilty of killings, lootings and a multitude of other horrors that war entails are brought to trial in some manner and punished. With reconciliation, however, the focus shifts away from prosecuting the crimes of the past – for example, by accommodating former warlords into the system and giving amnesty to former power holders to convince them to ally with the new system. In contrast, if the peace process was contingent on bringing evildoers to justice, there would be many within Afghanistan who would have a reason to resist any peace process. Post-apartheid South Africa stands as a testament to the power of reconciliation, as its Truth and Reconciliation Commission traveled the country inviting victims of violence to be heard and perpetrators of violence to testify and seek amnesty.

In Afghanistan the need for amnesty is particularly reinforced, as constant conflict for more than a generation has meant that few Afghan leaders have hands that are entirely bloodless. Indeed, the need to tolerate powerful players’ illegal behaviour continues in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. In his book Descent into Chaos, veteran journalist Ahmed Rashid writes how, ‘the UN and all major western embassies gathered evidence that Karzai was tolerating suspected drug traffickers because they were either his political allies or close friends or because he could not afford their removal from power.’

With one indicator of stability being the state’s ability to ensure law and order, Rashid also writes how ‘the Ministry of Interior, which ran the police after 9/11, became a center for drug trafficking, with police posts… auctioned to the highest bidder…’ The reason, Rashid explains, that drug traffickers and warlords in powerful positions were allowed to stay on is because ‘tribal loyalties, politics and links to the Taliban or the government were closely mixed up and it was impossible to unravel one thread without unraveling the entire ball of string.’ If anything, it appears as if Karzai is trying to increase the size of the ball of string, calling on ‘all those Taliban who are not part of Al-Qaeda, who are not part of terrorist network… and who want to have peace in their country and live a normal life, to participate [in the election].’

For many Afghan’s however, giving power back to people who once oppressed them is too high a price when trying to rebuild the country. Malalai Joya, an independent Afghan MP tells The Independent how, ‘most people in the West have been led to believe that the intolerance and brutality towards women in Afghanistan began with the Taliban regime. But this is a lie. Many of the worst atrocities were committed by the fundamentalist mujahideen during the civil war between 1992 and 1996. They introduced the laws oppressing women followed by the Taliban – and now they were marching back to power, backed by the United States. They immediately went back to their old habit of using rape to punish their enemies and reward their fighters.’

For Joya and many Afghans, the paradox between justice and reconciliation is another of the all too real decisions forced upon them by a lifetime of conflict. On Afghanistan’s path to peace, they find themselves forced into a dialogue over the future of their nation and the men who run it. As poet Julia Hartwig describes the pains of reconciliation after torture, they are embraced in ‘the dialogue of force and martyrdom, cruelty and pain.’ It’s on this dialogue however, that the future of Afghanistan now rests.

Aug 15, 2009

Pakistan can serve as economic hub: Zardari

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony of a liquid cargo terminal at Port Qasim, the president said Pakistani ports could be expanded to cater for the needs of Central Asia and Middle East.

The terminal is a joint venture between Malaysian and Pakistani companies.

The president said that Pakistani ports in proximity to Indian states could benefit their industry and a similar advantage could accrue to China. Indian ports could not cater to the needs of central Indian states because of long distance, he added.

He said that since all Chinese ports were in the Sea of China, half of the country was too far from these ports but was in proximity to Pakistani ports.

He said the government was considering laying down a pipeline to carry liquid cargo, including petroleum products, from Pakistani ports to China.

The president said the government was focussing on increasing agriculture production in the wake of global food shortage. ‘Even big countries have started facing food shortages and Pakistan cannot ignore this.’

Mr Zardari said that Pakistan with the help of China was working on how to make best utilisation of water resources and within next two and a half years new varieties of seeds would be used to improve yields.

Nawaz asks army to file lawsuit against Musharraf

‘The military should cut its ties with Musharraf and should itself file a lawsuit against him,’ Nawaz Sharif said at an Independence Day function here on Friday.

‘Those who abrogated the Constitution, damaged the judiciary and arrested judges must be punished,’ he said.

‘If a violator of a traffic signal can be penalised, why a person who violated the basic law of the land should go scot-free,’ the former prime minister argued.

Mr Sharif was speaking at a flag-hoisting ceremony at the Aiwan-i-Karkunan-i-Pakistan.

He urged the government to fulfil its responsibility, saying he saw no need for a unanimous resolution in parliament for bringing the former army chief to the dock.

The government should shed its reluctance, he added. ‘The talk of (Musharraf’s) accountability in parliament must not send shivers down the spine of anyone.’

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had recently told the National Assembly that the government would prosecute Mr Musharraf for treason only after the house passed a unanimous resolution.

Mr Sharif said Gen Musharraf should be brought to justice for pushing the country into a series of crises by ‘getting Nawab Akbar Bugti murdered and ordering a crackdown on students of Jamia Hafsa’.

Mr Sharif said he, as prime minister, had not been consulted by the army generals over the 1999 Kargil war.

‘I accepted responsibility for the misadventure to rescue the country and the military, but in return I was ousted from power and put in solitary detention before being exiled.’

He said the country could not afford another martial law.

Rebuilding national consensus on Kashmir

Pakistan’s Kashmir policy rested for more than five decades (1948-2003) on a national consensus. The essence of this consensus was that a Kashmir settlement must be based on the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people, to be exercised in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. While maintaining this position of principle, Pakistani governments have also been willing to consider a partition of the state in which India would keep Ladakh, the Vale of Kashmir would join Pakistan and Jammu would be divided.

This consensus was broken by Musharraf in several steps he took between 2003 and 2007. For the first time, a Pakistani government publicly gave up the demand for a plebiscite under UN resolutions and proposed a settlement based on the current territorial status quo, leaving not only Ladakh but also the Vale and the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu in Indian hands.

Musharraf’s retreat from Pakistan’s traditional stand on Kashmir started shortly before the Islamabad Summit of January 2004. In an interview with Reuters (December 2003), Musharraf said: “We are for United Nations Security Council Resolutions. However, now we have left that aside.” At the Summit, Vajpayee agreed to the resumption of the composite dialogue in return for Musharraf’s assurance that he would not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism. In backchannel talks on Kashmir which started after the Summit, Musharraf also virtually agreed to make the LoC a permanent border. This was the essence of the “settlement” that would have been signed during a visit of the Indian prime minister to Pakistan. That visit could not take place because of the political turmoil in Pakistan following the dismissal of the Chief Justice in March 2007.

As explained by Musharraf in an interview with an Indian TV channel in July, the four elements of the settlement were: (a) making the LoC “irrelevant”—i.e., converting it into a soft border; (b) demilitarisation of the LoC and withdrawal of the Indian military from two or three cities like Srinagar and Baramulla; (c) “self-government” for the two parts of the state divided by the LoC; and (d) a joint body comprising Kashmiris from both sides, Pakistan and India, to oversee “whatever was not devolved to the people of Kashmir.”

While Musharraf backtracked from Pakistan’s long-held stand, India has maintained a consistent position. Since the ouster of Sheikh Abdullah from power in 1953, if not even earlier, Delhi has unofficially been agreeable to a partitioning of the state along the ceasefire line, with minor adjustments. Nehru suggested such a settlement in a meeting with US Secretary of State Dulles in May 1953. This proposal was also made by India in the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks held in 1962-63 but was flatly rejected by Pakistan. This was at a time when India’s hold on the state seemed to be largely unchallenged by the local population. Four decades later, and in the middle of a sustained popular uprising against Indian occupation which more than half-a-million Indian troops have been unable to quell, Musharraf agreed to a settlement on these lines.

Having missed the chance to clinch this deal with Musharraf, Manmohan Singh took steps last year before the Bombay attacks to “reconnect the backchannel” with the new government, as Steve Coll wrote in an article in the New Yorker magazine (March 2, 2009). According to this article, Manmohan Singh was concerned, in particular, about whether Zardari would be willing to continue the talks and whether Pakistan would stand by the non-paper worked out in these talks, or insist on renegotiating. Privately, in discussions with Indian officials, Zardari affirmed his interest in picking up the backchannel negotiations, the magazine wrote.

The article also said that India’s response to the Bombay attacks was “restrained” because “Singh, and at least some of his civilian counterparts in Pakistan, hope to find their way back to the non-paper.” Were it not for these talks, Coll wrote, the Indian reaction might not have been so measured. India’s keenness to return to the Kashmir non-paper also explains why Manmohan Singh agreed with Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh last month to delink the terrorism issue from a resumption of the composite dialogue.

Maleeha Lodhi wrote in an artcile in this newspaper (Aug 4) that Kashmir is at a crossroads. Actually it is not Kashmir but Pakistan’s Kashmir policy that is at a crossroads. The Kashmiris have made their choice. They want azadi. It is the Pakistani government which has to decide whether it will support their aspirations or make a deal with Delhi that perpetuates their enslavement by India.

Bruce Riedel, who led a review of the US AfPak strategy for Obama, was recently quoted by Reuters as saying that western diplomats (read United States) would like to see Pakistan and India getting back into the position they reached in 2007. He said the non-paper prepared in backchannel talks was a “good deal for Pakistan, for India, for the Kashmiris.”

Our policymakers do not tire of calling for an American role in a resolution of the Kashmir issue, but oddly they do not seem to realise that any American involvement will be aimed at a settlement on the basis of the territorial status quo, as Riedel indicated. If we are prepared for such a solution, we do not need American involvement, because this is what the Indians themselves are offering. If we want another solution, we should not be inviting Washington to play a role.

The present government in Pakistan has not yet made clear whether it intends to take forward the process started by Musharraf through the backchannel. The only thing that we know is that the government would like to resume the composite dialogue with India and would like these talks to cover a resolution of the Kashmir issue. But we do not know what kind of a settlement the government is hoping to achieve. This lack of clarity is the result of confused thinking – or lack of thinking – at the senior levels of government. As a result, our Kashmir policy today is aimless, directionless and muddled.

Musharraf departed from the old national consensus on Kashmir when he proposed a settlement that would legitimise the present territorial status quo. Even worse, he also betrayed the Kashmir freedom movement, and did so at a time when a new generation of Kashmiris tempered by two decades of resistance to the brutalities of the occupation forces has taken charge. This generation is more determined than any earlier one to wrest azadi from the Indian occupiers. The more India uses force to suppress it, the stronger the freedom movement will become. India can delay azadi for some time, maybe by a couple of decades or a little longer, but cannot stop it.

This is the ground reality on which a new national consensus on Kashmir must be founded. Holding a dialogue with India on Kashmir before forging this consensus would be like putting the cart before the horse. First and foremost, there must be a rejection of the deal made by Musharraf in backchannel talks with India. Since the present international environment is not favourable for a just settlement of Kashmir, our aim in a resumed composite dialogue should be the maximum possible alleviation of the conditions of Indian occupation in order to allow the Kashmiris to carry on their movement peacefully.

As a signal of our support to the Kashmiri people, we should also revert to our earlier policy, which Musharraf reversed in 2004, of providing moral, political and diplomatic support to their struggle for self-determination and of mobilising international opinion against Indian atrocities and human-rights violations. The prime minister should start by raising these issues forcefully in an address to the UN General Assembly at its next session in September. (Since Zardari himself would not like to miss the opportunity of a junket to New York – his last visit was as many as three months ago in May – Gilani will have to advise him, in exercise of his constitutional powers, against undertaking the visit).

By Asif Ezdi

The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service

Anti-corruption reform

The release of Transparency International’s National Corruption Perception Survey, 2009, which assessed citizens’ perceptions as to the level of corruption in the four provinces of Pakistan, has sparked a debate about the prevalence of corruption in the country and the inter-provincial variations in the reported pattern.

First of all, it is important to appreciate that corruption assessment is a challenging area in governance diagnostics because of definitional ambiguities, complexities in categorisation, overlap of forms and its linkage with the cultural and social milieu, within which activities are perceived as being corruptive. Most of the commonly used methods for corruption assessment globally—of which perception surveys, expert opinions and measurements of indices of corruption, are the commonest—have their limitations. Perception surveys can be influenced by actual events surrounding data collection, whereas expert evaluations can be biased. There are other more robust methods for corruption assessment such as forensic investigations, economically modelled estimates and expenditure tracking surveys. However, these are usually not regarded appropriate for broad-based countrywide assessments owing to cost and time constraints. Perception surveys and expert opinions therefore, remain the globally accepted assessment tools.

Transparency International conventionally employs perception surveys. For its cross country comparative assessments, the World Bank utilises a composite indicator, which draws on data from perception surveys and expert opinions, whereas country rankings of the World Economic Forum are based on competitiveness reports from the respective countries. All of these data sources yield information on Pakistan regularly and consistently underscore the magnitude of the problem, as in many other developing countries.

Perception surveys from Pakistan-based organisations, such as the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and Gallup, reinforce these trends. From time to time there is a tendency, particularly with incoming governments, to engage in forensic investigations of corruption charges against individuals as part of an effort to compel accountability and counter corruption. In many cases these have ended in long drawn judicial scuffles. What is more important is to take stock of broadly representative evidence, and recognise the magnitude of the problem as a first step towards building corrective and pre-emptive measures.

Corruption can be prevalent in any domain—in the political, state, business and NGO systems. Anti-corruption reform, therefore, is a complicated animal with many inter-related attributes, designed to address the determinants of corruption at various levels—frail governance structures of state institutions, weak political systems, thriving black markets and institutionalised patterns of collusion that sustain procurement graft. The list can go on. In an ideal world three requirements should be met in order for anti-corruption reform to be implemented.

One, a truly democratic dispensation, not just in the sense of majority rule but also in terms of striking the right balance between constitutionally-mandated institutions that uphold democratic values and democratic behaviours of consensus building and decision making. Two, a superior judiciary which remains un-politicised and a subordinate judiciary free from financial corruption; and, three, an executive that does not abuse the power of discretion and applies policies evenly. If these requirements are met, specific sectoral anti-corruption measures can be institutionalised with great success. Expecting all these things to happen all at once in the short term may be unrealistic. Pragmatically speaking, therefore, the government should focus on a few high potential anti-corruption measures on the premise that these would have a knock-on effect and catalyse action in the other areas, just as an open and relatively free media has had in recent years. The importance of six priority actions is being underscored in this regard.

First, Pakistan needs to fulfil its commitment as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) by revitalising the National Anti-Corruption Strategy which, despite its weakness, is a coherent framework and can be the basis of consensus-driven concrete plans of actions in terms of intra-agency sub-strategies. High-level political commitment is needed to revitalise this agenda and include its specific targets into the monitoring framework of ministries and government departments.

Secondly, there is the need for substantive changes in the legal anti-corruption and accountability frameworks. Currently, three draft proposals relating to the future of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) are under consideration by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice. One of these, the Holders of Public Offices Bill, 2009, intends to repeal the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) and replace the NAB with an Accountability Commission. The writer has raised a number of issues in relation to the proposed changes envisaged through the statute in these columns on Jan 27 and May 25, emphasising the need to ensure independence of institutional arrangements and conference of a status that is immune from exploitation through political interference.

There are also many other concerns relating to this legal framework, particularly with regard to preferential treatment and other issues emerging as a result of its implementation, specifically in relation to strengthening the mandate of the FIA while it remains, in its present shape, an institution with many weaknesses. A robust legal and institutional anti-corruption framework can bring great value to mainstreaming transparency in state functioning.

Thirdly, some key oversight institutions should be strengthened—in particular, the Public Accounts Committee and the AG’s office. Recent improvements in the AG’s office should be sustained and further built upon. The potential within the Public Accounts Committee can be harnessed with the leader of opposition in its chair, albeit with the right technical inputs and civil-society engagement. The Public Accounts Committees also exist within the framework of the local government system but have not been made to function as a tool for strengthening district oversight and accountability. Although their fate is dependant on the overall decision relating to the local government system, every effort should be made to retain and strengthen institutional frameworks that can compel accountability.

Fourthly, rather than the punitive, investigative and sanctions-oriented approach to dealing with corruption in the private sector, the focus should be on leveraging the potential within competitiveness to counter organised vested interests and ensure that businesses have a level playing field. Pakistan’s Competition Commission should be incentivised to act as an active engine in order to build safeguards in the market environment.

In the fifth place, a twin agenda relevant to the executive branch of the state can help to achieve efficiency whilst at the same time act as a safeguard against collusion. Critical investments are needed in technological applications in the management and public expenditure tracking streams. Alongside, some initial steps must also be taken to promote integrity at the executive level; although civil service reforms is a long-drawn agenda and while the system eagerly awaits the much-needed deeply rooted action in this area, improvements can be made by ensuring respect for merit and tenure security and improving accountability of decision making.

Lastly, it is important to review the Freedom of Information Law, 2002. Freedom of information is not about media freedom. It has to do with access to information and disclosure which can enable public discourse. The right to information is a crucial underpinning of participatory democracy. Promotion of open government and maximum disclosure can be the single most important step towards eliminating corruption. If this is coupled with the right awareness-building measures for citizens that empower them with knowledge of what laws mean and the implications of information on their lives, sustained improvement with respect to transparency in governance can be expected over time.

By Dr Sania Nishtar
The writer is founding-president of Heartfile.

Under the Af-Pak club knife

Almost 15 countries, including the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain, France, Australia, Japan and Italy, have appointed special envoys to advise on how to help Pakistan sail out of rough waters. The overriding objective is to protect Pakistan against radical gangs, including those inspired by Al Qaeda or Mulla Omar’s Taliban. Their desire to prevent Pakistan from slipping into further chaos or from falling into the hands of the hodgepodge of militants also translated in the $5.28 billion commitments at the April 17 Tokyo conference. Of the $5.28 billion pledged for 2009 and 2010, Pakistan expected to receive at least $2 billion by December 2009.

But, as evidenced by remarks of Minister of State for Economic Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar during a joint press conference along with Richard Holbrooke, the US point man on Af-Pak, Pakistan feels frustrated by the non-realisation of the Tokyo commitments so far.

While the Pakistani frustration makes sense from the cash-starved government’s point of view, a number of factors go against quick disbursement of the financial pledges made in Tokyo by the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP).

Meetings with, and statements by, at least three Af-Pak envoys between July 17-24 provide ample explanation as to why members of the international support group – namely FoDP and the Af-Pak club — are reluctant in matching Pakistani desires.

A few observations and conclusions drawn from these meetings and statements by Af-Pak ambassadors merit mention in the context of Pakistan’s expectations of the friendly countries.

One of the most frequently quoted observations relates to government’s inability to match friendly countries’ eagerness to bail Pakistan out. Obligations are valid both for the donors as well as the recipient country and in this case Pakistan must prepare plans which are credible and practical, one of the envoys observed, apparently feeling frustrated by the snail-paced preparation by the key ministries as to where it plans to place the donor money.

Many Af-Pak envoys believe the government is high on rhetoric and low on concrete and credible planning and development strategies. The absence of convincing explanation as to how exactly the government proposes to spend the money pledged by the FoDP.

Holbrook probably made the most pertinent remark during the press conference in Islamabad when he said: “We are ready to help but it is Pakistan that shall have to take care of some of very fundamental issues” (that have hardly changed since 1980s when an American expert attempted to assess Pakistan’s needs).

Another envoy remarked that “if it were for Pakistan alone, they would have furnished a long shopping list for us but they need to demonstrate their seriousness about addressing fundamental issues of governance and management.”

Secondly, most of them also point out that Pakistan’s tax base is very narrow. They ask as to when the big feudals (who are an essential part of almost every government), industrialists and businessmen will agree to pay taxes which are in accordance with their incomes and commensurate with their life styles.

Thirdly, most of the Af-Pak envoys seem to have coordinated their response to the Malakand military operation. They appreciate it, probably taking cue from their American colleague. But, if scratched for detail, questions as to whether the entire operation reflects a sea-change in the establishment’s view of the militants or whether it has been a selective approach remain unanswered.

Fourthly, doubts still surround as to whether groups such as TTP and Lashkar-e-Taiba are also being taken on as a logical consequence of the Swat and Waziristan operations and as to whether people like Baitullah, Hakeemullah, Faqeer Mohammad, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, the Haqqanis and Maulvi Omar will also be hunted down.

It is difficult to talk of differentiation among these people – good Taliban, bad Taliban – when talking of how to counter terrorists. Such a differentiation amounts to peddling excuses for particular state or personal agendas. So runs the argument by one of the envoys, who says that the militants obviously use ideology as their weapon, and socio-economic security gaps and poor governance provides them with the ammunition to attack the state. The special envoys say that government and the military must display unflinching resolve vis-a-vis these ideological-driven agents of terrorism.

Fifthly, some of the envoys feel frustrated by government’s apathy to basic issues of governance and justice delivery systems. We must all understand that this is not America’s or Europe’s war alone. It is everybody’s war and if some people fail to understand this, that is like playing into the hands of those fighting states.

Much more than the promised financial help, what must worry the Pakistani leaders most is the fact that the Af-Pak club is increasingly becoming a prism through which these countries jointly monitor and adjudge Pakistan. The intense engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan on the one hand, and the agreement on the Indian importance for the entire region, is resulting in unprecedented unanimity of thought and coordination of action among these countries. The British high commissioner’s July 29 assertions that “there are strong indications that OBL, Zwahiri and Mulla Omar are hiding in Pakistani territories and that Pakistan must help get to them” also underscore the unanimity of the Af-Pak club demands on Pakistan.

The emerging international consensus on Pakistan’s internal political dynamics, led by Richard Holbrook, is both a boon and a bane. It represents a daunting challenge for Islamabad to intelligently lap up the boon and discard the bane in a way suitable to its interests. The government must understand the FoDP is not a coordination forum but a mechanism to channel aid based on strategies that the government puts on table for donors’ consideration. But the aid will come through only when the special envoys approve these strategies. Finance Adviser Shaukat Tarin fears an up to $400 million shortfall in the Tokyo pledges but in reality it may be much larger if scepticism surrounds Pakistan’s intentions and aid utilisation capabilities.

By Imtiaz Gul
The writer heads the Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Gojra carnage

The attack on the Christian community in Gojra has been settled by the typical government response to such crisis situation—i.e., dismiss one or two officials and then close the case file. The mob violence which led to seven deaths, however, requires more systematic attention to be paid to the Muslim-Christian dynamics in the country, the government administrative structure responsible for maintaining law and order, and the role of the leaders of the minority communities. Only a serious review can make the government move closer to developing a mechanism that could help prevent eruption of these anti-Christian riots every once in a while.

First, there is the issue of identifying the groups who benefit from these anti-minority riots. The fact-finding report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) argues that the attacks were pre-planned and were not a result of instantly spurred mob violence. The report summary, as presented in the newspapers, notes that on July 31, Imams in the local mosques asked people to “make mincemeat of the Christians.” The report also says that members of Sipah-e-Sahaba and other extremist organisations were involved in these attacks. This raises many questions, such as why these organisations targeted this particular area, and why at this point in time?

To prevent such events from happening in future the government needs to develop some assessment mechanisms to help identify the area in which Christian communities are particularly vulnerable. Further, it needs to identify the political interests which benefit from such attacks on Christian communities. Most cases of inter-religious or inter-ethnic mob violence are triggered by political interests rather than just conviction in religious beliefs. If, as the HRCP report has argued, the Imams of some mosques actually played an active role in mobilising the Muslim community to join a planned attack on the Christian community then it should be possible to trace the planners of this crime if these Imams are identified and a serious enquiry is carried out. It is also important to systematically review the last few incidences of mob attacks on Christian communities to try to identify why every once in a while the Christians, who live in harmony with the Muslims, become target of such mob attacks.

The incident also raises questions about the main authority responsible for maintaining law and order in the current government structure. Under the Local Government Ordinance, 2001, it is the Zila Nazim that is responsible for maintaining the overall law and order situation, and not the DCO. However, in this case it is the civil bureaucracy, rather than the political leadership at the district level, that has been made accountable for the failure of the state to ensure law and order and the security of the Christian community. This issue in itself requires further investigation as there needs to be a clear consensus on which is the primary state body responsible for ensuring security of the lives of ordinary citizens as lack of this clarity allows for the blame to be shifted around too easily.

Finally, the incident also raises the problem of weak leadership within the Christian community in the country. The details of the incident highlights that lack of clear channel of communications between the government and the trapped Christian community further led to escalation of violence. To bring calm in a situation of mob frenzy it is important that the two sides are able to establish some communication between trustworthy channels on both sides. It appears that in this case the Christian leadership arrived a bit late and left the local Christian community relatively vulnerable.

There are too many under-investigated issues in this case. To ensure justice to the Christian community which was attacked and to help prevent similar attacks in future it is critical that the government does not look at this incident as one of those one events that are easily settled by suspending or dismissing a couple of government officials. The deeper causes or such attacks, rather the planners of such riots, need to be identified to ensure security of the lives of ordinary Pakistanis.

By Dr Masooda Bano
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University.

Aug 13, 2009

US imperialism 2.0

Pakistan's relationship with the US remains rocky despite the recent reported assassination of Baitullah Mehsud. He was an anti-Pakistan terrorist and not an anti-US terrorist. He was a new sore on the face of this relationship but by no means the only one.

Whether Baitullah Mehsud is dead or alive, there is little question that he was someone's asset. This unnamed someone is based in Afghanistan and is not Mullah Omar. Since there are so many foreign forces openly and covertly present inside Afghanistan at present, it is difficult to pin down the actual culprit. But one thing is for sure: the CIA spared him for the past three years. His predecessor Abdullah Mehsud was also spared in a similar way.

Over the past 13 months, Baitullah Mehsud's activities and his bottomless Afghan supply lines became a bone of contention between Pakistan and the US, starting from a July 2008 meeting in Rawalpindi between Pakistani and American military and intelligence commanders. In this meeting, the CIA or elements within it were accused of supporting terrorism inside Pakistan and deviating from the stated US government policy.

It is interesting how the mainstream American media refuses to cover this side of the Baitullah story. Or the fact that his senior aide, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud, came out in June to expose Baitullah's links to US and Indian interests on Afghan soil. He was promptly eliminated after that.

The American alibi was good: the CIA is interested in hunting down the anti-US Afghan Taliban and not in targeting anti-Pakistan terror groups. That was Pakistan's responsibility. But the Pakistani contention and the piles of evidence were also very obvious: several tribal rebels had risen in power between 2004 and 2008 claiming to fight the American occupation in Afghanistan while actually targeting Chinese and Pakistani interests inside Pakistan.

So did CIA drones attack Baitullah Mehsud this time?

After the July 2008 meeting, the CIA dragged its feet over Baitullah Mehsud. The Pakistani government also appeared too indebted to Washington, for many reasons, to effectively raise this and India's terror outposts in Afghanistan. It was the military-to-military channel between Islamabad and Washington that helped break the deadlock. This is how William Burns was sent to New Delhi in June to ask India to stand down. Around the same time, the CIA began sending drones to Baitullah's territory.

So should we in Pakistan be grateful to CIA drones? Hardly. Our problems will persist as long as the unjust and mismanaged Afghan occupation continues. What is stunning is how the Pakistani government is sanctioning the construction of probably the largest US embassy in the world in Islamabad. In the past couple of weeks it has been reported that a security officer of the US embassy had a run-in with a Pakistani police officer in Islamabad. The diplomat reportedly cursed the country that is hosting him. And this is before 1,000 US marines reach Islamabad to guard the new huge embassy.

Pakistan's core contention with the US persists: how the US turned Afghanistan into a hub for anti-Pakistan forces from within and outside the region. US-occupied Afghanistan is a source of destabilising Pakistan, China, Iran and Russia. We want excellent relations with the United States but an imperial-size diplomatic mission in the Pakistani capital is a wrong start. Why is Mr Zardari sanctioning this?

Ahmed Quraishi

Charter of democracy

The ruling of the Supreme Court against the Nov 3 reimposition of martial law by Musharraf is indeed heartening, but its real value will be tested when the Supreme Court refuses to ratify the action of a sitting usurper, if there was to be one in the future, and get away with it.

Can this judgment ensure that? Normally military takeovers are after a longish civilian rules. Because of lack of public support, any sacrifice that a sitting judge would give in opting to be sacked rather than condone martial law, would go unnoticed, like it did in the case of numerous conscientious judges of the Supreme Court in the past who preferred to go home rather than condone an unconstitutional takeover.

We as a nation neither protested nor made heroes of the judges who sacrificed their future at the alter of their principals. This time ground Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry got the public support and, more importantly, the support of the lawyers, because Gen Musharraf had already ruled for eight years and additionally crossed all limits of decency, when he not only sacked scores of judges but arrested them and their families. This kind of a situation, where public support can be assumed, would not be there in case a General, six to eight years from now, decides to take over, when the public are fed up with the ineffectiveness and corruption of the incumbents. In less than two year rule of this government we see reports of mega corruption.

So declaring martial laws illegal after the dictators has fled the country may not be enough to keep future adventurers out. It is, however, a good start and has very intelligently culled the stuff in the superior judiciary that had hurriedly been inducted, to make the process irreversible.

There is no alternative to strong institution building as a precursor to national building, lead by the judiciary. Chief Justice Chaudhry has more than four years to go; a very long term from our standard. He has a great opportunity to build the judiciary into a strong, effective, and well respected institution.

In India the Election Commission's credibility in the seventies and eighties was about the same as the credibility, of our Election Commission. Since then, however, the Indian Election Commission has attained a stature where no party, however unreasonable or radical, questions the results of an election. Even a sitting prime minister cannot depend on the deputy commissioner to facilitate holding of public rallies, nor can an inspector general of police hope to ensure his bright future by assisting the sitting chief minister of the state. The bureaucracy, the police and the civil armed forces are deemed to be on deputation to the Election Commission as soon as the elections are announced. The Chief Election Commissioner can only be prematurely removed through impeachment by the Parliament, at par with the procedure to remove the president.

Someone in Pakistan has to take on the challenge of making the Election Commission a credible body, just as the superior judiciary has become. The most obvious segment that this responsibility rests on are the politicians. The current discussion between the major parties on implementing the CoD would be an ideal opportunity to start the process. A selection of a firm and neutral person and a proven administrator as the Chief Election Commissioner would take matters forward. The present judiciary, I am sure, will effectively support such a CEC, if he is empowered by an appropriate law.

Visualise a situation where frequent elections are held, before the patience threshold of the public and establishment is reached and where the results are not questioned owing to the credibility of the EC. You would have the ideal formula, where neither the newly added clause of condoning martial law being termed as a misconduct in the Code of Conduct of judges, would need to be used, nor would a military adventurer find justification and support to venture again.

If only the spirit in which the Charter of Democracy was signed would return now and the politicians do not wait for the rekindling of that spirit until next time they have a summit in London to highlight their love for democratic norms.

By Tasneem Noorani

The future after Baitullah

By Kamila Hyat

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

There have been many who have celebrated the death of Baitullah Mehsud – the man who had come to symbolise militancy and destruction in Pakistan. He will forever be associated with the suicide bombings that shook our cities, killed thousands and changed our urban landscape.

Evidence has also come in that the 'highly-disciplined' band of fighters he was said to have led may not have been quite so disciplined after all. Indeed they seem to be little more than an unruly rabble. One, and indeed possibly two, of those contesting for leadership after Mehsud's death has apparently been killed in a shoot-out at the meeting called to nominate his successor. For these tribesmen too, power, it seems, means everything and the so-called service to Islam little. The failure to find a new leader for the Tehrik-e-Taliban seems to be one reason why associates of Baitullah continue to raise doubts over his death. The fact that nobody believes what the government says means there has been an unwillingness to accept the versions coming in from Islamabad – though this time around they do seem to be accurate.

Several questions now arise. Is the death of Baitullah Mehsud – the man code-named 'Nasrat' -- truly an immense blow to militancy? Will it now simply shrivel away and die – or is this an entirely unrealistic scenario? The events that have immediately followed the death of Baitullah indicate that his TTP is now a fractured body. It has been badly crippled by the loss of the leader who glued it together. But the key still is whether this can be capitalised on by authorities.

Across Waziristan, from where tens of thousands of people have fled over the last decade – the largest number since 2005 -- there is cautious optimism that there could now be a gradual return to stability. Shop owners who have suffered economic losses as a result of the fighting hope things will slowly improve; Waziristan's intellectuals, writers and other critics of the Taliban believe now they may one day be able to venture back into an area where their lives had not been safe for years. This will happen though only if advantage can be taken of the situation that now prevails in Waziristan. The people of the area need to be offered a new focus and a new vision for the future. They need to be co-opted into the state and not relegated to a life on its fringes in a place where feudal elements still hold sway and guns represent power. While tribal 'tradition' has been much romanticised, indeed since colonial times, the fact is that it is in practice often brutal and grossly unjust, favouring the influential over the most vulnerable. People need to be offered hope of employment, development, education and opportunity if they are to escape such lives. The failure to grant them what should be basic rights is one reason for the growth of militancy.

According to the NWFP government's Bureau of Statistics, only 29 per cent of men and three per cent of women in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are literate. This is the lowest literacy rate for females anywhere in the world, and means that in fact almost no woman in the area has received any schooling. Only 540 doctors and 116 nurses serve a population of over three million people. There are only 33 hospitals and 1,654 beds for the sick. In these figures lies an explanation of exactly what has gone amiss in these territories and how the state of Pakistan has wronged the people who live here.

Rather ironically, Islamabad, which has for months vocally 'condemned' the US drone strikes in its territory, as part of a ploy that fooled no one at all, now says it had a role in the attack that killed Baitullah. This seems to be an attempt to quickly grab a slice of the cake – before all the credit for taking out the country's top militant leader, on the basis of incredibly accurate intelligence, goes to Washington. Over the last few weeks Washington had indeed altered its previously lukewarm stance on Baitullah Mehsud, and ruled he was a man who had to be targeted. Pakistan must now persuade its ally that there is yet more to be done in Waziristan. Aid needs to pour into FATA and other northern areas. At the end of July the US Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee on the IDP crisis in Pakistan heard an unusually well-informed account from a Pakistani journalist currently pursuing an academic degree in the US on what needed to be done in the conflict-hit areas of NWFP to overcome the militant threat. The focus on employment, education and economic development was apt. The same priorities apply to FATA. We must hope the Pakistan government will review this testimony and persuade its US allies of what needs to happen now. Time is crucial. Desperate people are also impatient ones, and any delay at this point will mean full advantage has not been taken of the post-Baitullah scenario.

There are other realties too that now need to be faced up to. Attempts to veil them have continued for far too long. Baitullah Mehsud, the long-haired militant whose images have only now begun to appear in the mainstream media, was a creation of our own establishment. He had been brought in less than five years ago as a rival to Abdullah Mehsud. While it is possible he grew into a Frankenstein, beyond the control of his own minders, rumour has it that even now there were attempts on to reach a peace settlement in Waziristan and avoid the need for a military operation. To be fair to the Pakistan army however, it may simply have been waiting till Swat was secured and more units could be pulled out from there. Anything less than a full-fledged operation was after all hardly likely to work in Waziristan, a place where forces have in the past suffered heavy losses. At the same time, losing Swat again would be a disaster. But all this does not change the fact that the militias now being battled were a creation of our own agencies. Some are still reluctant to abandon them. But it is essential that this policy be set aside and a new one aimed at saving our country from militancy put in place.

The death of Baitullah makes it easier to move towards this. To do so effectively we must avoid creating new militant factions to battle those that have moved out of agency orbit or attempt to strike deals with commanders. Instead we require a people-centric strategy, placing the needs of people as the broad base standing at the bottom of the pyramid atop which we construct our plans for the future.

Gojra and Pakistan's identity

Sherry Rehman

Gojra has exposed fundamental fissures in the crafting of a national identity in Pakistan. We all now know that large mobs of ordinary Pakistanis, with police impunity, went on a rampage of communalist frenzy to kill eight people and injure many more. What also died at Gojra was a sense of fundamental entitlement of citizenship in the hearts and minds of the embattled Christian and non-Muslim communities. To many of us incidents such as Gojra and Sangla signal more than a failure of policing or minority protections built into our fragile social contract. All nation-states, to some extent, have contested formulations of what they stand for. That is an integral part of democracy's most famous accommodation of competing interests in the form of pluralism. But at the heart of Pakistan's continuing crisis of trust in democratic politics, its relationship with the military, its foreign policy, its notion of sovereignty, its inability to live by constitutional contract and to apply universal norms of justice, lies a fragmented state identity.

This is no abstract notion. It affects how citizenship has been defined in collusion with Islamists, who in contrast to the average South Asian Muslim, opposed the creation of Pakistan. When a state defines its minorities as a vilified 'other' through the edifice of its laws, it allows more space to the ideologues who have successfully gained space since 1947 as the upholders of a muscular, dogmatic and exclusivist state discourse on religion. Quite apart from challenging the project of a country forged for South Asian Muslims, as distinct from a Sunni-majoritarian theocracy, these Islamists have also chosen to ignore a large body of exegesis, Hadith and Muslim history that is replete with religious direction for respect for another's religion. The politics of this religiosity ignores Islam's core tenet of tolerance. Any government that takes on the project of amending these exploitative laws will have to confront this political Islamist lobby to remind all concerned that in Islam the idea of justice is seen as the highest moral path to practical proximity to God. As for minorities specifically, the government can exhort detractors by iterating the words and deeds of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) when he says: "Beware! If anyone dare oppress a member of a minority or has usurped his or her rights, or tortured, or tool away something forcibly, I will fight on behalf of the minority against the Muslim on the day of Judgement." (Sunaan–I–Abu Dawood)

The good news is that the Gojra tragedy has forced public attention on the nature of the laws that support such extremists-led witch-hunts. The prime minister has asked for a review of the blasphemy laws, and the president and others have strongly endorsed it. A committee has been formed to examine these laws. So for the first time, at least there is a majority view, that the blasphemy law in its present form has become a source of shameful victimisation of minorities in the country. The first technical clause that the committee must grapple with is the fact that under these changes made by General Ziaul Haq in the Pakistan Penal Code, the definition of the term blasphemy is deliberately left vague, yet its punishment mandates a death sentence. It must also bear in mind that while no person has been executed by the state under any of these provisions, religious extremists have used these laws as a sanction to kill persons accused under the provisions.

Coalition politics can only go so far in achieving purist goals. As it stands, the blasphemy laws refer to Sections 295, 296, 297, and 298 of the Penal Code and address offenses relating to religion. Out of all the laws, if the committee had to negotiate a best option, it must bear in mind that Article 295-C and Article 295-B have been misused the most. Section 295(c), established the death penalty or life imprisonment, but it requires no proof for filing a complaint and triggers mandatory police action. The irony of the situation is that it has been exploited by criminals to safeguard the name of a Prophet (PBUH) who went out of his way to not just protect but make way for non-Muslims. Introduced in 1986 by a dictator seeking legitimacy behind fundamentalist Islam, these laws allow for the incarceration of any alleged transgressor on the basis of a simple oral statement. The denunciation clearly favours the use of the law as a means of personal vengeance. Its formulation and mechanisms of implementation have serious implications for social, constitutional and natural justice in Pakistan.

What adds to the miscarriage of justice that takes place in the name of blasphemy and other religious cases is that when they are brought to court, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats against an acquittal. As a result, judges and magistrates, seeking to avoid a confrontation with or violence from extremists, often continue trials indefinitely. Subsequently, those accused of blasphemy often face lengthy periods in jail and are burdened with increased legal costs and repeated court appearances.

Personal rivals and the authorities have used these laws, especially Section 295(c), to threaten, punish, or intimidate Ahmadis, Christians, Hindus, Zikris and even Muslims. It is common knowledge amongst the human rights community that the blasphemy laws also have been used to 'settle scores' unrelated to religious activity, such as intra-family or property disputes. Impunity for those who make false complaints is also a problem. Given the rise in extremist ideologies and terrorist outfits since 2001, the government must also consider introduction of a provision in the law that would make it easier to award punishment to those who file fake cases. Comfort can also be sought in Article 36 of the constitution which provides for adequate provisions to be made for minorities to be protected and represented in the state and provincial legislatures.

Since it is the week of August 14 when we celebrate our independence as much as our nationhood, history is a useful marker for this argument. Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah certainly used the binding glue of a Muslim community to carve out a nation-state for the Muslims of South Asia, and to that extent religion was seen as defining a culturally and economically coherent identity for the post-colonial community. Yet his famous speech on August 11, 1947, clearly marked a secular, non-exclusionary view of state-consolidation. So the contest for a Muslim identity in South Asia, as a negotiable, multi-dimensional formulation should have gained ascendancy. What we saw instead, after the Quaid's death, was a serious and long-drawn contest for religious elite-capture of state identity as exclusively theological. The political forces defending this hijack of Pakistan's contingent identity were rarely united, so they increasingly conceded space to the demands of a religious minority that could never reach critical mass in parliaments.

Islam expects a ruler to demonstrate high moral authority, but no ruler has dared to re-examine the blasphemy laws in the light of Islamic law itself. After announcing a revision of the blasphemy law in 2000 and 2004, General Musharraf backed down as he neither had the legitimacy nor the vision to consider the Quranic verse that says, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2; 256). Over the last ten years while churches burned and Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis and even Shias were persecuted, the government failed to intervene. The lack of a clear government response gave offenders and bigots a 'free from jail card' for acts of violence and intimidation against religious minorities.

What we have today is a legitimately elected government which has created an anti-extremist, non-sectarian and anti-terrorist consensus. This is one government that can review the blasphemy laws. It is a moment in history that must be seized. Pakistan's identity may be ambiguous, but it is precisely this space that can be used as an opportunity to steer our fragile nation-hood in another direction.

The writer is a PPP MNA and a former federal minister for information and broadcasting.